Love Song to a Chinese Cough Syrup

herb insert picThere’s a way to feel better if you have a cough and sore throat: Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa, a loquat syrup full of flowers, leaves, roots and bulbs. It works by the spoon, or in hot water as tea. Chinese Robitussin, if you will, but so much better. Pei Pa Koa is so popular in China (and 20 countries of Asia), the stacked boxes in mid-winter at Kam Man, nearby Chinese mega-supermarket in E. Hanover, NJ, is practically floor-to-ceiling. I buy in triplicate.

The TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) formula, commercially bottled in the ’40s in Hong Kong, dates back 500 years to the reign of Emperor Kangxi (fourth ruler of the Qing dynasty). filial piety pictureThe logo shows a child serving it to an elderly, bedridden parent. (The legend, or back story: A child, ancestor of the company’s founders, went looking to cure his mother’s cough, and so impressed a doctor with his tender filial piety, the doctor gave up his secret formula.) I’m not calling domination by an oppressively close family a good relationship. But I find the emblem sweet.

Active ingredient is either the bulb (korm) of the fritillaria flower–says Kam Man pharmacist and the Internet — or elm bark, say the National Institutes of Health. I’m not taking sides. Other herbs: loquat leaf extract (beautiful photos of these leaves, fruits, and root extracts in this blog post by a TCM student), adenophora root, poria mushroom, citrus peel, root of platycodon (–that’s campanula, Chinese bell flower–I’ve grown this lovely, small, late-summer flower), pinellia tuber, trichosanths seed, polygala root, licorice root, ginger rhizome, schizandra fruit, and peppermint. These herbs are traditionally associated with clearing up phlegm, alleviating cough, and soothing sore throat.*

Campanula or Chinese bell flower

Campanula or Chinese bell flower

The National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine calls Nin Jiom Pei Pa Koa “a pleasant tasting natural herbal based liquid especially formulated for relief of minor discomfort and to protect irritated areas in sore mouth and sore throat. Contains No Alcohol, artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Active ingredient: Elm Bark. In a sucrose syrup and honey base of herbal extracts consisting of loquat leaf, fritillary, balloon flower root, snakegourd seed, sand root, senega root, tuckahoe, licorice root, ginger root, five flavored seed, and peppermint.

The package insert illustrates each one with great botanical drawings. The flowers seem to be dancing. Which is how I feel after finishing my mug.

How we love you, Pei Pa Koa.

*Institute of Traditional Medicine: “Some of the alkaloids have been isolated and used for pharmacology testing, revealing antitussive effects, smooth muscle relaxation, and reduction of blood pressure. There are also diterpenes in the bulb, and these may have antitussive effects as well.”