Achyranthes root, or known as Huai Niu Xi in Pinyin, is a common bulk Chinese herb. Being one of the most famous Four Huai medicines, it has a long history of cultivation and application in China. And it got its name because it was mainly produced in the historical Huai Qing Fu, where locates in today’s Jiaozuo in Henan province. In addition, the reason for the name of Niu Xi is twofold: the cylindrical Achyranthes have angular stem and enlarged node that looks like a bull’s knee, plus the healing power of this herb is just like the power of a bull. In TCM remedies it is commonly used as a medicine to unblock collaterals and activate blood. Clinically physicians love to prescribe it for the treatment of a variety of arthritis, osteoproliferation, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases (including coronary heart disease, cerebral thrombosis, and cerebral arteriosclerosis), and gynecological diseases (including emmeniopathy, leukorrheal diseases, and various antenatal and postpartum illness).
What is Achyranthes?
It mainly refers to the root of Achyranthes bidentata Blume., a plant in the family Amaranthaceae. Hence, its common names include Achyranthis bidentatae radix, radix achyranthis bidentatae, achyranthes bidentata root, radix achyranthis, and so on. Medicinally it primarily comes from cultivation. The harvesting time is in winter when the plant is withered. After that, clean it with water, dry it in the sun, and use it raw or stir-fried with wine. It’s important to note that the root of Cyathula officinalis Kuan (Chuan Niu Xi) and Achyranthes aspera (Tu Niu Xi) is similar medicinally. But these three herbs are different and it needs to distinguish among them clinically.
Achyranthes plant is a perennial herb, 30 to 100cm long. Root is elongate, 0.6 to 1cm in diameter and with earthy yellow skin. Stems are erect, four-angled, striate, sparsely pubescent, and with slightly enlarged node and opposite branches on nodes. Leaves are opposite. Petioles are about 5 to 22mm. Leaf blade is elliptic or elliptic-lanceolate, 2 to 10cm long, 1 to 5cm wide, and with spiky apex, cuneate or broad cuneate base, entire margin, and both pubescent sides. Spica is axillary and apical. Inflorescence is short initially and packed with flowers but stretches later to about 15 to 20cm (including peduncle on the lower part). Utricle is oblong and smooth. Brown seed is 1 only in number. And its flowering period is from July to September and fruiting period is from September to October.
Main chemical constituents are triterpenoid saponins (including oleanolic acid and sugar after hydrolysis), steroid compositions (ecdysterone, inokosterone, and rubrosterone), a variety of polysaccharides, 12 kinds of amino acids like glycine, alkaloids, coumarins compounds, and trace elements like iron, copper, and more.
Achyranthes root benefits
This herb initially recorded in Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic). It is widely cultivated outside of Northeast China and the best is produce in Wuzhi County, Jiaozuo city, Henan Province. It is characterized as stout, bright, and oily. As one of highly valued medicinal herbs, it has extensive medicinal uses and provides tons of health benefits. As a result, now it has been developed into achyranthes tea, extract, tablets, and so on. Li Shih-chen, the famous scholar and writer of the Bencao gangmu (Compendium of Materia Medica), ever commented that the nourishing power of Achyranthes root resembled the power of the bull. In terms of Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there is a popular belief that it is good at descending in medicinal properties. That’s to say, it has an extraordinary healing power that can guide the stones formed in the gallbladder, kidney, bladder, and urethra downward and thus discharge them out of the body. In comparison, its pharmacology has a new convincing explanation.
Modern achyranthes herb pharmacological actions
1. The total saponins contained have obvious excitation on uterine smooth muscle;
2. Its benzene extract has significant anti-fertility, anti-implantation and anti-pregnancy effects. And the active ingredient of antifertility is ecdysterone;
3. Its alcohol extract has cardiac inhibition on the experimental small animals;
4. Its decoction has myocardial inhibition on the anesthetized dogs;
5. Its decoction and alcohol extract have short-lived lowering blood pressure and mild diuretic effects, accompanied by respiratory excitatory effect;
6. It can reduce rat’s whole blood viscosity, hematocrit, erythrocyte aggregation index, and it has anticoagulant effect too;
7. Ecdysterone has lipid-lowering effect, and thus can significantly lower blood sugar;
8. It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. And it can improve immune function;
9. Its decoction inhibits the isolated intestine of mice and strengthens the contractions of isolated intestine of guinea pig.
Proven radix achyranthis herbal remedies
In the light of Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter and sour in flavor and neutral in nature and covers two meridians of liver and kidney. Basic functions are tonifying liver and kidney, strengthening muscles and bones, activating blood to promote menstruation, guiding fire downward, and inducing diuresis for treating stranguria. Essential achyranthes bidentata uses and indications include waist and knee pain, impotent lower limbs, amenorrhea due to stagnation of blood, dysmenorrhea, abdominal pain due to postpartum blood stasis, abdominal mass, retention of placenta, heat strangury, blood stranguria, bruises, carbuncles and malignant sore, and sore throat. Recommended Achyranthes root dosage is from 5 to 15 grams in decoction, soaked wine, teapills, and powder.
1. Xue Fu Zhu Yu Tang. From Yi Lin Gai Cuo (Correcting the Errors in the Forest of Medicine), this recipe is basically formulated for amenorrhea due to blood stasis, dysmenorrhea, irregular menstruation, and postpartum abdominal pain. Main other herbal ingredients include Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Tao Ren (Peach Seed), Hong Hua (Safflower Flower), and more.
2. Niu Xi Tang. From Qian Jin Fang (Thousand Pieces of Gold Formulae), this formula treats retention of placenta by combining with dong quai, Qu Mai (Dianthus), Dong Kui Zi (Malva Verticillata Seeds), and more.
3. Jia Wei Shen Qi Wan. From Ji sheng fang (Formulas to Aid the Living), this prescription is primarily used for edema and dysuria. Other important herbs are Di Huang (Rehmannia), Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis Orientalis), Che Qian Zi (Plantago Seeds), and so on.
4. Yu Nu Jian. From Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works), it is commonly designed for mouth sores and inflammation of the gums by stomach heat. Other major herbs include Rehmannia, Shi Gao (Gypsum), Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome), and more.
5. Zhen Gan Xi Feng Tang. From Yi Xue Zhong Zhong Can Xi Lu (Records of Heart-Felt Experiences in Medicine with Reference to the West), it is exclusively used for headache and dizziness caused by the hyperactivity of liver-yang. Other chief herbs are Dai Zhe Shi (Hermatite), Mu Li (Oyster Shell), Gui Ban (Fresh Water Turtle Shell), and so on.
Achyranthes bidentata side effects and contraindications
So far no clearly recognized drug interactions were reported about Achyranthes root. And from the perspective of TCM, it should be avoided during pregnancy and in cases of sinking of qi of middle-jiao, diarrhea due to spleen deficiency, instability of primordial Qi in lower energizer, nocturnal emission, and menorrhagia.