curing pills: the handy herbal remedy for digestive upset

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There are a few herbal remedies I always have on hand and never leave home without (perhaps I’ll write a series explaining what they are and why I have them). I am always prepared for: 1. a stomachache 2. a cold. Today I’ll be telling you my go to remedy for everything digestive. This formula is a 1-and-done miracle. Time tested and the results are exceptional. There is rarely a digestive complaint these little tea-pills can’t help to alleviate.

Seriously, I don’t know what I did without TCM herbs.

While there are innumerable herbal formulas in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Materia Medica (herbal literature) focused on the digestion and all the various ways it can go haywire, there is one formula that has such a broad reach of ailments addressed that it’s essential to have on hand. Pro tip: I don’t travel without it! But more on that later. 

Let me introduce you to Curing Pills. Ta-da!

This formula was first written in 1896, named Po Chai pills and manufactured in China. As time went on and the Cultural Revolution forced some to flee China for Hong Kong this formula began being manufactured under the name “Curing Pills.” (Side note: if you are a savvy shopper for TCM herbal remedies you can find both Po Chai pills and Curing Pills, it is the same formula with different names). 

Fast forward to today. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, you’ve been home due to a pandemic for a year. Perhaps there’s been a change in your exercise routine or diet. Perhaps you’re feeling more stress. Drinking wine at night and eating more take out or frozen pizza. Your digestion may be sluggish, you may be feeling heavier in your body, perhaps some brainfog. This is the perfect formula to help during these times. 

Curing Pills can be used to address lack of appetite, indigestion, food stagnation, discomfort due to overindulgence, stomach upset from external pathogens, and most complaints that arise from Stomach Qi stagnation and intestinal discomfort. Because this is such a useful formula I always keep a bottle on hand and love the individual packets for traveling. When there is a shift in routine (lifestyle or dietary) I often experience a shift in my digestion. I end up feeling tired, heavy, bloated and backed-up (we’ll just leave it at that). Curing Pills are my go-to remedy. 

How are they so effective you may be wondering. Well, let’s go over what’s in the formula (feel free to skip ahead if nerding-out on herbal energetics isn’t your thing. No pressure!). The main function of Curing Pills is to drain DAMPNESS and HEAT from the intestines, relieve food stagnation, promote and support the digestion, and regulate the Qi. There is a term used in TCM called aromatic to transform damp, and if you’ve ever been a patient of mine we may have talked about dampness. Hou po, Cang zhu, Huo xiang, and Ju hong are herbs to “wake up” the Spleen (think digestive system) to eliminate Dampness in the Large Intestine through this aromatic mechanism. Similar to drying a flooded carpet, you want to put a fan in the room to help wick the moisture away from the carpet. Aromatic herbs are light in energy, with volatile oils, that lift and help disperse any excess dampness. It’s a beautiful function that proves to be effective in formulas like this. It is dampness that creates a heavy feeling, sluggishness, and possibly loose stools with food stagnation and overindulgence (think hangover). To relieve food stagnation, the herbs Gu ya and Shen qu (medicated leaven, so this formula is not gluten free!) provide digestive enzymes to further support the digestion. Fu ling (Poria) and Yi Yi Ren, staples in digestive remedies, regulate fluids to balance any excess dampness. Finally, Bo He (peppermint) helps to cool the stomach and address acidity. 

Let’s talk about dampness in relation to digestion real quick. According to TCM the digestion likes warm, cooked foods, steamed or sautéed vegetables, soups and stews. The digestion loathes cold food. The western diet, or Standard American Diet, has an affinity toward cold foods (think cereal and milk, cold sandwiches, leftovers, smoothies, ice cream). Cold congeals liquids and this energetic quality leads to a digestion that is compromised and can’t work at its most efficient. In Ayurveda they describe the hinderance of Agni (digestive fire). When our digestive fire isn’t working optimally dampness and phlegm are created. This can slow down the digestion, or be stored in the body in a myriad of ways that I won’t get into in this blog. However, this just goes to show the importance of eating well cooked meals, letting our food fully digest between meals and assisting the digestion when it needs a boost to digestive strength. 

Curing Pills are meant to be taken long term because they are strong and effective and treat the symptom (indigestion) and not so much the root of the problem (why is our digestion compromised or sluggish). However, they are such an effective remedy to treat acute digestive complaints that it’s important to know they exist. You’ll thank me after the next Thanksgiving feast when you wake up feeling 100%. 

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