As vaccine distribution continues to be a mess, and as new variants of the coronavirus continue to circulate, it looks like some time before life returns to any semblance of normal. Given my auto-immune issues and asthma, my acupuncturist prescribed me an herbal formula called Jade Windscreen, which is meant to support immune health, early in the pandemic. I’ve been clinging to the bottle throughout daily shifts in the hospital and a two week stint in the Dakotas (caregiving for the elderly) during peak unmasked surge. Ughgh. In any case, I’ve actually come to love the taste of the stuff (some formulas can be much harder to choke down), and find it’s a lovely note in mocktails.
In recent years, there has been a flowering of science around modern application of traditional Chinese Medicine, especially during the pandemic. Research has demonstrated the formula can have a role in reducing hospital days and disease length for COVID positive patients. Earlier research also showed the formula helps regulate cytokine response in mice which were infected with SARS (another coronavirus).
I was nerdily curious about the composition of the Jade Windscreen formula, so in the remains of this blog, I’ll go into the weeds a bit on the particular ingredients. Before we dig in, a general reminder that herbs can have potent effects, and best practice is to only use those prescribed by a licensed expert who is well versed in appropriate quantities and potential drug interactions. Also, it goes without saying, this formula should be used as a compliment to common sense (keep wearing masks and social distancing), not a substitute for it. And you should still absolutely get the vaccine when your wave is called. Sidebar: my healthcare buddies and I have mostly had it, and we’re all fine. Please don’t let misinformation stop you, I was just in our COVID positive ICU rounding with our teams, and I promise you that rolling the dice on the disease is not a good gamble.
Overall approach to the formula: In Chinese medicine, wind is a concept to broadly capture pathogenic factors. A windscreen then, is meant to provide a barrier to wind invasion. The practitioner may see a wind invasion expressed as a pale tongue with white coating and a weak/unstable pulse, indicating superficial weakness (though there may be other presentations as well). Overall actions augment qi, stabilize exterior, stop sweating (close pores). Sweating and perspiration are conceived as different phenomena in this framework (axial is heart and body is lung), and the specific diagnosis may call for promoting or stopping sweating. In addition to helping prevent and treat respiratory illness, this is also the formula of choice for treating allergies.
Traditional Three Herbs: The original Jade Windscreen was comprised of only three herbs, as described below.
Astragalus root (huang qi): This is a very powerful substance which tonifies superficial lung and spleen qi, particularly wei qi (your body’s natural protection/immune system). It has positive effects on the lungs and can reduce edema. It enters the lung and spleen channels and promotes urination and discharge of pus.
White atractlylodes rhizome (bai zhu): This also tonifies qi, but should not be used by patients on anti-coagulants. It can help reduce fever and diarrhea. It also tonifies spleen, dries dampness, and, helpfully, quiets a fetus. This herb stabilizes the exterior (doesn’t let other bad stuff in). It is warm and acrid, enters the lung, stomach and spleen channels. Even for general colds/allergies, it is great for opening the nose, expels damp in upper face, forehead pressure.
Siler root (fang feng): Wind is said to be the spearhead of 1000 diseases. This herb name literally means “dispel wind” and can help reduce body aches and chills. IT releases the exterior, and circulates to the exterior. This herb is chosen because it doesn’t damage fluid and further injure lungs. It is acrid, warm and sweet. The sweet makes it special as it helps dry damn without over-drying, so helps maintain moisture while expelling damp. It also helps expel internal wind which could show up as tremors/spasms, and is good for all sorts of wind (internal and external).
Recent Additions to the Formula: These have been added to newer formulations, including the one I use.
Chinese yam rhizome (shan yao): This is a vine/tuber which is nothing like the sweet potato type yam. It tonifies qi and lung yin, and generally helps strengthen body’s defenses. Research has shown it can help treat diarrhea, asthma, and even diabetes!
Black jujube fruit (hei zao): Of course, this one brings to mind the candy by a similar name. But jujube is actually a type of date fruit. This is another general tonifier, and there’s a similar conception in the popular opinion to “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”; rephrased as “three jujubes a day keeps the doctor away.” This fruit nourishes blood and supports the kidneys and liver.
Chinese cinnamon twig (gui zhi): This is perhaps the most familiar herb to a Western audience. It Opens/releases the exterior (whichever pathogen has invaded you). It is acrid, sweet and warm, enters the heart, lung and bladder channels. This herb is good at unblocking and releasing muscle layer. It opens channels, harmonizes wei qi and ying qi. Current science also demonstrate its anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective effects.
White peony root (bai shao): The root of the peony flower tonifies liver/blood and extinguishes wind. It can also reduce sweating and ease pain, and can help with difficult menses.
Where to purchase: If you’re interested in trying this formula, various options are available on Amazon, though I’d encourage you to consult with an appropriately trained herbalist first, especially if you are on other pharmaceuticals or have complex medical conditions. May you stay healthy, dear reader!
Maintaining your Immune System