As one of traditional Chinese herbs mixed of love and hate, croton seed, or Ba Dou in Pinyin, is categorized as low class in The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic). Other poisonous purgative peers include Da Huang (Rhubarb), Gan Sui (Kan Sui Root), Yuan Hua (Genkwa Flower), and Hong Da Ji (Knoxia Root), etc. The fascinating side is that they are indispensable in treating some severe and lingering illness but the dreadful side is that they are considered toxic, violent, and unsafe, which make it very difficult to harness. Actually it has deterred many herbalists from using it clinically because if used wrongly it might result in unexpected severe harm. So, extreme care is thus required when dealing with it.
What is croton seed?
Known in the West as semina crotonis, it is the dry ripe fruit of purging croton plant in Euphorbiaceae. Its root, bark, and leaves are also being used medicinally. Croton plant is evergreen tree from 6 to 10 meters high. Now most of them are cultivated plant and in the wild it grows in valley, brook sides, wilderness, and woods sometimes.
It is gathered in autumn when the fruits get ripe. Typically it needs two or three days to pile up, spread, and dry them. After that, peel and take the kernels, which can be used for external use by powder or plaster. Else, make it defatted powder for pill or direct use. By the way, those with larger, plump, light yellowish-white kernel are preferred medicinally.
What is it used for?
It is acrid, hot and poisonous in nature and influences stomach, lung, and large intestine meridians.
Its main clinical usage and indications are to purge cold pileup, open the orifices, remove phlegm, and promote diuresis, etc.
Its regular dosage is from 0.3 to 0.6 grams. Clinically the initial dosage should start from 0.3 grams and 0.1 grams added gradually each time if failed to work.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
There are two Chinese herbal formulas containing croton seeds in Shang Han Lun and Jin Gui Yao Lue (The Treatise on Cold Damage Disorders and Miscellaneous Illnesses) – one is San Wu Xiao Bai San and the other is Jie Geng Bai San. However they are composed of the same herbs but with different name and medical purposes.
San Wu Xiao Bai San is designed for removing the old accumulation due to cold phlegm and retained fluid, whose typical presentations are stomach fullness and pain, or chest tightness and pain, wheeze or cough without fever, no thirst, constipation, white slip or greasy coating, and deep string pulse. In this formula it is good at clearing phlegm and dispelling retained water; Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome) opens and ascends lung Qi while eliminating phlegm and unblocking the knots; Chuan Bei Mu (Fritillaria Bulb) releases stagnation, dispels nodes, and gets rid of sputum.
The formula of Jie Geng Bai San is to clear lung heat and get rid of excessive phlegm and pus caused by pulmonary abscesses and ulcers. The main patterns are chest fullness due to coughing, trembling due to cold, rapid pulse, dry throat but no thirst, and spitting thick odor phlegm from time to time.
It is not only a strong purger but also an emetic, which make it a possible option in diseases like pleuritis, intestinal obstruction, intestinal twist, chronic pharyngitis, bronchial pneumonia, and bronchial asthma, etc.
Weight loss by croton seed?
Does it help on losing weight? The answer is yes but obviously it is not a good idea. It vigorously purges because of the fatty oil from its kernel. The mechanism of reducing weight by croton seeds is simply because it dehydrates, which helps nothing but great harm to your health by a large dosages and/or long term usage. So, it is a myth and big no-no on weight loss issue. Mind you, don’t try it easily if you are not ready for the consequence you don’t expect.
Possible side effects and contraindications
Just as suggested earlier, it is considered unsafe and a series of severe consequences might follow if used improperly. The symptoms and signs include burning sensation in mouth, throat, and gullet, nausea, vomit, upper abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea. The worse can be bloody diarrhea, headache, dizziness, dehydration, difficult breathing, cramp, coma, and renal injury. Else, it kills oncomelania hupensis, fish, shrimp, viviparid, and earthworm, etc.
As always, from Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) point of view, croton seed has its own contraindications – the weak and pregnant women should avoid it. Poisonous as it is generally deemed as, it can yet be regarded as no equal in the eyes of man experienced Chinese physicians.