A person asked me what about Herbs for Damp Heat in TCM  on Quora. Here is my off the cuff answer

Damp Heat in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, the term coined in the Communist era for what we now just call Chinese Medicine, is associated with an array of symptoms and diseases, from Candida and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to Allergies,  Eczema and Acne.

Chinese Medicine, or Classical Chinese Medicine to denote medicine based on the ancient classics, includes Chinese Herbal Medicine, Acupuncture, Moxabustion, Qi Gung, Cupping, Tui Na Massage, Principles of Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyle, and Diet Therapy

—We have MANY herbs for clearing damp heat in Chinese Medicine, and we also supplement that with acupuncture treatment based on the Classics.  But, key point, unless you are trained in Chinese medicine I would not self administer—Chinese herbs are drugs, they can have side effects, and most important, they are almost never used singly, the way you might take Valerian for a nonspecific treatment of anxiety, or goldenseal for a sinus infection.

Chinese herbs are always grouped into formulas, we have many many formulas for damp heat—from prescription for sinus infection, to lung infection, to yeast infection, to acne vulgaris.

Damp heat has characteristics that are shared across syndromes, BUT, key point, in Chinese Medicine we ALWAYS match the formula/prescription to a particular pattern of disharmony.

Chinese Medicine wants to know

  • where the damp heat is
  • how strong it is
  • how strong or weak is the person the damp heat occurs in
  • if the damp heat combines with other patterns—Qi or Blood stasis or Vacuity, for example.


What is Damp Heat in the First Place?

Dampness in Chinese Medicine

Dampness in Classical Chinese Medicine describes conditions where there is a pathological excess of fluids.

In infancy, babies drool, and often have soft stool. Drooling in infancy is normal. But when someone is afflicted by a stroke, they drool. This is a symptom of a pathological dampness in which the body, through weakness, no longer controls fluids. Drooling of this nature can also occur in old age as the body weakens. Another example from old age is tearing. This is cold damp, there is not heat, no inflammation or infection.

Another example of cold damp is when someone has allergies with profuse runny nose. There is no infection, just an over abundance of fluid. Another example is diarrhea from anxiety or IBS-D. This is just liquification of what should be formed. But there is no infection. What you have is the nervous system, the gut-brain connection, in overdrive due to fear. Cold fear.

Symptoms of Dampness in Chinese Medicine

Dampness can include any or all of the below symtoms.

– a feeling of heaviness of body or head
– no appetite
– a feeling of fullness of chest or epigastrium
– a sticky taste
– a vaginal discharge
– a sticky tongue coating
– Slippery or Soggy pulse.

Dampness plus Heat is Damp Heat

Damp Heat is a condition where pathological excess of fluids is accompanied by heat.

An example is the nasal or pulmonary discharge of a sinus infection or bronchitis. You fluid more than what is normal. We all blow our noses. But we don’t all have profuse yellow green nasal phlegm

So if you had fulminating damp heat in the Sinus combined with Toxic heat, Qi and Blood vacuity, that would take a very different formula than Damp Heat with Blood Stasis in the lower jiao.

So unless you have studied and practiced for a while, there is no way for you to just take a Chinese herb for damp heat. Its like asking, which SSRI should I take for my bipolar disorder, or which chemotherapy should I do for my multiple myeloma. But also, to reiterate, we never use a single herb for damp heat, like Huang Bai or Huang Lien alone.

Damp heat collects, often enough, when there is Qi stasis. So we might combine damp heat medicinals with medicinals that unblock Qi flow, circulate the Qi, and boost the Qi. Huang Qi/Astragalus is a good example of an herb that does all that.

Repletion Vs. Vacuity, Heat vs. Cold

We also have to figure out if the Damp Heat is the root of the problem or the branch. Is the Damp Heat accumulating “automatically” because of a very strong hot constitutional type, like a Wood/Fire type, or is it accumulating because the Qi is so weak, say a weak Earth/Water type?

In the former case you might give a strong dispersing prescription that attacks fire and clears dampness, harsh cold dry pungent bitter herbs, like the prescription Long Dan Xie Gan Tang.

In the latter case, that prescription would create more illness. They might need a nourishing formula, like Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang which lifts and circulates the Gan Qi and Zheng Qi…You might, depending on WHERE the damp heat is collecting, add a gentle damp heat clearing herb like Huang Bai to the formula, or some gently drying aromatic herbs that awaken the Pi Qi to get rid of dampness….

Here you see in stark terms the difference between attacking the pathalogical factor versus supporting the intrinsic factor that’s weak….

To sum…If you have damp heat disorder I would consult someone who is licensed and experienced. Dampness is a recalcitrant pathology, and like Blood stasis the root of some very serious disorders…hope this helps.

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