The common cold was well-known to Chinese medicine practitioners. In fact, one of the earliest classics of Chinese Medical theory, the Shang Han Lun or Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders, deals primarily with these type of acute infections. The Shang Han Lun was written sometime before the year 220 by Zhang Zhong-jing, an official in one of China’s northern provinces.
In Chinese medicine, the very early, acute stages of exogenous infection are divided into two broad types—wind-heat and wind-cold. The common cold is related to wind because, like wind, it springs up suddenly and the symptoms develop rapidly. The description of wind-cold will be quite familiar to most people—chills and fever with chills predominating; sneezing and runny nose with clear, copious mucus; headache, stiff neck and body aches. Wind-heat is very closely related, but is differentiated from wind-cold by the presence of a sore throat, cough and possible inflammation of the sinuses with thick yellow mucus.
Many of the Chinese herbal cold remedies contain herbs that have been found to have potent anti-viral properties, which means they are able to treat the root cause of the common cold (usually a variant of human rhinovirus) rather than simply controlling the symptoms. One such herb is Ban Lan Gen, or Woad Root. This truly amazing herb combines antibacterial, antiviral and immune boosting properties. Some of the research on Ban Lan Gen is summarized here. Ban Lan Gen is the main ingredient in Ban Lan Gen Chong Ji, an herbal infusion we now stock at Releaf which also contains Pu Gong Ying (Dandelion) and Zi Hua Di Ding (Yedeon’s Violet), two herbs that soothe inflammation and benefit the throat. This formula has an excellent effect on cases of wind-heat, with its attendant sore throat.
If the sore throat develops into a cough with thick yellow phlegm, Zhi Ke Pi Pa Chong Ji is another infusion that adds herbs such as Sang Bai Pi (Mulberry root bark), Jie Geng (Balloon flower root) and Bai Qian (Cynanchum root) to stop the cough and break up phlegm.
We also stock Gan Mao Ling. This is a modern patent medicine that contains not only Ban Lan Gen, but also two herbs that are relatively new to the Chinese pharmacopeia—Gang mei gen (Ilex Asprella root) and San cha ku (Evodia leaf). Both herbs are native to Taiwan and so were not used extensively until relations between the two countries began to thaw in 1979. This formula is over 70% herbs that have strong antiviral and antibacterial properties. It can be used at any stage of a cold infection, but is best taken at the first sign of impending sickness, while the virus is still trying to establish a foothold in the body. It’s a wonderful addition to a home medicine cabinet as many times illness can be prevented entirely by early dosing with Gan Mao Ling.