Seaweeds have a salty taste that is an indication that the material can disperse phlegm accumulation, particularly as it forms soft masses, include goiter, the thyroid swelling that indicates severe iodine deficiency. Following are the descriptions of the seaweeds from Oriental Materia Medica (2):

Kunbu (Laminaria and Ecklonia)

  • Essence and Flavor: Salty, Cold
  • Channel Entered: Liver, Stomach, Kidney
  • Actions: Softens hardness, disperses accumulation, resolves phlegm, cleanses heat
  • Applications: Scrofula, goiter, tumor, edema, accumulation, testicular pain and swelling

    Haizao (Sargassum)

  • Essence and Flavor: Bitter, Salty, Cold
  • Channel Entered: Liver, Stomach, Kidney
  • Actions: Disperses accumulated phlegm, disperses goiter and tumor, delivers water, cleanses heat
  • Applications: Scrofula, goiter, tumor, edema, testicular pain and swelling

    Zicai (Porphyra)

  • Essence and Flavor: Sweet, Salty, Cold
  • Channel Entered: Lung
  • Actions: Resolves phlegm, softens hardness, dispels heat, promotes diuresis
  • Applications: Goiter, beriberi [leg swelling], edema, urinary infection, sore throat

    The descriptions for kunbu and haizao are quite similar. Yang Yifan (3) wrote about the differences between these commonly used seaweeds:

    Haizao and Kunbu are salty and cold, and enter the liver, lung, and kidney meridians. Both can clear heat, transform phlegm, soften hardness, and dissipate nodules. They can also promote urination and reduce edema. In clinical practice, they are often used together to treat nodules such as goiter and scrofula.

    There are some differences between the two herbs. Haizao is stronger in transforming phlegm and dissipating nodules, and it is more suitable for treating goiter and scrofula. Kunbu is stronger in softening hardness and reducing congealed blood; it is more suitable for treating liver-spleen enlargement, liver cirrhosis, and tumors.

    One of the best known formulas with the seaweeds is Haizao Yuhu Tang, or the Sargassum Decoction for the Jade Flask (4). This formula of 12 ingredients includes Sargassum, Ecklonia, and Laminaria. It was used to treat a condition of goiter which was so severe it made the throat look like a large flask. However, these seaweeds have been adopted into formulas for treating other soft swellings, including ovarian cysts, breast lumps, lymph node swellings, lipomas, and fat accumulation from simple obesity.


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