As one of the typical herbs for soothing the liver and regulating vital energy, chinaberry (Chuan Lian Zi) is often used clinically in the treatment of abdominal fullness, flank pain and other symptoms. According to the statistics, in the TCM prescriptions for bloating and epigastric discomfort, about 72% of them contain Chinaberry tree fruit. This shows that this is truly one of the commonly used Chinese herbs. However, what calls for special attention is that this herb is not completely reliable.
What is chinaberry fruit?
Also known as fructus toosendan or Sichuan pagoda tree fruit, it refers to the dried ripe fruit of wild or cultivated Melia toosendan Sieb. Et Zucc., which is one of deciduous species and belongs to the family of Meliaceae. In China it grows mainly in the south but the fruits produced from Sichuan are preferred medicinally. As a result, it is named Chuan Lian Zi in Chinese Pinyin. The medicinal chinaberry is generally collected in winter. Next, remove the impurities before drying. It is used smashed and unprocessed or fried.
Fruits of the chinaberry tree are spherical or elliptical, in diameter of 1.7 to 2.5 cm. The surface is yellow-brown, shiny, slightly wrinkled, and with dark dots. At one end there is a circular depression, which is trace left by carpopodium. At the other end there is a point-like brown stylopodium marks. And often there are gaps between leathery pericarp and pulp. The pulp is from yellow to dark yellow, slightly soft. The kernel consists of oval hard wood, with 6 to 8 vertical edges on surface and 6 to 8 black brown oblong seeds inside. The seeds are white, oblong, and oily. The fruits have a peculiar odor and sour-bitter taste. Medicinally the preferred ones are large, plump, yellow, fleshy, and soft.
Chinaberry’s chemical composition
The fruits contain roundworm-killing active ingredient of toosendanin and a variety of bitter Triterpenes, such as melianone, lipomelianol, 21-O-acetyl Toosendan triol, and 21-O-methyl-Toosendan pentaol.
Chinaberry health benefits
As mentioned earlier, this herb is commonly used in the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It was first documented in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (The Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica Classic), in which it was classified into the category of low grade herbs. But then the Melia toosendan Sieb. et Zucc. and the Melia azedarach L. were treated as the same herb. Now commercially it comes in two species, but for medicinal purpose, the former is the major one.
Modern pharmacological action
- This herb contains an active deworming ingredient. Compared to santonin, its effect is slow and sustained, which has a significant role in killing pig roundworm, earthworms, leeches, and others;
- This herb can slack the sphincter of oddi and contract gallbladder to promote the excretion of bile;
- This herb is able to excite the intestine smooth muscle to increase its tension and contraction;
- This herb inhibits Staphylococcus aureus and a variety of pathogenic fungi;
- This herb also has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects.
Typical chinaberry related Chinese herbal formulas
TCM believes that it is bitter, cold, and slightly toxic in nature. It covers four meridians, such as liver, stomach, small intestine, and bladder. Typical functions are to promoting Qi circulation to relieve pain, soothe liver to vent heat, and kill parasites. Main uses and indications are pains in chest, flanks, abdomen, and ribs, hernia pain, abdominal pain due to roundworms or tape worms, and tinea capitis. Usual dosage is from 4.5 to 9 grams, in decoction generally. Appropriate amount is advisable in external use. And cold will be reduced after fried.
Jin Ling Zi San (Melia Toosendan Powder)
There are a few different versions of Jin Ling Zi San available. But no matter it comes from Su Wen Bing Ji Qi Yi Bao Ming Ji (Collection for Preserving Life of Pathogenesis in Plain Questions), Huo Fa Ji Yao (Essentials of Flexible Methods), or Tai ping sheng hui fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief), chinaberry always combines with Yan Hu Suo (Corydalis Rhizome) for stagnation of liver-qi or all thoracico-abdominal pains induced by liver depression forming fire.
Dao Qi Tang
Dao Qi Tang is from Yi Fang Jian Yi (Concise Explanation of Prescriptions). This formula is mainly formulated for cold mounting, swelling with bearing-down pain of one testis, and colic in small intestine. Other herbal ingredients include Xiao Hui Xiang (Fennel Seed), Mu Xiang (Costus Root), and Wu Zhu Yu (Evodia Fruit).
Potential chinaberry side effects and contraindications
The adverse reactions of chinaberry come in two cases. In a mild case, the symptoms include dizziness, headache, somnolence, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. In severe cases, the symptoms include respiratory paralysis, toxic hepatitis, internal bleeding, mental disorders and others. In clinical applications, the fruits of Melia toosendan Sieb. et Zucc. generally has no serious response. However, it’s worth noting that many places are using the fruits of Melia azedarach L. as the substitute or overdosing this herb. As a result, this kind of poisoning is fairly common.
The main toxic components in chinaberry are toosendanin, kulactone, kulolactone, and so on. Chinaberry stimulates the gastrointestinal tract, damages the liver, blocks the normal neuromuscular transmission function, and may cause death by inducing acute circulatory failure and central respiratory failure. The best prevention measure is to control the dosage within 3 to 10 grams. Don’t overdose or use it continuously because toosendanin is a strong accumulation material. Besides, pay attention to the different species of chinaberries. As far as toxicity concerned, the fruits of Melia azedarach L. are stronger than those of Melia toosendan Sieb. et Zucc. So, don’t mix them or use the former as the alternative of the latter.
The main remedies for poisoning are to promote emesis, pump stomach, take laxatives such as senna or magnesium sulfate, take egg white or activated carbon to protect the gastric mucosa by absorbing the toxins, take decoction of sugar and licorice, and adopt symptomatic treatment.
TCM wise, Chinaberry (Chuan Lian Zi) should not be excessively or continuously consumed in order to avoid poisoning. In addition, use this herb with care in cases of deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach due to it is cold in nature itself.