Cistanche, also known as Rou Cong Rong in mandarin, has long been considered one of the best Chinese herbs to strengthen kidneys, tonify Yang, and benefit essence and blood. It was once a routine demanded imperial tribute in ancient dynasties. This herb mainly comes from the Western Regions and resembles ginseng on healing properties. Hence, it is prized as the “desert ginseng.” In recent years, thanks for the unique efficacy for fatigue and sexual potency, this tonic herb was given another title – “natural Viagra.” That sounds like this is a kidney yang tonic for men only. In fact, it works for women and children as well since it is not that tonic as people think it should be. Just like the cistanche reviews from Li Shizhen, it is named Cong Rong, literally “unhurried”, because it tonifies in a mild way. That being said, it tonifies while causing no endogenous heat and, more importantly, helps free movement of bowels. This is the exact uniqueness makes this herb what it is. No wonder it is one of the most widely used kidney tonic herbs of all time. And what is cistanche used for is more than just as one of jing tonic herbs. Besides of ED (erectile dysfunction), it also has a therapeutic effect for women’s infertility, excessive uterine bleeding, myoma of uterus, low back pain, and more.
What is cistanche herb?
It actually refers to a genus in the family Orobanchaceae. Total 16 cistanche species are distributed mainly in the Mediterranean region, Africa and Asia. In China there are 6 species like Cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma and Cistanche salsa (C. A. MEY.) G. BECK. They are mainly produced in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Qinghai and other places. Medicinally it mainly refers to the fleshy stem with scale leaf of Cistanche deserticola. But sometimes the medicinal sources also include Cistanche salsa, Cistanche sinensis, Cistanche ambigua, and Cistanche tubulosa. So, other names of this herb include suosuo dayun, desert-broomrape, Fleshy Stem of Broomrape, Herba Cistanche, Herba Cistanches Deserticolae, desertliving cistanche, cistanches caulis, cistanche deserticola stem, etc. It is usually harvested in spring when the shoot tip just or doesn’t break through the soil yet. After that, it still needs to remove the inflorescence and cut into slices. Medicinally it is used raw or processed with wine.
Cistanche deserticola is a holoparasitic plant that attacks the host plants of Haloxylon persicum (white saxaul) and Haloxylon ammodendron (black saxaul). And then it hijacks the needed nutrients and water from cistanche root to survive. It is a perennial from 40 to 160cm in height. Fleshy cistanche stem is cylindrical often unbranched. Scaly leaves arrange spirally on the stem. Acrogenous spica is at the top of stem and with numerous flowers; bract is 1; bracteoles are 2. Tubular or bell-shaped calyx is often 5-parted atop. Corolla is tubular, bell-shaped, or funnel-shaped, 5-lobed at the top, and with equally big lobes. Stamens are 4 and located on the corolla tube. Ovary is superior, with 1 room, 4 Parietales, slender style, and nearly spherical stigma. Cistanche fruit is ovoid or nearly spherical, 2-lobed or rarely 3-lobed, and often with persistent stigma. Seeds are numerous, very small, nearly spherical, and with mesh surface. So far the number of herba cistanches in the wild keeps dwindling so that it has been listed as endangered species on CITES Appendix 2. This scenario is caused by several combined factors. According to the survey, only 7 out of 1,000 Haloxylon ammodendron are found with cistanches; the saxaul host is an excellent feed to camel; it is also the major fuel source for the local people. Therefore, a loss of the saxaul host is the main blame due to overgrazing and indiscriminate collection.
Succulent cistanche bark and stem contains cistanoside A, B, C, H, acteoside, 2′-acetyl acteoside, echinacoside, 7 phenylethanoid glycoside compositions, liriodendron, 8-epiloganic acid, daucosterol, betaine, β-sitosterol, mannitol, N,N-Dimethylglycine methyl ester, succinic acid, Triacontanol, polysaccharides, and 15 kinds of amino acids like phenylalanine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, serine, etc.
1) Free bowel movement. It can significantly improve the speed of intestinal propulsion, shorten the bowel transit time, and obviously inhibit the large intestine’s absorption of water. As a result it can moisten the feces and stimulate evacuation of feces.
2) Enhance immune function. Its polysaccharides have a significant impact on the formation and activity of human lymphocytes. It can increase the proliferative response of lymphocytes, and thereby enhance the body’s immune function.
3) Adjust the circulatory system. It can protect the ischemic myocardium, lower blood fat levels, prevent atherosclerosis, stop thrombosis, reduce peripheral vascular resistance, expand peripheral vessel, lower blood pressure, protect the liver, and eliminate fatty liver.
4) Treat kidney-deficiency amenorrhea. It is rich in alkaloids, crystalline neutral substance, amino acids, trace elements, vitamins and other ingredients. It works as a yang herb as well as a jing herb, which can prevent the occurrence of yang deficiency and weight loss. Hence, it can effectively prevent and treat kidney-deficiency induced impotence, nocturnal emission, premature ejaculation, menstruation, amenorrhea, infertility and other diseases.
5) Defy aging. Cistanoside is an ingredient found only in cistanches and one of the most effective anti-aging ingredients. So, it can improve memory and slow the aging process on the pituitary gland, gonads, thymus and other parts of the human body.
6) Increase libido in men and women. It acts as one of potency herbs or aphrodisiac since it contains acteoside, salidroside and other chemical ingredients that can effectively promote the function of the central nervous system, enhance the secretion of hormones and release neurotransmitters, and thereby increase libido.
7) Nourish body. It is rich in a lot of amino acids, vitamins and minerals, which can greatly benefit human health.
8) Build up strength. It can enhance your muscle glycogen stores, reduce post-exercise muscle protein degradation, and promote adaptive hypertrophy and hyperplasia in mitochondria in order to meet the energy needed for muscle contraction and rehabilitation. In addition, it still can significantly improve the synthesis of RNA and DNA in the liver and spleen of yang-deficiency animals. Hence, it is able to greatly enhance strength and relieve fatigue in yang deficiency syndrome.
9) Other effects. It can raise or decrease the nucleic acid content in the liver and spleen of yang-deficiency or yin-deficiency animals. In addition, it still can activate adrenal gland, release cortical hormone, and prompt the synthesis of DNA.
Sample cistanche deserticola formulas on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is sweet and salty in flavor and warm in nature. It acts on meridians of kidney and large intestine. Basic functions are tonifying kidney yang, invigorating essence and blood, and lubricating the intestines. Common cistanche uses and indications include kidney yang deficiency, ED (erectile dysfunction) due to asthenia of essence and blood, nocturnal emission, gonorrhea, frequent urination, dribbling of urine after completion of urination, low back pain, weak legs, tinnitus, blurred vision, delayed menses, infertility caused by uterus cold, and constipation due to dry intestine. Recommended cistanche dosage is from 10 to 15 grams. In addition, there are other cistanche products available, such as cistanche supplement, pills, powder, capsules, extract, etc.
1) Rou Cong Rong Wan from Yi Xin Fang (Prescriptions from the Heart of Medicine). It is combined with Tu Si Zi (Cuscuta), Xu Duan (Japanese Teasel Root), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), to treat weak and sickly men, impotence, and urine dribbling for some time after finishing urination.
2) Jin Gang Wan from the Zhang Shi Yi Tong (Comprehensive Medicine according to Master Zhang). It works with Eucommia, Ba Ji Tian (Morinda Root), Zi He Che (Placenta Hominis), etc. to cure impotence caused by deficient kidney.
3) Ren Chang Wan from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is coupled with Chen Xiang (Agarwood) and Ma Zi Ren (hemp seeds) to heal constipation caused by excessive sweating and loss of body fluid.
4) Ji Chuan Jian from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works). It is matched with Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Niu Xi (Achyranthes), Ze Xie (Water Plantain Root), etc. to cure weakness of kidney qi, constipation, abundant clear urine, soreness of waist, and chill in back.
5). Rou Cong Rong Wan from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is prepared with wine and made into pills to treat asthenic diseases in lower energizer, abdominal pain, and no desire to eat or drink.
6) Rou Cong Rong Wan from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is equipped with She Chuang Zi (Cnidium Seeds), Yuan Zhi (Senega Root), Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae Chinensis), Fu Zi (Aconite), etc. to heal asthenic disease, warm lower jiao, benefit essence, and relieve back and knee pain.
Simple cistanche recipes
1) Cistanche Fo-Ti Goji combination.
Ingredients: cistanche 10g, He Shou Wu 10g, and Goji berry 10g.
Directions: decoct all the ingredients with water for two times, divide the decoction into 3 parts, and finish them in a day.
Benefits: invigorate the kidney, strengthen Yang, replenish essence, and enrich blood.
2) Cistanche mutton porridge
Ingredients: cistanche 20g, mutton 50g, and rice 100g.
Directions: decoct the yang herb first for 1 hour, keep the decoction, wash and cut lamb into small pieces, put the chopped lamb and rice into the ready decoction, and boil them until the porridge is done.
Benefits: reinforce the kidney yang.
3) Cistanche Goji Wine
Ingredients: cistanche 100g, Goji berry 50g, and wine 500g.
Directions: wash the mentioned two herbs, put them into the wine, soak them for 1 month, and drink the wine, 20 to 30ml each time.
Benefits: tonify liver and kidney and nourish essence and blood.
4) Cistanche honey
Ingredients: cistanche 10g and appropriate amount of honey
Directions: decoct the herb with water for 2 times, 30 minutes each time, and flavor with honey before taking it.
Benefits: relieve dry stool or constipation in the elderly.
Cistanche side effects and contraindications
Medicinally cistanche is considered one of safest yang tonic herbs. No wonder it was rated as class one by the AHPA. That’s to say, it won’t lead to any adverse reactions if used within recommended dosage. But according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it shouldn’t be used in the cases of fire excess from yin deficiency, diarrhea, and constipation due to stomach excess heat.