Number 7
April/May 1997

Herbs in this issue:
Wild ginger

Lycium fruit

Schisandra berry

Magnolia flower bud

A Note From Dr. Leung


     Compared to 10 years ago, the amount of publications and information sources on herbal medicine has literally exploded.  Does that mean we now have plenty of accurate up-to-date information on herbs?The answer depends on what perspective from which one views the information:  For example:  (1) From a chemical or pharmacological viewpoint, we certainly have much more information now on chemicals found or isolated from herbs than ever before.  But is this increased information relevant to herbal medicine or its benefits to consumers?  The answer is basically a “no.”  Although this voluminous new information is useful in the research and development of new chemicals for pharmaceutical, cosmetic, or other applications, it has not scientifically proven the efficacy of more herbs or more herbal formulas than before, if indeed any one of these has been “proven.” (2) From a traditional herbal point of view, even though herb and nutrition magazines abound, most of which contain information that is primarily designed to promote commercial products.  And there is no lack of “hired guns” to slant the information to the benefits of their employers.


Dr. Leung is author of the Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics (Wiley-Interscience), which was published in 1980 and revised in 1996. He is also creator of PHYTOMED, a prototype computer database on Chinese herbal medicine developed under contract with the National Cancer Institute.


        Politics and self interest aside, there is some serious effort in studying herbs and reporting its findings.  Even so, there is still a lot lacking.  In reporting the scientific findings on herbs, the accepted standard is to use the Latin binomials to specify the plant species; and in botanical tradition, a voucher specimen of the plant is also maintained.  The idea is to be able to always go back to the field to collect the same plant material, because often the same plant may be known under numerous names, or numerous plants may have the same vernacular name.  Thus, with a Latin binomial correctly identifying the plant, accompanied by a voucher specimen, any person well trained in botany can source the right material.  This has served well so far in Western ethnobotanical research and is generally well suited for most Western herbs, or “medicinal plants” - a term preferred by chemists and botanists.  However, many technologists often do not go far enough when reporting on herbal matters.  Consequently, it is common to see them report an herbal drug using the scientific name (Latin binomial) alone, without indicating what part of the plant was used.  This is a very common oversight or should I say, ignorance, as the reporter tries to be specific, and yet not specific enough.  It is quite common to see chemical composition or pharmacologic activities (e.g., hypotensive) of herbal drugs reported in scientific publications, without reference as to which part of the plant contains the active compound or possesses the activity, even though the authors have faithfully plugged in the correct Latin binomial.  It may be fine if the herbal drug is a common one that everyone recognizes, such as ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe), alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.), or chamomile (Matricaria recutita L.) as one could assume the commonly used parts (rhizome, aerial parts, and flowerhead, respectively) are indicated.  Still, one can never be sure. For example, when one reports the presence of large amounts of eugenol in Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume (cinnamon) or that an aqueous extract of Cinnamomum cassia J. Presl (Chinese cinnamon) has strong antiulcerogenic effect in rats that is comparable to that of cimetidine, one is not telling the whole truth.  If you want to obtain eugenol from cinnamon, should you extract the whole tree, the leaves, the flower, the twigs, the wood, the root, root bark, or tree bark?  And which part of C. cassia has the antiulcerogenic activity?  Normally the original publication tells you what parts of the plant were used.  It is just that when other people are quoting the original publications that oversight, omission, and mistakes are made.  I personally think that lay reporters and some lesser scientists are so awed or overwhelmed by the Latin-binomial and voucher-specimen system that they try so hard to sound professional, and completely neglect another equally important aspect of natural products research, namely, plant parts!!!

        Now that we have the correct scientific name (Latin binomial) of the plant, the plant part, and the voucher specimen, don’t you think we have enough information?  It depends.  For Western herbs, those three things are specific enough to define the source material.  But for many Chinese herbs, they are not enough.  The reason is that Chinese herbs are generally different from Western herbs.1  Most Chinese herbs are further processed after they are collected, cleaned and washed, before being dried.  In contrast, Western herbs are seldom subjected to complicated processing and are normally only cleaned or washed and then dried; they are also often used fresh.  With Chinese herbs, depending on the degree of processing, a particular part of the plant (e.g., root) may yield two or more different herbal drugs; these drugs frequently no longer resemble the fresh (original) plant part.  For example, some well-known ones include the minimally processed (cleaned and dried) and extensively processed (prolonged soaking in water, followed by steaming for many hours or days with or without black soybean broth and licorice, etc.) root tubers of Aconite (Aconitum carmichaeli Debx.) and fo-ti or heshouwu (Polygonum multiflorum Thunb.).  Raw aconite and raw fo-ti are very different from their cured counterparts.  Raw aconite is extremely toxic, while cured aconite is much less so; the former is normally used externally while the latter is used internally, especially for treating arthritis and rheumatism.  Raw fo-ti is a cathartic and is used also as a detoxicant, while properly cured fo-ti has no cathartic properties and is a major Chinese tonic, espcially for premature graying of hair, general weakness, dizziness and tinnitus.  So, whenever I see an article reporting an extract of, say, Polygonum multiflorum, to have hypolipemic effects, I feel frustrated and angry at the author.  What is he/she talking about?  Did the investigator use raw fo-ti or cured fo-ti, or a different part of the plant althgether, such as stem or leaf, that has nothing to do with the traditional part used?  It is even more frustrating when I see some of my esteemed colleagues commit this kind of omission.  They are generally eminent scientists in their own fields (e.g., pharmacognosy, natural product chemistry, botany, pharmacology, etc.) and should know better.  Yet, somehow, they seem to have a mental block when it comes to Chinese herbs.  They apply sloppy science to Chinese herbs, as they generally don’t bother to identify the real source material but rather get hung up on the binomials, voucher specimens, and chemical standards, that are useless without first correctly identifying the source material, because in this case even using all 3 parameters combined don’t identity the herbal drug; experience and proper training do.  Yet these are the technologists now “in charge” of setting standards for “new” herbal drugs for our government, with advice from self-proclaimed experts whose only qualification is their social or political connections.  I sense there is the superiority air of the colonial white man remaining, who considers anything he does not know or understand insignificant, not worthy of serious efforts.  It is this kind of attitude that has perpetuated the current problem with Chinese herbs in America, resulting in much misinformation in the English literature on Chinese herbal medicine.

(1) A.Y. Leung, “Use and Acceptance of Herbs in Consumer Products,” Drug & Cosmet. Ind., Feb. 1996, pp. 40, 42,44-47 (Part I);  and May, 1996 (Part II)



Herbs for Impotence


        One thing that does not discriminate and has no national borders is impotence.  Many males, irrespective of color, creed, or national origin, are obsessed with their manhood, always looking for something extra.  The Chinese have no lack of herbs and herbal remedies for these problems.  Hence I have collected a thick file of such remedies without special effort.  The following are some herbs that frequently appear in these remedies:2,3  buguzhi (Psoralea corylifolia fruit), roucongrong (Cistanche deserticola herb), wuweizi (Schisandra chinensis fruit), yinyanghuo (Epimedium herb), shengdihuang  (raw) and shudihuang (cured) (Rehmannia glutinosa root), gouqizi (Lycium barbarum fruit), jinyingzi or Cherokee rosehip (Rosa laevigata fruit), bajitian (Morinda officinalis root), red Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), huangqi (Astragalus root), wuzhuyu (Evodia rutaecarpa fruit), dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula root), baizhu (Atractylodes macrocephala rhizome), cangzhu (Atractylodes lancea rhizome), danggui (Angelica sinensis root), huluba or fenugreek seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum), jiucaizi (Allium tuberosum seed), sanqi or tienchi ginseng (Panax notoginseng root), shanzhuyu or dogwood fruit (Cornus officinalis), shechuangzi (Cnidium monnieri fruit), nuzhenzi (Ligustrum lucidum fruit), rougui or Chinese cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia bark), chenpi or tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata), fuling or poria (Poria cocos), ganjiang or dried ginger (Zingiber officinale rhizome), tusizi or Chinese dodder seed (Cuscuta chinensis), shanyao or Chinese yam (Dioscorea opposita rhizome), cured fo-ti or zhiheshouwu (Polygonum multiflorum root tuber), xixin or wild ginger (Asarum herb), huajiao or Sichuan peppercorn (Zanthoxylum bungeanum fruit pod), etc. 

        Certain animal by-products and minerals are also frequently used; they include:  duanmuli or calcined oyster shell (Ostrea spp.), lujiao or deer antler (Cervus spp.), lurong or deer velvet (Cervus spp.), guiban or tortoise shell (Chinemys reevesii), jineijin or membrane of chicken gizzard, gejie or gecko (Gekko gecko), etc. 

        Some of the above items may appear strange.  Yet all, except wild ginger and Sichuan peppercorn (a major spice in the famous Sichuan dish, ma po bean curd), have a documented use history in impotence and related conditions dating back many centuries.  I am not sure the above information would be useful to you because there are various causes of impotence.  Also, rarely is a single herb being used, which makes it extremely difficult for one to evaluate the efficacy of any of these herbs.  Nevertheless, I hope it is at least entertaining.

(2) J.N. Xing and H.P. Lu, “Traditional Chinese Medicine in the Treatment of Impotence,” Yunnan Zhongyi Zhongyao Zazhi, 17(1): 43-45(1996);  (3) PHYTOMED files.



Healing Herbs and Foods


          Wild ginger (xixin) for impotence [Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi, 14(7): 56(1989);  Zhejiang Zhongyi Zazhi, 28(5): 237(1993);  Guo, X.Z. et al., Eds.,.You Du Zhongcaoyao Da Cidian (Dictionary of Poisonous Chinese Herbal Drugs), Tianjin Scientific and Technical Translation Publishers, Tianjin, 1992, pp. 353-357].  It appears that this particular use of Chinese wild ginger (xixin) is of relatively recent origin.  It was first reported in 1989 by two doctors from a hospital in Henan Province.  They were treating a patient with Raynaud’s disease who also happened to have a 5-year history of impotence.  During treatment, the patient’s impotence was ameliorated.  The authors suspected that this was due to xixin, one of the components in the remedy used.  Consequently, they prescribed 5 g/day of xixin, taken as a tea.  After less than 2 months of treatment with this tea, the patient’s impotence was actually cured.  Encouraged by this result, they used this tea on 25 more patients with impotence, all of whom achieved good results.

        Since then, others have reported satisfactory results using 5-10 g/day of xixin to treat impotence, achieving response between 7 and 45 days.  One report claims to have successfully treated 325 patients, but no original reference is given.  Xixin is the dried whole herb of one of the following 3 species:  Asarum sieboldii, A. sieboldii var. seoulense, and A. heterotropoides var. mandshuricum.  It is slightly toxic, especially if swallowed in a powdered form.  The toxicity is believed to be due to its volatile oil that contains a sizable amount of safrole.  When steeped in boiling water for 15 min, most of the safrole is removed.  And, according to the Dictionary of Poisonous Chinese Herbal Drugs, up to 10 g/day can be tolerated.


          Sichuan peppercorn in the treatment of impotence [Zhejiang Zhongyi Zazhi, (2): 69(1996)].  This treatment involves simmering (for 30-40 min) 10 g each of Sichuan peppercorn, dried ginger, and Asian ginseng, along with 50 g of red (or brown) sugar in water containing liquor.  Drink half the liquid in the morning and the remaining half at night.  The author used this method to treat over 50 patients with satisfactory results.  Two case examples are given, both responded within 1 week.


          Lycium fruit in the treatment of male sterility [Xinzhongyi, 20(2): 20 (1988)].  This is such a simple and safe treatment that it is rather unbelievable!  One simply chew and swallow 15 g of lycium fruit every night for 1 to 3 months and abstain from sex during this time (This may be the clincher!).  The authors report treating 42 patients with this condition.  Forty patients ranged in age from 20 to 30 years and 2 were over 30.  Nine patients had been married for 2-3 years, 24 married for 3-5 years and 9 married for 5-10 years without offspring.  Evaluation of sperm count and motility revealed abnormally low count in all patients, with 6 having zero count; and sperm motility was generally weak.  After 1 mo of treatment, sperm count returned to normal in 23 patients.  After 2 mo of treatment, the sperm count of 10 patients also normalized.  Among the remaining 9 patients who didn’t respond to treatment, 6 had zero sperm count at the onset of treatment.  A 2-year follow-up on the 33 patients with normalized sperm count revealed that they all produced offspring.

        Lycium fruit has been used as a food and medicine in China for many centuries.  It has a pleasant and sweetish taste, slightly resembling that of raisins, and is readily available in Chinese food stores and herb shops.  It is one of my favorite food herbs.  A great yin tonic, good for people with excessive yang who tend to be on overdrive and constipated.  Its various good properties have been described in previous issues of this newsletter. 

        Compared to some of the remedies for impotence and sterility that I have seen (which often are so complicated and tortuous that it boggles the mind to think that some men actually go through with them), the above treatments are certainly much simpler and less dangerous!  If you happen to be one of those crazy males, you know what I mean.



Herb Notes


          Schisandra Berry.  It is the fruit of Schisandra chinensis, known in Chinese as wuweizi, meaning five-flavored seed, because it has all five tastes - sweet, sour, bitter, salty and pungent.  Schisandra is one of my favorite herbs.  I have mentioned it in most previous issues of this newsletter [issue 2, p. 3; issue 3, p.2; issue 4, p.2; issue 5, p.3].  It is a well-known  tonic with many pharmacological activities that include:  antioxidant; immunomodulating (enhancement or suppression of immune functions); antimutagenic; tranquilizing and anticonvulsive effects in rodents; antidepressant in mice; adaptogenic (increasing nonspecific resistance); anti-fatigue effects in rodents and horses; markedly improving performance of race horses; central stimulant and improving reflexes, endurance and work performance in healthy individuals; liver protectant (antihepatotoxic); antitussive and expectorant in mice; among numerous others.  Being a typical tonic, it is traditionally used for numerous conditions, including cough, asthma, insomnia, neurasthenia, chronic diarrhea, night sweat, spontaneous sweating, involuntary seminal discharge, physical exhaustion and excessive urination.  Modern scientific studies have found that the lignans (over 40 isolated from the nonsaponifiable fraction of the seed oil) present in the berries are responsible for schisandra’s antihepatotoxic and other effects.  These lignans are called schizandrins and schizandrols by Russian researchers, gomisins by the Japanese, and wuweizisus and wuweizi esters by the Chinese.  Biphenyldimethyldicarboxylate (BDD), an imtermediate of schizndrin C synthesis, is now used in China to treat viral hepatitis reportedly with much higher efficacy than silymarin.  This is just from one aspect of the traditional properties and uses of schisandra! 

Leung, A.Y., Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs and Foods, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1995, p. 83;  Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd Ed., Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1996, pp.469-472.


          Magnolia Flower Bud.  Known in Chinese as xinyi, it is the flower bud of Magnolia biondii and numerous other Magnolia species.  It is also one of my very favorite herbs.  It looks like a pussy willow bud but has a very strong odor of eucalyptus when crushed.  Its first documented use to “clear the nasal cavity” dates back 3,000 years.  I started using it to treat my hay fever a number of years ago after trying all types modern antihistamines and nasal decongestants without success.  I described my experience in Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs and Foods 2 years ago.  At that time, I still occasionally needed it.  Now, it has just dawned on me that I didn’t have a single episode of runny nose this spring!  You may say this is a “one-monkey test,” but what the heck, I don’t have any magnolia product to sell you nor do I collect a commission from the “magnolia cartel.”  I know there are a lot of you hay fever sufferers out there and I just thought magnolia bud could help you get rid of your hay fever as it did mine.  Simply crush 8-10 buds and steep them in boiling water, cover for 5-10 min, strain off the fuzz and drink the tea twice a day, morning and before bedtime.  You will not like the taste, I guarantee you.  But if you are patient and tolerant (or desperate like I was), you should experience some good relief in a week.  Good luck!

Leung, A.Y., Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs and Foods, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1995, p. 63-64;  Leung, A.Y. and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd Ed., Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1996, pp.362-364.