Snake gourds

Chinese: 瓜蒌

Pinyin: Guā Lóu

Parts used: Dried fruit

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Meridian affinity: StomachLarge intestineLung

Scientific name: Trichosanthes kirilowii or Trichosanthes rosthornii

Other names: Trichosanthes fruit

Use of snake gourds (Gua Lou) 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: Dry the fruit by hanging in a ventilated place

Dosage: 6 - 18 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Phlegm-Heat conditions with thick difficult to expectorate sputum. Regulates the Qi of the chest and relieves constriction and swellings of the chest and Lungs. Lubricates the Intestines.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which snake gourds may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Phlegm Sputum Coughing Angina Chest congestion Mastitis Lung abscess Appendicitis Constipation

Contraindications*: Should not be used by those with Cold and Damp especially when there is Spleen Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which snake gourds are used*:

Key TCM concepts behind snake gourds (Gua Lou)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), snake gourds 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 snake gourds are plants that are Cold in nature. This means that snake gourds 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 snake gourds can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Snake gourds also taste Sweet. 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. Sweet ingredients like snake gourds tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what organs and meridians they target. As such snake gourds are thought to target the Stomach, the Large intestine and the Lung. 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 Large Intestine on the other hand receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the body fluids that nourish the body.

Research on snake gourds (Gua Lou)

An anti-human immunodeficiency virus (anti-HIV) protein capable of inhibiting HIV-1 infection and replication has been isolated and purified to homogeneity from Trichosanthes kirilowii. This protein, TAP 29 has a therapeutic index at least two orders of magnitude higher than that of trichosanthin. Thus TAP 29 may offer a broader safe dose range in the treatment of AIDS.1


1. S Lee-Huang, P L Huang, H F Kung, B Q Li, P L Huang, P Huang, H I Huang, and H C Chen (1991). TAP 29: an anti-human immunodeficiency virus protein from Trichosanthes kirilowii that is nontoxic to intact cells. PNAS, 88 (15) 6570-6574;

Use of snake gourds (Gua Lou) as food

Snake gourds are also eaten as food.