板蓝根 (Bǎn lán gēn) has been used for over two thousand years in Chinese medicine as a cure for ailments caused by having too much bodily heat. The herbal remedy became especially popular in the 1950’s, when Mao Zedong called for medicines to be identified by their Western attributes, a change which suited ban lan gen. Today, it is widely popular in Chinese households as a way to combat the common cold and enjoys a growing influence in the West, where it is studied by research institutions for its antiviral properties.
Ban lan gen is from the root of a flowering plant called woad. The plant’s scientific name is called Isatis tinctoria. Hence, ban lan gen is also known as isatis root. Isatis root healing properties include removing heat and toxins, cooling the blood, alleviating sore throats, and relieving sores or swellings. It is also good for when there are wind-heat syndromes, which can include these symptoms: fever, sore throat, inflammation, dry cough, swollen tonsils, shivering, alternating between cold and hot temperature, rapid pulse, and headaches.
Ban Lan Gen Properties
There are many types of properties in Chinese medicine, which are categorized by taste or temperature. Tastes include acrid, aromatic, bitter, salty, sour, spicy, and sweet. Temperatures include cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot.
In Chinese medicine, temperature doesn’t refer to the actual temperature of the consumed medicine, but points to the herb’s effect on the body. For example, cool herbs treat problems that have heat involved, which can help with red and itchy eyes or nosebleeds. Every property has its own set of healing benefits, but even more interesting is the fact that these properties can be used to balance out other properties. If someone needs a warming herb for treatment, it can also be beneficial to take a cooling herb just to help regulate the effects of the warming herb.
Balancing properties is important to avoiding potential side effects that come about from excessive effects of a certain property. This idea is very intertwined with another Chinese medicine concept: the balance of阴 (yīn) and 阳 (yáng). Yin means dark or cloudy, and yang means bright and light. Logically, somewhere dark is cooler than somewhere bright. That’s why yin is associated with cold and cool energy, and yang with warm and hot properties. The ideal state for our bodies is to have a balanced amount of yin and yang, which is the foundational reason behind balancing various herbs based on their properties.
The properties of ban lan gen are bitter and cold:
苦 (Kǔ) = Bitter
寒 (Hán) = Cold
Bitter herbs are beneficial for the circulatory and respiratory system, which is why ban lan gen is helpful for treating influenza. It is great for draining heat and dampness. Cold herbs are good for alleviating symptoms of warm conditions. These can be things like heat sores, fevers, and swelling. Cold herbs do not make you feel chilly, but slowly reduce unwanted heat in your body, such as a fever. However, prolonged use of cold herbs can cause digestive problems.
While concepts of healing by balancing bodily temperature have been existent in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, recently scientific research points out why "cold" herbs such as ban lan gen are effective. Ban lan gen removes pryogen, a substance usually produced by bacterium which causes you to have rise in temperature during a fever, thus cooling you down.
I’ve talked a great deal about the isatis root and how amazing its benefits can be. However, I must warn you: do NOT go out and buy a bunch of ban lan gen and other Chinese medicine herbs to mix and consume in any way you’d like. Excessive herb intake can cause problems, but so can incorrect treatment of the herbs. It takes training to create Chinese medicine formulas. Preparing your herbs incorrectly can result in receiving side-effects without the supposed benefits of the herb. Instead, there are safer (and probably better-tasting) alternatives: tablets (indigo combo pills) and drinks (Banlangen Keli, tea, and beverages). Give those a try, and let me know what you think!