TCM clinic: Leaves to disperse 'heat' and soothe throats

What it is: Most people are familiar with the herbal cough syrup known as pipa gao, which uses loquat leaves - called pipa ye in Chinese - as its main ingredient.

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the leaves and fruit of the evergreen shrub, harvested throughout the year, are used to relieve coughs, said Ms Pansy Yeo, a TCM practitioner at Chong Hoe Health Products Chinese Medical Store.

The plant is mainly grown in provinces in south-east China such as Guangdong and Guangzhou. It can also be found in European countries such as France, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Ms Yeo added.

Ms Yeo said good quality dried loquat leaves should be greyish-green and free of contaminants.

They are sold at $1 for a tael (37.5g) at the medical hall where she works.

How TCM uses it: The bitter-tasting loquat leaf is considered cool in nature and is said to move through the meridians of the lungs and stomach.

Meridians are channels in the body through which qi (vital energy) travels.

A good flow of qi, as well as a balance of yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) and yang (the element linked to heat) in the body are needed for good health.

Ms Yeo said loquat leaves are used to dispel "heat" in the lungs and stomach, which arises when yang is in excess in these organs.

For example, people who are exposed to hot weather or use their voices a lot have a tendency to develop "heaty" lungs.

In TCM, the lung system prefers a moist environment and would benefit from the use of the "cooling" loquat leaves to restore balance in the body, Ms Yeo explained.

When a person develops "heaty" lungs, he exhibits symptoms such as a dry mouth, a red tongue with a yellow coating and a rapid pulse. He also has a painfully dry throat and thick, yellow phlegm that is hard to spit out.

Ms Yeo said loquat leaves are believed to act as mucolytic agents to dissolve thick phlegm so that it can be coughed out.

She added that loquat leaves are often used alongside bulbus fritillariae cirrhosae (chuanbei), almonds (xingren) and dried tangerine peel (chenpi) to treat coughs and other throat ailments.

In TCM, qi in the stomach travels downwards to move food further down the body, but a "heaty" stomach causes an abnormal upward flow of qi and gives rise to symptoms affecting the upper part of the body, Ms Yeo explained.

These include mouth ulcers, bad breath, belching, a rapid pulse and a tendency to be hungry easily. The person may also vomit, she said.

Who is it for: People holding jobs which demand extensive use of their voices, such as singers and teachers, can consume loquat leaves regularly to prevent throat ailments.

This herb is also useful for diabetics who are prone to developing dry throats and tend to get hungry easily, Ms Yeo said.

She advised people to consume about 10g of loquat leaves in a day.

Who should avoid it: No particular group of people has to avoid consuming loquat leaves.

What has research shown: The anti-cancer effect of loquat leaves and seeds was reported in the journal Nutrition Research And Practice in 2009.

In a laboratory study, breast cancer cells were treated with loquat leaf or seed extract for five days.

Both extracts significantly inhibited the growth of these cells in a dose-dependent manner, meaning that the larger the dose of the extract, the greater the effect on the cells.

The leaf extract was found to be more effective than the seed extract.

The authors from a university and research institute in South Korea concluded the results provided "a theoretical foundation for the possibility of loquat as a potential agent for the treatment of cancer metastasis (spread)".

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