Water-Regulating and Damp-Dispelling Herbs


Jimmy Chang, O.M.D., L.Ac.

Dampness is a common issue that I see in my patients. Nowadays, almost everyone has some kind of dampness in their bodies due to dietary and lifestyle choices. Classically, you learn that dampness is indicated by a slippery pulse. However, in my clinical practice I have discovered that the term "slippery pulse" does not apply towards damp. Damp accumulation is usually indicated by a deep pulse, or a taiyin pulse, and can manifest as many different types of disorders, including but not limited to edema, skin issues, urinary problems, infections, etc.

Even though damp is caused by water, it is important to distinguish the difference between damp and water accumulation. Water accumulation is more localized, whereas damp is the systemic accumulation of water. Damp is more often than not an excessive pathogen, with both obvious and underlying symptoms. The action the practitioner should take is to use strong herbs to quickly sedate the excess and to provide an outlet to resolve the immediate symptoms (for example, drain the water accumulation or resolve the urinary issue), then use other herbs to address the root of the issue (for example, Spleen, Kidney, or other internal organ imbalances).

There is an entire category of herbs to regulate water and dispel damp. In school you may learn common herbs like Fu Ling (Poria), Zhu Ling (Polyporus), Bai Zhu (Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae), etc. that can be used for damp. While those herbs are good, this article focuses on some of the less commonly known herbs and formulas in this category, as well as certain formula and herbal combinations, that I have found to deliver great clinical results in treating the different manifestations of dampness.

The first herb that I would like to discuss is Hua Shi Cao (Herba Orthosiphon Aristatus). This is a very useful herb whose meaning can be found in its name. Hua means "to dissolve," Shi means "stone," and Cao means "grass/herb." This herb is used to drain dampness and dissolve kidney or urinary stones. Patients with kidney stones will have a pulse that feels as sharp as a pen tip or a bird’s beak on the right or left chi positions. There may also be manifestations on the ear in the kidney or urinary bladder positions. Hua Shi Cao (Herba Orthosiphon Aristatus) is most often combined with Jin Qian Cao (Herba Lysimachiae), another herb that can dissolve stones and drain damp. Together they are highly effective for dissolving and passing urinary tract stones.

Jin Qian Cao (Herba Lysimachiae) is a drain damp herb that is not just good for urinary tract stones; it can actually be used for gallstones as well. It is part of a formula called Si Jin Tang (Four Gold Decoction), which is composed of Jin Qian Cao (Herba Lysimachiae), Ji Nei Jin (Endothelium Corneum Gigeriae Galli), Hai Jin Sha (Spora Lygodii), and Yu Jin (Radix Curcumae). This is a crucial formula for stones. Modifications can be added for other symptoms such as spasms and pain.

The combination of Jin Qian Cao (Herba Lysimachiae) and Hua Shi Cao (Herba Orthosiphon Aristatus) can also be used to treat kidney-type hypertension. Patients with kidney-type hypertension tend to have blood pressures of 200/100 or higher, and are most likely anemic to some degree. When encountering a patient with these clinical signs, it is prudent to suspect problems with the kidney, and not arteriosclerosis, that is causing the hypertension. This would be the time to check their brachial pulse, which is a pulse that can be felt on the medial aspect of the humerus, between the biceps brachii and triceps brachii muscles, directly above the elbow. The brachial pulse should feel expanding in cases of kidney-type hypertension.

For patients with severe edema and kidney-type hypertension, the best pair of herbs to use is Shui Ding Xiang (Herba Ludwigiae Prostratae) and Xian Feng Cao (Herba Bidentis). Both of these herbs are natives of Taiwan, and the combination of the two makes a very effective and fast acting diuretic. This combination is also very effective in treating infections of the lower jiao, including kidney and bladder infections. Ba Zheng San (Eight-Herb Powder for Rectification) can also be used with this combination because it will further enhance the downward draining effect.

For treating systemic types of water accumulation, Yi Yi Ren (Semen Coicis) is an excellent herb. It is very easy to use and pleasant tasting because it can be used as a dietary grain. In addition to draining dampness, Yi Yi Ren (Semen Coicis) can also be used to treat skin problems. Many skin problems are due to some form of dampness. If the skin lesions look wet, the following combination should be used:

  • Wen Qing Yin 20%
  • Yi Yi Ren 20%
  • Jing Fang Bai Du San 20%
  • Astringent Combo 20% (a formula of my invention made up of He Zi, Wu Bei Zi, Ma Chi Xian, Tian Hua Fen, Ce Bai Ye, and Bai Wei)
  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang 20%

If the skin lesions look dry, the following combination should be used:

  • Wen Qing Yin 20%
  • Bai Hu Tang 20%
  • Zhu Ye Shi Gao Tang or San Huang Xie Xin Tang 20%
  • Astringent Combo 20%
  • Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang 20%

If the skin lesion is a combination of wet and dry, treat the wet lesions first, then treat the dry lesions. Yi Yi Ren (Semen Coicis) is especially useful in this type of skin disorder.

Of course, other types of hormonal issues such as menopause and PMS can also cause skin issues, such as acne before menstruation. In these cases where hormones are at the root of the problem, use the following combination:

  • Shan Yao 50%
  • Astringent Combo 30%
  • Ba Zheng San 20%

For female patients with dampness causing vaginal discharge and itching, where the pulse is deep and forceful, indicating not just damp but also heat, the western etiology may be some sort of fungal or yeast infection. The herbal combination that should be used is

  • Herbal ABX 30%
  • Long Dan Xie Gan Tang 20%
  • Astringent Combo 30%
  • Ba Zheng San 20%

A disease that also manifests as damp-heat in the lower jiao is herpes. Herpes usually will not present with symptoms unless the immune system is compromised. When looking at the pulse, a person with a low immune system will present with thin, floating and weak pulse on the right cun that disappears when pressure is exerted. This is called a "tent" pulse. There is a definite shape, but it is empty and weak on the inside, like a yurt, or a tent. A great combination for herpes outbreaks is the following:

  • Pu Ji Xiao Du Yin 40%
  • Astringent Combo 40%
  • Ren Shen Yang Ying Tang 20%

For dampness presenting as pain in the bones or joints, a great herb is Mo Gu Xiao (Caulis Hyptis Capitatae). This is another herb whose action can be found in its name. Mo means "no", or "none"; Gu means "bone", and Xiao means "to disappear". This herb is very good for getting rid of bone spurs, and should be used in combination with Huang Jin Gui (Caulis Vanieriae) and Liu Zhi Huang (Herba Solidaginis).

About the Author
Master Jimmy Wei-Yen Chang is a Doctor of Oriental Medicine trained in Taiwan and a licensed acupuncturist in California and New York. He has over 30 years of concentrated clinical experience, applying his expertise in differential diagnosis and herbal prescription. Master Chang is the author of the pulse diagnosis manual, Pusynergy, and he currently pursues his specialties in private practice in Hacienda Heights, California. He is widely recognized for his skills in correlating definitive pulse diagnoses with herbal prescription.

To learn more about pulses and herbs, click here to view a complete list of courses by Jimmy Chang.