What is herbal cupping? (cupping with bamboo)

Health problems have been as old as humanity itself. Throughout history, people have sought methods to combat diseases and promote health. Each region in the world has developed its own traditional form of medicine, often evolving over thousands of years. Some of the treatment methods designed over time no longer exist (fortunately), while others have proven to be effective and stood the test of time.

Traditional Chinese medicine is a beautiful example of a medicine that has proven itself through its effects on health. Scientifically, we still cannot explain why some things work. Cupping, for example, is a treatment method widely used in Chinese medicine.

The two most commonly used forms of cupping are wet cupping and dry cupping, often performed using glass or plastic. But did you know that bamboo cups can also be used for treatment? Essentially, anything hollow can be used to create a vacuum on the body. However, bamboo offers the advantage of being a natural product with absorbent properties. In traditional Chinese medicine, bamboo cups are usually used in combination with Chinese herbs.

herbal cupping
Bamboo cups on the street in China

What are Chinese herbs?

When we talk about Chinese medicine, we usually immediately think of acupuncture. While acupuncture is indeed the most commonly used treatment method from Chinese medicine in the Netherlands, in China itself, about 75% of treatments involve the use of herbs, a form of natural medication, similar to how we receive Western medication when we visit a doctor in the Netherlands.

Herbs are always prescribed in a formula, a mixture of different extracts to ensure that the dosage is completely balanced. If one herb, for example, has a very drying effect, another herb with a moistening function is added. Thus, you can assume that a formula is always balanced and has almost no side effects, unlike Western medication, which often comes with a laundry list of side effects.

There are hundreds of single herbs. A formula consists of at least two to sometimes fifteen different herbs. This means that thousands of different formulas can be composed, allowing for precise customization to the individual and highly effective treatment.

Herbal cupping explained.

In herbal cupping, we boil the bamboo cups together with a Chinese herbal formula. This allows the active ingredients of the formula to soak into the bamboo cups. When we then use these cups for treatment, the pores will open, and the body will absorb the active ingredients.

Cupping focuses on the external layers of the body, so it is not useful to use a formula that targets internal complaints. For herbal cupping, we use herbal formulas that, for example, help clear external pathogenic factors or improve circulation in the skin and muscle layers. In lesson twelve of the course, for example, we use the herbal formula Gui Zhi Tang, which consists of five different herbs.


Gui Zhi[Ramulus Cinnamomi]

Bai Shao Yao[Radix Paeoniae Alba]

Zhi Gan Cao[Radix Glycyrrhizae Preparatae]

Sheng Jiang[Rhizoma Zingiberis Recens

Da Zao[Fructus Ziziphi Jujubae]


Each herb in this formula has its own action and effect on the body. But together, they help clear external Wind-Cold, a term from Chinese medicine that equates to catching a cold. Clinical manifestations include spontaneous sweating, aversion to Wind and Cold, chills, headache, stiff neck, dry cough, stuffy nose. In short, an excellent formula for an early cold.

Cupping is very common in China

How long should you cook bamboo cups?

The cooking time of the bamboo cups depends on the herbal formula used. But as a guideline, you can take twenty to thirty minutes. Fill a large pan with water and bring it to a boil together with the herbs. Once the water boils, add the bamboo cups and reduce the heat so that the water simmers very gently. Let the bamboo cups simmer here for twenty to thirty minutes.

Normally, you fill a pan with water and boil the herbs until one-third of the water remains. Then you can refill the pan with water and boil again until one-third remains. The water is collected in a separate bottle or thermos and drunk two or three times during the day. In this case, it is about absorbing the substances in the cups.


Hoe moet je cuppen met bamboe cups?

Because you are working with boiling water, you need a long tong to remove the bamboo cups from the water. Place them upside down on a tea towel so that the water can drip out. Keep in mind that the cups are very hot, so wait a moment before applying them to the patient. It is best to lift them with the tong and hold them against the patient’s skin to feel the temperature.

Once the bamboo cups have cooled sufficiently, you can place them on the patient’s skin. Because the cups are still warm, there is a chance that they will self-suction. However, you can also apply the cups using the normal cupping method, with a burning cotton ball. The heat helps to open the pores more easily and is more comfortable for the patient.