Number 9
July/August 1997

Herbs in this issue:

Gynostemma pentaphyllum

Sour jujube kernel


Mung bean

Zhi ju zi

A Note From Dr. Leung


     This newsletter has been published for close to a year now.  It was originally meant to be published monthly.  But, so far, as you may have noticed, a couple of issues were bimonthly; and the current issue is again bimonthly.  I apologize for the inconsistency.  Your yearly subscription is for 12 issues and you shall get 12 issues.  The reason for this irregularity is due to my busy traveling schedule.  Nevertheless, I enjoy writing this newsletter, which is the only way for me to force myself to keep up, at least partially, with the voluminous herbal literature from China.  Up until now, this newsletter has been distributed only to professionals in the herbal, medical and pharmaceutical fields.  The few laymen who subscribe to it are ones who have heard about it through the grapevine.  We have so far refrained from marketing this newsletter to the general public, because we believe its contents to date may not appeal to them, but may even shock them.  But in time, after I have made enough of my comments about the current “malpractice” in the herbal field, I will tone down, so to speak, so as to reach a wider lay audience.  But for now, I keep trucking. 


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.


        Since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of October 1994, there has been literally an explosion of commercial and legal activities in the herbal field, along with a glut of herbal information.  Most of this information so far disseminated is slanted towards marketing of products.  Little is directed first towards the truth of the benefits of the general public.  This aspect of the current herbal activities is expertly executed by writers and organizations supported by special commercial interests, who disseminate this information as “consumer education.”  Then, there is this hidden agenda actively promoted by chemical companies which have recently joined the herbal payoff.  Under the legitimate premise of easier control of the quality of herbal products, the new trend promoted by some of these extraction companies is “standardization.”  This buzzword on first glance appears quite logical.  With “standardized” extracts produced by these companies, there would be no more poor-quality and adulterated products, as they can now be chemically measured.  And, from now on, we would have consistent high-quality herbal products.  But can this be true?  It depends.  Certainly, when it comes to producing a product containing an active chemical or group of active chemicals, standardization is the only way to go.  But are these products “herbal” products?  Is a concentrated extract of ginseng containing 80% of ginsenosides, a ginseng extract?  How about a “purer” form of “ginseng extract” containing mostly ginsenoside Rb1 that is also present in Gynostemma pentaphyllum, a gourd plant?  Can we call this extract a “ginseng extract?”  Many of the same people who are promoting standardization with a hidden agenda would like us to.  The reason is that there are so many ways for dishonest operators to make a lot of money out of a single batch of herb (see Issue 4, p. 3).  The following will give you a glimpse at the kind of moneymaking opportunity that currently exists for these people in the herbal field at the suppliers’ end.  Then, of course, there is even more money for them to make at the retail end.

        I recently came across product and price lists from a couple of suppliers (which are among many that we have recently appeared from nowhere to join the nutritional supplement payoff) offering both standardized extracts and extracts of high “strength.”  The following examples are a few offered for the same herb: an astragalus extract with 0.2% flavonoids and 16% polysaccharides along with a 15:1 extract; a kudzu root extract with 10% daidzein and daidzin along with a 10:1 extract; a danggui extract with 1% ligustilide along with a 7:1 extract; a licorice root extract with >27% glycyrrhizin along with a 10:1 extract; and a scutellaria extract with >85% baicalin along with a 15:1 extract; and so on.  Then, there are the ginseng extracts with varying concentrations of ginsenosides (>20% to >80%) along with Gynostemma extracts containing standardized gynosaponins of >20% to >80%, as well as extracts of high strength such as those of atractylodes (20:1), fenugreek (20:1), epimedium (20:1), rosehip (15:1), Siberian ginseng (35:1 and 28:1), and a standardized extract of “wild yam” (Dioscorea opposita) with >7% diosgenin.  When I wrote about the potential abuse of standardization and the non-uniformity of strengths of extracts about 6 months ago, I didn’t expect it to be so widespread already.1  As I have repeatedly stressed, “strengths” of extracts are totally meaningless unless the solvents used in the extracts are specific and the extraction conditions given.  Thus, what kind of extract exactly is fenugreek (20:1)?  I could make such an extract a number of ways: I could extract the whole seed with any solvent to obtain only 5% extracted materials from it.  After evaporating off the solvent, the residue would be a 20:1 extract.  I could play dumb and sell this as a 20:1 extract.  Then, I could use another solvent and extract the rest of the ingredients from the seed marc, and mostly likely would obtain an additional 25% of extractives, which would represent an extract of 4:1 strength.  But I wouldn’t need to sell it as such.  Instead, I could roast it and then sell it as a flavoring extract for artificial maple syrup, based on its flavor strength per customer specifications.  I would basically “double dip.”  Another likely scenario is the following: I could selectively extract the seed with appropriate solvents to remove the sterol, diosgenin, for which fenugreek seed is a rich source.  If out of every 100 kg of seed I obtained 6 kg of concentrated extract from which I isolated 1 kg of diosgenin, I could sell the remaining 5 kg as a 20:1 extract.  I could then use the 1 kg of diosgenin to boost standardized extracts that contain this sterol.  Since nobody seems to know much about extracts nor do they care, I would make a lot of money riding on this wave of ignorance and apathy.

        The above scenarios are nothing compared to those at the retail end.  It is sometimes downright scary to see salesmen and marketers who have neither training, expertise, nor experience in any health field, all of a sudden, become experts, giving seminars and advice on nutritional and herbal products.  They also advise helpless people on diseases and prescribe over the phone, as well as write “technical” bulletins for their products of whose quality they don’t have the foggiest idea.  Some even market products they know are adulterated or manufactured by companies they know to be without any herbal or nutritional expertise.


(1)  A.Y. Leung., “Use of Herbs in Consumer Products,” Drug & Cosmet. Ind.  (in 2 parts), Feb., pp. 40, 42, 44-47, and May, pp. 34, 36, 37, 40, 41 (1997).


         I goofed, again! (also see Issue 6, p. 2) – this time caught by a colleague from Utah, Dr. Larry Lawson, who is an expert on garlic.  In both editions of my Encyclopedia, I have listed certain aroma chemicals (linalool geraniol, citral, and a- and b- phellandrene) as minor constituents of garlic and quoted a Chinese reference, which in term quoted a Japanese chemical dictionary.  When this colleague requested further information on these aroma chemicals, we started going back the trail, through Dr. Peter Zhang of Phyto-Technologies, Inc. and his colleagues in Japan, and found that the chemical dictionary did not cite any original references.  In addition, another, later, Japanese work (an encyclopedia of spices) also cited this chemical dictionary for the same aroma chemicals.  This shows that one has to be very careful with secondary references.  I have already made a note to eliminate these aroma chemicals from my garlic monograph in the next edition, unless the original reference can eventually be located.  In the meantime, my thanks to Dr. Lawson for his keen observation.

        The above is not all!  I must plead guilty to another negligence.  I wrote earlier about the recorded use of ginkgo seed as dating back 2,000 years (Issue 5, p. 2).  That is not true.  The recorded use of ginkgo seed only dates back to 1329 A.D.  I discovered this while preparing for my presentation at a couple of upcoming conferences and I had to consult more reliable sources.  I hope I haven’t misled too many of you.  I must have been so brainwashed by prevalent English literature on ginkgo that I didn’t even think to check its veracity in the Chinese literature.  I should know better; and I will try to be more careful in the future.  My apologies.



Herb Notes


         Suanzaoren as analgesic.  As I have previously described (Issue 5, p. 3) suanzaoren or sour jujube kernel (Ziziphus spinosa) is probably the single most commonly used ingredient in Chinese herbal sedative and hypnotic formulas.  Modern studies have shown it to have strong sedative and hypnotic effects in humans and in experimental animals (e.g., mice, rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits, and dogs).  It contains a wide variety of chemical components that include flavonoids, triterpene saponin glycosides, alkaloids, cyclopeptides, ferulic acid, sterols, fatty oil (~32%, composed mainly of oleic and linoleic acids), polysaccharides, and cyclic AMP and cyclic GMP.  The sedative and hypnotic effects have so far been shown to be due to some of the flavonoids (spinosin, swertisin and zivulgarin), alkaloids, and triterpene glycosides (jujubosides A and B).  Although the analgesic effect of sour jujube kernel has been recorded in traditional herbals and has been substantiated in mice using the hot-plate method (1 report; decoction), the active principles are not yet known.

        In a note that appeared in a recent issue of a journal of practical traditional Chinese medicine [Shiyong Zhongyiyao Zazhi, (1): 39-40 (1997)], 2 authors affiliated with 2 different hospitals (a children and a general hospital) in Qingdao (city of the famous Qingdao beer) report that suanzaoren can produce distinct analgesic effects if used in sufficient quantities.  Thus, the usual dose for sedative and hypnotic effects is 9-15 g, decocted.  If used over 15 g (esp. over 20 g), the authors report that it produces pronounced analgesic effects in persons suffering from headache, stomachache, abdominal pain, and pain of the flank and limbs.  They give a brief account of treating a patient with recurring stomachache at midnight that last 2 hr:  Using a decoction of 30 g suanzaoren and 12 g licorice root (a common combination), taken nightly before 10 o’clock, the pain was eliminated; and the patient’s problem was resolved after 6 doses.  For your information, the toxicity of suanzaoren  is very low:  150 g/kg fed to mice did not produce any toxic reactions and a single oral dose of up to 75-80 g in humans have also produced no toxic reactions.  Furthermore, the use of this herb has been extensively documented since the 3rd century A.D., with no serious adverse side effects.  A traditional caution is for people with loose stool.  Also, since it has been experimentally shown to have uterine stimulant effects (1 report), caution is also advised in pregnant women.

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. 474-476.


Herbs for Treating Hangover/Drunkenness


        In the traditional Chinese medical literature, drunkenness and hangover are all lumped under jiu du or wine/alcohol poisoning.  The following are some better known herbs/foods for this condition: (1) Kudzu (Pueraria lobata) – various parts of the plant have been used, including the root, flower, and seed.  The earliest documented use of kudzu root to relieve jiu du dates back almost 2,000 yrs to the Shennong Ben Cao Jing (Shennong Herbal); that of kudzu flower dates back 1,700 yrs to the Ming Yi Bie Lu; and that of kudzu seed dates back to Li Shi-Zhen’s Ben Cao Gang Mu (1593 A.D.).  (2) Sugarcane juice – its earliest recorded use dates back 1,700 yrs to the Ming Yi Bie Lu, and is considered a simple folk remedy for jiu du.  (3) Banana – its earliest use record dates back to the Ben Cao Gang Mu Shi Yi (1765 A.D.).  (4) Watermelon – both the flesh and skin are used; dates back to the early 14th century A.D.  (5) Chi xiao dou hua [rice bean flower (Phaseolus calcaratus) – dates back to the Shennong Herbal.  (6) Mung bean or lu dou – mung bean flour, sprout (the well-known bean sprout), and flower are all used.  Earliest use of the flour dates back to the Ri Yong Ben Cao (1331 A.D.).  The use of bean sprout and mung bean flower for jiu du was first described by Li Shi-Zhen in his Ben Cao Gang Mu.  (7) Lotus root (Nelumbo nucifera) – dates back to the Shennong Herbal.  (8) Radish or lai fu (Raphanus sativus) – described by Li Shi-Zhen in his Ben Cao Gang Mu.  It is a popular folk remedy for heavy drinking: one can eat it fresh or drink its expressed juice.  (10) Zhi ju zi or fruit of Japanese raisin tree (Hovenia dulcis)  - also called suanzaozi, meaning “sour jujube kernel,” but is not the sour jujube kernel (or suanzaoren) with sedative, hypnotic, and analgesic properties described above.  The use of zhi ju zi to treat jiu du was first recorded in the Tang Ben Cao (659 A.D.), that is considered the first official pharmacopoeia in the world, as it was compiled by recognized experts under edict from the emperor.  It is said that the great poet of the Song Dynasty, Su Don Po, liked to drink, but was seldom drunk.  His secret was zhi ju zi.  And Li Shi-Zhen in his herbal (1593 A.D.), recommends it, along with kudzu flower, chi dou hua  (adsuki flower), and mung bean flour for people who drink too much.  (11) Chen zi or sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) – both whole fruit and peel are used.  First use of the whole fruit was recorded in the Shi Xing Ben Cao (937 A.D.); that of the peel in the Shi Liao Ben Cao (704 A.D.).  (12) Gan pi or tangerine peel – first use recorded in the Ri Hua Zi Ben Cao  (908-923).  (13) Jin ju or kumquat – whole fruit used; earliest use described in the Ben Cao Gang Mu.  (14) Yang mei (fruit of Myrica rubra) – earliest use recorded in the Shi Liao Ben Cao.  (15) Gan lan or Chinese olive (Canariun album) – earliest use dates back to the Ri Hua Zi Ben Cao.  (16) You (pronounced yo) or pomelo (Chinese grapefruit) – earliest use of the fruit recorded in the Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (500 A.D.), and that of the peel in the Tang Ben Cao.  (17) Shi or persimmon – there are numerous varieties, some of which are very soft and red, while others remain yellowish and firm, when ripe; they are all sweet.  The type described in the Ming Yi Bie Lu (3rd century A.D.) for treating jiu du is the soft variety.  However, it appears that other types are now also commonly used for preventing alcohol intoxication.  (18) Shanzha orChinese hawthorn  - use first described in the Tang Ben Cao.  (19) Others, with earliest use record for treating jiu du in parenthesis, include schisandra berry (1st century A.D.), clove (627 A.D.), bai dou kou or Amomum compactum fruit (1765 A.D.), hong dou kou or Alpinia galanga fruit (627 A.D.), rou dou kou or nutmeg (627 A.D.), cao guo or Amomum tsao-ko fruit (1505 A.D.), and bian dou or Colichos lablab seed (3rd century A.D.).

2.        L.C. Sun, “Herbs for Relieving Drunkenness/Hangover from Classic Herbals,” Jiangxi Zhongyiyao, 23(1): 55-56(1992).



Herb Tips


         Licorice for contact dermatitis [Xinzhongyi, 26(9): 46(1994)].  Place 50 g of licorice root slices in a quart of cold water and slowly bring it to a boil.  After letting the liquid cool spontaneously to an adequate temperature, use it to wash the affected areas every 3-4 hrs, 30 min each time.  This was used to treat a severe case of contact dermatitis on the insteps with congestion, effusion, and intense itching.  After the first day, itching stopped, and redness and inflammation subsided.  Effusion ceased the next day, and after 10 days, the skin returned to normal.  Licorice is probably the single most used herb in the world, being present in countless formulations.  It has been known for thousands of years for its detoxifying and healing properties, and recently also shown to be anti-allergic.  It does not surprise me that it helps dermatitis.


          Honey for bedwetting in children [Dazhong Yixue, (2): 25 (1997)].  Simply give the child 2-3 teaspoons of honey before bedtime.  It is supposed to take 4-5 days to work.  It certainly won’t hurt to give it a try.


          Honey for canker sore [Dazhong Yixue, (2): 25 (1997)].  Use a Q-tip to dab honey on the sore 3-5 times a day; said to work in a day or two.


         Mung bean for constipation in older people [Huaxia Zhangshou, (5): 19(1997)].  Cook 100-150 g (3-5 oz) mung bean in water until done.  Add a small amount of sugar and eat it once a day.  It is said to take effect in a few days.