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Lily Bulb Extract Powder

  • Chinese Name     Bai He   百合
  • Latin Name           Lilium brownii var. viridulum
  • Other Names        Bulbus Lilii, Brown's Lily Bulb
  • Used Part              Bulb
  • Specification        Powdered Extract


The lily has long been known in China as both food and medicine. The bulbs are comprised of dozens of fleshy scales. As food, fresh bulbs are made into soups or stir fries. The scales are separated, boiled briefly (3-7 minutes), and dried in the sun or by oven to produce the medicinal material.

Lily bulbs were one of the items listed in the ancient Shennong Bencao Jing, described as being sweet and balanced. Based on theories of TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Lily Bulb is sweet, slightly cold in nature and covers meridians of heart and lung. It is capable of nourishing Yin and moistening lung, which is used for indications like chronic cough due to yin deficiency, and blood in sputum. And it clears heart heat, and calms spirit, which is applied for remnant heat of febrile diseases, restlessness, deficient irritability and palpitations, too much dreams and insomnia, and wandering mind.

In the Jinggui Yaolue, there is description of a disease condition—baihe bing—named for the lily bulb that is its principal treatment. This disorder is characterized by the patient appearing normal but suffering from a sort of depression or neurosis: there is a desire to eat, but food doesn’t taste right and eating makes her feel uncomfortable; a desire to talk, but then hesitation to express anything of significance; a desire to lie down and rest, yet no ability to then go to sleep and gain refreshment; a desire to go out and walk or do other activities, but an exhaustion that cuts short the plans or even leads to finding a reason not to proceed. Discomforts are common to this disorder, but they are not matched by measurable physical problems as clear causes. Likewise, she feels chilly or hot, yet her body temperature is normal, while the surrounding temperature may be average and clothing is appropriate to the environment. Drugs and herbs used in the effort to rectify any of the symptoms will usually cause diverse reactions that lead to cessation of the attempt. So, the condition persists. Because such problems occur in some women soon after childbirth, the lily bulbs had a reputation for treating postpartum neurosis, and because such complaints are also common with menopausal syndrome, lily is considered beneficial in that situation as well. Still, the pattern may arise under many other circumstances.

Over time, lily came to be known as an herb that clears heat and nourishes yin, eventually placed in the yin nourishing group of herbs. It was increasingly used for “heart fire” due to deficiency and for lung conditions marked by “heated phlegm.” Lily soups made with sugar (and sometimes also milk) are recommended to clear heat in the summer. Yet, the early application for lily disease is one which particularly interests the practitioners today who are often confronted by patients with disorders that are revealed more in the realm of feeling and behavior than in significant organic changes to the body: a medical diagnosis is elusive while the emotional and mental state is not amenable to treatment by many of the drugs used as antidepressants. Modern texts of Chinese medicine continue to refer back to these original applications: Baihe Huashi San (Lily and Talc Formula; comprised of just the two herbs mentioned in the formula name) is still indicated for lily syndrome, manifested as mental disorder, irritability, insomnia, and anorexia (very limited selection of acceptable foods). Baihe Bing is said to treat “hysteria,” referring to neurotic symptoms.

One of the key formulations using lily is Baihe Dihuang Tang (Lily and Rehmannia Combination), the remedy from the Jinggui Yaolue, comprised of the two herbs mentioned in its name. Another variant is Lily and Anemarrhena Combination (Baihe Zhimu Tang; with just those two herbs). As these examples reveal, lily bulb can be used with one or two ingredients that will direct its activity to emphasize a particular goal; with talc to promote urination and soothe dryness; with rehmannia to cleanse heart fire; with anemarrhena to clear deficiency heat; when used for lung disorders, it may be combined with beimu (fritillaria) to resolve heated phlegm or with maimendong (ophiopogon) to treat dry cough. Beimu and maimendong are both members of the lily family of plants and the bulb is used for those as well.

Lily, derived from Lilium brownii and other species of Lilium, has low toxicity and may be used in quantity: the dried herb up to about 30 grams per day in decoction, which is the amount usually recommended in simple remedies like those mentioned above. If lily is a minor ingredient in a complex formula for treating conditions such as lung and throat disorders, the daily dose may drop to about 9 grams in decoction. Relatively simple formulas with this herb have been suggested for treatment of menopausal syndrome: one recommendation is to combine the traditional Liuwei Dihuang Tang (Rehmannia Six Formula) with baihe, suanzaoren, yinyanghuo, and chaihu (lily, zizyphus, epimedium, and bupleurum).

Modern Researches
Lily-Bulb has three primary sets of active components: alkaloids (steroidal alkaloids, such as etioline, shown right, as well as small pyrrolines like jatrophine, also called lilidine); steroidal saponins; and phenols (mainly flavonoids). The combination of steroidal alkaloids and steroidal saponins are likely responsible for the treatment of various nervous system disorders.

Mechanism of action studies are in the preliminary phases, but two aspects of neurological action appear to be a result of cholinesterase inhibition and monoamine oxidase inhibition. Drugs and herbs with these effects may improve memory and relieve depression.

TCM Tradition

Taste & Property      Sweet, Slightly Bitter, Slightly Cold
Organ Meridians      Heart, Lung

TCM Functions
Nourishes Yin, moistens the Lungs, clears Heat and stops cough
 – Dry coughs or sore throat due to Lung Yin Deficiency, dry Lungs or Lung Heat
 – Especially useful for Lung Yin Deficiency
Clears the Heart and calms the Spirit
 – Intractable low-grade fever, insomnia, restlessness and irritability in the aftermath of febrile disease
 – Heart Fire
 – Palpitations due to insufficiency of Qi and Yin
Nourishes Stomach Yin and harmonizes the Middle Jiao
 – Pain associated with Stomach Yin Deficiency

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