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Herbal Explorations

A Season for Loquat

By Josh Walker, L.Ac.

Many of the earthly materials commonly used as herbs in Chinese Medicine are hardly common in every day life here in the United States; we don´t usually see the plant from which Bai Zhi is harvested while walking the park, nor do we generally happen upon wild growing vines from the genus Polygonum, from which herbs such as He Shou Wu, Ye Jiao Teng, and Qing Dai are found. However, there are a number of very useful herbs found right among us in the USA. Bo He perhaps comes to mind almost instantly, as well as Sheng Jiang, and Hu Tao Ren. But how about Pi Pa Ye?

Eriobotrya Japonica is the botanical name for the Loquat plant, a species of plant that is indigenous to China, but is now easily grown and harvested in many countries throughout the world. The Loquat fruit is a small and sweet fruit that is citrus-like in look and taste, similar to an orange. These fruits are fairly common here in Florida where they are cultivated both by individuals as well as by businesses, making great little snacks during warm, damp weather. It is also used in various culinary circles to make pies and jellies.

The leaves of the Loquat are known in Chinese Medicine as Pi Pa Ye or Pa Ye, and have a worthwhile medicinal effect. Bitter and energetically cooling, Pi Pa Ye has proven to be a very effective antitussive herb, forming the basis for both classical as well as more modern cough syrup formulations; it quenches cough due to heat and/or dryness. While this herb is bitter and aids in transforming phlegm, it is well-balanced in that it favorably moistens the Lungs when processed with honey. It also serves as a mild expectorant action, but most texts advise that other herbs should be used first and foremost. Pi Pa Ye is often combined with Huang Lian, Zhi Zi, and Sang Bai Pi for cough with Lung Heat; it is also paired with Jie Geng and Bai Bu for cough with heat and dryness. Some sources add to this Sang Ye while others opt for Sang Bai Pi. Fortunately, Pi Pa Ye plays well with many of these types of herbs and is fairly versatile.

Good quality leaves are large and full, slightly brittle, and possess a distinct grayish and greenish hue. While most distributors have good quality whole leaves, determining the quality in wild specimen is very easy.

Loquat leaves appear in several formulas used commercially and classically for treating branch problems associated with cough. Various commercial products using the Fritillaria and Loquat combination include Pi Pa Ye as a primary ingredient, while the classical formula, Fritillaria and Tricosanthes Fruit Powder often includes both Pi Pa Ye and Xing Ren for more serious instances of coughing or wheezing. It is with this formula in mind that I have, on rare occasion made up a concoction for my wife, who approximately once each year, has a severe bout of coughing that lasts for multiple nights. In this instance, the goal of the cough syrup is to primarily treat the branch condition so sleeping through the night is possible. Other herbs are added to the main formula to address the root of the problem in lieu of a more thorough examination to differentiate the patterns.

We start off with the standard Fritillaria and Tricosanthes Fruit Powder with the addition of our Loquat as well as Xing Ren:

Bei Mu Gua Lou San (Fritillaria and Tricosanthes Fruit Powder):

Chuan Bei Mu 9g
Gua Lou Ren 6g
Tian Hua Fen 6g
Fu Ling 6g
Ju Hong 6g
Jie Geng 6g
Xing Ren 6g
Pi Pa Ye 6g

To make this into a very soothing formula for dispelling harsh cough that strongly interferes with sleep, we want to consider adding other herbs that interact particularly well with Pi Pa Ye, Xing Ren, Jie Geng, Chuan Bei Mu, and Gua Lou Ren.

Through some trial and error over the years, I have found additional herbs that modify the existing formula agreeably include Ban Xia, Zi Su Ye, Bo He, and Bai Bu. Ban Xia has a very strong antitussive effect and fits quite nicely in this formula. Zi Su Ye and Bai Bu both display some inhibitory effect in the brain, thus reducing cough and support the actions of the other cough-relieving herbs. Bo He provides a cooling and soothing sensation that benefits the throat and sinuses. This is why it is commonly used in over the counter cough lozenges.

Lastly, some may choose to modify the formula by removing or reducing the quantity of the ingredients. However, it should be noted that the herb to be subtracted from or added to this mixture should enhance the overall function of the formula. For example, Ju Hong (or Chen Pi) is the outer orange peel. When we add Ban Xia, we have essentially built Er Chen Tang as a subset of the larger formula, which works in concert with Fu Ling to regulate accumulations of fluid of course, this must be a consideration if dryness is an issue. Therefore, with any formula, it should be tailored to the situation at hand.

The final cough mix looks something like this:

Chuan Bei Mu 9g
Gua Lou Ren 6g
Tian Hua Fen 6g
Fu Ling 6g
Ju Hong 6g
Jie Geng 6g
Xing Ren 6g
Pi Pa Ye 6g
Ban Xia 6g
Bai Bu 6g
Bo He 3g
Zi Su Ye 3g

If this formula is made into tea, both Bo He and Zi Su Ye should be added post-decoction into the mixture. The addition of honey is also useful for soothing itchiness in the throat that can bring about a cough reflex. Some sources claim that honey alone provides some antitussive effect.

Pi Pa Ye is really quite an important herb in the above formulas, as well as other formulas in which it appears. More importantly though, Loquat should be of particular interest to those who grow and harvest their own wild herbs for use; it is easy to harvest, has high clinical value, and provides a unique citrus fruit!