When it comes to lovage herb, also known as Chuan Xiong in China, many average people, if not all, know it well since this is an herb often used in everyday life. As a matter of fact, grown mainly in Yun-Gui-Chuan plateau, Szechuan lovage root has long been found and used in the ancient days. Now people’s understanding about this amazing medicinal herb mainly comes from the so-called “No. 1 gynecological formula for nourishing blood” – Si Wu Tang (Four Substance Decoction), which is a thousand year old now and still prevalent today.
What is Szechuan lovage?
Also known as rhizoma ligustici chuanxiong, from the point of view of TCM it actually refers to the rhizomes of Ligusticum chuanxiong Hort., a plant in the family Apiaceae. This herb is mainly produced in Sichuan, Guizhou, and Yunnan provinces in China. As far as quality concerned, the ones from Sichuan are preferred. And today most of them are from artificial cultivation instead of from the wild. Usually the excavation of medicinal lovage is in May. After that, it needs to remove the mud, dry them in the sun, and get rid of their fibrous roots. In addition, slice them before the use, in the form of unprocessed or fried with wine.
Lovage plant is a perennial herb, 40 to 60cm high. Well-developed root forms irregular nodular fist-shaped clumps, with a strong aroma. Stems are erect, cylindrical, with longitudinal stripes, and with multiple branches in the upper part and swollen discoid internodes in the lower part. Lovage Leaves at the lower stem are petiolate, about 3 to 10cm long, and with a sheath-like base. Leaves at the upper stem gradually simplify. The inflorescence is a compound umbel, apical or lateral. Fruitlets are flat on both sides, 2 to 3mm long, and about 1mm wide. Flowers appear in July through August and young fruits begin in September through October.
Chemical composition of Szechuan lovage root
It contains volatile oil, ferulic acid, 4-hydroxy-3-butylphthalide, senkyunolide, Ligustilide, tetramethylpyrazine, chuanxiongol, sedanic acid, and so on.
Lovage health benefits
As mentioned earlier, lovage is a medical and edible herb. It provides nutrition and cures diseases. So, let’s take a look at what health benefits the lovage root can bring to us from a professional view.
1. Ligustrazine, or Chuanxiongzine, can expand the coronary artery, increase coronary blood flow, improve myocardial oxygen supply, and decrease myocardial oxygen consumption;
2. Ligustrazine can dilate cerebral blood vessels, reduce vascular resistance, significantly increase blood flow to the brain and body, and improve microcirculation;
3. Chuanxiongzine can reduce platelet activity, inhibit platelet aggregation, and prevent thrombosis;
4. Neutral components contained in Ferulic acid promote uterine smooth muscle in small doses and inhibit in large dose;
5. Water decoction has sedative effect on animal central nervous system, as well as a clear and long-lasting antihypertensive effect;
6. It can accelerate the absorption of fracture hematoma, promote callus formation;
7. It can prevent vitamin E deficiency;
8. It can inhibit a variety of bacteria;
9. It has antihistamines and choleretic effect.
Typical lovage related Chinese herbal formulas
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) thinks of this herb as acrid and warm in properties. It covers three meridians, such as liver, gallbladder, and pericardium. Its basic functions are to enhance blood circulation to promote movement of Qi, promote Qi circulation and remove obstruction in the collateral, and dispel wind and relieve pain. Its main indications and uses are irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, postpartum stasis-type pain, abdominal mass, pains in chest and flanks, headache and dizziness, wind-cold-wetness type of arthralgia, traumatic injury, and carbuncle and deep-rooted carbuncle. Usual dosage is from 3 to 9 grams, in decoction normally.
Si Wu Tang
From Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary), Si Wu Tang is the most common formula for nourishing blood, as well as the basic one for regulating menstruation. The other three ingredient herbs are Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), and Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia). This formula is mainly formulated for nourishing blood, especially for women after menstruation.
Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao San or Wan
This formula is also from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang. It cures upward invasion syndromes by various winds, vertigo, headache or migraine, stuffy and running nose, hoarse voice, strong fever in cold, body ache, profuse sputum, and so on. Indications include bronchitis, sinusitis, hives, trigeminal neuralgia, arthritis, etc. Other main herbs include Bo He (Field Mint), Jing Jie (Schizonepeta Stem), Xiang Fu (Cyperus), Fang Feng (Ledebouriella Root), and more.
Chuan Xiong Wan
This prescription comes from Ju Fang too. The other herbs are Bo He, Xi Xin (Chinese Wild Ginger), Fang Feng, Jie Geng (Platycodon), and Gan Cao (Licorice Root). It is primarily made to treat headache or dizziness, dysphoria with smothery sensation, stiff neck, restrained and tired shoulder and back, body ache, and so on.
Chuan Xiong Pu Huang San
From Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief), this formula is mainly used for stillborn foetus. Other primary herbs include Di Huang (Rehmannia), Dang Gui, Rou Gui (Dried Cinnamon Bark), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), Pu Huang (Cattail Pollen, Bulrush), and so on.
Jiao Ai Tang
Jiao Ai Tang is from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is basically used for pain in the abdomen during pregnancy (embarrassment of fetus). Other key herbs are E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Glue), Gan Cao, Ai Ye (Mugwort Leaf), Dang Gui, Shao Yao, and Di Huang.
Sheng Hua Tang
Sheng Hua Tang is one of famous herbal recipes from Fu Qing Zhu Nan Nu Ke (Fu Qing-zhu’s Andrology & Gynecology). It is exclusively used for postpartum retention of lochia and abdominal pain due to blood stasis. Other prime herbs are Dang Gui, Tao Ren (Peach Seeds), Pao Jiang (Prepared Dried Ginger), and Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root).
Potential lovage side effects and contraindications
Lovage root contains volatile oil, in which ligustrazine is the main ingredient. Occasional gastrointestinal symptoms may occur in oral administration, such as stomach discomfort, abdominal pain, dry mouth, drowsiness, dizziness, menorrhagia, aminotransferase transient increase and allergy (drug fever, drug rash, and angioneurotic edema). Injection has no obvious side effects. Usually no special treatments are required when the above-mentioned symptoms occur. The allergic reaction can be treated by taking vitamin C and other anti-allergic drugs accordingly. And other symptoms may disappear after stopping the medication.
In terms of TCM practice, lovage should be used with caution in the cases of hyperactivity of fire due to Yin deficiency, excess sweating, excessive heat, bleeding but with no blood stasis, and pregnant women.