Monkey Grass (Mondo Grass, Mai Men Dong)

Ophiopogon japonicusMonkey grass is also known as mondo grass and ophiopogon japonicus in Latin name. It is called Mai Men Dong in mandarin, literally translated, means “wheat winter” because of its wheat-like root hair and evergreen leaves in winter. Medicinally it has long been used as a yin tonic. But the medicinal part of this Chinese herb is not the leaf but the root, which looks like a plump and cute spindle. One of its magnum opuses is the ophiopogon combination (Mai Men Dong Tang). This herbal recipe is widely used for the treatment of chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis, chronic pharyngolaryngitis, silicosis, tuberculosis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, chronic atrophic gastritis, morning sickness, etc. Besides, it is traditionally grown as a border, as lawn, and as ground cover, thanks to its evergreen leaf, elegant flower, and pleasant fragrance.

What is monkey grass?

There are a few different types of monkey grass but medicinally it mainly refers to the dried tuberous root of Ophiopogon japonicus (Thunb.) Ker-Gawl., which is a member of the Liliaceae (Lily) Family. Therefore, other names include Dwarf Lilyturf Tuber, Ophiopogon Tuber, Mai Dong, Radix Ophiopogonis, Ophiopogon japonicus tuber, etc. In China it is mainly produced in Sichuan, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and other places. It is usually dug in summer. And then it needs to be exposed under the blazing sun for quite a long time until it’s at least 70 or 80 percent dry, stacked, had the fibrous roots removed, dried, and used raw and smashed.

Mondo grass is a perennial evergreen herb, which has luxuriant green linear foliage that grows thickly. It blooms in the middle of October. Flowers are lilac and racemose. Pedicels grow out from the leaf, with 10 to 20 light purple and beautiful florets each bunch. The pea-shaped fruits are bore after the flowers die. Fruits become purple or blue-black when ripe and inside there are strings of spherical monkey grass seeds.

monkey grass bulbs contains a variety of steroidal saponins, β-sitosterol, stigmasterol, flavonoids, amino acids, homoisoflavonoids, various types of polysaccharides, vitamin A-like substance, copper, zinc, iron, potassium and other ingredients.

Monkey grass health benefits

This herb was first recorded in the “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, the oldest and well-kept ancient pharmacology book found in China by far. Also known as “the elixir”, it has long been regarded as one of top-grade tonics. Monkey grass roots contain a variety of steroidal saponins, carotenoids, mucilage, sugars, stigmasterol, and other ingredients. Pharmacological experiments show that it can increase white blood cell counts, extend the lifespan of antibodies, improve immune function and DNA synthesis rate, and promote the production of antibody, complement, interferon, lysozyme, and other immune substances. In addition, it is also found with ability to improve myocardial contractility and protect myocardial cells. As a result, it becomes one of main ingredient in Shengmai powders, which, to a certain extent, can help to activate and restore the pulse. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it can enhance the vital Qi, strengthen the body resistance to pathogenic factors, and then reduce the incidence rate of diseases. Put it in the words from Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica) – long term use of ophiopogon tuber can help people become healthier, lighter in weight, forever young, and full all the time.

Modern pharmacology of mondo grass

1. After intramuscular injections in rabbits, its decoction could increase blood sugar;
2. After oral administration in normal rabbit, both its water and alcohol extracts showed hypoglycemic effect;
3. It can enhance the phagocytosis of reticuloendothelial system, increase peripheral white blood cell count, and improve immune function;
4. It can enhance the role of the pituitary adrenal system and improve the body’s adaptability;
5. It can significantly improve the hypoxia tolerant capability in experimental animals, increase coronary blood flow, dramatically protect myocardial ischemia, treat an abnormal heart rhythm, and improve myocardial contractility;
6. It improves left ventricular function and prevents shock;
7. It has a certain sedative and antibacterial effect.

Selected ophiopogon japonicus herbal remedies

Chinese Pharmacopoeia informs that it is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and slightly cold in nature. It goes to meridians of heart, lung, and stomach. Major functions include enriching Yin to promote the secretion of saliva or body fluid, moistening lung, and clearing away the heart-fire. Main monkey grass uses and indications are dry cough due to lung dryness, consumptive cough, thirst caused by body fluid deficiency, irritability, insomnia, diabetes, intestinal dryness with constipation, and pharyngeal diphtheria. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 12 grams.

1. Mai Men Dong Tang from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Cabinet). This formula is used to treat reversed flow of qi and vomiting due to stomach yin deficiency. And other ingredients are Ban Xia (Pinellia), Ren Shen (Ginseng), etc.

2. Zeng Ye Tang from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases). It is combined with Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia) and Xuan Shen (Scrophularia) for the treatment of constipation caused by deficiency of body fluid, which is consumed by pathogenic fire-heat.

3. Qing Zao Jiu Fei Tang from Yi Men Fa Lu (Precepts for Physicians). It is formulated with E Jiao (Colla Corii Asini), Shi Gao (Gypsum), Sang Ye (White Mulberry Leaf), Pi Pa Ye (Loquat Leaf), etc. to treat dry nose and throat, dry cough with less phlegm, coughing up blood, sore throat and hoarseness.

4. Qing Ying Tang from Wen Bing Tiao Bian. It is mixed with Huang Lian (Coptis Root), Rehmannia, scrophularia, etc. to cure exuberant heat in heart-nutrient phase, annoyance, and insomnia.

5. Tian Huang Bu Xin Dan from Sheng Mi Pou (Exposition on Health Conservation). It is coupled with Rehmannia, Suan Zao Ren (Semen Ziziphi Spinosae), Bai Zi Ren (Arborvitae Seeds), etc. to treat insomnia and dreaminess, vexation, forgetfulness, palpitation, and so on.

6. Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Wan from Wen Bing Tiao Bian. It is matched with Sha Shen (Glehnia Root), Yu Zhu (Solomon’s Seal), Bai Bian Dou (Hyacinth Bean), Mulberry Leaf, and Tian Hua Fen (Trichosanthes Root) to treat dry cough, mouth sores in children, persistent pneumonia in children, chronic atrophic gastritis, chronic pharyngitis, pediatric cough, and leg and back pain, etc.

Monkey grass side effects and contraindications

Is monkey grass poisonous to dogs and kids? Actually it is edible and relatively safe clinically if used properly. As with the subacute toxicity testing showed, the toxicity of mondo grass was very low. In spite of this, it has been reported that it may cause an allergy on some individuals, with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, palpitation, irritability, erythema all over the body, itching, and so on. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used for the syndromes due to the spleen’s dereliction of duty on transportation and transformation. These syndromes include water-dampness, cold-dampness, turbid phlegm, and obvious qi deficiency. Hence, it is necessary to identify the patterns of syndrome first to make sure to use it the right way. Otherwise, improper use will lead to dampness and phlegm, which thus cause adverse reactions like abundant expectoration, tastelessness in the mouth, loss of appetite, and more. In terms of drug interactions, rehmannia and Che Qian (plantain) are its guiding drugs. However, it hates Kuai Dong Hua (Tussilago Farfara) and Ku Hu (bitter calabash) and mutually restrains Ku Shen (Sophora Flavescens).

8 thoughts on “Monkey Grass (Mondo Grass, Mai Men Dong)

    1. admin Post author

      The seeds of monkey grass has similar medical properties of the root. However, traditionally it is seldom used because its efficacy is less obvious than the root.

    1. admin Post author

      In Chinese medicine this is a jargon used in herbal formulas. If you’re interested in this topic, you can learn more about Materia Medica & Formulas and strategies.

  1. kookie oono

    I want to put some dwarf lilyturf in my school, and im affraid some naughty little kids accidently ate the leaf/berrie/flower/any part of the plant. Is it recommended to be grown in school with lots of kids that does not really know things? Cause they could break the leaf, and the saps will go on their hand and they Lick it..

  2. Ld Elon

    Ones gathering Mondo grass is also Ophiopogon planiscapus ‘Nigrescens’ black grass.
    So the toxicity levels aren’t threatening to humans or animals.?
    One found this info very useful, thank you.


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