Thanks to its impressive healing power on clearing away heat and toxins and dissipating nodules, forsythia, or called Lian Qiao in mandarin, has long been known as the panacea for people who are particularly susceptible to skin infections, e.g. boils, furunculosis, carbuncles, abscesses, and more. If added into daily skin care, this herb can be also one of the most cost-effective ways for a number of skin problems, such as chafing, redness of the skin, acne, skin inflammation, etc. Because of that, it has become one common ingredient in many purely plant based skin-care products. TCM wise this drug, often shown together with Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower) and Pu Gong Ying (Dandelion), is widely used in many acne herbal remedies.
What is forsythia?
Since the main medicinal part is the fruit, medicinally it refers to the dried fruits of Forsythia suspensa (Thunb.) Vahl, which is a plant that belongs to the family Oleaceae. Other names of forsythia include Golden Bell, forsythia fruit, Forsythiae Fructus, Forsythia Suspensa Fructus, Forsythia Suspensa Vahl, Fructus Forsythiae Suspensae, and so on. In China it is basically produced in Northeast China, North China, the Yangtze River, and Yunnan province. According to the different picking season, it is divided into two varieties – Qing Qiao (Green forsythia fruit) and Lao/Huang Qiao (old/yellow forsythia fruit). The former one is collected before the White Dew when the fruits are still green and barely ripe. And the latter is harvested before the Cold Dew when the fruits are fully ripe and yellow. Medicinally the green one is used raw and preferred since it is mainly for the purpose of clearing heat and dissolving lumps. In addition, it can be consumed in various ways, such as forsythia tea, extract, essential oil, essence, juice, and more.
Forsythia bush is a deciduous shrub, 2 to 4 meters high. Slightly trailing branches stretch and often take root upon touching the ground. Twigs are slightly 4-edged, hollow in the middle, and with solid marrow only in the nodes. Simple leaf is opposite or becomes 3 leaflets; petiole is from 8 to 20mm; blade is ovate, wide oval, or oblong, 3 to 7cm long, 2 to 4cm wide, and with acuminate, acute or obtuse apex. Golden yellow flowers, axillary and about 2.5cm long, bloom before the leaves, with quadripartite oval calyx and tubular-base corolla. Capsule is narrowly ovate, slightly flat, about 15cm long, short-beak apex that becomes two-lobed when mature. Seeds are numerous, brown, narrowly oval, flat, and with thin wings on one side. Its flowering time is from March to May and fruiting time from July to August. Main habitats are hillside bushwood, woodland and grass.
Fruits contain lignans (forsythin or phillyrin, phillygenin, pinoresinol, and pinoresinol-β-D-glucoside); flavonoids (rutin); phenylethane derivatives (forsythoside A, C, D, E, suspensaside, and salidroside); ethylcyclohexanone alcohol derivatives (cornside, rengyol, isorengyol, rengyoxide, rengyolone, and rengyoside A, B, C); ane triterpenoids (betulinic acid, oleanolic acid, ursolic acid, β-amyrin acetate, isobauerenyl acetate, etc.)
Forsythia is a versatile plant for a variety of purposes. To begin with, it looks like winter jasmine and blooms before leaves in early spring. Hence, its lovely yellow flowers and faint aroma make it one of the best ornamental tree options in backyard gardening. Actually many people love to grow them as a hedge. Then, all forsythia leaves, stems, fruits, and roots can be used for medicinal purpose. And its leaf is good at treating high blood pressure, diarrhea, sore throat and other ailments. Furthermore, its seeds can be extracted for edible oil and fat. Finally, the decoction of forsythia flower and unripe fruits has a good bactericidal, acaricidal, and skincare effect. Washing your face with this decoction in the morning or before going to bed, once a day, can effectively reduce melasma (facial pigmentation), malar rash, acne, and wrinkles over time.
Modern research shows that forsythia is with broad-spectrum antimicrobial effect and significant anti-inflammatory effect, which can help skin build the inflammatory barrier, lower capillary permeability, reduce inflammatory exudate, and thereby eliminate the acne-induced local swelling. Meanwhile, it has a certain inhibitory effect on the secretion of the sebaceous glands, which can improve the over-oily skin and then tremendously reduce the possibility of an acne attack.
Modern pharmacological actions of forsythia herb
1. It has broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity. Main antibacterial components are forsythol and its volatile oils, which have a strong inhibitory effect on Staphylococcus aureus and Shigella and a certain inhibition on influenza virus, leptospira, and other pathogens;
2. It has anti-inflammatory and antipyretic effects;
3. The oleanolic acid contained can strengthen the heart, induce diuresis, and lower high blood pressure;
4. The vitamin P contained can reduce vascular permeability and fragility and thus prevent hemolysis;
5. Its decoction can prevent vomiting and protect liver from damage.
Selected forsythias herbal remedies
TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine) concludes that it is bitter in flavor and slightly cold in properties and it covers 3 meridians, namely lung, heart, and gall bladder. Its essential functions include clearing away heat and toxic materials, reducing swelling, and dissipating nodules. Main forsythia uses and indications are wind-heat type common cold, febrile disease, anuria in heat strangury, boils and carbuncles, pyogenic infections, scrofula, goiter and tumor, and pharyngitis. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 15 grams in decoction, powder, or pills.
1. Lian Qiao Bai Du Wan/Pian/San. This formula is primarily used for the beginning of an ulcer, swelling and pain, aversion to cold, fever, pimple, irritation and scratchiness, and constipation. Other herbal ingredients include Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower), Zi Hua Di Ding (Herba Violae), Tian Hua Fen (Trichosanthes Root), etc.
2. Jing Jie Lian Qiao Tang from Wan Bing Hui Chun (Restoring Health from Tens of Thousands of Diseases). This prescription is normally designed for acne, acute tonsillitis, rosacea, acute otitis and other “fire”-induced diseases. Other main herbs are Jing Jie (Schizonepeta), Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Chuan Xiong (lovage), Bai Shao (White Peony), and more.
3. Lian Qiao Yin from Lei Zheng Huo Ren Shu (Classified Cure Book). This recipe is usually formulated for all fever in the infant and toddler. Other 3 herbs are Radix Saposhnikoviae, Gan Cao (Licorice Root), and Shan Zhi (Fructus Gardeniae).
4. Lian Qiao San from Yang Shi Jia Cang Fang (Yang Family Depository of Formulas). This herb works with Gui Jian Yu (Winged Euonymus Twig), Qu Mai (Dianthus), and Licorice Root for the treatment of scrofula.
5. Yin Qiao San from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases). It combines with Jin Yin Hua (Japanese honeysuckle), Bo He (mint herb), Niu Bang Zi (Arctium Fructus Arctii), etc. to cure wind-heat type common cold or the beginning of warm disease, headache, fever, thirst, sore throat, and so on.
Forsythia side effects and contraindications
Forsythia was rated with a 2B by AHPA. That being said, it should be avoided by breast-feeding or pregnant women. TCM wise it shouldn’t be used in deficiency of spleen and stomach, qi-deficiency type fever, and burst ulcer but with thin pale pus.