Eleutherococcus bark, also known as Acanthopanax bark or Wu Jia Pi in Pinyin, is traditionally used as a Chinese herb to expel wind-damp, tonify liver and kidney, and strengthen muscles and bones. In fact, the “Compendium of Materia Medica” has described its medicinal properties in detail. This herb is especially ideal for the rheumatism patient who is with liver and kidney deficiency, according to the theory of Chinese medicine. The most common use of it is preserving it alone in alcohol or combining it with other herbs in decoction. In addition, modern research shows that it can also fight tumors, relieve fatigue, reduce blood viscosity, prevent atherosclerosis, and so on.
What is Eleutherococcus?
If you happen to live in the west and know something about Eleutherococcus, most likely it is the Eleutherococcus senticosus that rings a bell to you. Also known as Siberian ginseng or Eleuthero in the English-speaking world, it is usually considered a relative of Panax ginseng, one of the best-known restorative and adaptogenic tonic used in Traditional Chinese medicine. However, this is a genus in the family Araliaceae rather than a specific species. Statistically there are 38 species in the genus Eleutherococcus worldwide. These shrubs are covered with thorns and indigenous to the east of Asia. No wonder it is originally referred to as Acanthopanax, which means “thorny ginseng” since trees in this genus are characterized by their thorns.
However, try not to confuse Siberian ginseng with Eleutherococcus bark even though this name sometimes is given to a few species, especially E. gracilistylus (Acanthopanax gracilistylus), a vertical, blue deciduous plant. Other species that are used the same way include Acanthopanax sessiliflorus (Rupr. et Maxim.) Seem., Acanthopanax senticosus (Rupr. et Maxim.) Harms, A. cissifolius (Griff.) Harms, A. leucorrhizus (Oliv.) Harms, A. henryi (Oliv.) Harms, A. giraldii Harms, and more. As mentioned above, the main medicinal part of them is the root bark. In China Acanthopanax gracilistylus is mainly produced in Hubei, Henan, and Anhui. The herb is usually dug out in summer and autumn. After it is peeled, it still needs to be dried in the sun and cut into thick slices before the use.
E. gracilistylus root bark contains syringin, eleutheroside B1, isofraxidin-α-D-glucoside, sesamin, 16α-hydroxy-(-)-kauran-19-oic acid, β-sitosterol, β-sitosterol glucoside, stearic acid, palmitic acid, linolenic acid, vitamins A, B1, etc.
Eleutherococcus bark health benefits
Medicinally it is easy to use, in the forms of decoction, pills, or wine. Medicinal Eleutherococcus liquor, the Eleutherococcus bark based soaked wine, is a very popular tonic among the people. Medicinal liquor occupies an important position in Chinese culture. And according to the TCM theories different medicated wine fit differently depending on different seasons and people. When it comes to Eleutherococcus wine, it is ideal for cold winter. Actually in some places it is considered an essential regimen for the purpose of dispelling cold-damp while warming and tonifying liver-kidney.
In ancient times many Eleutherococcus species could be used medicinally. Besides of E. gracilistylus (South Wu Jia), Periploca sepium Bge, a plant species in the family Asclepiadaceae, also shares the name Wu Jia (north). Apparently they belong to different family and possess different healing power. In addition, Periploca sepium is toxic. So, don’t mix them up clinically.
Modern pharmacological actions of E. gracilistylus
1) It is anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and sedative;
2) It increases the serum concentration of the antibody;
3) It promotes phagocytosis of mononuclear macrophage;
4) It has anti-stress effect;
5) It promotes the synthesis of nucleic acids;
6) It lowers blood glucose;
7) It has hormone-like effect;
8) It is anti-tumor, anti-mutagenic, and anti-ulcer;
9) It has a certain degree of anti-rejection effect.
Sample Acanthopanax recipes on herbal remedies
The “Chinese Pharmacopoeia” records that it is acrid, bitter in flavor and warm in nature. It covers meridians of liver and kidney. Primary functions are expelling wind-damp, nourishing liver and kidney, and strengthening the bones and muscles. Main Acanthopanax bark uses and indications include rheumatism pain, weak bones and tendons, delayed walking in infants, weakness, fatigue, edema, and beriberi. Recommended dosage is from 4.5 to 9 grams.
1) Wu Jia Pi Wan from Rui Zhu Tang Jing Yan Fang (Formulas from Experience from the Rui Zhu Tang Pharmacy). It is coupled with Yuan Zhi (Senega Root) to treat beriberi, swollen skin, and joint pain;
2) Wu Jia Pi Jiu from Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica). It is soaked alone or combined with Dang Gui, Chuan Niu Xi (Cyathula Root), and Di Yu (Sanguisorba Officinalis) to cure rheumatism and paralysis;
3) Wu Jia Pi San from Wei Sheng Jia Bao Fang (Treasured Family Prescriptions for Health). It is formulated with Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark) to heal lower back pain;
4) Wu Jiao Pi Jiu from Wai Ke Da Cheng (Compendium of External Medicine). It is matched with Dong Quai, Cyathula Root, and limefree rice wine to treat tuberculous arthritis;
5) Wu Jia Pi San from the Bao Ying Cuo Yao (Essentials for the Care & Protection of Infants). It is equipped with Cyathula Root and Mu Gua (Quince Fruit) to cure delayed walking for 4 to 5 year-old children;
6) Wu Jia Jiu from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). It is joined with Gou Qi Gen Pi (Chinese wolfberry root bark) to heal deficiency;
7) You Jian San from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It works with Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony), Chi Shao (Red Peonies), and Dong Quai to cure Sheehan’s syndrome.
Eleutherococcus bark side effects and contraindications
Although Eleutherococcus bark is non-toxic, it shouldn’t be used in both deficient and excessive heat syndromes. Besides, don’t mix it up with Cortex Periplocae, also known as Xiang Wu Jia, since it is with strong toxicity. Due to its toxic reaction resembles to that of digitalis drugs, currently Periploca sepium isn’t allowed to be used medicinally any more. So, do use the recommended amount of Periploca sepium or it may cause poisoning.