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Snake gourd seeds (Gua Lou Ren) in Chinese Medicine

Snake gourd seeds

Chinese: 瓜蒌仁

Pinyin: Guā Lóu Rén

Parts used: The seeds, dried

TCM category: Cool herbs that transform Phlegm and stop Cough

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Stomach Large intestine Lung

Scientific name: Trichosanthes kirilowii or Trichosanthes rosthornii

Other names: Trichosanthes seeds

Use of snake gourd seeds (Gua Lou Ren) 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: Extract the seeds from the plant, wash them and dry them, ideally under the sun.

Dosage: 9 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Cools and nourishes the Lungs. Regulates the Qi in the chest. Used externally, it assists the healing of Phlegm-Heat induced sores and abscesses. Moistens the Intestines.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which snake gourd seeds may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Coughing Sputum Breast abcesses Breast sores Constipation

Contraindications*: This herb should not be used when there is diarrhea or when there is no Heat.

Common TCM formulas in which snake gourd seeds (Gua Lou Ren) are used*

Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan

Source date: 1584 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears Heat. Transforms Phlegm. Directs Rebellious Qi downwards. Stops coughing.

Conditions targeted*: PneumoniaChronic bronchitis and others

Gua Lou Ren is a deputy ingredient in Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

Read more about Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan

Key TCM concepts behind snake gourd seeds (Gua Lou Ren)'s properties

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

Snake gourd seeds also taste Sweet. 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. Sweet ingredients like snake gourd seeds 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 gourd seeds 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 in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.