Mu Li ke (Oyster shells) in Chinese Medicine

English: Oyster shells

Chinese: 牡蛎壳

Parts used: The shell

TCM category: Herbs that anchor and calm the SpiritHerbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Salty

Organ affinity: Bladder Gallbladder Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Ostrea

Other names: Mu Li

Use of Mu Li ke (oyster shells) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Collect shells and dry. Crush before use

Dosage: 15 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Calms and anchors the spirit. Moistens Dryness. Softens and removes lumps. Nourish the Yin and subdues the overflowing of the Yang,

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Mu Li ke may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Palpitations Insomnia Dizziness Tinnitus Scrofula Abdominal bloating Night sweats Urinary incontinence Abnormal uterine bleeding Leukorrhea Vaginal discharge Headache Restlessness

Contraindications*: Oyster shells should not be used by those who are Cold and weak nor by those with high fever without sweating.

Common TCM formulas in which Mu Li ke is used*

Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Rectifies relationship between Yin and Yang. Harmonizes Heart and Kidney. Stabilizes and secures Essence.

Conditions targeted*: EnuresisUrinary incontinence and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang, Mu Li ke pulls the action of the formula into the Interior, particularly the Heart

Read more about Gui Zhi Jia Long Gu Mu Li Tang

Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Source date: 1918 AD

Number of ingredients: 12 herbs

Formula key actions: Sedates the Liver. Axtinguishes Wind. Nourishes the Yin. Anchors the yang.

Conditions targeted*: HypertensionRenal hypertension and others

Mu Li ke is a deputy ingredient in Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang, Mu Li ke can restrain Fire and extinguish Wind

Read more about Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang

Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan

Source date: 1682 AD

Number of ingredients: 6 herbs

Formula key actions: Stabilizes the Kidneys. Binds up the semen.

Conditions targeted*: Sexual dysfunctionChyluria and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

Read more about Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan

E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Source date: the Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Liver. Extinguishes Wind.

Conditions targeted*: EncephalitisMeningitis and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang, Mu Li ke sedates the rising Yang and extinguishes Wind.

Read more about E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Qing Re Gu Jing Tang

Source date: 1988

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Empty Heat. Tonifies the Kidney Yin. Stops bleeding. Supplies Body Fluids.

Conditions targeted*: MetrorrhagiaThreatened miscarriage and others

Mu Li ke is an assistant ingredient in Qing Re Gu Jing Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Qing Re Gu Jing Tang, Mu Li ke calms the Liver by benefiting the Yin and anchoring Floating Yang.  It also prevents leakage of Body Fluids and removes Stagnation. 

Read more about Qing Re Gu Jing Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Mu Li ke's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Mu Li ke belongs to the 'Herbs that anchor and calm the Spirit' category. These herbs are substances that tranquilize the Mind and treat symptoms such as restlessness, palpitations, anxiety or insomnia. They tend to have sedative properties by weighing the Qi downwards and should generally be used for a limited time only.

Furthermore Mu Li ke is Cold in nature. This means that Mu Li ke typically helps people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition Mu Li ke can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Mu Li ke also tastes Salty. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Salty ingredients like Mu Li ke tends to have a draining effect in the body because they clear accumulations, remove Phlegm and soften hard lumps.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Mu Li ke is thought to target the Bladder, the Gallbladder, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the impure water collected by the Kidneys that cannot be used by the body is sent to the Bladder for storage and excretion as urine. Similar to modern medicine, in TCM the Gallbladder stores and releases bile produced by the Liver. It also controls the emotion of decisiveness. The Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. The Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on Mu Li ke

Oyster shell electrolysate may favorably influence osteoporosis by providing a readily available source of calcium.1

Sources:

1. Fujita T, Fukase M, Miyamoto H, Matsumoto T, Ohue T. (1990). Increase of bone mineral density by calcium supplement with oyster shell electrolysate. Bone Miner. , 11(1):85-91.