Dianthus (Qu Mai)

Herba DianthiSpicy scented flowers with notched petals are the characteristic of many flowering plants in genus Dianthus. Dianthus superbus (Large Pink) and Dianthus chinensis (China Pink), also known as Qu Mai in mandarin, are no exception. They can emit a hauntingly sweet fragrance that can be smelled at a distance of a few hundred feet. This distinct scent can make people feel comfortable and relaxed. No wonder the ancient Greeks called dianthus plants as “the flower of God.” It is said that Linnaeus, the famous Taxonomist, favored dianthus superbus so much that he gave it a name like this. As a Chinese herb Dianthus superbus and D. chinensis have long been used for a full spectrum of health concerns, in particular urinary system problems. In addition, it treats amenorrhea, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer, colon cancer, and more.

What is dianthus?

It is noteworthy to note that Dianthus refers not to a single plant but a genus in the family Caryophyllaceae, in which there are approximate 300 species distributed in Asia, Europe, Africa, and arctic North America. And the most commonly seen Dianthus varieties are Dianthus caryophyllus (carnation), D. barbatus (sweet william), D. plumarius (pink), and so on. However, in traditional Chinese medicine Qu Mai, also known as Herba Dianthi in Latin name, mainly refers to the dried aerial part of D. superbus and D. chinensis. In China it is mainly produced in Hebei, Henan, Liaoning, and Jiangsu. It is usually harvested in summer and autumn during flowering and fruiting time. After that, it needs to remove impurities, dry them in the sun, and cut them into sections. It is generally used raw medicinally.

D. superbus seems delicate but actually it is a hardy plant. It can be found at the hillside, meadow, forest edge, woodland or sub-alpine meadows and other environments. And it is also one of common garden plants. As a perennial herb, it is up to 1 meter in height. Tufted stems are erect, glabrous, and with 2 branches in upper part and obvious node. Alternate Dianthus leaves are linear or linear-lanceolate, 1.5 to 9cm long, 1 to 4mm wide, and with acuminate apex, base into a short-sheath base, entire margin, and glabrous sides. Flower is solitary or a few of them gather into panicle; tubular calyx is 2.7 to 3.7cm long; bracts are 4 to 6, broadly ovate, and about 1/4 of the calyx tube length; deeply cut fringed petals are brown purple or brown, and curly. Long cylindrical capsule is as long as the persistent calyx. Dianthus seeds are small and many. And it is odorless and tasteless. Bloom time is from August to September and fruiting is from of September to November.

D. chinensis is similar to D. superbus in shape and size. The main differences are the bracts, calyx and petals. It bracts is ovate, leafy, open, and 1/2 of the length of calyx tube, and with caudate-acuminate apex; calyx is 2 to 2.5cm long and the lobes are broadly lanceolate; petals are usually purplish red and shallowly lobed, jagged apex. Flowering time is from April to June and fruiting time is from June to August.

The whole plant with flowers of D. superbus contains some flavonoids, such as Anthocyanins; the whole plant with flowers of D. chinensis contains Anthocyanins and anti-cancer flavonoids. In addition, it still contains 2 triterpenoid saponins (dianchinenoside A, B), 1 pyrone glucoside (dianthoside). Dianthus flower contains eugenol, phenylethyl alcohol, benzyl benzoate, methyl salicylate, benzyl salicylate, and so on.

Dianthus health benefits

To be specific, the medicinal uses of Dianthus mainly include the following:

(1) Diuretic effects. Its decoction has obvious diuretic effect to rabbits, anesthetized dogs, and dogs without anesthesia. It has greater impact on potassium excretion than sodium excretion. It contains 500mg/100ml, which is believed to be relevant to diuresis and the high potassium levels;
(2) Cardiovascular effects. It has a strong inhibitory effect on isolated frog heart and rabbit heart. And its decoction of the ears has hypotensive effect in anesthetized dogs, which is believed to be caused by cardiac depression;
(3) Intestinal effects. Experiments show that its decoction has obvious excitatory effect on animal intestine. It could lead to rising intestinal tension in isolated rabbit intestine. And it could still increase the intestinal motility of anesthetized dogs and dogs with chronic intestinal fistula but it has no significant effect on the tension. And diphenhydramine and papaverine can antagonize this effect;
(4) Uterus effects. Its ethanol extracts have obvious excitatory effect on anesthetized rabbit’s uterus and the isolated y uterine muscle of the rat. It can result in obvious uterine contractions, increased frequency, and enhanced tension in anesthetized rabbit’s uterus. The role of exciting uterine muscle strengthens with the increasing dose, which represents as increasing frequency, more lasting rhythmic contraction, and tonic contraction in few uterine muscles. And the combination with prostaglandin E2 can produce synergies, which account for 70%;
(5) Bacteriostatic action. Eugenol contained can inhibit pathogenic fungi, Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, Proteus vulgaris, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and so on;
(6) Other effects. It has been reported that its 10% decoction in vitro can kill schistosome parasites in 8 to 12 minutes. In the case of its 100% decoction was used for schistosome infected rabbits, it failed to reduce deaths. But compared with the control group, it can reduce the rate of remaining schistosome infection, slow the weight loss, and improve liver changes. However, other reports told that in vitro it couldn’t kill schistosomes and in vivo tests it failed to kill adult Schistosoma and reduce mortality in mice infected with Schistosoma.

Sample Dianthus recipes on herbal remedies

In accordance with the description from Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter in flavor and cold in nature. It covers meridians of heart, liver, small intestine, and bladder. Basic functions are inducing diuresis, eliminating damp-heat, and activating blood circulation to promote menstruation. Essential dianthus uses and indications include difficulty in urination, heat strangury, stranguria complicated by hematuria, urolithiasis, amenorrhea, red painful swollen eyes, boils and carbuncles, and eczema itching. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 10 grams in decoction. Or it can be still used in the forms of pills and powder.

(1) Ba Zheng San from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is combined with Bian Xu (knotweed), Che Qian Zi (Plantain Seeds), Hua Shi (Talcum Powder), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Chuan Mu Tong (Clematis Vine), Da Huang (rhubarb), and Shan Zhi (Fructus Gardeniae) to treat red colored urine, pain with urination, retention of urine, heat strangury, and bloody stranguria.

(2) Gua Lou Qu Mai Wan from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is formulated with Gua Lou (Trichosanthes Kirilowii), Fu Ling (Poria), Shu Yu (common yam), and Fu Zi (aconite) to cure difficult urination accompanied with thirst.

(3) Li Xiao San from Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary. It is matched with Fructus Gardeniae, Licorice, Cong Gen (green onion roots), Deng Xin Cao (Juncus Effusus), and Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger root) to heal accumulated heat in lower energizer, brown urine, pain in urination or with blood, and bleeding in urine and stool.

(4) Nan Tian Zhu Yin from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is equipped with Da Zao (Jujube Fruit), Fresh Ginger, Juncus Effusus, Licorice, and Zhi Zi (Gardenia) to treat bleeding from the nine orifices.

(5) Shi Wei San from Zheng Zhi Hui Bu (A Supplement to Diagnosis and Treatment). It is put together with Shi Wei (Pyrrosia Leaves), Talcum Powder, and Dong Kui Zi (Malva Verticillata Seeds) to cure urolithiasis.

Dianthus side effects and contraindications

Medicinally Dianthus superbus and Dianthus chinensis are considered relatively safe. They won’t lead to side effects if only taken in the recommended dosage. However, it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy since large doses may cause obvious uterine contractions. TCM wise, it should be avoided in cases of pregnant women and spleen-kidney deficiency.

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