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List of traditional Chinese medicines
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, there are roughly 13,000 medicinals used in China and over 100,000 medicinal prescriptions recorded in the ancient literature. Plant elements and extracts are the most common elements used in medicines. In the classic Handbook of Traditional Drugs from 1941, 517 drugs were listed – 442 were plant parts, 45 were animal parts, and 30 were minerals.
Herbal medicine, as used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), came to widespread attention in the United States in the 1970s. At least 40 states in the United States license practitioners of Oriental medicine, and there are about 50 colleges of Oriental medicine in the United States today.
In Japan, the use of TCM herbs and herbal formulas is traditionally known as Kampo, literally “Han Chinese Medical Formulas”. Many Kampo combinations are manufactured in Japan on a large scale by reputable manufacturers.
In Korea, more than 5000 herbs and 7000 herbal formulas are used in Traditional Korean Medicine for the prevention and treatment of ailments. These are herbs and formulas that are traditionally Korean or derived from, or are used in TCM.
In Vietnam, traditional medicine comprises Thuoc Bac (Northern Medicine) and Thuoc Nam (Southern Medicine). Only those who can understand Chinese characters could diagnose and prescribe remedies in Northern Medicine. The theory of Northern Medicine is based on the Yin-Yang interactions and the eight trigrams, as used in Chinese Medicine. Herbs such as Gleditsia sinensis are used in both Traditional Vietnamese Medicine and TCM.
Ginseng is the most broadly used substance for the most broad set of alleged cures. Powdered antlers, horns, teeth, and bones are second in importance to ginseng, with claims ranging from curing cancer to curing impotence.
- 1 Mammals
- 2 Reptiles and amphibians
- 3 Marine life
- 4 Insects
- 5 Fungi
- 6 Plants
- 6.1 Monkshood root
- 6.2 Birthworts
- 6.3 Camellia sinensis
- 6.4 Cayenne pepper
- 6.5 Chinese cucumber
- 6.6 Chrysanthemum flowers
- 6.7 Cocklebur fruit
- 6.8 Crow dipper
- 6.9 Croton seed
- 6.10 Dioscorea root
- 6.11 Ginger
- 6.12 Ginkgo
- 6.13 Ginseng
- 6.14 Goji berry
- 6.15 Horny goat weed
- 6.16 Lily bulb
- 6.17 Chinese Rhubarb
- 6.18 Round cardamon fruit
- 6.19 Thunder god vine
- 6.20 Trichosanthis root
- 6.21 Strychnine
- 6.22 Sweet wormwood
- 6.23 Willow bark
- 7 Inorganic chemicals and minerals
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Human parts and excreta
Human body parts and excreta have been used in TCM since ancient times. More common ones include a remedy made from licorice and human feces, dried human placenta, finger nails, child’s urine, hair, and adult urinary sediments (Hominis Urinae Sedimentum, Ren Zhong Bai). Uncommon parts include pubic hair, muscle, blood, bone, semen, and menstrual blood.The Bencao Gangmu describes the use of 35 human waste products and body parts as medicines, such as bones, fingernail, hairs, dandruff, earwax, impurities on the teeth, feces, urine, sweat, and organs. – Also listed are human breath and the “soul of criminals that were hanged“, which is considered under TCM to be a material object resembling charcoal that is dug out of the ground beneath the body shortly after a hanged criminal died.
Very few human or allegedly human products remain in TCM today.
Dried human placenta
Human feces and urine
Further information: Fecal transplant
The contemporary use of licorice in prepared human feces is known as Ren Zhong Huang. Human urine sediment is called Ren Zhong Bai. Both Ren Zhong Huang and Ren Zhong Bai are used to treat inflammatory conditions and fungal infections of the skin and mouth.
The human penis is not a drug— Li Shizhen
Human penis is believed under TCM to stop bleeding, and as with other TCM medicines, the basis for belief in its therapeutic effects is anecdotal and not based on the scientific method; Li Shizhen, author of the greatest pharmacological work in pre-modern China, the Bencao Gangmu, objected to use of human penis, but cited the anecdotal evidence and thus included it in his book.
Human pubic hair
Human pubic hair (“shady hair”) was claimed to cure snakebite, difficult birth, abnormal urination, and “yin and yang disorder” (A disease unique to TCM based on traditional Chinese views of sexual behavior).
Main article: Deer penis wine
Deer penis is commonly sold in pharmacies. and served in specialized restaurants such as the Guo Li Zhuang restaurant in Beijing. The deer penis is typically very large and, under TCM it must be extracted from the deer whilst still alive. Often it is then sliced into small pieces, typically by women and then roasted and dried in the sun and then preserved while the deer looks on. China banned deer penis wine during the 2008 Summer Olympics, as it is believed that the wine is an effective treatment for athletic injuries.
Flying squirrel feces
The text Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology notes that flying squirrel feces has a “distinct odor” that “may decrease patient compliance” with ingesting it.
It is believed to have uses for amenorrhea, menses pain, postpartum abdominal pain, epigastric pain, and chest pain. It is boiled in a decoction with other herbs prior to ingestion. If it is to be used in a formula to stop heavy bleeding; it is dry fried prior to further processing. Exposure to flying squirrels in the wild has been associated with Rickettsia infections.
Scales of pangolins, Chuan Shan Jia [Manitis Squama], are used in traditional Chinese medicine. is classified as salty and cool and as entering the Liver and Stomach channels. It is traditionally used in Chinese medicine to disperse blood stasis (for promoting menstruation and lactation), reducing swelling and promoting discharge of pus (for abscesses and boils etc.) and for expelling wind-dampness (for pain due to rehumatism/arthritis).
The horn of a rhinoceros is used as an antipyretic – because it is believed to “cool the blood” – however several scientific studies failed to find any active antipyretic molecule in rhinoceros horn. The black market trade of rhinoceros parts has decimated the world’s population by more than 90 percent over the past 40 years.
Main article: Tiger penis
The penis and testicles of male tigers is used by some to treat erectile dysfunction and to improve sexual performance, despite tiger penis being a placebo. Critically endangered species such as the Sumatran tiger are often being hunted to keep up with the illegal demand for tiger parts.
Reptiles and amphibians
Snake oil is the most widely known Chinese medicine in the west, due to extensive marketing in the west in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and wild claims of its efficacy to treat many maladies. Snake oil is a traditional Chinese medicine used to treat joint pain by rubbing it on joints as a liniment.
This is theoretically possible because snake oil is higher in eicosapentaenoic acid than most other oils. But there are no scientific studies showing that rubbing it on joints has any positive effect, or that snake oil is safe for daily consumption.
Seahorse (Hai Ma) is a fundamental ingredient in therapies for a variety of disorders, including asthma, arteriosclerosis, incontinence, impotence, insomnia, thyroid disorders, skin ailments, broken bones, heart disease, throat infections, abdominal pain, sores, skin infections; it is also used as an aphrodisiac and to facilitate childbirth. As many as 20 million seahorses per year may be used for TCM purposes. In one study, 58 seahorse samples were collected from various TCM vendors in Taiwan, and of all the eight species identified from the fifty-eight samples, seven were vulnerable, and one was endangered.
Shark fin soup
Main article: Shark fin soup
Shark fin soup is traditionally regarded as beneficial for health in East Asia, and its status as an elite dish has led to huge demand with the increase of affluence in China, devastating shark populations.
Main article: Cantharidin
Dried scorpions (Chinese: 全蠍; pinyin: quán xiē) may be ground into a powder and mixed with water. It is said to aid in detoxification A scorpion venom peptide was found to help with arthritis in vitro.
Various fungi are used in TCM. Some may have scientifically proven medicinal value, while others may be extremely toxic.
Main article: Ganoderma lucidum
The supernatural mushroom (lingzhi mushroom, Chinese “linh chi” = “supernatural mushroom”, “reishi mushroom” in Japan) encompasses several fungal species of the genus Ganoderma, and most commonly refers to the closely related species, Ganoderma lucidum and Ganoderma tsugae. G. lucidum enjoys special veneration in East Asia, where it has been used as a medicinal mushroom in traditional Chinese medicine for more than 2,000 years, making it one of the oldest mushrooms known to have been used medicinally. Today, the ling zhi mushroom is used in a herbal formula designed to minimize the side effects of chemotherapy.
Tremella fuciformis is used as a beauty product by women in China and Japan as it reportedly increases moisture retention in the skin and prevents senile degradation of micro-blood vessels in the skin, reducing wrinkles and smoothing fine lines. Other beneficial effects come from its ability to increase the activity of SOD in the brain and liver.
The monkshood plant contains what is called “the queen of poisons”, the highly toxic alkaloid aconitine. Aconitine is easily absorbed through the skin, eyes and through the lining of the nose; Death may occur through respiratory paralysis. A few minutes after exposure, paresthesia starts at the mouth and slowly beings to cover the whole body, Anesthesia, hot and cold flashes, nausea and vomiting and other similar symptoms follow. Sometimes there is strong pain, accompanied by cramps, or diarrhea.
When a person has a negative reaction to the alkaloid, some practitioners of classical Chinese medicine think that this is because it was that the monkshood plant was processed incorrectly or planted on the wrong place or on the wrong day of the year; not because of an overdose.
Birthworts (family Aristolochiaceae) are often used to treat many ailments, including hypertension, hemorrhoids, and colic. However, they are of little medicinal value and contain the carcinogen aristolochic acid. The over-use of this plant family in TCM is thought be a significant cause of upper urinary tract cancer and kidney failure in Taiwan; in 2012, approximately a third of all herbal prescriptions in Taiwan contained AA. Supplements containing AA may be responsible for BEN.
The fruit of Trichosanthes kirilowii is believed to treat tumors, reduce fevers, swelling and coughing, abscesses, amenorrhea, jaundice, and polyuria. The plant is deadly if improperly prepared; causing pulmonary edema, cerebral hemorrhage, seizures, and high fever.
Chrysanthemum flowers (Ju Hua) are used in TCM to treat headaches, fever, dizziness and dry eyes. They are also used to make certain beverages. Chrysanthemum flowers are believed to “brighten the eyes, pacify the liver, break blood, clear heat, stop dysentery, disperse wind, relieve toxicity, and regulate the center”.
Care should be taken as crow dipper is toxic.
Seeds of Croton tiglium are used in TCM to treat gastrointestinal disorders, convulsions, and skin lesions. They are often used with rhubarb, dried ginger and apricot seed. Care should be taken as the seeds are toxic and carcinogenic.
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In TCM, Dioscorea Root (Radix Dioscorea, Huai Shan Yao or Shan Yao in Chinese), benefits both the Yin and Yang, and is used to tonify the lungs, spleen and kidney. It can “be used in large amounts and 30g is suggested when treating diabetes”. If taken habitually, it “brightens the intellect and prolongs life”.
Main article: Ginger
Ginger root, Zingiber officinale, has been used in China for over 2,000 years to treat indigestion, upset stomach, diarrhea, and nausea. It is also used in TCM to treat arthritis, colic, diarrhea, heart conditions, the common cold, flu-like symptoms, headaches, and menstrual cramps. Today, health care professionals worldwide commonly recommend ginger to help prevent or treat nausea and vomiting associated with motion sickness, pregnancy, and cancer chemotherapy. It is also used as a treatment for minor stomach upset, as a supplement for arthritis, and may even help prevent heart disease and cancer.
Main article: Ginkgo biloba
Ginkgo biloba seeds are crushed and believed under TCM to treat asthma. G. biloba has been used by humans for nearly 5,000 years. However, further scientific studies are needed to establish the efficacy of G. biloba as a medicine.
Further information: Panax ginseng
Ginseng root is the most widely sold traditional Chinese medicine. The name “ginseng” is used to refer to both American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian or Korean ginseng (P. ginseng), which belong to the species Panax and have a similar chemical makeup. Siberian ginseng or Eleuthero (Eleutherococcus senticosus) is another type of plant. Asian ginseng has a light tan, gnarled root that often looks like a human body with stringy shoots for arms and legs. In ancient times, herbalists thought that because of the way ginseng looks it could treat many different kinds of syndromes, from fatigue and stress to asthma and cancer. In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng was often combined with other herbs and used often to bring longevity, strength, and mental alacrity to its users. Asian ginseng is believed to enhance the immune system in preventing and treating infection and disease. Several clinical studies report that Asian ginseng can improve immune function. Studies have found that ginseng seems to increase the number of immune cells in the blood, and improve the immune system’s response to a flu vaccine. In one study, 227 participants received either ginseng or placebo for 12 weeks, with a flu shot administered after 4 weeks. The number of colds and flu were two-thirds lower in the group that took ginseng.
Ginseng contains stimulants, but may produce side effect including high blood pressure, low blood pressure, and mastalgia. Ginseng may also lead to induction of mania in depressed patients who mix it with antidepressants. One of the most common and characteristic symptoms of acute overdose of ginseng from the genus Panax is bleeding. Symptoms of mild overdose with Panax ginseng may include dry mouth and lips, excitation, fidgeting, irritability, tremor, palpitations, blurred vision, headache, insomnia, increased body temperature, increased blood pressure, edema, decreased appetite, increased sexual desire, dizziness, itching, eczema, early morning diarrhea, bleeding, and fatigue. Symptoms of gross overdose with Panax ginseng may include nausea, vomiting, irritability, restlessness, urinary and bowel incontinence, fever, increased blood pressure, increased respiration, decreased sensitivity and reaction to light, decreased heart rate, cyanotic facial complexion, red face, seizures, convulsions, and delirium.
The constituents of ginseng include triterpene saponins, aglycone protopanaxadiol, aglycone protopanaxytriol, aglycone oleanolic acid and water-soluble polysaccharides.
Main article: Wolfberry
Marketing literature for goji berry (wolfberry) products including several “goji juices” suggest that wolfberry polysaccharides have extensive biological effects and health benefits, although none of these claims have been supported by peer-reviewed research.
A May 2008 clinical study published by the peer-reviewed Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine indicated that parametric data, including body weight, did not show significant differences between subjects receiving Lycium barbarum berry juice and subjects receiving the placebo; the study concluded that subjective measures of health were improved and suggested further research in humans was necessary. This study, however, was subject to a variety of criticisms concerning its experimental design and interpretations.
Published studies have also reported possible medicinal benefits of Lycium barbarum, especially due to its antioxidant properties, including potential benefits against cardiovascular and inflammatory diseases, vision-related diseases (such as age-related macular degeneration and glaucoma), having neuroprotective properties or as an anticancer and immunomodulatory agent.
Wolfberry leaves may be used to make tea, together with Lycium root bark (called dìgǔpí; 地 骨 皮 in Chinese), for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). A glucopyranoside isolated from wolfberry root bark have inhibitory activity in vitro against human pathogenic bacteria and fungi.
Horny goat weed
Lily bulbs (Bai He) are used in TCM to treat dry cough, dry and sore throat, and wheezing.
The root of the “Chinese rhubarb”, or “da huang” (大黄), either Rheum palmatum, or Rheum officinale, is an important herb that is used primarily as a laxative in TCM. The degree of potency depends on how long the root is cooked during preparation after harvesting.
Round cardamon fruit
Round cardamon fruit (Bai Dou Kou) is used in TCM to treat poor appetite, breathing problems, vomiting and diarreahea
Thunder god vine
Thunder god vine is used in TCM to treat arthritis, relieve pain and reduce joint swelling. It can be extremely toxic, if not processed properly. If used inappropriately, within two to three hours after ingestion, a patient may begin to have diarrhea, headache, dizziness, severe vomiting (sometimes with blood), chills, high fever, and irregular heart beat. Long term inproper use may result in nervous system damage.
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In TCM, Trichosanthis Root (Radix Trichosanthis or Tian Hua Fen in Chinese), is used to clear heat, generate fluids when heat injures fluids causing thirst, in the wasting and thirsting syndrome. The pairing of Tian Hua Fen and Zhi Mu had a faster, stronger and longer effect in reducing blood sugar levels than either herb alone.
The seeds of the Strychnine tree, Strychnos nux-vomica, are sometimes used to treat diseases of the respiratory tract, anemia, and geriatric complaints. The active molecule is strychnine, a compound often used as a pesticide. Strychnine can also be used as a stimulant – however it has an extremely low therapeutic index and better, less toxic replacements are available.
Sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua, Qing Hao) is believed under TCM to treat fever, headache, dizziness, stopping bleeding, and alternating fever and chills.
Sweet wormwood had fallen out of common use under TCM until it was rediscovered in the 1970s when the Chinese Handbook of Prescriptions for Emergency Treatments (340 AD) was found. This pharmacopeia contained recipes for a tea from dried leaves, prescribed for fevers (not specifically malaria). The plant extracts often used in TCM are antimalarial, due to the presence of artemisinin.
However, it has been questioned as to whether tea made from A. annua is effective against malaria, since artemesinin is not soluble in water and the resulting tea would not be expected to contain any significant amount of artemesinin.
See also: Aspirin
Plants of the genus Salix have been used since the time of Hippocrates (400 BC) when patients were advised to chew on the bark to reduce fever and inflammation. Willow bark has been used throughout the centuries in China and Europe to the present for the treatment of pain (particularly low back pain and osteoarthritis), headache, and inflammatory conditions such as bursitis and tendinitis. The bark of white willow contains salicin, which is a chemical similar to aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid). It is thought to be responsible for the pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effects of the herb. In 1829, salicin was used to develop aspirin. White willow appears to be slower than aspirin to bring pain relief, but the analgesia may last longer.
Inorganic chemicals and minerals
Further information: Arsenic
Arsenic, while possibly essential for life in tiny amounts, is extremely toxic in the amounts used and arsenic poisoning may result from use of arsenic containing remedies. They are most commonly given as a pill or capsule, although are sometimes incorporated into a mixture with other substances.
Galena is used in TCM to treat ringworm, skin disorders and ulcers, and is thought to “detoxify” the body. It is crushed and taken orally or used on the skin. Lead tetroxide (Qian Dan) is used to treat anxiety, itching, and malaria. It is important to note that most lead compounds are extremely toxic.
Further information: Mercury poisoning
Despite its toxicity, mercury sulfide (cinnabar) has historically been used in Chinese medicine, where it is called zhūshā (朱砂), and was highly valued in Chinese Alchemy. It was also referred to as dān (丹), meaning[vague] all of Chinese alchemy, cinnabar, and the “elixir of immortality”. Cinnabar has been used in Traditional Chinese medicine as a sedative for more than 2000 years, and has been shown to have sedative and toxic effects in mice. In addition to being used for insomnia, cinnabar is thought to be effective for cold sores, sore throat, and some skin infections.
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