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September 25, 2023

Loving the Lungs for Autumnal Transition

Beige soil, earth is dried out and cracking

Moving deeper into Autumn we can support the health of our physical and emotional bodies with the elemental logic of Chinese Traditional Medicine. Through this season we depart from the Heart-centered fire of Summer to honor the element of Metal, and the organs of the Lungs and Large Intestines which filter and purge. We have lived through annual peaks in Yang energy and start to distill the lessons we’ve lived through, deciding what is most necessary to carry forward. Energetically, Lungs process through the emotion of grief so the seasonal contraction truly is a gentle nudge towards inwardness, retrospection and release.

The Lungs are a delicate organ often needing our support, and especially call in our attention in the Fall during California’s fire season and across seasons as the weather gets colder into Winter.

The Lungs rule over the body’s water passages; the energy of the Lungs,  Lung Qi, plays an important role in circulating all body fluids. By “descending and diffusing” – extracting “pure qi” from air and moving it through our bodies in networks under our skin (cou li, interstices) – healthy Lungs catalyze blood circulation and thus assist our  immune defense, or (defensive qi). They can be thought of as the most external of the Zang/Yin organs because of their control over the skin and thus require some priority to protect from exterior pathogens in our environments and/or climatic factors.

The Prime Minister and the Emperor

Dried rose bouquet, photo has a slight sepia tint

The Chinese medicine-lineage uses imperial archetypes to orient understandings of organ energetics and how they relate to other internal systems. The Lungs are commonly referred to as “the Prime Minister” because they are in charge of regulation and work intimately with the Heart (the Emperor). The Lungs and the Heart have an interdependent relationship and we see this on physiological levels as well as the spiritual or emotive lens. The Lungs, which governs qi, and the Heart which governs blood, are connected through the Qi of the chest (Zong Qi) and are often healthy or deficient at the same time. Qi is the commander of blood and blood is the mother/vessel for qi, they are not apart from each other.

Spiritually, the Lungs are recognized as the residence of the Corporeal Soul (Po) – the yin counterpart to the Ethereal Soul (Hun) housed in the Heart. Breathing exercises to strengthen and purify the Lungs are often also feedback to calm the heart-mind, the spirit. “Just as through breathing oxygen enters the blood in Western medicine, in Chinese medicine breathing is a manifestation of the Corporeal Soul which affects all psychological functions”. In harmonizing our inner and outer worlds, what is felt and and what is embodied, we can access the most support with a slower pace and moisture to aid gentleness in this “clearing” time.

Get to Know Your formulas

Small dish of mulberry juice, plated over mulberries and mulberry leaves

In cases of dryness inhibiting the flow of qi, the formula Clear Dryness and Rescue the Lungs Decoction (Qin Zao Jiufei Tang) may be prescribed to clear dryness and moisten Lungs.

Formula Ingredients

  • Mulberry Leaf/Moli Folium, sang ye , (Chief), Clears and disperses dryness from the Lungs. Soft and moist in nature, the harvesting of this herb is traditionally left until after the frost of winter.
  • Gypsum/Gypsum fibrosum, shi gao, (Deputy), Clears heat from the Lung (and Stomach) meridians to relieve thirst. The dose of this herb is minimized to prevent limiting the dispersive effect of sang ye.
  • Ophiopogon Root/Ophiopogonis Radix, mai men dong, (Deputy), Sweet and cooling nature to nourish the yin by generating yang fluids. It assists sang ye  and further protects the Lung by preventing warm-dryness (yang) damage to yin.
  • Gelatin/Asini Corii Colla, e jiao, (Assistant), Moisten the Lungs by nourishing Lung yin. Counter and balance heat-clearing and Lung qi dispersal actions from other herbal ingredients.
  • Dry-fried Black Sesame Seed/Sesami Semen nigrum, hei zhi ma, (Assistant), Moisten the Lungs by nourishing Lung yin. Counter and balance heat-clearing and Lung qi dispersal actions from other herbal ingredients.
  • Apricot Seed/Armeniacae Semen, xing ren, (Assistant), Descend Lung qi and moisten the organ of the Lungs.
  • Honey prepared Loquat Leaf/Eriobotryae Folium, mi zhi pi pa ye, (Assistant), Descend Lung qi and moisten the organ of the Lungs. Because this component is prepared in honey there is an additional layer of moisture to the decoction.
  • Chinese Ginseng/Ginseng Radix, ren shen, (Assistant), Augment qi by harmonizing the middle jiao.
  • Chinese Licorice Root/Glycyrrhizae Radix, gan cao, (Envoy), Harmonize the actions of other herbs in the formula.

In herbal formulas titles of “Assistant” or “Deputy” work to the same effect to indicate the role of the ingredient and its dose or predominance within the formula. “Emperor, Chief, or King” indicates the power of a primary herb in a given recipe that may have the strongest action or the highest dosage to support the effectiveness of the formula. “Deputy” describes a supportive secondary ingredient that maintains the primary herbs service. “Assistant” herbs will also reinforce the effects of principal herbs while also contributing to balance the system or counteract the toxicity of other ingredients. “Envoy” herbs may help direct the formula’s action to a specific region of the body or harmonize the effects of other ingredients. ( References: Scheid, V. (2015). Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas & strategies.)

*The information provided above is being shared for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. This posting is not intended to facilitate or augment Provider-Patient relationships, please contact your licensed health professional for matters of your personal health.  

Want to see the difference that a custom herbal blend can make for you? Check in with one of our Clinic Interns or Professional Acupuncturists at the AIMC Berkeley Clinic to get your custom blend. Book your appointment, where we can offer you individualized treatment advice and create an herbal medicine prescription that is tailored to you.

About the Author

Wana holding a potted squash

Wana is a second year master’s student at AIMC with groundwork practice in reproductive and public health. They connect to East Asian Medicine through an ancestral root, and believe that land-based indigenous medicines deserve the privilege to supplement or substitute western care practices as conduits of more intimate contemporary healing.

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