Coughing Up Mucus Relief by Bai Jie Zi

Coughing Up Mucus Relief by Bai Jie ZiCoughing up mucus, for many, is just easy come and easy go. But for another many it is a haunting nightmare. For them, this symptom is so annoying that it seriously affects the quality of their lives as it is very difficult to cough it out sometimes, let alone the fear that it might be one of indicators of some severe medical conditions. In terms of providing relief to coughing up phlegm itself, Bai Jie Zi (White Mustard Seed) is one of wonderful optional Chinese herbs, especially for chronic coughing due to cold phlegm accumulated in lungs.

Causes of coughing up mucus

Is coughing up mucus good? First, one fact has to be admitted that this act itself is one protective response aiming to expel the foreign toxic substance out of the body. The meaning of mucus, also known as expectorated matter or sputum in medical terms, is two fold – the pathology secretion from respiratory tract infection and viscous matter accumulated in lesions.

Since it is secreted from mucous layer of the trachea (windpipe), it is pushed up from lung to respiratory tract along with the movement of bronchus cilia and then coughed out of the body via normal cough reflex, which protects lung from further damage. Healthy individuals, however, also produce small amount of it to keep airway moistening. When people inhale cold and dry air, it comes into play to moisten and warm the oxygen-carried air in lung via respiratory passage. But when harmful microorganisms like irritants, pathogens, dust, and virus are being inhaled, the upper respiratory tract and lung would becomes inflamed, which lead to extra secretion. Meanwhile the color and texture of sputum also changes, for example viscous into hard, thin into thick and clear white into yellow brown or even bloody.

From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), simply put it is the result of imbalance of lung and spleen or pathogenic factors. After the assault by pathogens, lung fails to perform the duty of transporting and distributing fluid to the whole body, which in turn is congealed in lung and results in symptoms and signs such as reversed Qi, cough, and wheezing caused by the excessive amounts accumulated inside. According to the nature, it can be classified as four different categories – heat, damp, dry, and cold. There are many herbal remedies available to get rid of cough and mucus, among which Bai Jie Zi is one of the most mentioned.

What is Bai Jie Zi or white mustard seed?

Also known as Semen Brassicae in Latin, it refers to the seed of Brassica alba (L.) Boiss., which is an annual or biennial herb of 30 to 100cm in height. It is spherical, 1 to 1.6mm in diameter, and with deep yellow to brownish yellow testa, or reddish brown in some. Observed under a magnifying glass, the surface presents tiny net texture and clear hilum. Seeds become enlarged after soaked in water for a while, two cotyledons seen after seed coat removed, folded along the main vein, and radicle located between 2 cotyledons. Dried seed is odorless but tastes like oil at first and acrid later. After smashed and wetting, it sends out peculiar pungent smell. By the way, for medicinal purpose, the better one is full grains, uniform size, yellow or reddish brown in color.

Nature and meridians influenced

TCM believes that this herb is acrid and warm in nature and covers lung meridian. Main functions are to warm the lungs, resolve phlegm, facilitate Qi, dissipate binds, dredge channels, and alleviate pain.

Main usage and indications include cough and wheezing caused by cold phlegm, coughing up mucus, distention in chest and flanks, numbness or pain due to phlegm blocked in channels, boils due to phlegm-dampness, dorsal furuncle and pyogenic infections. Regular dosage is 3 to 10 grams in decoction.

Cautions and Contraindications

It should be avoided by those who are diagnosed with chronic cough caused by lung deficiency and fire excess from yin deficiency.

How to cough up mucus?

Coughed mucus presents different colors based on different nature of diseases. The most commonly seen type is clear white, which illustrates that pus is not involved yet, typically in some minor ailments. The rusty or brown one might indicate involvement of blood, smoking, air pollution, or infection. The yellow or green one is associated with viral or bacterial infections. And the pink one might be coughed up in Asthmatic sufferers. So, different methods need to employ based on different conditions.

Cold phlegm in TCM

Just like mentioned previously, this herb is good at expelling this expectorated matter. So what is it? As far as color is concerned, it is clear white in color and thin in texture. For example, other symptoms and signs are always accompanied like aversion to cold, fever, headache, laryngeal itching, and cough in influenza. Or patterns of deficiency of spleen-kidney have side symptoms such as aversion to coldness, cold limbs, fatigue, loss of appetite, clear urine, white greasy tongue coat, and moderate deep pulse too.

Transforming phlegm in TCM varies based on different patterns – mainly warm herbs for cold type and vice versa. So make sure the right patterns before giving out prescription. Regular medications for former pattern are Tong Xuan Li Fei Wan and Xiao Qing Long Ke Li while latter are Ji Zhi Tang Jiang and Xian Zhu Li Kou Fu Ye.

In addition, stopping cough and transforming phlegm are two totally different concepts in TCM. So, the treatment requires both cough-stopping and phlegm-transforming herbs, or herbs that have these two functions at the same time. Otherwise, the therapy won’t go far at all.

Herbal remedies for coughing up phlegm with Bai Jie Zi

Documented in Fang Mai Zheng Zong, Orthodox School of Recipes and Pulse Study, this herb was used for a lump in the abdomen due to wind-damp pathogens, and saliva and sputum congealation. The method is to mix its powder with vinegar and then plaster them on the lump externally, or internally take the pills bonded with Shen Qu (Medicated Leaven);

According to Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief), its powder combined with wine treats regurgitation, throwing out food, abnormal rising of Qi, and no desire to move due to weakness;

Jie Zi Jiu Yun Fang, from Sheng Ji Zhong Lu (The Complete Record of Holy Benevolence), is designed for wind-cold in lung and aphonia after typhoid fever. The steps are as follows – grind the seeds into powder, boil them with wine to medium heat, pack them with gauze to iron the neck around, and change after it turns cool;

San Zi Yang Qin Tan, from Han Shi Yi Tong (Han’s Treatise on General Medicine), is aiming to bring relief to coughing up mucus, reversed Qi, and abdominal bloating due to swallowing the phlegm, unconsciously or semiconsciously, instead of coughing it out. The individual herbs in this formula are Bai Jie Zi (White Mustard Seed), Su Zi (Purple Perilla Fruit), and Luo Bo Zi (Carrot Seed).

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