According to Chinese medicine, autumn is lung time. This is the time of year when the lungs need to be strong. If they aren’t, health issues related to the lungs are more likely to be felt. If you regularly struggle with allergies, or asthma, or chronic bronchitis, you know what I mean. Symptoms tend to set in each year when we descend into fall and the air turns cold and dry.
The lungs are delicate. They are the only internal organ exposed to the outer environment through our breath. This is by necessity! We have to take in air in order to survive, even though this does expose us to smoke, chemicals, and other contaminants, all of which can injure the lungs over time.
The lungs are even affected by the air itself, becoming more parched in dry air, or more moist and heavy in damp air. It’s no wonder they are considered the “princess organ” in Chinese medicine. They are incredibly vulnerable.
Western medicine doesn’t provide much help for the lungs. Doctors can prescribe you an inhaler, which will relax the muscles of the airways into your lungs, making it easier to breathe. Or they may prescribe a nasal spray, which reduces swelling in the airways and dries up mucus. Both can be useful for short periods of time when you just can’t catch your breath, but neither will get at the root of the problem, which is often dry lungs, weakened by the presence of phlegm.
Luckily, there are herbs that can help with this! This is where sterculia seeds come in. The pinyin name for sterculia seeds means “big, fat sea”, which describes both the seeds themselves, as well as what they do. Julia also used to refer to them as “Expanding Seeds” because when you add hot water to them, the seeds will start to expand and soften, looking somewhat like a strange sea creature.
But what do they do? Firstly, sterculia seeds cool and moisten the lungs. This can feel incredibly healing in and of itself. If you’ve ever dealt with a chronic dry cough, a parched throat, and tight chest for any length of time, you know you’ll do just about anything to relieve it. Sterculia seeds will help. They act just like the sea, moistening the lungs and soothing your throat, while also healing a hoarse or lost voice.
Secondly, they dissolve phlegm. This is what causes that tight sensation in your chest – the presence of hot phlegm. As sterculia seeds moisten your lungs, they also start to break down rubbery, difficult-to-expectorate phlegm, loosening and healing your lung tissue in the process. Again, magical relief!
You’ll know that sterculia seeds are helping when the phlegm starts to come up. You may notice that you need to blow your nose more frequently as phlegm in your nasal passages starts to loosen. This discharge will likely be sticky and yellow, green, or even brown in colour, depending on its age. You may also notice phlegm coming up from your lungs into your throat, causing frequent throat-clearing or coughing. While uncomfortable, these are all good signs, indicating that old, rubbery phlegm is finally being discharged and brought up to be expelled from your body.
Ideally, you will continue to prepare sterculia seed tea until any discharge is thin and clear, your chest no longer feels tight, and there’s no longer any phlegm in the back of your throat.
A customer recently asked me how to cleanse the lungs. I told him that you don’t usually cleanse your lungs. However, upon reflection, it is true that your lungs can easily pick up toxins from the air, which can irritate lung tissue, and then cause the formation of phlegm. I’m now thinking that it certainly can’t hurt to spend a few weeks each year drinking sterculia seed tea to bring up whatever has gotten stuck down there. And honestly, it’s such a relief when it comes out! Autumn is a great time to do this.
As a side effect, sterculia seeds will also help dry constipation , and have been shown to lower blood pressure . They have even been used to successfully treat children with acute tonsillitis . I would consider those potential effects a bonus. Really, their lung-moistening and phlegm-dissolving properties is reason enough to use them.
If you are interested in trying sterculia seeds, you can find them in the tea section of our on-line store.
- 1. Chang Yong Zhong Yao Xian Dai Yan Jiu Yu Lin Chuan (Recent Study and Clinical Application of Common Traditional Chinese Medicine), 1995; 468:469
- 2. Ibid
- 3. Zhe Jiang Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Zhejiang Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1966; 5:180
About the Author: Rebecca Wong has a BA in English Literature from the University of Waterloo and has been working in the herbal business since 2000. She studied at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine under respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le, and graduated from the East West School of Planetary Herbology under Michael Tierra. She received training as a yoga teacher at The Branches in Kitchener/Waterloo, and therapeutic yoga teacher training from the School for Somatic Soulwork under Deniz Aydoslu. She now teaches yoga for anxiety, depression and burnout at Rebecca's Restful Yoga Studio in Toronto.