Galla chinensis, also known as Chinese gall or Wu Bei Zi in Pinyin, is an astringent commonly used in Chinese herbal remedies. Its top medicinal properties can be simply characterized by 5 stops – stopping dysentery, stopping bleeding, stopping coughing, stopping sweating, and stopping rectal prolapse. Hence, today it is widely used for the treatment of loose, watery stools, chronic gastritis, gastric ulcer, upper gastrointestinal bleeding, evening coughing, rectal hernias, and so on.
What is Galla chinensis?
Before the introduction of this herb, Rhus chinensis, also known as the Chinese sumac or nutgall tree, is something that has to be mentioned in the first place since it is the main source of medicinal galls. This is a plant in the Sumac family, anacardiaceae that is cultivated mainly for generating galls in China. As a matter of fact, galls of other plant species in the same genus Rhus are also considered with similar or same healing properties. These species are Rhus potaninii Maxim. and Rhus punjabensis Stew. var. sinica (Diels) Rehd. et Wils. And gall actually is the product of the infestation by Chinese sumac aphids, which is also called Melaphis chinensis (Bell) Baker. So, other common names of it also include Gallnut of Chinese Sumac and Chinese Sumac gall. Rhus chinensis is distributed in most parts of China, in particular Sichuan. The galls are usually picked in fall and dried after the parasite inside is killed by boiling. Medicinally it is normally used raw.
According to the shapes, galla chinensis can be classified into 2 types – Du-ensiform gall and horned gall. Du-ensiform gall is long, rounded or fusiform sac, which is 2.5 to 9cm long and 1.5 to 4cm in diameter. Surface is taupe or gray-brown and slightly pubescent. It is hard, brittle, easily broken, and with horn-like shiny section. Wall is from 0.2 to 0.3cm thick, smooth, and with dark brown dead aphid and gray powdery dead aphid excrement. The odor is quite peculiar and taste is astringent. Horned gall is diamond-shaped, with irregular angular branches, obvious pubescence, and thin walls.
Main chemical constituents are 60% to 70% gallotannins, 2% to 4% gallic acid (3,4,5-trihydroxybenzoic acid), resins, fats, waxes, starch and the like.
Chinese gall health benefits
This herb is often confused with Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Seed) because of not only the similar name but also the similar medicinal uses. Since both of them are sour in flavor and astringent in nature, they can astringe the lung to stop cough, arrest sweating and seminal emissions, and relieving diarrhea. As a result, they are widely used in the treatment of diseases like chronic cough caused by lung deficiency, spontaneous sweating, perspiration during sleep, and nocturnal emission. However, they are not interchangeable since they have different healing properties. Besides of astringing the lung, galla chinensis can still clear away the lung-heat and stop bleeding by astringency. So it is ideal for coughing up mucus or blood; schisandra seed can also nourish kidney. Hence, it is often used for dyspnea caused by lung-kidney deficiency and nocturnal emission caused by kidney deficiency and insecurity of the essence gate.
Modern pharmacological actions of gallic acid
1) It has precipitating action on proteins. Once the ulcerated area of skin and mucosa is in contact with it, its tissue proteins will be solidified and thereby a layer of astringent film will be formed;
2) It causes the solidification to proteins of gland cells, inhibits the secretion, and thus results in dry mucous membranes;
3) It precipitates the protein of nerve endings, which will lead to weak local anesthetic;
3) It can be used as an antidote by combined with certain metals, alkaloids, and glycosides to form insoluble compounds;
4) It has astringent effect on the small intestine, which can reduce intestinal inflammation and stop diarrhea;
4) It inhibits Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, pneumococcus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and bacillus of typhoid, paratyphoid, dysentery, anthrax, and diphtheria.
Sample gall recipes on herbal remedies
According to the “Chinese Pharmacopoeia”, it is sour, astringent in flavor and cold in nature. It goes to meridians of lung, large intestine, and kidney. Crucial functions are astringing lung, clearing lung-fire, relieving diarrhea, arresting sweating, stopping bleeding, and astringing dampness to promote the sore healing. Main gall uses and indications include lung deficiency induced chronic cough, coughing up phlegm caused by lung heat, chronic diarrhea, protracted dysentery, night sweats, diabetes, hemorrhoids blood in the stool, traumatic bleeding, boils, and wet festering wound. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 6 grams in decoction.
1) Yu Suo Dan from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is combined with Fu Ling (Poria) and Long Gu (Dragon bones) to treat nocturnal emission due to insecurity of the essence gate and kidney deficiency;
2) Wu Bei San from Sheng Ji Zhong Lu (The Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is used alone to make powder for non-stop bleeding of metal-inflicted wound;
3) Wu Bei Zi San from “The Complete Record of Holy Benevolence”. It is formulated with Da Huang (rhubarb) and Huang Bai (Amur Cork Tree Bark) to cure all pyogenic infections;
4) Du Zhen Gao from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief). It is fried, ground, and mixed with water or sesame oil to heal hard or soft furuncle;
5) Shen Xiao Qu Feng San from Bo Ji Fang (Extensive Relieving Prescriptions). It is matched with Man Jing Zi (Vitex Trifolia) to treat pathogenic wind attacking induced swollen itchy painful eyelid.
Clinical gallnut research
a) According to clinical reports, the solution of gallnut, He Zi (Terminalia Chebula) and Ming Fan (Alum) can be used to the topical treatment of upper gastrointestinal bleeding. The method is to inject into this solution once an endoscopic examination reveals the hemorrhagic lesions under this circumstance of acute vomiting blood, bloody diarrhea and stomach symptoms;
b) 31 cases of diabetes have received treatment by Yu Suo Dan. And the effective rate was 87%.
Galla chinensis side effects and contraindications
Galla chinensis contains gallic acid, which can interfere with the absorption of food. In other words, it precipitates the proteins. A small amount of food and drinks containing gallic acid is harmless since in the alkaline environment of the small intestine the protein can be re-released. However, large amount of consumption, like excessive drinking of tea, may delay the absorption of food. Overdose, worse still, my cause irritation, corrosion, pain, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation, especially on the situation of an empty stomach. Under normal circumstances, the symptoms may disappear on their own after the medication has been stopped. In severe symptoms, the patients should be given symptomatic treatment.
a) Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Chinese journal of modern developments in traditional medicine), 1986; 6,10:20;
b) Xin Yi Xue (New Medicine), 979; 3:20.