Morning Glory Flower Seeds (Qian Niu Zi)

Pharbitis nil seedAs one of commonly used Chinese herbs, morning glory flower seeds are also known as Qian Niu Zi in mandarin. It is a key medicine traditionally used to get rid of edema, sputum, and stasis. Besides, it is great for reducing bloating too. Based on the coating colors, medicinally this herb is classified into 3 varieties – black (Hei Chou), white (Bai Chou), and black and white (Er Chou). In addition, morning glory seed based herbal remedies were also reported to be used in the treatment of a variety of other diseases, such as scrofula, liver cirrhosis, pinworm, epilepsy, and so on.

What is morning glory?

Morning glories are native to American continent. But today there are more than 1,000 morning glory varieties distributed all over the world. However, medicinally it mainly refers to the dried mature seeds from Pharbitis nil (L.) Choisy or Pharbitis purpurea (L.) Voigt. They are members in the family Convolvulaceae. Therefore, other names of this herb include Semen Pharbitidis, Pharbitis Seed, Pharbitis nil seed, Hei Chou, Bai Chou, Er Chou, and so on. It grows in most of the regions in China and is usually collected in late autumn when the fruits are ripe but the husk doesn’t crack yet. Used as a drug it still needs to be dried in the sun and used smashed in the raw or fried form.

Pharbitis nil is an annual, twining herb that is densely covered with white hair. Alternate leaves are broadly heart-shaped and entire; petiole and peduncle are nearly equal in length. Inflorescence is with 1 to 3 flowers; sepals are 5-parted. Lobes are lanceolate and about 1cm long. The apex is pointed; funnel-shaped corolla is white, bluish violet, or purplish red in color, 5 to 8cm long; stamens are 5; ovary has 3 chambers. Spherical capsule has 5 to 6 seeds. Seeds are oval, black or yellowish white, with 1 shallow longitudinal groove on back and 1 punctate, slightly concave hilum at the proximal end of the ventral connecting line; it is hard and easy to burst and crack once soaked in water; inside there are 2 pale yellow cotyledons that wrinkle because of closely overlapping; it is spicy, bitter, and with a tingling sensation.

Pharbitis purpurea resemble to Pharbitis nil in size and shape. The major differences are the leaf blade and flowers. Its leaf blade is in the shape of round heart or wide ovate, 4 to 18cm long, 3.5cm wide, and usually entire. Flowers are axillary. Single or 2 to 5 of them form the umbrella cyme. Sepals are ovate-lanceolate.

Pharbitis nil seeds contain about 3% pharbitin, alkaloids, 11% fatty oils other sugars. Pharbitin is resin glycosides, which, by alkaline hydrolysis, can obtain Pharbitidis acid, tiglic acid, nilic acid, α-methyl-butyric acid, valeric acid, and more. Alkaloids include chanoclavine, elymoclavine, penniclavine, agroclavine, lysergol, etc. Immature seeds contain a variety of gibberellin and its glucosides – GA A3, A5, A20, A26, and A27 and gibberellin glucoside Ⅰ, Ⅱ, Ⅳ, Ⅴ, Ⅵ , Ⅶ, and F-Ⅶ. Pharbitis purpurea seeds contains A3, A5, A8, A17, A19, A20, A26, A27, A29, A33, A44, and A55, castasterone, ergot alkaloid, and so on.

Health benefits of morning glory flower seeds

Morning glory flowers are with good ornamental value thanks to their beautiful colors. The darker flowers, like purplish red, are generally with black seeds; the lighter flowers, like white and pink, are usually with white seeds. However, it is necessary to point out that seed colors have nothing to do with the species.

When it comes to physicians who are good at exerting morning glories seeds, Li Shizhen, the famous pharmacologist in Ming Dynasty, will be the best of the best. He is familiar with not only drug properties but also principles of medical science. And clinical practice told him that this herb could go to qiphase, unblock Triple Burner, arrive at life-gate, and enter essence tunnel. More than that, he also realized that it could be an amazing medicine for wind or stagnated qi induced constipation. Thus, it can be seen that this is a good purgative medicine.

Modern pharmacological actions of morning glory seed

1. Purgation. Pharbitin resembles jalapin on chemical properties. Both of them are with strong purgative action. With the help of bile and intestinal juice, pharbitin can be broken down into pharbitic acid, which can stimulate intestine, enhance peristalsis, and then result in diarrhea. According to animal studies, there is no difference between black seeds and white seeds in terms of purgative action;
2. Diuresis. Its diuretic principles are connected to the enhanced renal activity, which increase urine output. Large dose of it can irritate the kidney, which thus causes Kidney congestion and blood in urine;
3. Effects on the nervous system. Large doses of it can cause damage to neurological system, especially to hypoglossal nerve. Hence, it may lead to tongue paralysis induced language disorder or even coma in severe cases;
4. Parasites cleanse. In vitro tests showed that it could kill roundworms and tapeworms to some extent.

Sample morning glory seeds recipes on herbal remedies

The Chinese Pharmacopoeia says that it is bitter in flavor and cold and toxic in nature. It goes to meridians of lung, kidney, and large intestine. Principal functions are to increase the flow of urine, relax the bowels, dissolve phlegm and drain retained fluid, and kill parasites and remove retention. Basic indications and uses include swelling caused by fluid retention, retention of urine, constipation, accumulation of phlegm and retained fluid, cough and wheezing caused by reversed flow of qi, abdominal pain due to a parasitic infection, roundworm, and tapeworm. Recommended morning glory seeds dosage is from 3 to 6 grams.

1. Yu Gong San from Ru Men Shi Qin (Confucians’ Duties to Serve Their Parents). It is used together with Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger) and Xiao Hui Xiang (Fennel Seed) or Mu Xiang (Costus) to treat retained fluid induced turgidity.

2. Zhou Che Wan from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Collected Writings). It is combined with Gan Sui (Euphorbia Kansui), Yuan Hua (Genkwa Flower), Jing Da Ji (Euphorbia pekinensis), Da Huang (Rhubarb), etc. to cure edema, abdominal fullness and hardness, constipation, retention of urine, and deep rapid powerful pulse.

3. Niu Huang Duo Ming San from Bao Ying Ji (Prescription Book for saving Babies). It is formulated with Rhubarb and Bing Lang (betel nut) to heal stagnated lung qi, cough and asthma caused by phlegm or retained fluid, and facial edema.

4. Qian Niu Tang from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is matched with betel nut, costus, Chen Pi (Citrus Peel), and Fu Ling (Poria) to get rid of edema.

5. Qian Niu Da Huang Wan from Qi Xiao Yi Shu (Miracle Art of Healing). It is equipped with Rhubarb, betel nut, Hou Po (Magnolia Bark), E Zhu (Turmeric Root), etc. to treat internal heat causing abdominal pain and vomiting due to rising heat.

Morning glory seeds side effects and contraindications

Morning glory flower seeds can get you high due to its psychedelic effects. From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, it is somewhat poisonous to humans. However, everyone should place more attention on the morning glory seed’s negative effects. Abuse of it can cause direct gastrointestinal stimulation, which thus results in vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloody mucus, nausea, migraine, dehydration, and electrolyte imbalance. In addition, it also stimulates the kidneys, which thus leads to backache and hematuria. In severe cases, it may damage the nervous system, which is manifested as language barriers, sudden high fever, coma, cold limbs, lips cyanosis, body bruising, shortness of breath, etc. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used in pregnant women and those with qi-blood deficiency.

Besides, clinically it is necessary to distinguish morning glory seed from the seeds of moonflower, merremia sibirica, calystegia hederacea, water spinach, and quamoclit coccinea in order to avoid medical errors since they look like each other.

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