Dendrobium Nobile, also known as the Noble Dendrobium or Shi Hu in Pinyin, has been used for the medicinal purpose for at least 2,000 years. The evidence is the related record in “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, which was written 2300 to 2780 years ago (the Warring States Period). This is a rare and precious Chinese herb and the main medicinal part is the stem. It usually grows atop the perpendicular cliff walls and is exposed to the moisture of dew and rain as well as to the essence of the sun and moon throughout the year. Thanks for that, TCM believes that it owns such rich and balanced pharmaceutical ingredients that it can be used clinically in the treatment of a variety of disorders, such as chronic pharyngitis, gastrointestinal disease, eye disease, thrombotic occlusive disease, diabetes, arthritis, cancer, and so on.
What is dendrobium nobile?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the fresh or dried stem of Dendrobium nobile Lindl. This is a member in the family Orchidaceae. However, the name Shi Hu also means other dendrobium orchids varieties, including Dendrobium loddigesii Rolfe., Dendrobium fimbriatum Hook. var. oculatum Hook., Dendrobium chrysanthum Wall., and Dendrobium candidum Wall. ex Lindl. So other common names of this herb include Dendrobium Stem, Herba Dendrobii, Shi Hu Lan, dendrobium orchid, Jian Chai Shi Hu (literally “gold hairpin dendrobium”), and more. In China it is mainly produced in provinces of Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan. It is harvested all the year round, in particular in autumn. Medicinally it is usually dried by the fire or in the sun, cut, and used raw. The fresh one can be planted in the sand to keep them handy.
Dendrobium nobile plant is a perennial herb. Clustered stems are slightly flat and curved in upper part, 10 to 60cm high, up to 1.3cm thick, and with grooves, slightly thick knob, and narrow base. Subleathery leaves are oblong or elliptic, 6 to 12cm long, 1 to 3cm wide, and with 2-lobed apex. During flowering period it is foliate or leafless. Racemes are with 1 to 4 flowers, which are big in size, drooping, up to 8cm in diameter, and with white tepals with a light purple tint and purple apex; lip is obovate oblong, 4 to 4.5cm long, 3 to 3.5cm wide, and with rounded apex and 1 purple spot on the upper lip plate; anther is with 2 rooms and pollen block are 4. Fruits are capsule. Bloom time is from April to July. There are around 1000 dendrobium nobile species in the world and about 76 species in China. It is native to the tropical and subtropical Asia, Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Dendrobium nobile stem contains alkaloids 0.3% and the isolated ingredients include dendrobine, nobilonine, 6-hydroxydendrobine, dendramine, dendroxine, 6-hydroxydendroxine, 4-hydroxydendroxine, dendrine, 3-hydroxy-2-oxydendrobine, and the like. It is also reported there are 5 quaternary ammonium bases isolated, including N-methyldendrobinium, N-isopentenyldendrobinium, dendrobine N-oxide, and N-isopentenyl-6-hydroxydendroxinium. In addition, it still contains nobilomethylene, denbinobin, β-sitosterol, and daucosterol.
Modern pharmacological actions of dendrobium orchids
The medicinal uses of dendrobium have been recorded in a few famous ancient medical writings, such as Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing (the Divine Farmer’s Materia Medica), Ben Cao Gang Mu (The Compendium of Materia Medica), Zhong Yao Da Ci Dian (The Dictionary of Medicinal Plant), and so on. What’s more, its modern pharmacology also confirms its amazing health benefits.
1) It can promote the secretion of gastric juice to aid digestion and result in hyperperistalsis to free movement of the bowels;
2) In large doses it leads to intestinal muscle paralysis;
3) It has some certain analgesic and antipyretic effect, which resembles to phenacetin but has a weaker effect;
4) It can enhance the macrophage phagocytosis in mice;
5) Dendrobium polysaccharides can restore the inhibited immune function in mice that is induced by hydrocortisone;
6) Its decoction can stop and correct the dissimilation in crystalline lens;
7) It has both delayed and therapeutic effects to the galactose-induced cataract in rats.
Dendrobium nobile benefits
For thousands of years, people in south China will risk their lives to pick the “immortality herb” grown in the edge of cliffs for saving patients in critical condition. You might have guessed by now that the herb mentioned is called dendrobium. In the legends, the juice of it can resurrect the dead. Of course, this is just a legendary saying but can offer another perspective on reviews of its rarity and efficacy. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be called as “gold in medicine”. Besides, it is highly regarded as the No. 1 of the 9 “Chinese immortality herbs”, which refers to Tie Pi Shi Hu (dendrobium candidum), Tian Shan Xue Lian (Saussurea involucrate from Tian Shan Mountain), San Liang Zhong Ren Shen (three liang of ginseng), one-hundred-and-twenty-year He Shou Wu, Fu Ling (Poria of a cycle of sixty years), Cong Rong (Cistanche), Shen Shan Ling Zhi (Ganoderma in remote mountains), Hai Di Zhen Zhu (seabed pearls), and Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps Sinensis). And its top 10 main health benefits are as follows:
1) Nourishing Yin and body fluid. The “China Pharmaceutical Dictionary” claims that it is specialized at nourishing qi and fluid in lung and stomach. Hence, it treats a variety of diseases caused by deficiency of yin and body fluid;
2) Enhancing physical fitness. Yao Xing Lun (A book on pharmacological nature of drugs) argues that it can tonify kidney essence, nourish the stomach Yin, and increase strength. And it is rich in polysaccharides that enhance immune function;
3) Replenishing spleen and stomach. It is a commonly used drug for stomachache and epigastric pain. And modern medical experiments confirmed that it has a better inhibition on the pathogen Helicobacter pylori that is frequently found in spleen and stomach diseases, such as atrophic gastritis, superficial gastritis, duodenal ulcer, and more;
4) Protecting liver and gallbladder. It has a good choleretic effect, which has been praised highly by many herbalists. As a result, it is often used as a major medicine for the treatment of hepatobiliary diseases, such as hepatitis, cholecystitis, gallstones and others;
5) Strengthening tendons and lowering lipid. The secretion of Yin fluid and function of bone and muscle would begin to gradually decrease during the middle ages. Since it can nourish Yin fluid and lubricate joints, it helps to strengthen tendons and bones, relieve joint pain, and reduce rheumatism. And modern pharmacological research also showed that it can improve stress ability, prevent or stop fatigue, increase hypoxia tolerance, promote circulation, dilate blood vessels, and lower blood cholesterol and triglycerides;
6) Lowing blood sugar. It has long been used as the specific drug for diabetes since ancient times thanks to its ability of nourishing yin, clearing heat, and moistening dryness. Clinical studies have shown that it cannot only enhance activity of insulin, but also significantly reduce and change blood sugar levels back to normal;
7) Inhibiting tumor. It kills some certain cells of malignancies, such as lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and promyelocytic leukemia. Since it has strong anti-tumor activity, clinically it is often used as the adjuvant treatment of malignant tumors. In other words, it can improve symptoms of cancer patients, reduce side effects of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, enhance immunity, improve quality of life, and prolong survival time;
8) Improving eyesight. It was also viewed as one of the best eye tonics in the eyes of ancient physicians because of its yin-nourishing and eyesight-improving properties. And modern pharmacological studies confirmed that it could make a difference on the prevention and treatment of senile cataract and children’s eyesight;
9) Nourishing the skin. Due to dwindling Yin fluid in body, the aging of skin speeds up in people in middle age. Therefore, the skin begins to turn black and become wrinkle. This is where the dendrobium gets in since the mucus it contains can moisturize and provide nutrition to the skin;
10) Prolonging life. The “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic” reviews that it is an effective medicine that can help weight loss and longevity. Modern pharmacological studies confirmed that it contains many trace elements, which are closely related to human health and longevity. Hence, it has more comprehensive anti-aging effect compared to other herbs.
Sample dendrobiums recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica thinks that it is sweet in flavor and slightly cold in nature. It goes to meridians of stomach, lung, and kidney. Essential dendrobium nobile effects and functions are promoting the secretion of body fluid, benefiting the stomach, nourishing yin and clearing heat, moistening lung and tonifying kidney, improving eyesight, and strengthening lower back. Basic dendrobium nobile uses include fever-induced impaired fluid, dry mouth, polydipsia, deficient stomach-yin, stomach pain and retching, dry cough due to lung dryness, persistent deficient heat, dim eyesight caused by yin impairment, and weak waist and knees. Recommended dendrobium nobile dosage is from 6 to 15 grams of dried form or 12 to 30 grams of fresh herb in decoction. Besides, it is also available in a variety of other forms, such as dendrobium nobile supplement, pills, extract, powder, paste, tea, and more.
1) Qing Re Bao Jing Fa from Shi Bing Lun (Treatise on Seasonal Diseases). It is formulated with Tian Hua Fen (Trichosanthes Root), and Xian Sheng Di (Fresh Rehmannia Glutinosa), Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber), etc. to treat impaired fluid due to fever, thirst, dry tongue, and blacking coating.
2) Shi Hu Ye Guang Wan from Yuan Ji Qi Wei(Orthodox Ophthalmology: Revealing the Mystery of Eye Disease). It is combined with Gou Qi Zi (Goji Berry), Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia Root), Tu Si Zi (Cuscuta), etc. to cure dim eyesight due to kidney-yin deficiency.
3) Qu Fan Yang Wei Tang from Yi Chun Tian Yi. It is matched with Shu Shi Gao (calcined gypsum), Trichosanthes Root, Nan Sha Shen (Adenophora), Mondo Grass, etc. to heal diabetes.
4) Shi Hu San from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is coupled with Xian Ling Pi (herba epimedii) and Cang Zhu (Atractylodes) to treat night blindness.
Clinical research of dendrobium orchid
According to reports, it is commonly used to treat chronic pharyngitis, thrombosis obliterans, arthritis, purulent skin infections and other diseases. For example, 172 cases of chronic pharyngitis have been treated with the dendrobium-based remedy. The healing steps are decocting the herbal combination of dendrobium 10g, Xuan Shen (Scrophularia) 10g, Trichosanthes 10g, and Zao Xiu (manyleaf paris rhizome) for the decoction, purify it by distillation, and let the patients inhale it with ultrasonic atomizing inhalation. And 62 cases were effective and 87 cases were improved. (a)
Dendrobium nobile side effects and contraindications
Dendrobium nobile herb is with very low toxicity and clinically it tends to be considered non-toxic in regular dosage. However, overdose may cause convulsions, which can be relieved by sodium amytal. Besides, clinically it was ever reported that it had induced allergic dermatitis. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it shouldn’t be used in cases of unimpaired yin in early stage of febrile disease, damp-warm disorders that are not transformed into dryness yet, and deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach.
(a) Liao Ning Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Liaoning Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine) 1992;3:31.