Arisaema plants, also known as Tian Nan Xing in Chinese (literally Star of Southern Sky), are poisonous herbs. Its toxicity is mainly found in its bulbs, which happen to be its main medicinal part used in Traditional Chinese medicine. Medicinally it can be used for many diseases since it is good at dispelling the wind, calming the frightened, dissipating phlegm, and resolving masses. Medicinal Arisaema bulbs are gathered mainly from the wild although they can be cultivated as well. For that reason, in recent years it is in short supply because of the conflict between dwindling wildlife resources and the increased demand.
What is Arisaema?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the dried tubers of Arisaema erubcscens (Wall.) Schott, A. heterophyllum Bl., or A. amurense Maxim. All the mentioned 3 Arisaema species are from the family Araceae. Other common names of this herb include Rhizoma Arisaematis, Arisaema rhizome, Arisaema Tuber, and more. In China A. erubcscens is mainly produced in Henan, Hebei, and Sichuan; A. heterophyllum is mainly produced in Jiangsu and Zhejiang; A. amurense is mainly produced in Liaoning and Jilin. They are usually harvested in autumn and winter. The raw herb needs to remove fibrous roots and rind and dry in the sun; the Rhizoma Arisaematis Preparatum (Zhi Nan Xing) still needs to be prepared with ginger juice and alum.
Arisaema actually refers to a genus that contains about 150 flowering varieties. They are originally found in eastern North America, Asia, and central and eastern Africa. Among all those species, the most well-known ones are Arisaema triphyllum (Small Jack-in-the-pulpit), Arisaema sikokianum Fr. et Sav. (Gaudy jack), Arisaema stewardsonii (Northern Jack-in-the-pulpit), Arisaema atrorubens (Indian turnip, Jack-in-the-pulpit), Arisaema dracontium (Green dragon), Arisaema ringens (Japanese cobra lily), and the like. Based on the unique look of their flowers, it is better known as cobra lilies in the east and jack-in-the-pulpit in the west.
Now let’s take A. heterophyllum as an example. This is a poisonous perennial herb, 40 to 90cm in height; tubers are slightly spherical and brown; compound leaf is palmate and leaflets are lanceolate; bloom time is summer and spadix is wrapped with purple or green spathe; berries are many and become bright red when ripe. Habitat is brush or grass at an altitude of 300 meters to 2,700 meters.
Its root mainly contains triterpenoid saponins, benzoic acid, amino acids, D-mannitol, and so on.
Arisaema bulb contains 28.05% starch so that it can be used to make alcohol and paste material. However, it is not edible since it is poisonous. As a time-honored Chinese herb, it is frequently used to treat Bell’s palsy, hemiplegia, convulsions in children, tetanus, epilepsy, carbuncle, snake bites, and the like. Dan Nan Xing, also called Arisaema Cum Bile, refers to the one processed with bile, which is mainly used to treat the Retention of Heat-Phlegm in the Lung of children, tic of limbs, and infantile convulsion. It is reported that in recent years the vaginal or cervical canals suppositories made of fresh Arisaema herb proves effective in treating cervical cancer.
Clinically Pinellia (Ban Xia) and Arisaema are often mixed up with each other since they two look and act very similar. Both of them are acrid, warm, and toxic in nature. Medicinally considered as the essential herb of drying dampness and resolving phlegm, they are good at healing dampness-phlegm syndrome and cold-phlegm syndrome. More importantly, after prepared they govern heat-phlegm syndrome and wind-phlegm syndrome. Hopefully the above-mentioned fact won’t lead you to jump to the conclusion that they have the totally same medicinal uses. This is wrong since pinellia governs spleen and lung and focuses on viscera dampness-phlegm and vomiting while Arisaema acts on meridians and is partial to expel wind-phlegm, relieve muscle spasms, and warm cold limbs.
Modern pharmacological actions of Arisaema
1) Its decoction has expectorant, anticonvulsant, sedative and analgesic effects;
2) Its water extract can significantly inhibit the growth of sarcoma S180, solid body type hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), and uterine cervical carcinoma (U14);
3) The chloroform part of alkaloid can antagonize aconitine-induced experimental arrhythmia and prolong the effective refractory period of the action potential of cardiac muscle cell.
Sample Arisaema recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia thinks that it is bitter, acrid in flavor and warm, toxic in nature. It goes to meridians of lung, liver, and spleen. Vital functions are eliminating dampness and phlegm, expelling wind to relieve convulsion, dissipating binds, and reduce the swelling. Primary Arisaema uses and indications include cough caused by stagnated phlegm, vertigo due to wind-phlegm, stroke because of obstructed phlegm, drooping mouth and eye, hemiplegia, epilepsy, convulsions, and tetanus. Externally it treats carbuncles, snake bites, and insect bites. Recommended prepared dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction. For external use the raw one should be ground into powder and applied to the affected area with vinegar or wine.
1) Dao Tan Tang from Chuan Xin Shi Yong Fang (Reliable and appropriate prescriptions). It is formulated with pinellia, Zhi Shi (Citrus Aurantium), and Ju Hong (Exocarpium Citri Erythrocarpae) to treat dampness-phlegm obstructing lung, cough and asthma with excessive sputum and sense of tightness and fullness in the chest;
2) Xiao Huang Wan from Su Wen Bing Ji Qi Yi Bao Ming Ji (Collection for Preserving Life of Pathogenesis in Plain Questions). It is coupled with Huang Qin (Scutellaria Baicalensis) and others to cure heat-sputum coughing;
3) Qing Zhou Bai Wan Zi from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is matched with pinellia, Chuan Wu (Radix Aconiti Carmichaeli), Bai Fu Zi (Typhonium Rhizome), etc. to heal wind-phlegm retaining in meridians, hemiplegia, lingering numbness in the hands and feet, drooping face, and the like;
4) Yu Zhen San from Wai Ke Zheng Zong (True Lineage of External Medicine). It is joined with Typhonium Rhizome, Tian Ma (Gastrodia Elata), Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae), etc. to treat tetanus opisthotonos and obstruction of sputum;
5) Wu Xian Wan from Yang Shi Jia Cang Fang (Yang Family Depository of Formulas). It is equipped with pinellia, Quan Xie (Scorpion), Jiang Can (Bombyx Mori), etc. to cure epilepsy;
6) Shang Qing Dan from Wei Shi Jia Cang Fang (Formulas of Dr. Wei’s Family Treasure). It works with Xiao Hui Xiang (Fennel Seed) to heal unbearable headache caused by wind-phlegm.
7) San Sheng Yin from “Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary”. It is used along with Mu Xiang (Costus), Radix Aconiti Carmichaeli and Fu Zi (monkshood) to treat apoplexy, coma, drooping mouth and eye, hemiplegia, and more.
Clinical research of Arisaema
a) 158 cases of elevated cholesterol, 132 cases of elevated triglycerides, and 116 cases of increased β lipoprotein have been treated with oral tablets made of prepared Arisaema, Jue Ming Zi (Cassia Seed), silkworm pupa, and others. And the efficiency was 90.5%, 90.5% and 83.62% respectively;
b) 132 cases of children with excessive salivation have been treated with the vinegar paste consisting of powder of Arisaema and Pu Huang (cattails), applied to Yongquan acupoint and changed every 12 hours. And 118 cases were cured, 11 cases improved, and 3 cases invalid;
c) Acute gingivitis, periodontal abscesses and other oral disease can be treated with Qiang Li Xiao Yan Jiao Nang (Strong Anti-inflammatory Capsule), which is composed of Arisaema, San Qi (Tienchi Ginseng), Typhonium Rhizome, etc. And the total effective rate was 83.9%.
Arisaema side effects and contraindications
Arisaema bulbs are a strong irritant to the skin and mucous membrane. It may lead to the tongue, pharynx, oral numbness and swelling, mucosal erosion, hoarseness, difficulty in opening mouth, or even slow breathing, choking, etc. if it is chewed raw by a person. Skin contact can cause allergic itching. It was also reported that long-term use of it can cause mental retardation. If it is mistakenly taken orally, the regular remedies are to administer fresh ginger juice or perform gastric lavage with dilute vinegar, tannin, tea, and egg whites, and others. Oral erosions can be treated by rinsing the mouth with hydrogen peroxide and boric acid solution, coating the mouth with gentian violet, and giving oxygen or tracheostomy if necessary. In external applications the allergenic reaction on the skin can be alleviated by washing with water, diluted vinegar, or tannic acid.
a) Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Chinese journal of modern developments in traditional medicine), 1987; 9:522;
b) Si Chuan Zhong Yi (Sichuan Chinese Medicine), 1986; 10:13;
c) Zhong Cheng Yao Yan Jiu (Research of Chinese Patent Medicine), 1986; 6:21.