Vaccaria seeds, or commonly called cowherb seed or Semen Vaccariae in Latin, are a known Chinese herb of promoting milk secretion and blood circulation. Wang Bu Liu Xing, the Pinyin of this herb, literally means “even the king’s order can’t keep it.” So, what are vaccaria seeds used for clinically? In fact, its name is self-explanatory when it is in the context of Chinese herbal medicine. However, the wonder of cowherb never ceases to amaze us by simultaneously promoting good blood flow and treating wounds by stopping bleeding. Not to mention, clinically it is still an essential medicine for irregular menstruation, lack of breast milk supply, dystocia, carbuncles and boils, and so on.
What is cowherb?
Cowherb is formally known as vaccaria, a genus in the pink family consisting of only one type annual species of Vaccaria hispanica. This herb is characterized by pale pink flowers and blue-gray, waxy herbage. It obtains a few other common names like cow soapwort, cow basil, cowcockle, and the like. The main medicinal part is the dried ripe seed of Vaccaria segetalis (Neck.) Garcke (Fam. Caryophyllaceae). It is native to Eurasia. In China it is mainly produced in Jiangsu, Hebei, Shandong, Liaoning, and Heilongjiang. And the best herb comes from Xingtai Hebei. Most of them are wild but some are cultivated. For medicinal purposes, the whole plant is reaped during summer when the fruits are ripe and the pericarp is not cracked yet. And then dry them in the sun, keep the seeds, remove impurities, and dry in the sun again. Medicinally it is used raw or fried. Habitats include wheat fields, field sides, and hills nearby farmland.
Its seed contains triterpenoid saponins called vacsegoside, vaccarin, isosaponarin, phytin, phospholipids, stigmasterol, and the like.
Vaccaria seeds health benefits
Normally many nursing mothers can secrete enough breast milk supply for their babies. But lack of breast milk bothers some others since benefits of breastfeeding are enormous. After all, compared to formula milk powder, breast milk can provide more comprehensive nutrition for infant’s growth. That’s where vaccaria seed comes in since it is widely known as “rice milk” in China.
The effect of vaccaria’s amazing power of promoting lactation and activating blood circulation has been recorded in many ancient Chinese medical classics and affirmed by many herbalists. Li Shizhen, the author of the “Compendium of Materia Medica”, ever specifically wrote the scene of steady flow of breast milk after nursing mother had taken vaccaria seed. And he also used a metaphor to describe its amazing result – even the arrival of the emperor can’t stop it. And this is another anecdotal source of its name. Today in modern medicine, it has been widely used in the treatment of dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, blocked milk ducts in nursing mothers, and other gynecological diseases. To enhance its ability of activating blood circulation to dissipate stasis, clinically it is often used along with Dang Gui (Dong Quai) and Chuan Xiong (lovage).
Modern pharmacological actions of cowherb seeds
1) Its decoction is anti-implantation and anti-pregnancy on mice;
2) It has excitatory effect on the uterus;
3) It promotes milk secretion;
4) Its water extract and ether extract have anti-tumor effects.
Sample cowherb formulas on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica says that it is bitter in flavor and neutral in nature. It goes to meridians of liver and stomach. Important functions are activating blood to promote menstruation, promoting milk secretion, and treating carbuncles. Main vaccaria seeds uses and indications include abdominal pain during a woman’s menstrual period, absence of menses in a woman, clogged milk duct, mastitis, carbuncles, and boils. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 10 grams in decoction.
1) Yong Quan San from Wei Sheng Bao Jian (Precious Mirror for Defending Life). It is combined with Qu Mai Sui (Dianthus Spike), Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber), Long Gu (Dragon Bones), and Chuan Shan Jia (Pangolin Scales) to treat lack of breast milk;
2) Sheng Jin San from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief). It is formulated with Suan Jiang Cao (Oxalis corniculata L.), Chong Wei Zi (motherwort fruit), Bai Ji Li (Tribulus terrestris fruit), and Wu Ling Zhi (Faeces Trogopterori) to treat difficult labour and stillbirth;
3) Wang Bu Liu Xing San from Yi Xin Fang (Prescriptions from the Heart of Medicine). It is matched with Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Ye Ge (kudzu), Gui Xin (Cinnamomi Cortex), and Dong Quai to cure carbuncles;
4) Wang Bu Liu Xing San from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is equipped with Shuo Diao Xi Ye (Jie Gu Mu, sambucus chinensis), Sang Gen Bai Pi (mulberry root bark), Licorice Root, Huang Qin (Scutellaria), Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), etc. to heal metal-inflicted wound.
Simple but effective cowherb recipe
As for simple but great milk-stimulating dish, cowherb stewing with trotters is one of them. More importantly, it is really tasty as well.
Ingredients: trotters 3 to 4, cowherb seed 10g, and a variety of seasonings as you like.
Directions: wrap the cowherb with gauze, put it along with washed trotters into a pot, add water and the seasonings mentioned above, and let them cook slowly until the meat becomes tender.
Clinical research of cowherb
a) 5 cases of agalactia have been treated with the combination of 15g cowherb seeds and 25g pangolin scales, supplemented with stewed trotters every night before going to sleep. And Si Wu Tang was added too in the case of blood deficiency. And low breast milk supply has been improved in different degrees;
b) 28 cases of acute mastitis have been treated with the decoction of Dandelion 50g and cowherb seeds 25g. And, as it turns out, all of them were significantly improved after 1 dose and cured after 2 or 3 doses. And no purulence ever occurred;
c) 95 cases of urinary calculi have been treated with Er Zi Hua Yu Pai Shi Tang, consisting of cowherb, Ji Xing Zi (Seed of Garden Balsam), Chuan Niu Xi (Cyathula Root), Ji Nei Jin (Chicken Gizzard’s Lining), etc. And 65 cases were cured, 19 cases effective, and 11 cases ineffective. And the total efficiency was 88.4%.
Vaccaria seeds side effects and contraindications
It has been reported that the decoction based on cowherb seed led to 1 case of photosensitive dermatitis, in which main clinical manifestations were edematous dermatitis in face, eyes, and hands when exposed to sunlight. And the mentioned symptoms were cured soon through symptomatic treatment. Besides, it shouldn’t be used in women during pregnancy and patients with excessive bleeding or uterine bleeding since it excites uterus and activates blood circulation.
a) Chi Jiao Yi Sheng Za Zhi (Journal of Barefoot Doctors), 1975; (8): 26;
b) Jiang Xi Zhong Yi Yao (Jiangxi Traditional Chinese Medicine), 1986; (2):46;
c) Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Traditional Chinese Medicine), 1986; 27 (11): 36).