Chinese Herbal Medicines for the Common Cold

By Joel Harvey Schreck, L.Ac.

We've all heard it said “We can land spaceships on Mars, but can't even cure the common cold.” The cold seems to be a humbling curse that is mankind's burden forever. 

Despite the frustrations of science, some people claim to cure a cold with an amazing variety of stuff like garlic, ginger, zinc, and vitamin C. These never worked for me. I found that once my cold started, I was in for a week of suffering.  

That is, until an acquaintance gave me a vial of Chinese pills and told me to take them if I felt a cold coming on. A few days later, I awoke with a sore throat. Before leaving for work, I remembered the pills and took them. That evening, I realized that my budding cold had vanished, gone without a trace. What was that stuff? 

The stuff tuned out to be Yin Chiao. Was this a fluke? How could no one know about this? As it turns out, it was no fluke. Since that day, Yin Chiao and similar Chinese remedies have ended most of my colds. Perhaps medical science hasn't cured the common cold, but it appears that Chinese herbalists did it hundreds of years ago. The formula for Yin Chiao was first published in the eighteenth century. It's hard to understand why it would take the West so long to discover them. I imagine if bad news travels quickly, good news must travel slowly.   

Different ideas, no matter how good, are met with resistance. That’s why it took us about a thousand years to discover Chinese food. With pharmaceutical cold medicines proving to be harmful, let's hope it doesn't take another thousand years to discover Chinese herbal medicine. Not only are they safer, but Chinese herbs are simply more effective. When you discover them, you'll never even think about drugs for colds or visiting the doctor for a cold.  When Western civilization discovers them, it could turn our medical establishment upside down, easing suffering and preventing millions of needless trips to the doctor. This might be bad news for doctors, but it's very good news for everyone else. 

Though ancient Chinese herbalists knew nothing about germs, they knew that respiratory diseases were caused exterior wind evils. Evils that caused serious diseases like influenza and measles were called wind-heat evils. Common colds were caused by wind-cold evils. 

Our bodies are protected from wind evils by defensive energy, known as wei qi.  With adequate wei qi, you can be exposed to disease without getting sick. Herbs such as astragalus can be used to boost the wei qi, protecting us from invaders. They block the entry of wind evils.  

Expelling these evils requires herbs that release exterior conditions. Some of these are ginger, mint, kudzu root, and many others. Some of these herbs protect against wind-heat evils; others defend against wind-cold invaders. These herbs are rarely taken alone, but are combined in formulas that greatly increase their potency. Some of the most popular Chinese cold formulas appear to work on any kind of wind invasion, hot or cold. However, I have found that certain formulas work better on different parts of the body. 

For example, colds originating in the throat seem to respond best to Yin Chiao, which is taken at the first sign of cold. Keep them with you during cold season; the sooner you take them, the better they work. Yin Chiao contains remarkably simple and safe herbs. They are: honeysuckle, forsythia, balloon flower, peppermint, edible burdock, crested grass, schizonepeta, fermented soybean, and Chinese licorice root. 

For colds that begin in the nose, I prefer Gan Mao Ling. Use it alone or combine it with Yin Chiao when nasal or sinus congestion is present at the onset. Gan mao ling contains: Ilex Root, Chrysanthemum Flower, Vitex Herb, Isatis Root, and honeysuckle flower. 

To relieve colds which are too far developed to stop, or to relieve colds that begin with body aches, fever, and chills, I believe the best remedy is Zong Gan Ling which contains: kudzu root, hairy holly root, vervain, woad root, wormwood, gypsum, and notopterygi. 

Preventing a cold requires a different formula altogether, one that strengthens the body's defensive energy. The most famous of these formulas is called Yu Ping Feng San, or otherwise known as, Jade Windscreen or Jade Shield. This formula is used to build defensive energy (wei qi) and protect against cold, flu, and other invasions.  Jade Screen contains astragalus, Atractylodis, and Siler.  

Many of these formulas are available in natural food stores, particularly on the West Coast. If you can't find them at your local health food store, you can certainly find them on the web. I strongly suggest that you try them. They will open your eyes to the potency and reliability of Chinese herbals. And unlike many of the drugs at your drugstore, all of these are safe for children.   

Remember that a mere hundred years ago, no one in the West had even heard of Chinese food. Today there are Chinese restaurants everywhere. I can assure you that Chinese cold medicines work, and will become as valuable to our culture in the 21st century as Chinese food became in the 20th century.   

About the Author

Joel Harvey Schreck, L.Ac. is an acupuncturist and herbologist. Schooled in Hong Kong and San Francisco, he's been practicing since 1987. He is the author of A Patient's Guide to Chinese Medicine,

He is co-founder of the Shen Clinic and co-founder of the popular Dr. Shen line of natural medicines, sold nationally in many natural food stores. Visit

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