Some weeds seem so ordinary but, mind you, never judge by their appearances. A lot of times they would surprise you so much with their unique healing properties and medicinal value. So does cocklebur (Cang Er Zi), the common herb growing almost everywhere.
What is cocklebur?
Cocklebur plant is an annual herb, 20 to 90cm high, and found mostly in flatlands, hills, the wilds, road side, and grassland, etc. Root is fusoid, branched or unbranched. Stems are erect, with few or no branches. Leaves are alternate, 3 to 11cm long, and with long petiole. The whole plant is poisonous, especially the fruit. However, it is the fruit that is the most used medicinal part.
Also known as the seed of Xanthium strumarium L. or Xanthium Sibiricum, it is wrapped in the involucre, in the shape of spindle or oval, 1 to 1.5cm long, and 0.4 to 0.7cm in diameter. The spiny surface is yellowish brown or yellowish green, with two thicker separated or united thorns at front end, and with pedicel scars at the base. The texture is hard and tough. It has light odor and slightly bitter taste. Medicinally the preferred one is bigger size, plumpness, and yellowish brown in color.
What is cocklebur fruit used for?
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is bitter, sweet, warm, and slightly poisonous in nature. And it covers meridians of lung and liver.
The functions of cocklebur fruit are to dispel pathogenic wind and cold, relieve stuffy nose, expel wind and damp, and relieve itching skin. Main uses and indications of cockle bur fruits are nasal running, headache caused by wind-cold, bi syndrome due to wind-damp, nettle rash, eczema, and acariasis. And cockleburr plant is mainly used for uterine bleeding, deep abscesses, leprosy, skin tinea and eczema, acute or chronic gastroenteritis, and bacillary dysentery.
Usual dosage of fruits is 3 to 10 grams in tang (decoction), wan (teapills), or san (powder). The dosage of plant is 30 to 60 grams.
Related Chinese herbal formulas
(1). Recorded in Assembly of Materia Medica (ben cao hui yan), it combines with Tian Ma (Gastrodia Root) and Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum Flower) for the treatment of vertigo due to wind pathogen or sharp stabbing pains to the head and brain;
(2). Included in Profound Essence of the Heaven (Dong Tian Ao Zhi), it works with Cang Zhu (Atractylodes) for the cure of leprosy;
(3). Integrated in Cang Er San, from Formulas to Aid the Living (Ji Sheng Fang), it joins Xin Yi Hua (Magnolia Flower), Bai Zhi (Angelica Root), and Bo He (Field Mint) in remedies for nose clogged with thick, non-stop mucus.
Now more and more merits about cockleburs have been discovered through modern technologies. The fruits contain xanthostrumarin, resin, fatty oil, alkaloid, vitamin C, and pigment, etc. And leaves contain xanthanol, jsoxanthanol, and xanthumin, etc.
(1). Blood sugar level. A white crystalline glucoside extracted can decrease the blood sugar of the normal rabbit in a dose of 1mg/kg;
(2). Respiratory system. The 100% decoction has antitussive function to mice by gavage in a dose of 0.3ml/piece but without expectorant actions to rabbit in a dose of 15ml/kg. Injection with tincture has respiratory stimulating effect to frog but inhibiting effect in a large dose;
(3). Cardiovascular system. Intravenous injection has antihypertensive action to both rabbits and dogs;
(4). Anti-inflammatory effect.
(5). The decoction has an some certain antibacterial effect in vitro to staphylococcus aureus. Its acetone or ethanol extract also has antibacterial action in vitro to trichophyton rubrum;
Now cockle burs have been extensively used in many diseases.
(1). Leg and low back pain;
(2). Allergic rhinitis;
(3). Chronic sinus;
(6). Ulcer of lower limb.
Potential side effects and contraindications
As stated previously, cockle burr is poisonous. Overdose can lead to symptom of poisoning like generalized weakness, mental fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomit, abdominal pain and alvi profluvium or constipation, dizziness, headache, drowsiness or fidget, increased or decreased heart rate, low grade fever and sweating, flushing of cheeks, mild jaundice, and hepatomegaly. In severe case, it might result in death. So, it is a good idea to contact the specialist for more information regarding these responses.
TCM wise, cocklebur fruit is incompatible with pork, horse meat, and rice water. In addition, it should avoid by those suffering from headache and arthralgia due to blood deficiency.