Forsythia: the Harbinger of Spring!

It’s April in Philadelphia and we are in that glorious moment where everything is popping up yellow. Daffodils are everywhere and forsythia is reaching skyward.


In Chinese medicine, Lián Qiào, Forsythiae Fructus连翘 is used as a heat clearing medicinal. The name translates as lián “wagon” and qiào “ a kind of ancient cart. This refers to the shape of the bud which somewhat resembles ancient wagons[1].

First recorded in the Shen Nong Ben Cao, it was considered to be an inferior class medicinal that has a bitter flavor and a balanced nature. It treats scrofula, welling abscesses and sores, bound heat and gu sores.

If the seed capsules are harvested before they are completely ripe, and they are referred to as Qing Lian Qiao Green forsythia, which is considered best for clearing heat and resolving toxins. Huang Lian Qiao Yellow forsythia refers to ripened seed capsules harvested later in the season when they have turned yellow and are split open.


 When I teach a medicinals key characteristics, I talk about their superpowers. Lian Qiao enters the lung, heart and gallbladder channels. It is bitter, light and cold and thus, it has an affinity for the upper body as well as the Heart. Its superpowers are to clear heat, resolve toxicity, dissipates abscesses and sores and calm the spirit by draining heart fire.

Lian Qiao

Lian qiao plays well with many medicinals. We can gain insight into its versatility by looking at the formulas that include it.

Perhaps its most iconic pairing is with Jin Yin Hua Flos Lonicerae in the formula Yin Qiao San Lonicera and Forsythia Powder, which treats Wei level warm diseases, with s special emphasis on the throat. Or Sang Ju Yin- Mulberry Chrysanthemum Drink, which emphasizes heat in the lungs and eyes. The light and floating nature of these herbs, combined with their heat clearing, toxin relieving qualities gives them the ability to vent pathogens on the surface, while simultaneously clearing and draining heat internally.

Jin Yin Hua

 It’s lump like shape suggests its effect on all manner of sores, where it might be combined with other garden plants, such as Dandelion- Pu Gong Ying or Zi Hua Di Ding, Viola. Think of the idea of abscesses broadly: examples of this idea might include acne, swollen lymph nodes, intestinal abscesses or ovarian cysts. Earlier this year I blogged about the use of Jing Jie Lian Qiao Tang, Schizonepeta and Forsythia Decoction for estrogen dominance. The traditional actions of the formula are to dispel wind, clear heat, disperses stagnation and resolve toxins. However, in my practice, I mainly use it to treat women with PMS, hormone imbalances and acne.

Lian Qiao is also included in Bao He Wan- Harmony-Preserving Pill, the classic formula to reduce food stagnation. The formula is basically a combination of Er Chen Tang Two Matured Substances Decoction with herbs that treat food stagnation. When I studied in China, I asked why the formula included Lian Qiao and the answer was “ to reduce lumps”. This is a nice image, but the answer is slightly broader: All stagnation, over time, will generate heat. Since Bao He Wan core structure is built around Er Chen Tang, the stagnation results in phlegm heat. Lian Qiao is perfectly suited to tackle this.

For me, the most compelling characterize of Lian Qiao is its ability to clear heat from the heart. For a number of years I have had an interest in the use of heat clearing herbs to calm the spirit. I have blogged about it and also offered a course on the topic through Lonny Jarrett’s Nourishing Destiny website. Deeply learning and thinking about Lian Qiao’s actions was, in a way, my gateway drug that led me to this study.

Dr. Huang Huang discusses Lian Qiao as a medicinal that alleviates Fan Xie-Vexation Agitation. He uses it as a spirit quieting medicinal.

Classical examples of this include the Wen Bing Formula Qing Gong Tang Palace-Clearing Decoction which clears heat from the Ying and Blood Levels or Qing Ying Tang Ying Level Heat-Clearing Decoction, which actually addresses heat at all four stages of heat penetration. Both formulas treat fever causing delirium and impaired consciousness due to heat.

For the purposes of draining heart fire, Lian qiao pairs extremely well with Zhi Zi Gardenia. Other medicinals to consider include Mai Men Dong Radix Ophiopogonis, Dan Zhu Ye Folium Phyllostachydis Henonis and Lian Zi Semen Nelumbinis.

Huang wrote a formula he named Ba Wei Chu Fan Tang Eight Flavor Tea for Alleviating Vexation, which combines Ban Xia Hou Po Tang along with Lian Qiao, Zhi Zi, Huang Qin and Zhi Ke to clear and quiet the spirit. I was so impressed by how powerfully this could work, without medicinals that are “spirit calming” that we had it manufactured.

You can order any forsythia formula from China Herb Company. If they aren’t ones we stock, we can custom compound them for to you your exact specifications.

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[1] Chang, Bare, Jia Chinese Materia Medica 1st Edition, People’s Medical Publishing House, ISBN-10: 7117196475 page 142