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Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)

Close up of Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)

What is Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)?

Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (bai qian, 白前) refers to the root of the plant Cynanchum stauntonii. This plant is a cylindrical and branched plant that is native to several provinces in China. It can reach a height of one metre, with narrow and lance-like leaves and flowers that range from yellow, red, brown to black.

Externally, Bai Qian is yellowish-white or yellowish-brown in appearance. The herb is coiled together in a branchy, fibrous mass that can reach up to six inches in length.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bai Qian falls under the category of ‘Warm herbs that transform phlegm and stop cough’. In TCM, phlegm is caused by Stagnation of fluids which tend to start in the Spleen and move towards the Lungs. If this accumulates, fluids thicken and become pathological phlegm. While it often starts as being Cool, phlegm later transforms to Hot as the condition worsens. ‘Warm herbs that transform phlegm and stop cough’ are usually used to treat the early stages of such Stagnation, such as Cold-Phlegm and Wet-Phlegm with symptoms of wheezing, vomiting and nausea.

Warm in nature, Bai Qian can help individuals with too much Cold in their body, such as those experiencing a Yin Excess or a Yang Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yin-yang balance. Pungent and sweet in taste, the herb can promote the circulations of qi and body fluids. Bai Qian can also slow down acute reactions, detoxify the body and has a tonic effect on the body by replenishing qi and blood. In particular, the herb targets the Lungs.

Functions and Benefits of Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Bai Qian has the following health benefits.

Bai Qian can direct qi downwards to eliminate phlegm. While it is Warm in nature, the herb is neither dry nor drastic. Thus, Bai Qian can gently direct Lung-qi downwards and resolve phlegm to relieve related symptoms such as cough, dyspnea, wheezing and fullness in chest. For cough and dyspnea caused by Cold-phlegm, Bai Qian can be combined with other warming herbs such as White Mustard Seeds (白芥子, bai jie zi) and Pinellia (半夏, ban xia) to enhance its effectiveness. 

For cough and unsmooth expectoration caused by the invasion of Wind-Cold, Bai Qian can be combined with Lung-ventilating and exterior-releasing herbs such as jing jie (Schizonepeta) and jie geng (Playycodon Root). For cough and dyspnea caused by the accumulation of pathogenic Heat, Bai Qian can be combined with Lung-Heat-clearing and purging herbs such as White Mulberry Root-Bark (桑白皮, sang bai pi) and Lepidium Seed (葶苈子, ting li zi). As for the impairment of Lung-qi and yin, Bai Qian can be combined with qi-replenishing and Lung-moistening herbs such as Astragalus (黄芪, huang qi) and Glehnia Root (北沙参, bei sha shen).

In addition to treating coughs, Bai Qian is also used to treat internal fevers and bronchitis.

Close up of Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian), also known as Cynanchum Root
Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian) is helpful in relieving coughs and phlegm.

How to Use Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)

The recommended daily dosage of Bai Qian is 3 – 10g, when consumed as a decoction or in the form of pills or powder. To enhance its effectiveness in treating Lung-Yin Deficiency and the reversed flow of qi, Bai Qian can be processed with honey.

Dried Bai Qian is usually available in herbal shops and specialty stores. Typically, Bai Qian is brewed in hot water to make tea or decoction, or mixed with alcohol. Alcohol-based Bai Qian extracts are also available in some stores.

Cautions and Side Effects of Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian)

Bai Qian should not be used by individuals whose Kidneys are experiencing difficulty in grasping qi. Bai Qian also should not be used by individuals suffering from stomach diseases with the tendency to bleed, such as peptic or bleeding ulcers. This is because Bai Qian may stimulate stomach mucosa and irritate the gastrointestinal tract. 

In addition, because of the herb’s effects on the Lungs, patients with asthma should use Bai Qian with caution. Over-consuming Bai Qian may cause stomach irritation in some sensitive individuals as well.

We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Bai Qian to your healthcare routine.


Here is a summary for Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome (Bai Qian):

  • Herb name (Chinese): 白前
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): bái qián
  • Herb name (English): Willowleaf Swallowwort Rhizome
  • Herb name (Botanical): Rhizoma et Radix Cynanchi Stauntonii
  • Origin of species: Cynanchum stauntonii (Decne.) Schltr. ex Lévl.; Cynanchum glaucescens (Decne.) Hand. -Mazz.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Rhizome and root
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Zhejiang, Anhui, Jiangsu, Fujian, Hubei, Jiangxi, Hunan
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Pungent, bitter; Slightly warm; Administrates the Lung Meridian
  • Actions: Relieves coughs and phlegm

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