Sargassum

Chinese: 海藻

Pinyin: Hǎi Zǎo

Parts used: Dried alga

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterSalty

Meridian affinity: StomachKidneyLiver

Scientific name: Sargassum pallidum or Sargassum fusiforme

Other names: Herba sargassi

Use of sargassum (Hai Zao) 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 practitionner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities, wash and dry.

Dosage: 6 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and reduces hardening associated with Phlegm-Heat. Encourages urination and lessens edema. Expels phlegm from the lungs.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which sargassum may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Goiter Scrofula Testicular pain Edema Bronchitis

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used by those with Coldness due to Spleen and Stomach Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which sargassum are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind sargassum (Hai Zao)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), sargassum are plants that belong to the 'Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough' category. In TCM Phlegm is a condition of Stagnation of Fluids which tends to start in the Spleen and then goes to the Lungs. If this overly accumulates it thickens and becomes pathological Phlegm. Phlegm, being a form of Stagnation, often starts as being Cool and transforms to Hot as the condition progresses. The herbs in this category are Cold in nature so they treat the later stages of the Stagnation: Hot and Dry-Phlegm with symptoms such as cough, goiter or scrofula.

As suggested by its category sargassum are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that sargassum typically help 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 sargassum can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Sargassum also taste Bitter and Salty. The so-called "five elements" theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like sargassum tend to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing heat, drying dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Salty ingredients tend 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 sargassum are thought to target the Stomach, the Kidney and the Liver. In TCM the Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine. 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 body fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on sargassum (Hai Zao)

Various compounds extracted from a range of seaweeds (including from the Sargassum genus) have been shown to prevent or suppress the progression of some types of cancers like colon and breast cancers.1

Sources:

1. Moussavou G, Kwak DH, Obiang-Obonou BW, Maranguy CA, Dinzouna-Boutamba SD, Lee DH, Pissibanganga OG, Ko K, Seo JI, Choo YK. (2014). Anticancer effects of different seaweeds on human colon and breast cancers. Mar Drugs. , 12(9):4898-911. doi: 10.3390/md12094898.

Use of sargassum (Hai Zao) as food

Sargassum are also eaten as food.