What’s Your Favorite Chinese Medicine? Here’s My List…

Honestly, I’ve tried. I’ve really tried to dabble with Chinese medicines, but after almost four years of practicing medicine here in Beijing, I must admit that I am comfortable prescribing only a few. That could mean a couple things:

  1. I’m too lazy to research
  2. I’m too busy to research
  3. I’ve tried to research but can’t find convincing evidence

The answer, of course, is D: “all of the above”. But I refuse to give up, and I still love the idea of fusing the best of Western and Eastern medicines into my practice. So, here are my favorites:

Nin Jiom Syrup for cough everyone likes this medicine (pictured above), as it tastes really good. That’s because it’s mostly pure honey with a lot of herbs thrown in. I like this syrup even better than the western-style Robitussin syrups mostly because they all work about the same — which means not very well. Since none really work well, you might as well avoid the many side effects from Robitussin-style syrups which often make people feel a bit loopy or too wired, due to the pseudoephedrine and allergy ingredients. I like to combine Nin Jiom with western medicines like Tylenol Cold pills or oxymetazoline nasal spray.

San Huang Pian (三黄片)for constipation – This formula has many uses, but I personally like this one for general constipation. People who are stuck can take 1-3 pills before bedtime for a couple nights to get results. I’m told you should only use this occasionally and not every day, and I only recommend this to healthy adults who would like to try an alternative to their usual constipation therapies. The best way to keep your bowels healthy and loose is always a proper diet and hydration, plus exercise.

Watermelon Frost Lozenges for sore throats – There are a lot of cough drops and sore throat lozenges out there, but many are simply pure candy and ineffective. Watermelon frost (xigua shuang han pian 西瓜霜含片) is an ancient remedy for the throat, and I’ve found these lozenges to provide fairly good relief for the typical sore throat and cough.

Xue Zhi Kang (血脂康 胶囊) for high cholesterol – as I’ve mentioned before, this patented formula from red yeast rice has fairly strong evidence to lower cholesterol. There’s a good reason for that — much of the natural ingredients are similar to the prescription lovastatin. I’ve tried this medicine with a couple low-risk patients and had good results, although one patient had the same muscle aches he experienced with Lipitor and other statins.

The Jury Is Still Out…

I’m still looking for hard evidence that the wildly popular common cold medicines ban lan gen ke li or gan mao qing re ke li actually work. I am still deciding on many other medicines, including yunnan baiyao, a famous powder good for bleeding and burns.

What Chinese medicines do you use? Please leave comments below; it’d be fun to spark a reader conversation about pros/cons and personal experiences.


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15 thoughts on “What’s Your Favorite Chinese Medicine? Here’s My List…”

  1. I'm not sure if this actually qualifies as a medicine, but they do sell it in the drugstore, so…

    I like Tiger balm or Axe oil for mosquito bites headaches, or congestion. I like the smell, but some (like my husband) don't, so it's not for everyone.

    1. Sure, Tiger Balm definitely counts. I forgot that one — I also use it for general aches and also chest rubs during colds. It\’s basically the same as Vics Vapo-rub, a menthol/eucalyptus base that warms the skin.

  2. I do love the nin joim syrup. Also pear water is great for sore throats and oncoming colds. I learned about that and the importance of gargling salt water here in China, though I'm not sure if they count as medicines.

    Oh, and I like hua lu shui to ward off the mosquitoes.

    1. "Hua lu shui"; that must mean "green water" — that's the mosquito repellant in those narrow, tall bottles? I see that everywhere — does anyone know what the active ingredient is? It's a bit too smelly for me…

      1. Yes, that's the one. I don't know what the active ingredient is and yes, it is smelly. But I prefer that smell over the mosquitoes. 🙂

        Thanks for your blog, I love it.

  3. yin qiao jie du pian. i've actually been using it since i was a kid, but i still really have no idea if i works.
    great post. on the flip side, i'm curious if you have any thoughts about particular chinese medicines to avoid because they may be more harmful than beneficial?

    1. I've heard a lot about yinqiao for colds and flu; I'm still searching for best evidence but I believe it has more research of evidence than banlangen.

      As for medicines to avoid, you really need to stick with the top brands and not buy over the internet. There are constant reports of TCM with heavy metals, or illegal ingredients like prescription Viagra or cholesterol statins thrown in. I would only use TongRenTan branded TCM, it's by far the biggest.

      And as for real herbal mixtures at TCM clinics, again I would stick to the big TCM hospitals or TongRenTan's own TCM docs at their biggest pharmacies.

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  5. 西瓜霜 is by far and away my favorite – not the crumbly orange ones though, but the brown sucky ones. If you know what I mean…

    Now, I don't suppose you know of any to help you sleep, do you?

    Thanks for sharing this post!

    1. It's true; the watermelon frost lozenges "xiguashuang" have a few versions; I also only recently discovered the better lozenge. It's great for sore throats and cough. My post above has a photo of the box you should look for in the pharmacy.

      As for sleeping, I do have a suggestion! In the new issue of "The World of Chinese" (good bilingual mag, available at expat markets) there's a good article about TCM. They mention for insomnia: wild jujube seed, known as suan1zao3ren2 tang1wan2 酸枣仁汤碗; it's supposed to be around 8RMB a box. I've never tried it but it's reportedly famous; let me know how it works!

  6. I like the watermelon frost powder for canker sores. Taste isn't wonderful, but tends to work within a day or so. Really helps with the pain, too.

  7. I take 板蓝根 (Banlangen) anytime I feel like I'm starting to come down with a cold, and it generally manages to stop the cold! It's the root of the woad plant I believe. 清热颗粒 Qingrekeli is another standby for me. It generally helps me get better within 2 or 3 days. I also quite like loquat syrup for coughs – pipa lu (枇杷露) I think it's called. And with all of these medicines I generally try to buy only those made by Tongrentang as there seems to be more guarantee of quality.

  8. There’s one called 黄连素(Huang Lian Su) for diarrhea that my whole family swears by when we go back to China for visits.

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