Chinese Cucumber (Tian Hua Fen)

Trichosanthes kirilowiiChinese cucumber, also called Trichosanthes kirilowii, is a known medicinal plant, whose tuber, fruit, fruit peel, stem, leaf, and seed can be used medicinally. Since its fruits (Gua Lou) and seeds (Gua Lou Ren) have been covered in previous posts, now we focus specifically on its tuber called Tian Hua Fen in Pinyin, which, literally translated, means “sky pollen” because its ground powder is just as delicate and white as pollen. As you can see, it is something entirely unrelated. As a commonly used Chinese herb that can clear away heat, purge pathogenic fire, and generate fluids, today it is an essential herb in the treatment of diabetes since clinical practice confirms that it can lower the amount of sugar in the blood while effectively improving thirst, irritability, frequent urination, weight loss and other symptoms. In addition, the trichosanthin (TCS) is anti-cancer and anti-HIV too, according to modern research.

What is Chinese cucumber?

This is a climber, up to 10 meters in height. Tubers are cylindrical, fleshy, and rich in starch. Thick stems are branched, covered with white stretch pubescence, and with longitudinal edges and grooves. Leaves are alternate; petiole is 3 to 10cm in length; blade is papery, nearly round or nearly heart-shaped, and 5 to 20cm long and wide. It is dioecious; male raceme is solitary or adnate with a single flower, 10 to 20cm long, stout, puberulent, and with 5 to 8 terminal flowers that are with white corolla, barrel-shaped calyx, about 15cm stalk, obovate or broadly ovate small bracts, and connivent anthers; female flower is solitary, pubescent, and with about 7.5cm stalk; calyx is oblong, 2.5cm long, and in diameter of 1.2cm; ovary is oval, green, 2cm long, with 2cm style and 3 stigmas. Fruit is oval, flattened, 11-16mm long, 7-12mm wide, light brown, and with ridge almost at the edge. Bloom time is from May to August and fruiting is from August to October.

As mentioned above, one of its main medicinal parts is the tuber of Trichosanthes kirilowii Maxim. (T. japonica), which is a plant in the family Cucurbitaceae. Actually, the root from its relative called T. rosthornii Harms (T. uniflora) share the name Tian Hua Fen as well as they has quite similar medicinal uses. Therefore, other common names of this herb include Trichosanthes Root, Radix Trichosanthis, Radix Trichosanthis Kirilowii, radices trichosanthis, root of Chinese trichosanthes, radix trichosanthis, Mongolian snake gourd Root, and the like. It is produced across China but the one in Anyang area Henan is believed with better quality. It is usually dug up in autumn and winter, followed by procedure of cleaning, removing the skin, and cut into thick slices. Medicinally it is used fresh or dried.

The fresh trichosanthes root can get isolated trichosanthin, α-hydroxymethylserine, aspartic acid, citrulline, serine, glutamic acid, threonine, glycine, valine, tyrosine, phenylalanine, histidine, lysine, arginine, ornithine, peptides, ribose, xylose, arabinose, glucose, galactose, and so on.

Modern pharmacological actions of trichosanthes root

1) Trichosanthin (TCS) injection, subcutaneously or intramuscularly, can induce labor and terminate pregnancy;
2) Trichosanthin has both immunostimulatory and immunosuppressive effects;
3) In vitro experiments demonstrate that TCS inhibits the reproduction and proliferation of HIV virus in infected immune cells, reduces the number of living cells infected by the virus in immune cells, inhibits DNA replication and protein synthesis of HIV;
4) The impermeable part of its water extract has blood-sugar-lowering activity;
5) Its decoction has some inhibitory effect on hemolytic streptococcus, pneumococcus, and corynebacterium diphtheriae.

Chinese cucumber benefits

As a commonly used traditional Chinese herbal medicine, actually its medicinal uses can date back to Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica), written by he famous physician Li Shizhen in Ming Dynasty (14th century). Then it is mainly used in the treatment of gynecological diseases. It becomes even more popular when the effective active ingredient called trichosanthin (TCS) was successfully extracted from its root by Shanghai Cell Research of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in the 70 this century. Besides, it is also full of nutrition and packed with health benefits.

1) Its tuber contains a certain amount of proteins. Trichosanthin is a protein that not only works for mid-trimester induced abortion, but also has anti-hydatidiform mole and anti-AIDS activities; protein Karasurin has a strong abortifacient capacity on pregnant mice; protein α-Momorcharin and β-Momorcharin can cause a miscarriage, lower the body’s normal immune response, and fight cancer. In addition, what are isolated from it also include protein α-Trichosanthin that is composed of 289 amino acids, cytotoxic protein Trichosanthin-ZG, polypeptide with trypsin-inhibiting activity, and the like;

2) Its tuber contains anti-cancer and immunocompetent polysaccharides, which consist of glucose, galactose, fructose, mannose, xylose, and a small amount of proteins. These carbohydrate compounds have significant immunomodulatory effects, enhance immune activity, and have significant anti-tumor and cytotoxic activity. What’s more, from the water extract of Trichosanthes roots 5 polysaccharides are isolated. They are called Trichosan A, B, C, D, E. and with hypoglycemic activity;

3) Its root contains a variety of enzymes, of which β-galactosidase is with the strongest activity, followed by the α-mannose glycosides;

4) Trichosanthes root contains a variety of amino acids, such as L-citrulline dihydrate, α-hydroxymethylserine, citrulline, alanine, valine, tyrosine, lysine and γ-aminobutyric acid;

5) Its root still contains palmitic acid, α-Spinasterol, saponins and a lot of starch.

Sample Chinese cucumber recipes on herbal remedies

The Chinese Pharmacopoeia thinks that it is sweet, slightly bitter in flavor and slightly cold in nature. It goes to meridians of lung and stomach. Essential functions are clearing heat, promoting fluid production, reducing swelling, and draining pus. Basic Chinese cucumber root uses and indications include fidget and thirst caused by fever, dry cough due to lung heat, diabetes caused by internal heat, sores, and pyogenic infections. Recommended dosage is from 10 to 15 grams in decoction. In addition, it is often available in pills and powder too.

1) Tian Hua San from Ren Zhai Zhi Zhi Fang (Renzhai’s Comprehensive Prescriptions). It is combined with Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia Glutinosa) and Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae Chinensis) to treat Fever with thirst and annoy.

2) Sha Shen Mai Dong Tang from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases). It is formulated with Nan Sha Shen (Adenophora), Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber), Yu Zhu (Solomon’s Seal), etc. cure lung and stomach injuries caused by dryness, dry throat, and thirst.

3) Zi Zao Yin from Za Bing Yuan Liu Xi Zhu (Incisive light on the source of miscellaneous diseases). It is matched with Ophiopogon, Tian Men Dong (Asparagus Tuber), fresh rehmannia, etc. to heal lung heat induced dry cough, featuring hacking cough with less phlegm and blood-stained sputum.

4) Shen Hua San from Wan Bing Hui Chun (Restoring Health from Tens of Thousands of Diseases). It is coupled with Ren Shen (Ginseng) to treat coughing up blood from the respiratory tract due to injury lung due to dryness-heat or Qi-yin impairment.

5) Yu Hu Wan from the “Renzhai’s Comprehensive Prescriptions”. It is used along with ginseng to treat internal heat induced diabetes and Qi-yin injuries.

6) Xian Fang Huo Ming Yin from Fu Ren Da Quan Liang Fang (A Great Compendium of Pine Formulas for Women). It is equipped with Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower), Bai Zhi (Angelica Dahurica), Chuan Shan Jia (Pangolin Scales), etc. to cure the beginning of sores.

7) Yin Suo Shi from Wai Ke Bai Xiao Quan Shu (Complete Books of Effective Methods for External Diseases). It is joined with Bo He (Mint Herb) and taken with fresh watermelon juice to heal sore throat caused by wind-heat attacking upward.

Clinical research of trichosanthes kirilowii root

Clinically roots of Chinese cucumber is widely used for treating many diseases, including molar pregnancy, malignant trophoblastic tumor, diabetes, acute bronchitis, pneumonia, mastitis, mumps and other infectious diseases. In addition, it is also used for mid-trimester abortion, early pregnancy, missed miscarriage or missed abortion, ectopic pregnancy, intestinal metaplasia, and so on.

a) 129 cases of molar pregnancy have been treated with intramuscular injection of 5g TCS. 55 cases discharged naturally, which accounts for 42.6%;

b) 7 cases of malignant trophoblastic tumor have been treated with Tian Zao He Ji by vaginal administration. And 5 cases of malignant mole were cured and 2 cases of choriocarcinoma were invalid.

Chinese cucumber side effects and contraindications

Clinically Chinese cucumber is considered non-toxic in TCM herbal remedies. That’s to say, its decoction has no known adverse reaction under normal circumstances. However, overdose may cause stomach discomfort and nausea. Besides, monomeric TCS preparations have obvious side effects and allergic reactions. Because of its antigenicity, it is not suitable for autoimmune diseases and allergic diseases. For the same reason, it shouldn’t be used for the patient who is already in a state of high sensitivity. Otherwise, it will cause allergic reactions like rashes.


a) Yun Nan Yi Yao (Yunnan Pharmaceutical), 1978; 3:1;
b) Jiang Su Yi Yao (Jiangsu medicine), 1978; 6:5.

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