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Softshell turtle shells

Chinese: 鳖甲

Pinyin: Biē Jiǎ

Parts used: Carapace

TCM category: Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency

TCM nature: Neutral

TCM taste(s): Salty

Organ affinity: Kidney Liver

Scientific name: Trionyx sinensis

Use of softshell turtle shells (Bie Jia) 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: Pound the carapace to pieces and decoct it first before use

Dosage: 9 - 30 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Nourishes Yin and subdues exuberant Yang. Resolves hardness.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which softshell turtle shells may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Night sweats Tidal fever Abdominal masses Amenorrhea Spasms Convulsions

Contraindications*: Not for use during pregnancy or diarrhea

Common TCM formulas in which softshell turtle shells (Bie Jia) are used*

Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 5 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes the Yin and clears Heat.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic pyelonephritisPulmonary tuberculosis and others

Bie Jia is a king ingredient in Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang, Bie Jia directly enters the Yin to enrich it and reduce the fever from Deficiency. Unlike other more Yin-enriching herbs, this substance is able to enter the Collaterals and actively clear Heat from the deepest Yin aspect of the body.

Read more about Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang

Key TCM concepts behind softshell turtle shells (Bie Jia)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), softshell turtle shells are plants that belong to the 'Tonic herbs for Yin Deficiency' category. Tonic herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency, when one lacks one of the 'Four Treasures' (Qi, Blood, Yin and Yang). Yin tonics have a heavy, moist nature. They either nourish the Kidneys and Liver or moisten the Lungs and Stomach. Extreme Yin Deficiency often translates into a 'burn-out', unfortunately more and more common among people today. It is worth mentioning that another great remedy against Yin Deficiency is a lot of rest and sleep; no herb will ever be able to replace this!

Furthermore softshell turtle shells are plants that are Neutral in nature. This means that softshell turtle shells typically don't affect the balance in your body. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Eating too many "Hot" (Yang) ingredients can lead to an imbalance whereby one has a Yang Excess. The inverse is true as well: too many "Cold" (Yin) ingredients can lead to a Yin Excess. The Neutral nature of softshell turtle shells means that you don't have to worry about that!

Softshell turtle shells also taste 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 softshell turtle shells 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 softshell turtle shells are thought to target the Kidney and the Liver. According to TCM, 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 on the other hand 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.