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Herbal Medicines That Outperform OTC Drugs

Herbal Medicines That Outperform OTC Drugs

These medical treasures are among the oldest, safest, and most reliable in the annals of Chinese medicine. They are as useful and timely now as they have ever been. 

Common Cold

herbs for allergies


Aka Honeysuckle and Forsythia Clean Toxin Pill

Many say that yin chiao is the long sought cure for the common cold. Although it has been used successfully for hundreds of years, the Western world is just now catching on.

This formula was first published in the Wen Bing Tao Bian (Systematic Differentiation of Warm Diseases) by Dr. Wu Ju Tong in the year 1798.  

Used at the first sign of a cold or, when exposed, or likely to be exposed to colds or similar respiratory infections.

How to Use Yin Qiao

This formula is usually taken as a tablet or powder rather than as a boiled decoction, because honeysuckle, mint, and schizonepeta, three important ingredients, can lose potency when boiled. 

Yin Chiao is most effective when taken an the first sign of illness. Take it proactively when traveling or in crowded public area.

Yin Qiao Ingredients

  • Honeysuckle (jin yin hua or lonicera flos) clears heat, cleans toxins, expels externally contracted wind heat

  • Forsythia (lian qiao or forsythia suspensa fructus) expels contracted wind heat, clears heat, cleans toxins

  • Balloon flower (jie geng or platycodi grandiflori radix) transforms cold phlegm, circulates lung energy, benefits the throat, directs the action of other herbs upwards

  • Peppermint (bo he or menthe herba) disperses wind heat, clears the head and eyes and benefits the throat

  • Edible burdock (niu bang zi or arctium lappa) detoxifies fire poison, disperses wind heat and benefits the throat

  • Crested grass (dan zhu ye or lophatheri gracilis)  releases the exterior, disperses wind heat, lessens irritability, relieves thirst

  • Schizonepeta (jing jie or schizonepeta tenuifolia)  releases exterior, expels wind cold and wind heat

  • Fermented soy bean (dan dou chi or sojae praeparatum semen) releases the exterior for both cold and hot exterior conditions, alleviates irritability

  • Chinese licorice root (gan cao or glycyrrhiza uranelsis radix) tonifies the spleen, benefits the qi, detoxifies fire poisons, moderates and harmonizes other herbs.




Aka Free & Easy, Relaxed Wanderer, Rambling Powder

This formula may be one of the greatest gifts ancient medicine can bestow upon modern life, as it addresses problems created by stress.

Xiao yao san was first published in the Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping era (1078-1085 AD). It is used to relieve constraint in, and to promote the free flow of qi in the chest.the chest.

When under stress, qi (energy) tightens in your chest. This protective reaction, which builds up because of unexpressed emotion, ultimately leads to feelings of depression, anxiety, and insomnia.

Xiao Yao Wan alleviates these symptoms by helping to release tension in the chest.

The chief combination is bupleurum (chai hu) and a small amount of mint powerfully spreads the qi of the chest (liver qi), relieving emotional constraint. 

Other herbs in the formula, such as dang gui and white peony (bai shao), build deficient liver blood, a condition which commonly contributes to stuck qi. The rest of the formula (licorice, ginger, atractylodes) aids digestion and increase formula absorption.

This formula can also be used together with other herbs or formulas when stress is an aggravating factor such as stress induced headache, stress related digestive ills, pain below the ribs, allergies, hypertension or any other condition made worse by stress. The formula is generally considered safe during pregnancy or nursing.

How to Use Free & Easy

Used for constrained qi in the chest caused by withheld emotions  Also used in combination with other formulas when stress is a factor in the condition. Take it faithfully and regularly as it may take up to one month of daily use for maximum effect.  

Herbs Used in Xiao Yao San

  • Hare's ear root (bupleurum or Rx: chai hu);  relaxes constrained qi, releases exterior

  • White peony root (paeonia or Rx - bai shao);  pacifies the liver, nourishes the blood

  • Tang gui root (angelica or Rx: dang gui);  harmonizes the blood, tonifies blood

  • Hoelin (poria cocos sclerotum or fu ling); quiets the heart, calms the spirit, harmonizes the middle, strengthens spleen

  • White atractylodis (atractylodis or Rx - bai zhu); benefits the qi, stabilizes the exterior, strengthens the spleen, dries dampness

  • Ginger (zingiberis or Rx: sheng jiang); releases the exterior, disperses cold, adjusts the nutritive and protective

  • Chinese licorice root (glycyrrhizae or Rx - gan cao) harmonizes other herbs, clears heat, detoxifies fire poison, benefits the qi

  • Mint leaf (mentha folium or bo he) frees constrained qi, clears the head and eyes, disperses wind heat 



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Nausea, Overeating, Hangover

Curing Pills


Evolved from Bao He Wan (preserve harmony pill) which first appeared in The Teachings of Zhu by Zhu Zheng Heng, 1481.

This herbal wonder relieves nausea and/or headache due to, stomach "flu", over eating, hangover, unfamiliar diet, motion sickness, morning sickness, simple indigestion, etc. Curing pills are a fixture in every Chinese medicine cabinet, and a must for world travelers. 

How to Use Curing Pills

Use it for nausea, vomiting, overeating, hangover, indigestion, stomach flu, motion sickness.  Remember to bring it when traveling.

Taken as a pill or powder, 3-6 grams as needed. It usually works within twenty minutes.

This formula is meant to relieve symptoms and is for acute short term use. Prolonged use is not recommended.

Herbs in Curing Pills

  • Costus root (mu xiang or saussureae radix); moves the qi, dissipates stagnant intestinal qi, alleviates pain

  • Angelica root (Bai zhi or angelica dahurica);  expels wind, releases surface, alleviates pain, reduces swelling, expels dampness and alleviates discharge

  • Medicated leaven (shen qu or massa fermentata); dissolves food, transforms accumulations, aides digestion

  • Mint leaf (bo he, mentha folium) frees constrained qi, clears the head and eyes, disperses wind heat

  • Citrus peel (chen pi or citri rubrum exocarpium) moves the qi, strengthens spleen, dries dampness, directs the qi downward, prevents stagnation

  • Chrysanthemum (ju hua or chrysanthemum flos) disperses wind, clears heat from the eyes, pacifies the liver

  • Ornamental orchid (tian ma or gastrodia rhiz) pacifies the liver, extinguishes wind, alleviates pain, disperses painful obstruction

  • Hoelen mushroom (fu ling or poria cocos) quiets the heart, calms the spirit, harmonizes the middle, strengthens stomach/spleen

  • Job’s tears (yi yi ren or coicis semen) leaches our dampness, strengthens stomach/spleen, clears damp heat, reduces diarrhea

  • Magnolia bark (hou po or magnolia cortex) moves the qi, transforms dampness, resolves stagnation, directs rebellious, qi downward

  • Patchouli (huo xiang or agastache pogostemi) transforms dampness, releases the exterior, harmonizes the center, expels dampness

  • White atractylodis (bai zhu or atractylodis) benefits the qi, stabilizes the exterior, strengthens the spleen, dries dampness

  • Rice sprout (guy a or oryzae germinatus) dissolves food stagnation, strengthens stomach

  • Kudzu root (ge gen or pueraria radix) clears heat, releases muscles of upper body, nourishes fluids



Yin Deficiencies

Rehmannia Combinations

Deficiencies of YIN can lead to various chronic conditions including diabetes, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, and chronic inflammatory conditions.

First published in Essentials from the Golden Cabinet between 150 - 219 AD. This family of related formulas are taken to supplement the YIN of the body.  YIN represents the nourishing, lubricating, and cooling fluids that circulate within our bodies. 

The following are variations of this formula

How to Use YIN Tonics

Don't self-prescribe these. Diagnosing chronic conditions is complicated. Best to use these formulas under the guidance of a practitioner. 

Some versions of this formula are hard to digest. If you have problems digesting any of the rehmannia combinations, ask your practitioner to modify the formula or try taking them with food, hawthorne berries, or ginger tea.

About the Ingredients

Although Rehmannia Six is used to strengthen the YIN, curiously, not a single herb in the formula is actually classified as a YIN tonic. The formula only consists of herbs that build blood, build qi, astringe essence, clear heat, and move water. 

 Golden Book Pill adds rou gui (cinnamon bark) and fu zi (processed aconite root) to liu wei di huang wan to make gui fu di huang wan. This variation warms the original formula, making it appropriate for kidney yang deficiency with cold presentations, as well as for people with spleen deficiency (weak digestion) who are unable to digest other variations of Rehmannia Six



QI Deficiencies 

Si Jun Zi Wan -
aka Four Gentlemen

 What's a Spleen Tonic?

The “spleen” in Chinese medicine is like the brain of your digestive system. It regulates the function of all the digestive organs and is primarily responsible for the transformation of QI (energy) from the food we eat to energy that our bodies use for all it's activity.

Digestive problems are often indications of Spleen Deficiencies who's symptoms may include persistent diarrhea, loose or erratic stool, fatigue, lethargy, muscle weakness, shortness of breath, abdominal bloating, excessive flatulence, borborygmus (stomach growling), low appetite, pale complexion, and weak voice.

What's Four Gentlemen Used For

First published in Imperial Grace Formulary of the Tai Ping Era (1078-85), Si Jun Zi Tang (4 Gentlemen) is often used as a base formula and combined with other herbs to treat various chronic digestive complaints. Taken alone, it strengthens the spleen and regulates (moves) the spleen qi.


How to Use Si Jun Zi Tang

Don't self prescribe this, because persistent digestive complaints require professional diagnosis. Usually used for one month or longer. 

 What Herbs are in Si Jun Zi Tang

Dang Shen Codonopsis Radix Codonopsis Pilosulae
Bai Zhu White Atractylodis Rhizoma Atractylodis
Fu Ling Poria Cocos Sclerotium Poriae Cocos
Zhi Gan Cao Baked Licorice root Radix Glycyrrhizae Preparata



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6. Menopause

aka Two Immortals Pill 

This modern formula was originally developed at the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine in the twentieth century for menopausal hypertension, but is often used to treat other menopausal symptoms as well. The name Two Immortals (er xian) comes from 2 of the chief herbs in the formula, xian mao (curculigo) and xian ling pi (epimedium).

How to Use Two Immortals

Replenish kidney yang and yin, build blood, and clear deficiency heat.

Complaints associated with menopause such as fatigue, low libido, hot flashes, high blood pressure, day or night sweats, and insomnia.

Take as a daily supplement for periods of two weeks or longer. Discontinue use during a cold or upper respiratory infection. 
Tonics are thought to prolong such illnesses. Wait until the cold has passed before resuming course of treatment. 

What Herbs are in Two Immortals (Er Xian Wan)

The formula contains no estrogen or other hormones, and possibly achieves its effect by using yang tonics to help normalize hormone production.

  • Morinda root (bai ji tan or radix morindae officinalis) tonifies the kidneys, fortifies the kidneys, fortifies the yang, strengthens the sinews and bones

  • Licentious goat wort (yin yang huo or herba epimedii) stimulates hormone production, tonifies the yin, fortifies the yang, expels dampness

  • Golden eye grass (xian mao or rhizoma curculiginis orchioides) tonifies the kidneys, expels dampness

  • Amur cork bark (huang bai or cortex phellodendri) drains damp heat, quells kidney fire, detoxifies fire poisons

  • Anemarrhena (zhi mu or radix anemarrhenae asphodeloides) quells fire, nurtures yin, moistens dryness, clears deficiency heat

  • Oyster shell (mu li or concha ostreae) calms the spirit, benefits the yin, restrains rising yang, restrains sweating

  • Dang Gui (tang kwei or radix angelica sinensis) tonifies the blood, invigorates and harmonizes the blood


Airborne Allergies 

woman sneezing into a tissue

Cang Er Zi San
Sinus Pills (Pe Min Kan Wan)
Allergy Pill (Min Kan Wan)

Xanthium Based Allergy Formulas 

The common cocklebur fruit is called CANG ER ZI in Chinese. Its botanical name is fructus xanthii, and its use in relieving nasal allergies is well established. 

These three formulas are adapted from the formulae Xanthium Powder and Magnolia Flower Powder, first published in Formulas to Aid the Living by Yan Hong He, 1253 AD.


How to Use Herbal Allergy Medicine

For nasal and sinus discomforts caused by allergic rhinitis or allergic sinusitis.

Expels wind, relieves surface, drains dampness, alleviates pain, opens the channels, releases muscles, circulates qi and blood in the head.

Xanthium based allergy formulas
address the symptomatic aspect of disease, known as the Branch. To treat the deeper, causative aspect of the disease, known as the Root, see a qualified practitioner of Chinese Medicine.

Ingredients of Herbal Allergy Medicines

The three formulas contain different variations of the following herbs:

  • Xanthium fructus (cang er zi or cocklebur fruit) opens the nasal passages, disperses wind, expels dampness, relieves discharge

  • Magnolia flos (xin ye hua or magnolia bud) expels wind, relieves surface, opens nasal passages

  • Agastache pogostemi (huo xiang or patchouli plant) transforms dampness, releases the exterior, harmonizes the center, expels dampness

  • Pueraria radix (ge gen or kudzu root) clears heat, releases muscles of upper body, nourishes fluids

  • Chrysanthemum flos (ju hua or chrysanthemum flower) disperses wind, clears heat from the eyes, pacifies the liver

  • Liguisticum wallichi szechuan (chuan xiong or lovage root) invigorates the blood, circulates qi, alleviates pain

  • Liquidambar fructus (lu lu tong or liquidambar fruit) promotes the flow of qi and blood, unblocks the channels, opens the middle burner. Mollifies allergic sensitivity

  • Angelica dahurica (bai zhi or angelica root) expels wind, releases surface, alleviates pain, reduces swelling, expels dampness and alleviates discharge.

No Ephedrine

Unlike Western allergy medicines and some herbal ones, the above formulas contain no Ma Huang or synthesized ephedrine and thus can't cause drowsiness or agitation. They are thus they are also safe to use together with any pharmaceutical drug.

Tablets are most potent when taken on an empty stomach and given at least half an hour to digest alone before food or other supplements are taken. If the user experiences digestive difficulties, tablets should be taken with food.


Insomnia, Anxiety

Good Sleep & No Worries Pill 

How to Use Good Sleep Pills

The term 'disturbed shen' means that the spirit is unsettled, agitating the mind and nervous system.

This formula is used for a wide range of symptoms caused by Disturbed Shen, including insomnia, anxiety, dream-disturbed sleep, irritability, restlessness, or even a rancorous disposition.

Unlike some other herbal sleeping pills, this formula contains no valerian or  heavy mineral stabilizers such as loadstone, oyster shell, or cinnabar. This makes Good Sleep & No Worries Pill safe for long term use and safe for use by pregnant or nursing women.

Maximum effect is usually obtained after about a month of daily use.

This formula is not considered to cause drowsiness or impair mental or physical functions; nevertheless, each person's reaction should be assessed before performing hazardous activities such as driving or operating machinery.

What's In Good Sleep Pills

  • Sour date seed (suan zao ren or zizyphus semen) nourishes the heart, calms the spirit

  • Chinese sage root (dan shen or salvia radix) clears heat from the heart, invigorates the heart blood

  • Siberian milk wort (zhi mu or anemarrhena rz) clears heat, quells fire, tonifies the yin

  • Arbor vitae seed (bai zhi ren or biota semen) nourishes the heart, calms the spirit

  • Atractylodes root (bai zhu or atractylodes rx) tonifies the spleen, aids the assimilation of the formula

  • Schizandra fruit (wu wei zi or schisandra fructus) astringes the essence, calms the spirit

  • Heart of poria (fu ling or poria cocos) calms the spirit, aids the digestion and assimilation of the formula's yin tonics

  • Gardenia seed (zhi zi or gardenia semen) clears heat from the heart, relieves irritability & restlessness

  • Bulrush (deng xin cao or medulla junci) drains heart heat, relieves insomnia

  • Ginseng root (ren shen or panax ginseng rx) benefits the heart qi, calms the spirit, tonifies original qi

  • Chinese licorice root (gan cao or glycyrrhiza rx) aids in the assimilation of other herbs (harmonizes)

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Information on this site is provided for educational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice of your own physician or other medical professional.   Shen Herb Inc.makes no claims as to efficacy or safety of products appearing on this site. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.




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