BEIJING - People across the capital are now braving the dog days' heat to get their hands on an ancient Chinese remedy that helps stave off winter ailments.
Sanfutie dates back to the Jin Dynasty (AD 265-420) and is believed to relieve chronic illnesses, according to practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
The remedy was made available at 446 medical centers in Beijing on Thursday, the first day of North China's dog days, which usually run from mid-July to mid-August.
Most clinics with supplies of sanfutie specialize in TCM, with 85 per cent of them community health service centers, said Wang Hetian, deputy director of the Beijing TCM Administration's bureau of medical affairs.
"Sanfutie is a traditional remedy (now applied as a plaster) treating respiratory diseases such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, allergic rhinitis and pulmonary emphysema," said Qiao Ke, who runs the Party committee office at the third affiliated hospital of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
"The therapy can help accumulate yang (hot) energy and prevent relapses of winter ailments like rheumatism and asthma."
Many hospitals opened early on Thursday for patients, most of whom were elderly people and children.
Lei Chengming, 67, who has been suffering chronic bronchitis for years, heard of sanfutie from a neighbor and arrived early at the third affiliated hospital of Beijing University of Chinese Medicine.
"I have never tried the plaster myself but my neighbor has," said Lei.
"She said she felt better with her chronic bronchitis after taking a course of sanfutie for three years. At 360 yuan (S$68) a year, it's not expensive either. Hopefully it will ease my ailments."
Zhou Chushe, a 2-year-old boy, came to the hospital for sanfutie with his parents who hoped it would increase his immunity.
"He catches a cold easily," said Song Xiujin, Zhou's mother. "It's said the sanfutie strengthens the body and has few side effects, so we're here for treatment again after having some last year."
A sanfutie plaster mix of wild ginger, lemongrass and euphorbia is attached to acupuncture points on the neck or back.
"The pores are more open in summer and thus the herbs can be easily absorbed to regulate energy and blood circulation through the meridian points," said Yan Ying, head of the medical office of the third affiliated hospital of Beijing University Of Chinese Medicine.
TCM is becoming popular among young people and foreigners.
He Yi, 28, an employee at China Nonferrous Metal Industry Co's foreign engineering and construction department, is taking sanfutie for his allergic rhinitis.
"I prefer TCM to Western medicine, because it has few side effects and can eradicate the disease," said He.
"I took the sanfutie last year and found my allergic rhinitis improved slightly. I tried Western medicine and it only worked for two days."
Robin Tsukada, a Japanese student at Tsinghua University, also prefers TCM to Western treatments: "I'd love to try the sanfutie if it cures people with chronic diseases."
However, not all patients are suitable for sanfutie. In TCM, people have either a hot or cold constitution, and "people with hot constitutions should not apply a sanfutie", said Yan.
"They may feel fatigued and their condition may even deteriorate."