Chinese herbal medicine has been used for thousands of years to treat infertility in both men and women. Possessing a wide variety of actions which can be used to treat many different imbalances, these herbs have traditionally been classified according to the effects they have on the body. Some herbs clear heat, some invigorate the Blood. Some herbs strengthen the energy, while some herbs resolve dampness, or have another effect on the body.
When we talk about “Yin” in Chinese Medicine theory, we are talking about the material of the body which serves to cool, nourish and moisten. Blood is Yin, tears are Yin, sweat is Yin. Saliva, lymphatic fluid, mucus, extra-cellular fluid, and body secretions are all Yin, too.
In some ways, Yin is considered to be the “substance of youth”, which is consumed throughout our lives. Lifestyle factors such as overwork, stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, drug abuse, heavy blood loss (such as can happen with heavy menstruation) and / or a polluted environment can all lead to a deficient quantity of Yin. And a deficient quantity of Yin can lead to difficulties in fertility, among other things.
It is very difficult to make generalizations or equivalences between western medicine physiology and Chinese medicine theory, since they originate from very different paradigms. However, there is a similarity between the actions of estrogen and the manifestation of Chinese Medicine’s Yin of the Kidneys (i.e., the generation of follicles, the proliferation of the uterine lining, and the secretion of ovulatory cervical mucus). Nourishing and moistening the Yin often has a regulatory effect on the reproductive hormones of the body.
As with all of Chinese herbal medicine, it is best to have a registered Herbalist or Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine advise you on which herbs are correct for your constitution. Yin tonics are not the best fit for everyone, if used inappropriately they can be too “cloying” and can result in the accumulation of dampness (also not helpful for fertility).
Some of the more commonly used herbs to moisten and nourish the Yin (especially when working to maximize fertility) are:
Gou Qi Zi (Lycii, Fructus)
Shu Di Huang (Rehmanniae Glutinosae Conquitae, Radix)
Sang Ji Sheng (Sangjisheng, Ramulus)
Han Lian Cao (Eclipta Prostratae, Herba)
He Shou Wu (Polygoni Multiflori, Radix)
Bai Shao (Paeoniae Lactiflorae, Radix)
E Jiao (Asini, Gelatinum Corii)
Treatment of Infertility with Chinese Medicine, Jane Lyttleton. Churchill Livingstone, 2004.
Materia Medica (Revised Edition), Bensky & Gamble. Eastland Press, 1996.