Largely owing to its unique efficacy on moistening lung to stop coughing, Bai Bu, or stemona root, deserves a spot among so many Chinese herbs. That explains why it is widely used for different types of coughs, acute or persistent. Mastering this herb could be hard but may not as hard as you think. It’ll definitely go a long way with the clinical efficiency if you keep in mind the following proven clinical tips.
What is Bai Bu?
The pharmaceutical name known as Radix stemonae sessilifoliae, it refers to the dried tuberous root of Stemona sessilifolia (Miq.) Franch., Stemona japonica (Bl.) Miq., or Stemona tuberosa Lour, which is a plant in the genus Stemona (family Stemonaceae).
It is a perennial herb with spindle-shaped root tubers, which usually grows in mountainous region, woods, or bamboo forest. The tubers are yellowish-white or khaki-colored in appearance, with irregular deep vertical sulcus or horizontal wrinkles sometimes. It is crisp, horny, flat section, and light yellowish-brown or yellowish-white in color. It tastes sweet and bitter and has mild odor.
The root tubers of Stemona japonica are narrow at both ends, light grey in color, with irregular deep vertical sulcus or horizontal wrinkles, and bitter taste.
The root tubers of Stemona tuberosa Lour look like long spindle or elongated shapes, light yellowish-brown or grayish brown in skin, light vertical wrinkles or irregular vertical sulcus, sturdy, yellowish-white to dark brown section, and bitter taste.
And the better ones are those with stronger tuber and solid quality.
What is it used for?
It is sweet, bitter, and slight warm in nature and connects to lung meridian.
Main indications include moistening and descending the lung Qi to stop cough, and killing parasites. In terms of coughing, it is dedicated to all no matter it is acute and chronic, tuberculosis, or whooping cough. In particular, honeyed one is good at curing cough caused by lung deficiency. As for killing parasite, it is suitable for head lice, body louse, pinworms, and vaginal itching.
Regular dosage is from 3 to 9 grams.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
Cough is the most common sign of respiratory problems, like infection of upper respiratory track, acute and chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis and all kinds of pneumonia etc. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) believes that cough thus occurs due to Lung Qi obstruction by attacks of exogenous pathogens, or Lung Qi losing control of its descending nature because of Zang-Fu dysfunction.
Bai Bu Wan, from Xiao Er Yao Zheng Zhi Jue (Key to the Therapeutics of Children’s Diseases), is formatted for lung-cold type cough with little phlegm. Other herbal ingredients includes Ma Huang (Ephedra sinica) and Xing Ren (Apricot Seed).
Zhi Ke San, from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations), is especially for lung-involved cough by cold-pathogens infringe on only skin deep. Other herbs are Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome), Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice), Bai Qian (Cynanchum Rhizome), Ju Hong (Bitter Orange Peel), and Zi Wan (Purple Aster Root).
Bai Bu Gao, from Wai Ke Shi Fa (Ten Ways For Surgical Department), is for psoriasis treatment. Other herbs in this herbal formula are Bai Xian Pi (Dictamnus Root Bark), Bi Ma Zi (Castor Seed), He Shi (Daucus Fruit), Huang Bai (Amur Cork Tree Bark), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia), Huang La (Beeswax), Xiong Huang (Realgar), and Ma You (Sesame Oil).
The list can be longer but here are just a few examples for reference only.
Tips on applying this herb
Pairing with Zi Wan (Purple Aster Root) will bring out the best in each other. It is because both of them are important herbs working on lung meridian. One is sweet, moist and neutral and the other is acrid, warm but not arid. They complement each other to reinforce the capability of stopping cough.
Pairing with Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Fruit/Seed) is good for chronic cough for lung and lung-kidney deficiency. It is because Wu Wei Zi is acid, sweet and warm in nature and influences meridians of lung, heart and kidney. The combination of them enhances the restraining force to hold back the reverse ascending lung Qi.
Pairing with Cynanchum Rhizome enhances the ability to remove phlegm, which is usually considered the culprit of coughing. Both of them go to lung meridian and cough will just disappear once phlegm removed.
Pairing with Huang Qin (Baical Skullcap Root) is aiming to couple its clearing-heat function. Huang Qin is bitter and cold and enters channels of heart, stomach, lung, gallbladder, and large intestine. So, the combination of them is suitable for cough due to excessive lung heat, yellow sticky sputum, thirst, and sort throat.
Possible side effects and contraindications
It might cause respiratory paralysis and reduce the excitability of respiratory center. Over dose might lead to symptoms and sign such as suppression and burning in the chest, dryness in mouth, nose and throat, dizziness, and gasp. Poisoning symptoms include nausea, vomit, headache, paleness, difficult breathing, even death caused by respiratory paralysis in some severe cases. Rescue methods are to give oxygen or mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Other remedies also include injecting respiratory stimulant like lobeline and nikethamide.
In TCM practice, Bai Bu is forbidden for those have no appetite due to deficient spleen and patients who have consistent loose stools because it might hurt stomach and worsen the condition. But normally it is such a mild herb that it won’t cause severe adverse reactions if used by the guidelines mentioned above.