Being one of precious Chinese medicines, fritillaria bulbs (Chuan Bei Mu) is known for their remarkable efficacy on moistening lung to arrest cough. Actually the history of using this herb in Chinese herbal remedies can date back to The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic), one of the earliest material medica classics allegedly written in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).
What are fritillaria bulbs?
Actually in TCM practice there are total 5 different fritillaria species, among which bulbus fritillariae cirrhosae (Chuan Bei Mu) and Thunberg Fritillary Bulb (Zhe Bei Mu) are the most used two. However, generally the former is believed to be the best.
Its formal name is tendrilleaf fritillary bulb or Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae in Latin. The plant is a member of Liliaceae family. Looked from the TCM’s angle, medicinal fritillaria refers to the dry bulbs of Fritillaria cirrhosa D. Don, Fritillaria unibracteata Hsiao et K. C. Hsia, Fritillaria przewalskii Maxim., and Fritillaria delavayi Franch.
According to different medicinal properties, they can be classified as “Song Bei”, “Qing Bei”, “Lu Bei”, and cultivated products. The medicinal fritillaria bulb is usually harvested in summer and autumn or when the snow is melting. After the harvest, it needs to remove the fibrous roots, bark, and sand before drying them in the sun or low temperature drying.
What is fritillaria used for?
In the sight of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this herb is bitter, sweet, and slightly cold in nature. It goes to two meridians, including lung and heart. Its chief functions are to eliminate phlegm by cooling, moisten lung to arrest cough, and remove stasis to reduce swelling. Its main indications and uses are irritating dry cough caused by lung heat, hacking cough with little phlegm, cough due to overexertion and Yin deficiency, dry coughing and sputum with blood, stagnation in chest and heart, the consumptive lung disease, pulmonary abscess, pharyngitis, and acute mastitis. Usual dosage is from 3 to 10 grams in decoction, or 1 to 2 grams in powder.
It is a little bit complicated here. Fritimine is found in commodity fritillary bulb; Minpeimine, Chinpeimine and Minpeiminine are found in Fritillaria przewalskii Maxim.; Fritiminine is found in Fritillaria delavayi Franch.
1. Fritillaria cirrhosa D. Don contains fritimine and sipeimine;
2. Fritillaria unibracteata Hsiao et K. C. Hsia contains songbeisine, sonbeinine, sucrose, stearicacid, palmiticacid, and β－sitosterol;
3. Fritillaria delavayi Franch. contains dela-vlne, delavinone, chuanbeinone, delafrine, delafrinone,（22R,25S）-solanid-5-enine-3β,5α,6β-triol, peimisine, imperialine, and fritiminine;
4. Fritillaria przewalskii Maxim. contains minpeimine, minpeiminine, imperialine, delavinone, and chuanbeinone.
- Both fritillaria alkaloids and non-alkaloids have antitussive function;
- Both fritillary liquid extract and fritimine have expectorant effects, but in varying degrees;
- Sipeimine is antispasmodic;
- Both Fritimine and Imperialine can lower blood pressure;
- Peimine can increase uterine tension;
- The total alkaloids from Fritillaria have anti-ulcer effect.
Chinese herbal formulas related fritillaria
Thanks to its great performance on nourishing lung Yin, ventilating and moistening lung, and clearing lung heat, this herb is the inevitable choice for chronic cough and asthma due to excessive phlegm. Hence, fritillaria bulbs are frequently found in many proprietary formulations for acute bronchitis and tuberculosis, such as San She Dan Chuan Bei Mu Ye and Chuan Bei Pi Pa Lu.
Si Shun Tang
Si Shun Tang is selected from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns & Treatment). This herbal recipe is mainly used for pulmonary abscess, pyemesis, dysphoria in chestpalms-soles, chest tightness, and cough. Other main herbal ingredients include Zi Wan (Purple Aster Root), Jie Geng (Platycodon), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root).
Bei Mu Tang
Bei Mu Tang comes from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is primarily for the treatment of sudden cough due to the cold. Other herbs are Kuan Dong Hua (Coltsfoot Flower), Ma Huang (Ephedra), Xing Ren (Apricot Seed), and Gan Cao.
Er Mu San
Ee Mu San is from Ji Jiu Xian Fang (Immortals’ Prescriptions for Emergency). This prescription is really great for treatment of cough due to lung heat and dryness. The other herb is Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome).
Xiao Luo Wan
Xiao Luo Wan is chosen from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Understanding of Medical Science). It is good at curing scrofula, mastitis, and lung abscess. The other two important herbs are Pu Gong Ying (Dandelion) and Yu Xing Cao (Houttuynia).
Chuan Bei Mu Pear
This is a popular folk prescription, mainly for infant cough, especially chronic bronchitis. This is simply because this formula is so safe and mild in nature that it is an ideal choice for frail children who suffer from chronic cough. But attention please, it should not be used when kids are catching a cold. Other ingredients include pear and crystal sugar.
Why is Chuan Bei Mu so expensive?
Commodity fritillaria mainly comes from wild resources. It is produced mainly in highland areas, which makes it hard to harvest. What’s more, as one of the most important herbs that relieve cough and reduce sputum, this herb is always in great demand. On one hand, the overexploitation of the wild resources leads to the scarcity. On the other hand, the cultivation is expensive and difficult because it grows pretty slow and needs a long production cycle. All the above-mentioned elements lead to what it is now.
Potential fritillaria side effects and contraindications
This herb are considered as bitter and cold. As a result, it is suitable only in cough due to the phlegm-heat accumulation. That’s to say, it should not be taken in the cases of clear white sputum, frothy sputum, or those with cold-phlegm or damp-phlegm syndrome, often manifested as cough accompanied with excessive phlegm and swelling face.
Besides, TCM wise, fritillaria bulbs (Chuan Bei Mu) contradicts with Aconitum herbs and thus should not be used with them together.