Phlegm according to Chinese Medicine

mucus redirects here

Phlegm can be the consequence of several so-called “patterns of disharmony” in Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine sees the body as a system, not a sum of isolated parts. A "pattern" is when the system's harmony is disrupted, leading to symptoms or signs that something is wrong (like phlegm here). It is similar to the concept of disease in Western Medicine but not quite: a Western disease can often be explained by several Chinese patterns and vice-versa.

A pattern often manifests itself in a combination of symptoms that, at first glance, do not seem necessarily related to each others. For instance here phlegm is often associated with chest pain, depression and palpitations in the pattern “/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed”. As you will see below, we have in record two patterns that can cause phlegm.

Once identified, patterns are treated using medicinal herbs, acupuncture, and other therapies. In the case of phlegm we’ve identified five herbal formulas that may help treat patterns behind the symptom.

We’ve also selected below the five medicinal herbs that we think are most likely to help treat phlegm.

The two "patterns of disharmony" that can cause phlegm

In Chinese Medicine phlegm is a symptom for 2 patterns that we have on record. Below is a small explanation for each of them with links for more details.

The Heart is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Heart in Chinese Medicine

Heart Vessel obstructed

Pulse type(s): Choppy (Se), Knotted (Jie), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian)

In addition to phlegm, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed include chest pain, depression and palpitations.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed is often treated with Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang, a herbal formula made of 11 herbs (including Peach Kernels - Tao Ren - as a key herb). Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that invigorate blood and dispel blood stagnation", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Invigorates the Blood".

Read more about Heart Vessel obstructed here

The Pericardium is a so-called "Zang" Organ. Learn more about the Pericardium in Chinese Medicine

Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium

Pulse type(s): Overflowing (Hong), Rapid (Shu), Slippery (Hua), Wiry (Xian), Full (Shi)

In addition to phlegm, other symptoms associated with /tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fire-harassing-the-pericardium include chest pain, palpitations and red face.

/tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fire-harassing-the-pericardium is often treated with Wen Dan Tang, a herbal formula made of 8 herbs (including Crow-Dipper Rhizomes - Ban Xia - as a key herb). Wen Dan Tang belongs to the category of "formulas that dry dampness and transform phlegm", which might be why it is often recommended for this pattern. Its main action as a formula is: "Clears Phlegm".

Read more about Phlegm Fire harassing the Pericardium here

Five herbal formulas that might help with phlegm

Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang

Source date: 1830 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Key actions: Invigorates the Blood. Dispels blood Stagnation. Spreads the Liver Qi. Unblocks the channels.

Why might Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang help with phlegm?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed' of which phlegm is a symptom.

Read more about Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang here

Chai Hu Shu Gan San

Source date: 1602

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Disperses Stagnant Liver Qi and Blood. Alleviates pain. Harmonizes Blood.

Why might Chai Hu Shu Gan San help with phlegm?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed' of which phlegm is a symptom.

Read more about Chai Hu Shu Gan San here

Di Tan Tang

Source date: 1470 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Key actions: Removes Phlegm. Opens the sensory orifices. Tonifies Qi.

Why might Di Tan Tang help with phlegm?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed' of which phlegm is a symptom.

Read more about Di Tan Tang here

Dang Gui Si Ni Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Key actions: Warms the Channels. Disperses Cold. Nourishes the Blood. Unblocks the Blood vessels.

Why might Dang Gui Si Ni Tang help with phlegm?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/heart-vessel-obstructed' of which phlegm is a symptom.

Read more about Dang Gui Si Ni Tang here

Wen Dan Tang

Source date: 1174 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Key actions: Clears Phlegm. Clears Gallbladder. Regulates Qi. Harmonizes the Stomach.

Why might Wen Dan Tang help with phlegm?

Because it is a formula often recommended to treat the pattern '/tcm-education-center/patterns/phlegm-fire-harassing-the-pericardium' of which mucus is a symptom.

Read more about Wen Dan Tang here

The five Chinese Medicinal herbs most likely to help treat phlegm

Why might Tangerine Peel (Chen Pi) help with phlegm?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat phlegm and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat phlegm as a symptom (such as Wen Dan Tang for instance).

Tangerine Peel is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter and Pungent. It targets the Lung and the Spleen.

Its main actions are: Warms the Spleen and regulates the Middle Burner Qi. Dries Dampness and disperses Phlegm from the Lungs and Middle Burner. Reduces the potential for Stagnation caused by tonifying herbs.

Read more about Tangerine Peel here

Why might Crow-Dipper Rhizome (Ban Xia) help with phlegm?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat phlegm and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat phlegm as a symptom (such as Di Tan Tang for instance).

Crow-Dipper Rhizomes is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Drains Dampness and reduces Phlegm. Reverses the flow of Rebellious Qi. Reduces hardenings and relieves distention.

Read more about Crow-Dipper Rhizomes here

Why might Bitter Orange (Zhi Ke) help with phlegm?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat phlegm and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat phlegm as a symptom (such as Xing Su San for instance).

Bitter Oranges is a Warm herb that tastes Bitter, Pungent and Sour. It targets the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: To regulate the flow of Qi, remove its stagnation, and alleviate distension.

Read more about Bitter Oranges here

Why might Fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) help with phlegm?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat phlegm and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat phlegm as a symptom (such as Xing Su San for instance).

Fresh Ginger is a Warm herb that tastes Pungent. It targets the Lung, the Spleen and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: Relieves the Exterior and disperses Cold. Warms and circulates Qi in the Middle Burner. Calms a restless fetus and treats morning sickness. Treats seafood poisoning.

Read more about Fresh Ginger here

Why might Snake Gourd (Gua Lou) help with phlegm?

Because it is both specifically indicated to treat phlegm and also because it is an ingredient in herbal formulas known to treat phlegm as a symptom (such as Xiao Xian Xiong Tang for instance).

Snake Gourds is a Cold herb that tastes Sweet. It targets the Large intestine, the Lung and the Stomach.

Its main actions are: 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.

Read more about Snake Gourds here