Composed of about a hundred of overlapping scales, lily bulbs, or Bai He in Pinyin,are viewed as the propitious sign of a blissful lasting marriage and all the best by ancient Chinese. There is no denying that the beauty is really impressive on its own, let alone the auspicious omen carried. No wonder lily grows in most countries mainly as ornamental flowers. Some species of lily bulb, however, are rich in starch and edible too. But even more than that, as one of commonly used Chinese herbs, it is widely applied to calm spirit and moisten lung to relieve cough.
What is lily bulb?
Also known as bulbus lilii in west, it refers to the dried fleshy petal-like layers of Lilium lancifolium Thunb., Lilium brownii F.E.Brown var. viridulum Baker, or Lilium pumilum DC. In China it is cultivated across the country, especially in Hunan and Zhejiang provinces. Autumn is the best time for harvest and traditionally the growers repeat the unchanged procedures year after year – to collect, wash, scale, slightly scald, and dry.
It is one kind of perennial herb, bulbus depressed globose, and stems erect. Lilium lancifolium is orange red and dotted with purple black spots; Lilium brownii is white but brown in back; Lilium pumilum is cardinal red or aubergine but without spots.
Medicinally, the honey-fried one is oblong in shape, 2 to 5cm long, 1 to 2 wide, and 1.3 to 4mm thick in middle. Surface is white, light brownish-yellow or purplish, with a few white vascular bundles. The whole body is slightly undulate and curved inward, with slight sharp top, wide base, and thin edge. The texture is hard and crisp, with flat keratinous section. And it is odorless and tastes slightly bitter.
What are lily bulbs used for?
Based on theories of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), it is sweet, slightly cold in nature and covers meridians of heart and lung. It is capable of nourishing Yin and moistening lung, which is used for indications like chronic cough due to yin deficiency, and blood in sputum. And it clears heart heat, and calms spirit, which is applied for remnant heat of febrile diseases, restlessness, deficient irritability and palpitations, too much dreams and insomnia, and wandering mind. Usual dosage is 10 to 30g in decoction. By the way, unprocessed form is better for clearing heart heat while honey-fried form is better for moistening lung.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
Bai He Gu Jin Tang and Wan, from Shen Zhai Yi Shu (Shen-Zhai’s Writings for Posterity), is formulated mainly for ascending fire due to Yin deficiency of lung-kidney. The clinical manifestations are cough, short of breath, blood sputum, dry sore throat, dizziness, afternoon hot flash, red tongue with few coating, and rapid string pulse. Other herbal ingredients in this formula include Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia, Chinese Foxglove Root), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia root), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Bai Shao Yao (White Peony Root), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome), Xuan Shen (Ningpo Figwort Root), Bei Mu (Fritillaria Bulb), and Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber).
Bai He Di Huang Tang and Bai He Zhi Mu Tang, from The Jin Gui Yao Lue (“Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer”), are designed exclusively for Bai He Bing (syndrome), whose clinical manifestations are bitter taste, dark urine with burning sensation, and weak rapid pulse. The patient has elusive cold, sleep, behavior, and moods, which make him look like possessed and seeing things. TCM believes that its root cause lies in yin deficiency of heart-lung and malnutrition of all meridians. The first one is the major recipe and the others are its variations.
Fresh lily bulbs taste sweet, crisp and delicious. It is suitable for all four seasons, in particular in fall. And extra benefits will goes to those looking to moisten lung and stomach, with symptoms like chronic cough, pulmonary tuberculosis, mouth sores, dry mouth, bad breath, and palpitations. The recommended perfect matches are celery, meat, and red date, etc.
Possible side effects and contraindications
It contains monocrotaline (MCT) and experiments on rodents and canine show that continued intake or larger doses leads to lung and kidney lesions and influence platelet and leukocyte. For some certain susceptible people, consulting your doctor beforehand would be highly suggested. In addition, direct contact might cause skin itch and swallowing might result in vomit and diarrhea etc.
TCM wise, lily bulbs shouldn’t be used in patients with cough caused by wind and cold pathogens, deficient spleen and stomach, and chronic diarrhea or loose stools. Otherwise, unexpected situations would occur afterwards.