Dodder seed, also known as cuscuta seed or Tu Si Zi in mandarin, has long been considered a fabulous mild tonic used in Chinese herbal remedies. Just as its name implies, it comes from a parasitic plant that only survives by absorbing the essence from its host. Since ancient herbalists found no root from dodder, they thought it had some kind of magic power. It may be for this reason that it was listed as one of the superior herbs in the “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic.” Being an excellent tonic for kidney, liver, and spleen, traditionally dodder seeds, alone or in combination with other ingredients, can assist the treatment of various diseases, in particular impotence, nocturnal emission, alopecia areata, habitual abortion, visual deterioration, frequent urination, melasma, lower back pain caused by kidney deficiency, chyluria, infertility, fetal irritability, and more.
What is dodder seed?
In terms of medicinal purpose, it basically refers to the seeds of Cuscuta chinessis Lam., Cuscuta australis R. Br, or Cuscuta japonica Choisy. These three species are plants in the family Convolvulaceae. And other names of this plant and herb include Semen Cuscutae, witch’s hair, hailweed, angel hair, goldthread, strangleweed, devil’s ringlet, pull-down, devil’s hair, love vine, devil’s gut, hellbine, hairweed, and the like. When used as one of medicinal herbs, the aboveground part should be reaped and dried in autumn when the fruits are ripe. And the seeds are thus collected. Medicinally it is used raw or cooked and mashed.
Cuscuta chinessis is an annual parasitic herb. It is glabrous. Stems are thin, winding, and yellow but with no leaves. Flowers cluster in leaf axils, with scaly bracts and bracteoles; calyx is cup-shaped and 5-lobed; corolla is white, bell-shaped, about 2 times of the length of calyx, and with 5 lobed tip and retroflexed lobes; stamen filaments is flat, short, oblong, and with scales at base and fringed edges; ovary is with 2 rooms and 2 styles. Capsule is dehiscent, in the shape of a flat ball, and completely wrapped by corolla. Seeds are 2 to 4. Flowering time is from July to September and fruiting time is from August to October. Habitats are legumes and other plants that grow in field sides, wasteland and thickets. In China it is produced in provinces of Liaoning, Jilin, Hebei, Henan, Shandong, Shanxi, and Jiangsu.
It contains quercetin, astragalin, hyperin, and quercetin-3-O-β-D-galactose-7-O-β-glucoside. And the fruit of C. japonica also contains alkaloids.
Modern pharmacological actions of cuscuta seed
1) Its decoction can significantly enhance the mating frequency of drosophila melanogaster;
2) The intragastric administration of it in rats has a therapeutic effect for galactose-induced cataract;
3) Gavage of its decoction to mice for consecutive a month can significantly enhance the activity of lactate dehydrogenase in cardiac tissue homogenate. In addition, it is inclined to strengthen the activity of myocardial catalase and lactate dehydrogenase and catalase in brain tissue.
Chinese dodder seeds benefits
In traditional Chinese medicine, it is commonly used in the treatment of diseases like infertility and fetal irritability. And in recent years a lot of progress has been made on the researches of this herb. Now, let’s take a look at its health benefits from the angles of the results of scientific research and TCM theory.
1) Effect on fertility. Experiments show that its flavonoids have estrogen-like effects. Besides, it seems to have a protective role in human sperm. That’s to say, its androgen-like action can protect the reproductive organs of male animals, promote the testicular development and the production of testosterone, and prevent the spermatogenic cell from oxidative damage and apoptosis;
2) Effect on bone and cartilage. Animal studies have found that it can improve bone density and promote hyaline cartilage repair. In vitro culture of osteoblasts in its water extract shows that it can increase calcium matrix of osteoblasts, promote the proliferation, increase the alkaline phosphatase activity, inhibit osteoclast survival and induce the apoptosis of osteoclast;
3) Effect on cancer. Experimental studies have found that it has the ability to inhibit certain cancer cells and thus reduce the incidence of cancer;
4) Effects on blood pressure and blood sugar. After its polysaccharide was given to mouse models of diabetes by gavage administration, the improvements included significantly decreased blood glucose levels, increased body mass, and increased glycogen content. All indicates that it has anti- diabetic effect;
5) Anti-aging and antioxidant action. Animal studies have shown that its polysaccharide can also delay aging and protect the brain tissue;
6) Effect on immunity. Animal experiments showed that the right amount of dodder seeds can increase the wet weight of thymus and immune organ spleen and thereby enhance the phagocytosis of peritoneal macrophage, promote the proliferation of spleen lymphocytes and induce the generation of interleukin. As a result, it effectively enhances immunity;
7) Effect on liver. After the mouse models of chronic liver injury were fed with its decoction, the improvements were significantly decreased alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) in serum, increased SOD, and markedly improved liver tissue injury;
8) Effect on eyes. It can reduce the degree of opacity of the crystalline lens and delay and treat galactose-induced cataract. More importantly, it has no adverse effects on growth and development;
9) Other effects. Its can increase resistance to cerebral ischemia, enrich heart blood, tonify kidney, make up a deficiency, help bodybuilding, reduce urine output and the frequency of urination, and so on.
Sample cuscuta seeds recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica believes that seed of dodder is acrid, sweet in flavor and warm in nature. It goes to meridians of liver, kidney, and spleen. Primary functions are nourishing the kidney to strengthen the essence, nourishing the liver to improve visual acuity, preventing miscarriage, and stopping diarrhea. Elementary dodder seed uses and indications include knee and lower back pain, emission, impotence, premature ejaculation, infertility, diabetes, stranguria with turbid discharge, enuresis, blurred vision, ringing in the ears, fetal irritability, abortion, and diarrhea. Recommended dodder seed dosage is from 6 to 15 grams in decoction. Other relevant products include dodder seed supplement, tea, extract, capsules, powder, and more. You can choose one of them according to your situation.
1) Wu Zi Yan Zong Wan from Dan Xi Xin Fa (Dan Xi’s Experiential Methods). It is combined with Gou Qi Zi (Goji Berry), Fu Pen Zi (Raspberry fruit), Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Seed), and Che Qian Zi (Plantain Seeds) to treat erectile dysfunction (ED) and nocturnal emission;
2) Tu Si Zi Wan from Shi Yi De Xiao Fang (Effective Formulas from Generations of Physicians). It is formulated with Sang Piao Xiao (Ootheca Mantidis), Rou Cong Rong (Cistanche), Deer Antler Velvet (Lu Rong), etc. to cure excessive urination or incontinence;
3) Fu Ling Wan from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is matched with Fu Ling (Poria) and Shi Lian Zi (Sinocrassula indica seed) to heal nocturnal emission, gonorrhea, and a stream of urine dripping when peeing;
4) Zhu Jing Wan from He Ji Ju Fang. It is joined with Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia Root) and Plantain Seed to improve eyesight by nourishing the liver and kidney, boosting essence, and enriching blood;
5) Tu Si Zi Wan from Shen Shi Zun Sheng Shu (Master Shen’s Writings on Respecting Life). It is equipped with Goji Berry, Shan Yao (Chinese Yam) and Lian Zi (Lotus Seeds) to treat diarrhea caused by deficiency of spleen and kidney;
6) Shou Tai Wan from Yi Xue Zhong Zhong Can Xi Lu (Records of Heart-Felt Experiences in Medicine with Reference to the West). It works with Xu Duan (Japanese Teasel Root), Sang Ji Sheng (Loranthus), and E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Gelatin) to cure kidney-deficiency induced threatened abortion or habitual abortion.
Clinical research of dodder
a) Male infertility can be treated with Wu Zi Qing Chun Wan and the effect is significant;
b) The herbal formula based dodder and Dong Quai is effective in the treatment of infertility;
c) The whole herb of dodder is effective in the treatment of vitiligo by applying the mixture of mashed dodder and vinegar.
Dodder seed side effects and contraindications
Dodder seed contains vitamin A, carotene, protein and other nutrients. From the perspective of TCM, it is with no side-effects to human body. Hence, it is safe to be consumed even though in large dose. Clinically, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Shu (Commentary on ‘Shen Nong’s Classic of the Materia Medica) says that it shouldn’t be used by patients with kidney problem and excessive fire, persistent penile erection, or hard, dry stools; De Pei Ben Cao (Materia Medica of Combinations) reviews that it is inadvisable for pregnant women and patients with profuse uterine bleeding, a prolonged erection of the penis, constipation, kidney fire, and fire excess from Yin deficiency.
a) Bei Jing Zhong Yi (Beijing Chinese Medicine), 1995; (5):20;
b) He Bei Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hebei Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1988; (5):16;
c) An Hui Dan Yan Fang Xuan Ji (The Anthology of Proved Recipes Based on Single Ingredient in Anhui) by Anhui People’s Publishing House, 1972; 300.