What is dampness?  Another one of the different words that Chinese Medicine uses to describe what is happening in the body.  It is easier to understand though, if we see how Chinese Medicine uses the environment and nature and ascribes them to movements within the body.  For a basic example:

Pathogen Nature Description Results
Wind Yang Comes and goes, rapid onset, quickly moving, penetrates defenses, pulls into the body, tends to attack upper/exterior Spasms, convulsions, itching, dizziness, paralysis, blurry vision, headache, stroke, tetanus
Dry Feeling of dryness Dry skin, dry stool, bleeding
Heat Hot, burns, causes things to move, speeds things up, dries things out, burns things Fever, sweating, thirst, constipation, yellow bi-products, burning sensation
Cold Yin Cold, congeals, tightens Feeling of cold, pain
Damp Heavy, turbid, thick, stuck Bloating, heaviness, thirst with no desire to drink, goes into the joints, affects the Spleen


As an example for dampness, think of a hot and humid day.  On those days we feel heavy and lethargic, our thinking becomes slower, we don’t really have all that much of an appetite and all we want to do is lay on the couch and do as little as possible.  This is exactly what happens inside the body if dampness accumulates in the interior.


For those of you in generation X, this is a pretty good example:


Dampness is an unusable bi-product resulting from the mal-metabolism of fluids in the body, which can happen in a couple of different ways, but is usually due to either a deficiency in the body or an excess.  In deficiency, there is a weakness in the body, usually (but not exclusively) the Spleen or Lung and the body fails to properly digest- or metabolize (move) fluids in the body, causing them to settle, thicken and lodge in an area.  Often, because dampness is thick and heavy, it will lodge in the lower half of the body.  When there is more deficiency, dampness can be body-wide.  Occasionally there is dampness in the upper body and head when the dampness is blocking the draining of fluid from the upper.  Dampness can also lodge in the joints causing arthritic-type pain and heaviness of those joints, though that topic is beyond the scope of this article since it is usually complicated by other pathogens.

Dampness due to excess is often caused by cold or heat within the organs.  When cold accumulates it slows down and thickens the fluids within the body.  If there is any visible bi-product associated, it is generally clear or white.  When heat accumulates, it burns out and thickens the body fluids, which lodge and form obstructions.  The bi-product due to heat is generally some shade of yellow depending on how much heat there is.  In severe cases it can turn green.

According to Bensky, in a nutshell, dampness (along with phlegm) has two connotations in Chinese Medicine.  “The first pertains to the accumulation of fluids in the body, which includes edema as well as pathogenic water and thin mucus.  These terms refer to an obstruction in the normal metabolism of fluids, primarily, but not exclusively of the respiratory and digestive systems.  This condition overlaps with some of the disorders caused by phlegm.  Indeed, herbs that drain dampness are among those used in the treatment of phlegm disorders… The second meaning of dampness refers to the combination of dampness and heat (damp-heat) and includes those disorders in which there are both signs of heat (fever, burning sensations, dark or yellow secretions) as well as stagnation, which is characteristic of dampness.  Disorders in this category include painful urinary dribbling, damp-warmth, damp sores, and jaundice.  ” (Bensky, 2004).


How do we Treat Dampness?

In herbology, there are three basic (but not exclusive) ways to treat dampness.  The first are herbs that clear heat and dry dampness, the second are herbs that drain dampness, and the third are herbs that transform dampness.

Clear Heat & Dry Dampness Herbs

These herbs are generally bitter and cold and are used for certain types of dysenteric disorders, urinary difficulty with pain, jaundice, furuncles and eczema.  These herbs should be used with caution in cases of Spleen and Stomach deficiency.

Clear Heat & Drain Dampness

Toxic Dampness Huang Qin Upper Jiao

Calms Fetus

Huang Lian Middle Jiao

Irritability & vomiting

Huang Bai Lower Jiao

Steaming bone disorder

Liver & Gallbladder

Damp Heat

Long Dan Cao Acute and excess conditions
Damp with Itching Ku Shen Dermatology
Bai Xian Pi


Herbs that Drain Dampness

These herbs promote water metabolism and leach out dampness – in Western Medicine terms, they are diuretics.  By promoting the smooth flow of water passageways, there is an increase in urine and decrease in water retention.  They are most often used to treat edema below the waist and in the lower extremities.  Caution should be used when prescribing these herbs to patients with Yin deficiency or Body Fluid deficiency.

Promote Diuresis – Edema

Strengthens Spleen Fu Ling Calms the Heart & gentle
Yi Yi Ren Clears heat, pus
Zhu Ling Water Damp
Ze Xie Lower Jiao Damp Heat & Phlegm
Dong Gua Pi Toxins
Yu Mi Xu Jaundice


PD – Stranguria

Hua Shi Summer Heat, dribbling urine
Che Qian Zi Liver (eyes), Lung (phlegm)
Promote Lactation Mu Tong Heart, Small Intestine
Tong Cao Mild, Damp Heat
Ju/Qu Mai Heat BlLIN
Itching Pian Xu Genitals
Di Fu Zi Skin
Hai Tong Pi Stones, Pain, Lower body
Shi Wei Phlegm, asthma
Dong Kui Zi Lactation
Deng Xin Cao Heart
Bi Xie #1 TurbidUrine


Aromatic Herbs that Transform Dampness

These herbs are all fragrant, which means that they have a tendency to wake the digestive system resulting in increased (and better quality) metabolism which will cause the body to rid itself of dampness.  The Spleen and Stomach are deficient, which causes feelings of distention and fullness in the abdomen, nausea, vomiting, absence of thirst, loss of appetite, morning lethargy, grogginess, stiff joints, diarrhea with some difficulty in defecating, vaginal discharge, greasy tongue coating, headache, body aches.  These herbs are acrid, warm, aromatic and dry (better used for cold conditions).  Their moving and drying qualities means they can exhaust Qi or injure Yin and body fluids.

Resolve Dampness

Summer Heat Huo Xiang Cloudy Middle Jiao
Pei Lan No Vomiting
Very Dry Cang Zhu Dries
Huo Po Rebelious Qi, Phlegm
Middle Jiao Sha Ren Middle Jiao & Lower Jiao, calms fetus
Bai Dou Kou Middle Jiao & Upper Jiao, vomiting
Cold Damp Cao Dou Kou Stagnation
Cao Guo Greasy Phlegm


Anything I can do at Home?

Yup!  Of course!

Some foods to avoid would be: dairy, cold drinks, refined sugar, processed foods, cold and raw foods, coffee, alcohol, refined flour, pasta, bread, pastries, deep-fried foods, bananas, avocado….

Some foods to incorporate would be: lightly cooked veggies, celery, watercress, turnip, pumpkin, alfalfa sprouts, brown rice, barley, amaranth, rye, oats, legumes, kidney beans, adzuki beans, mung beans, seaweed, kelp, green tea, a moderate intake of fruit…


This is a basic outline of what dampness is and how it affects the body… and there are many formulas for treating this as well.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.




Caroline Prodoehl, TCMP




Bensky, D., Clavey, S., & Stoger, E.  (2004).  Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica 3rd Ed.  Eastland Press, SeattleWA.

Comox Valley Acupuncture