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Herbs & Botanicals

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Alum (bai fan)

What is alum? What is it used for?

Although alum is not an herb, it is still an important component of herbal medicine. Alum is actually the aluminum potassium sulfate crystals that are collected and refined from alum stone or other aluminous ores. The crystals are usually irregular in size and either colorless or yellow-white. The crystals are ground down into a powder for use.

In traditional Chinese medicine, alum is considered sour and cold, and is associated with the Lung, Spleen, Liver and Large Intestine channels. It helps to dispel phlegm and eliminate dampness. In vitro studies have shown that alum can fight infections caused by a variety of bacteria, including S. aureus, pneumococcus, salmonella and anthrax bacillus. High concentrations of alum can inhibit the grown of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis and tetanus. Alum can also be applied to combat conditions such as diarrhea and bleeding from the gums.

How much alum should I take?

The typical dose of alum is between 1.5 and 3 grams, taken with water as a decoction.

What forms of alum are available?

Alum is most often available as a powder, which can be found at many herbal shops and Asian markets.

What can happen if I take too much alum? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Overdoses of alum can irritate the mucus membranes that line the gastrointestinal tract, and may cause nausea and vomiting. Patients who have a weak constitution, or who have stomach disorders, should use alum with caution. In addition, it should not be taken by women who are pregnant or are attempting to become pregnant. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with alum. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking alum or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Li SL, et al. Anti-implantation and anti-early pregnancy Chinese herbs. Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Herbs 1995;12(6):21-22.
  • Li SL, et al. The anti-early pregnancy effect of bai fan. Traditional Chinese Medicine News 1995;5:14.
  • Peng Y, Bai G, Fan H, et al. Synthesis and structural characterization of a terminal hydroxide containing alumoxane via hydrolysis of aluminum hydrides. Inorg Chem February 2004;43(4):1217-9.
  • Wen L, et al. The anticonvulsive effect of mie nang ling. Journal of New Chinese Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology 1999;10(1):24-26.
  • Zi JW, et al. The antifungal effect of bai fan. Yunan Journal of TCM 1990;11(3):26.

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