Notopterygium (Qiang Huo)

Rhizoma et Radix NotopterygiiNotopterygium root, also known as Qiang Huo, comes with a long history of medicinal application. First found in the “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, notopterygium was listed under the item Angelica Root (Du Huo). That’s to say, these two Chinese herbs were considered to be the same thing then. And this belief didn’t change until the Yao Xing Ben Cao (Materia Medica of Medicinal Properties) was published in Tang Dynasty. Medicinally this root herb is one of the main raw materials for the manufacture of Chinese Traditional Patent Medicine for joint pain relief and rheumatoid arthritis treatment.

What is notopterygium?

Considered as a relative of the angelica species, Notopterygium is native to East Asia. Medicinally it mainly refers to the dried roots and rhizome of Notopterygium incisum Tncisum Ting ex H.Chang or Notopterygium forbesii Boiss. These two plants with medicinal roots are members in the family Umbelliferae. Hence, other names of these medicinal plants with rhizomes include Rhizoma seu Radix Notopterygii, Notopterygium Rhizome and Root, Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii, incised notopterygium rhizome, and more. In China Notopterygium incisum is mainly produced in Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, and Gansu and Notopterygium forbesii is basically produced in Sichuan, Qinghai, Shaanxi, and Henan. It is usually harvested in spring and autumn. It needs to remove fibrous roots and soil before the drying and slicing. It is normally used raw.

Notopterygium incisum is a perennial herb, 60 to 150cm in height. Stout rhizome is in the shape of cylinder or irregular lumps, dark brown to reddish brown, and with withered leaf sheaths at the top and special aroma. Erect stems are cylindrical, hollow, and with lavender surface and vertical straight stripes. Basal leaves and leaves in lower part of stem have a long handle, which extend into membranous sheath from the base to both sides; leaf blade is ternate-3-pinnate and with 3-4 pairs leaflets; subsessile leaves in upper part of stem simplify into sheath. Acrogenous or axillary compound umbel is 3 to 13cm in diameter; flowers are many and with ovate-triangular calyx teeth; petals are 5, white, obovate, and with obtuse and concave apex. Oblong schizocarp is 4 to 6mm long, about 3mm wide and the main ridge extends into 1mm wings in width. Bloom time is from July to September and fruiting time is from August to October.

Notopterygium incisum root contains coumarin compounds (isoimperatorin, cnidilin, notopterol, bergaptol, nodakenetin, columbiananine, imperatorin, marmesin, etc.), phenolic compounds (p-hydroxyphenethyl anisate, ferulic acid, etc.), sterols (β-sitosterol glucoside, β-sitosterol), volatile oil (α-thujene, α, β-pinene, β-ocimene, γ-terpinene, limonene, 4-terpinenol, bornyl acetate, apiol, guaiol, benzyl benzoate etc.), fatty acids (methyl tetradecanoate, 12 methyltetradecanoic acid methyl ester, 16-methylhexadecanoate, etc.), amino acids (aspartic acid, glutamic acid, arginine, leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, phenylalanine, methionine, etc.), sugars (rhamnose, fructose, glucose, sucrose, etc.), and phenethyl ferulate.

Notopterygium root benefits

In terms of dispelling wind and eliminating dampness, there are many qualified Chinese herbs. Therefore, comparing notopterygium with its peers with similar healing properties would help us to understand this medicinal plant better.

Both notopterygium root and Angelica Root (Du Huo) can clear wind-damp and improve joint pain and stiffness. But they have their own strengths and weaknesses respectively. The former is with stronger nature and flavor, which makes it possess better antipyretic effect through sweating and ascending potency. For that reason, it is an ideal herb for spinal diseases and pain in the upper body and the back of the head. In comparison, angelica root is with descending potency, which endows it with a better healing power on rheumatism of lower body and joint pain in foot, lower back, leg, and shin. As a result, they are often used in pair medicinally since they are highly complementary.

Both notopterygium and Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi) are good at expelling wind and removing cold. But that former prefers the wind-damp in head, neck, and back while Gui Zhi is better to deal with wind-damp in shoulders, arms, and fingers.

Bothe notopterygium and Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae) are specialized at expelling wind. But the former has a stronger effect than Fang Feng.

Modern pharmacological actions of notopterygium root

1. Its injection has analgesic and antipyretic effects. In addition, it has inhibition on skin fungus and brucellosis;
2. Its soluble portion has experimental anti-arrhythmic effect;
3. Its volatile oil also has anti-inflammatory, analgesic and antipyretic effects. And it can resist against pituitrin-induced myocardial ischemia and increase myocardial nutritional blood flow;
4. Its volatile oil still inhibits delayed type hypersensitivity in mice.

Sample notopterygium incisum recipes on herbal remedies

Zhong Guo Yao Dian (Chinese pharmacopoeia) believes that it is acrid and bitter in flavor and warm in nature. It covers meridians of bladder and kidney. Main functions are expelling wind, dispelling cold, removing dampness, and relieving pain. Basic notopterygium uses and indications include headache in wind-cold type common cold, rheumatism, and aching pain in shoulder and back. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams.

1. Qiang Huo Fu Zi Tang from Yi Xue Xin Wu (Medical Revelations). It is combined with Fu Zi (Aconite), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), and Zhi Gan Cao (Honey Fried Licorice Root) to treat brain attacked by foreign cold pathogen, brain pain radiating to teeth, cold limbs, and cooling air from mouth and nose.

2. Jiu Wei Qiang Huo Tang from Ci Shi Nan Zhi (Hard-Won Knowledge). It is formulated with Fang Feng, Xi Xin (Herba Asari), Chuan Xiong (lovage root), etc. to cure wind-cold type external infection accompanied with dampness, chills, fever, no sweat, headache, stiff neck, and sharp joint pain in limbs.

3. Qiang Huo Sheng Shi Tang from Nei Wai Shang Bian Huo Lun (Clarifying Doubts about Injury from Internal and External Causes). It is used together with angelica root, Gao Ben (Rhizoma Ligustici), Fang Feng, etc. to heal exterior wind-damp, headache and painful stiff nape, sour heavy lower back, and whole body joint pain.

4. Juan Bi Tang, also known as notopterygium and turmeric combination, from Bai Yi Xuan Fang (Precisely-selected Prescriptions). It works with Fang Feng, Jiang Huang (Curcuma Longa), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), etc. to end wind-cold-dampness arthralgia in the upper body, pain in joint of shoulder and limbs.

5. Qiang Huo Gong Gao Tang from Shen Shi Yao Han (A Valuable Manual of Ophthalmology). It joints with lovage root, Bai Zhi (Angelica Dahurica), Rhizoma Ligustici, etc. to relief headache caused by wind-cold or wind-damp.

Notopterygium incisum side effects and contraindications

Because notopterygium herb is of strong properties of acrid, nature acridness, aroma, warmness, and dryness, use it with care in the case of yin-blood deficiency and it shouldn’t be used in arthralgia due to blood deficiency. Since overdose of notopterygium root may cause vomiting, those with weak spleen and stomach function should stay away from it. According to the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Shu (Commentary on ‘Shen Nong’s Classic of the Materia Medica), it shouldn’t be used in blood-deficiency headache and whole body joint pain accompanied with chills and fever. Misuse will make it worse since this is interior rather than exterior syndrome.

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