Number 10
September/October 1997

Herbs in this issue:
Ligustrum lucidum

Chinese hawthorn (shanzha)

Sanqi (tienchi ginseng)


A Note From Dr. Leung


   Quality is not cheap!  Truth is sometimes painful for some.  The problem is that I can’t stop telling it.  Fortunately, most people are not afraid of the truth.  Only a handful of people who hide it or specialize in manufacturing untruths, fear it.  If telling the truth hurts them, so be it!I have been vocal in the herbal field for many years now and I am bound to have irritated some of these people.  Recently, it has happened!  Action is being taken by a few of them trying to defame and discredit me, manufacturing incredible lies about me.  Again, all this has to do with formulas, product quality, adulteration, extraction, extracts, standardization, and marketing.  I had previously written in this newsletter on the subject of what makes a product a good product (Issue 2, pp. 1-2).  I want to recap the key elements here. Besides the usual sanitary and good-manufacturing practice, a good herbal product must meet both of the following 2 essential requirements: (1) a good logical formula, and (2) genuine good-quality ingredients that make up the formula; one without the other would yield at best a mediocre product. I have stressed “herbal


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.


for the following reason.  With other health products that are made up of vitamins, minerals and other chemically well-defined nutritional chemicals, the above requirements can easily be fulfilled by any competent manufacturer.  All one has to do is to use the specified amounts of the chemicals (including vitamins and minerals that all can be chemically tested and controlled) required in the formula and manufacture the product according to the specified procedures, and one would have a good product.  This may also be true with some herbal products that are targeted for specific conditions.  For example, let’s consider a product for treating constipation that contains cascara, senna, and/or rhubarb extracts in the formula.  One can use good traditional extracts of these herbs containing the laxative principles (along with other components from the herbs).  The resulting product will be a good product.  Note that I stressed good traditional extracts, and not any cheap adulterated extract that contains large amounts of color, flavor, and carriers, but little real extract.  Also, one can use standardized extracts of these herbs, which contain the specified amounts of the active ingredients (viz., anthraglycosides).   These extracts might not contain other also-important components from the herbs, but these others are less important in this case, as the active principles responsible for the herbs’ laxative effects are there in standardized amounts, as long as only the laxative properties are sought.  I have already written about the pitfalls of standardization; in the wrong hands, it could be a haven for unethical practice by certain extraction companies (Issue 4, p. 3; Issue 9, pp. 1-2).1  If you find this too technical, please bear with me.  I just want to set the record straight.

       Standardized extracts are not appropriate for products that are intended for nonspecific purposes, such as for their general tonic (invigorating and normalizing) effects.  In fact, they may not even be applicable in specific-use products.  Let me give you an example.  Although rhubarb root is generally known to Westerners only as a cathartic herb, it is, in fact, also commonly used in China to treat hemorrhages, especially those of the upper gastrointestinal tract.  If a technical specialist (herbalist, pharmacognosist, chemist, physician, or whatever) does not know this and, exercising his/her “scientific” knowledge and judgement, uses a standardized (anthraglycosides) rhubarb extract in a formula for stopping bleeding, the product would not be effective at all.  The reason is that the hemostatic effect of rhubarb root is not due to anthraglycosides, but possibly to its tannins and other components that most likely would be greatly reduced or removed when the herb is selectively extracted to maximize and standardize its anthraglycoside content.  Consequently, as I have stressed throughout my talks and writings, the key to genuine high-quality extracts is to know one’s suppliers (Issue 4, p. 3).  At times, even this is not enough.  In fact, the only sure-fire way to guarantee the quality of herbal extracts is to control the whole process – from raw herbs to finished extracts.  This way, no one can tamper with the finished extracts to “conform” to arbitrary standards, or “standardize” them to one’s convenience, not to true quality. 

(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(1977).


         More on plagiarism.  I wish I had more time to expose more plagiarists.  They don’t necessarily have to copy from others’ writings.  Stealing someone else’s idea and using it in one’s own writing, without acknowledging its original source, should also be considered a form of plagiarism.  This happens occasionally and the stolen materials have appeared in some of the articles by familiar authors in certain popular magazines.  You would never know it when you read these articles, but the authors know what they have done.

        He has struck again!  The plagiarist I had previously reported (Issue 4, pp. 1-2) has come up with a new book published by the same publisher.  This book contains many of the remedies copied from his previous works.  The difference is that in the current book, there are no references.  This has certainly given him a free license to make up anything!   Folks!  Beware of books on herbs and foods with no referenced sources!



Herb Notes


         Ligustrum or nuzhenzi (dried ripe fruit of Ligustrum lucidum).  It was first recorded in the Shan Hai Jing or Mountain and Sea Classic (circa 800 B.C.), which is the first geographic work describing the different regions of ancient China and its peoples and natural resources, including plants; and later described in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (circa 200 B.C. – 100 A.D.) as a superior herb.  It is traditionally considered neutral in nature, bitter and sweet tasting.  A well-known yin tonic with vision-brightening, hair-darkening, and other properties (e.g., heat-dispersing and fire-quenching), ligustrum is traditionally used for treating premature graying of hair, blurred vision, dizziness, tinnitus, sore back and knees; now also used to treat habitual constipation in the elderly, chronic benzene poisoning, and canker sore.  It is commonly used decocted with other herbs, or in soups and wines.  Modern scientific studies have shown it to have various pharmacological effects in humans and/or animals, including: normalizing immune functions, antiinflammatory, hypolipemic and anti-atherosclerotic, hypoglycemic, antimutagenic, anti-allergic, sedative, diuretic, mildly cardiotonic, liver protectant, antitumor, and preventing leukopenia caused by chemotherapy and radiotherapy, etc.  Many of these effects are due to oleanolic acid (ligustrin) that is present up to 4.3%, the highest among 250 herbs tested by Chinese researchers.  Other chemical components present include ursolic acid, glycosides, mannitol, fatty acids, amino acids, and volatile oil, most of which are probably also responsible for some of the pharmacological effects of ligustrum.  Ligustrum has been used for its tonic effects for probably over 3,000 years; no serious toxic side-effects are known.  Also, scientists have fed a single dose of 75 g (2.5 oz) of the herb to rabbits without producing any toxic symptoms. 

        According to the great herbalist, Li Shi-Zhen (circa 1590), ligustrum also has “beautifying” properties, and is now also used in hair tonic formulas and formulas for removing facial dark spots.  These products are mostly for internal consumption, in keeping with traditional Chinese medical philosophy that skin conditions are manifestations of an imbalance in one’s body, not to be treated simply as a local condition.


         Treatment of canker sores with ligustrum.  Based on its traditional heat-dispersing and fire-quenching  properties (translated into modern terms: reducing inflammation and removing infection), along with its demonstrated modern pharmacologic effects (antiinflammatory, antimicrobial, and immunoenhancing), ligustrum has been used in recent years in treating recurrent canker sores with considerable success.   In a recent report from the Number 3 Hospital of Tianjin Medical College, results of treating 34 patients with ligustrum are compared to those of 20 patients treated with metronidazole (0.2 g, t.i.d.) and vitamins B2 and C.2  It is not a good-quality report, but since the treatment with ligustrum is relatively simple and harmless, I thought you should hear about it.  It may come in handy some day. 

        Method:  Simply place 10 ligustrum (fruits) in you mouth and let them sit for about 10 min until they are thoroughly moistened.  Then chew them slowly, letting the juice rest on the sore for a while before swallowing it.  The taste is not too bad – sweet and slightly bitter.  Do this 5-6 times daily.  Also, once daily, boil 25-30 g of the herb with 20 g  raw rehmannia, 5 g phellodendron bark (huangbai), 10 g  zicao, and 5 g zhuye (Phyllostachys nigra leaf)[see Issue 4, p. 2 for information on zicao and huangbai].  Drink the liquid.  This decoction is supposedly for building up one’s immunity.  Since the treatment course is only 6 days, I have a feeling that you could bypass the decoction and still get results if you can’t get hold of all the above herbs.  Results:  Of the 34 patients treated with ligustrum, 27 achieved healing with no recurrence within 6-12 months; 5 showed improvement, with longer periods between recurrences, as well as less pain; and 2 did not respond.  Of the 20 patients treated with metronidazole and vitamins, 9 had complete healing, 7 had improvement, and 4 did not respond.

(2) L.D. Gao, “Treatment of Canker Sores with Nuzhenzi,” Zhongcaoyao, 28(4): 252-253(1997);  Leung, A.Y., and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1995, pp. 350-352;  Leung, A.Y., Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs & Foods, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1995, p. 58.



Herbs Beneficial to Your Skin


        Chinese herbs are an excellent source of modern drugs and treatment cosmetics, provided one knows where and how to look.  To those who are not familiar with it, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is mysterious and full of “mumbo jumbo,” as its theory and practice are steeped in esoteric terminology.  Terms such as qu feng (wind dispelling), qing re (heat removing or dispersing), xie (evil), and yi qi (replenishing vital energy) are certainly difficult to comprehend, though others such as jie du (removing toxins), sheng ji (growing muscles/flesh), ming mu (brightening vision), and an shen (calming the spirit) are more obvious.  The terminology may seem archaic and sometimes downright superstitious, but the TCM system has evolved over many centuries in a logical way.  One just has to view it from another perspective.  Then it will make sense.  Although I never had formal training in TCM, my research over the past 20 years has enabled me to figure out a few things, especially in the correlation between traditional properties and modern scientific findings, as well as in predicting an herb’s pharmacological activities by analyzing its traditional properties.  Thus, an herb with qu feng properties most likely has antiinflammatory activity, such as Job’s tear, wu jia pi (bark of several Eleutherococcus spp.), ginger, du huo (Angelica pubescens root), and many other less commonly known ones.  And herbs with qing re jie du (heat dispersing and detoxifying) properties generally have antimicrobial and febrifuge effects.  Examples include honeysuckle (flower and vine), forsythia fruit, purslane herb, chuan xin lian (Andrographis paniculata herb), yu xing cao (Houttuynia cordata herb), etc. 

        Many herbs are beneficial to the skin and are used both internally and externally for this purpose.  They normally have one or more of the following traditional properties: benefits/improves complexion, removes heat, removes toxins, removes swelling, invigorates/nourishes blood, lightens skin, moistens the skin/removes dryness, prevents scar formation, promotes flesh growth, etc.  The following are some common ones: lycium fruit, ligustrum, astragalus, licorice, Chinese hawthorn, sanqi (Panax notoginseng), reishi (ganoderma), common jujube, red and white peony root, luffa, safflower flower, Sichuan lovage (Ligusticum chuanxiong rhizome), gaoben (Ligusticum sinense root/rhizome), etc. 

        Astragalus, licorice, and sanqi are well known for their healing properties.  Either alone, or in combination, they can be used in various forms (extracts, powder, etc.) for treating wounds, chapped skin, bruises, dry skin, skin peeling, and other minor skin irritations.  You could also add to the formulation one or two of the antiinflammatory and antimicrobial herbs, such as xinyi (magnolia flower bud), purslane herb, honeysuckle flower, or forsythia fruit.

In TCM, Sichuan lovage, gaoben, ligustrum, and Chinese hawthorn are used topically to treat brown patches on the skin.  The former two have been demonstrated to have tyrosinase inhibitory activity, scientific evidence indicating that these herbs can block excessive pigmentation of the skin. 

The following are derived from two short reports from my file describing results of using Chinese hawthorn and sanqi for treating brown patches and chapped skin, respectively.


         Chinese hawthorn (shanzha) for treating facial brown patches (melasma) [Hubei Zhongyi Zazhi, 16(5): 47(1994)].  Results are described for shanzha treatment of 12 patients with melasma, afflicting mostly the forehead and cheeks, and less so the nose and upper lip.  Patients’ ages ranged from 23 to 45 years.  Shortest duration of illness was 5 months and longest 12 years.  Method:  Grind 300 g of dried raw shanzha to a fine powder and reserve for later use.  Wash face with warm water and wipe dry with towel.  Mix 5 g of shanzha powder with an adequate amount of fresh egg white to form a paste and apply it to the face to form a thin film.  Let it sit for 1 hour, during which time the face can be massaged to help the herb’s absorption.  Do this once in the morning and once at night.  Sixty (60) applications constituted one course of treatment.  Results:  After treatment, pigmentation disappeared in 6 patients, whose skin color had returned to normal; it turned lighter in 4 patients; and 2 did not respond.  A case example was described for a 23-year-old single woman with melasma on her cheeks, which had been unsuccessfully treated for 6 months and had started to spread to her forehead and bridge of the nose.  After 2 courses of shanzha treatment (120 applications; 2 months), the patient’s melasma was completely resolved. 

        In western medical practice, melasma is usually treated with bleaching agents such as hydroquinone, which is rather harsh.  Chinese hawthorn fruit has never been known to be toxic and is a common food and medicine.  If it doesn’t work, it certainly won’t hurt.  You can buy shanzha from any Chinese herb shop and probably many food markets in Chinatown.  But be sure to get the dried raw kind (usually in twisted slices of 1-2 cm in diameter and about 0.5 cm thick), and not the shanzha candy that comes in thin wafers stacked 3-4 cm high and wrapped in paper.  If the raw shanzha is not dry enough for grinding, you can dry it in the oven at low heat until it is brittle.


       Sanqi (Panax notoginseng) powder for treating severely chapped skin [Jiangxi Zhongyiyao, 23(1): 35(1992)].  In addition to other effects (immunomodulating, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, etc.), sanqi is well known for its hemostatic and wound-healing properties.  In this report, results of treating 68 patients with chapped skin are presented.  Thirty-six patients were complicated with ringworm of the feet and 41 experienced different degrees of pain or bleeding.  Duration of illness ranged from 6 months to 15 years.  Method:  Mix 30 g of sanqi powder well with an adequate amount of sesame oil to form a uniform paste, place it in a sealed clean container, and reserve for later use.  Soak the afflicted areas with hot but tolerable water for 10-20 minutes before applying the oily paste.  Do this 3-4 times daily for 30 days.  Results:  After treatment, 45 patients were healed, with no recurrence after more than 1 year; and 23 showed improvement, with longer periods between recurrences, which again responded to the same treatment.  The fastest response was 3 weeks and the longest 7 weeks, with an average of 3.7 weeks.  It is recommended that the paste be also used as a preventive by applying it to affected areas once every 1 to 2 days.

        Sanqi or tienchi ginseng is readily available in any Chinese herb shop.  It comes in spindle-shaped whole roots, 2-4 cm long and 1-3 cm in diameter, and is very hard.  Unless you have a Chinese bronze mortar and pestle with a lid, it is not easy to powder this herb.  You may have to break it up with a hammer first and then grind it in a sturdy coffee mill. 

Leung, A.Y., and S. Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, Wiley-Interscience, New York, 1995;  Leung, A.Y., Better Health with (Mostly) Chinese Herbs & Foods, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1995, pp. 45-46.