Peppergrass seeds, also known as pepperwort or peppercress seed and Ting Li Zi in mandarin, are one of essential Chinese herbs that can remove heat from lung to relieve asthma. In the words of modern medicine, it is a leading drug for upper respiratory infection, bronchitis, emphysema, precordial pain, and other diseases that are characterized by coughing, phlegm, asthma, or accompanied with edema. In addition, many ancient physicians have found creative applications about this herb, which clinically can yield extraordinary results in the treatment of scrofula, gastritis, amenorrhea, and more. Now pharmacological studies confirm that it has significant antitussive, antiasthmatic, cardiotonic, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory effects.
What is peppergrass?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the mature seeds of Lepidium apetalum Willd. (Du Xing Cai) or Lepidium virginicum L. (Virginian peppercress), which are members in the mustard family, Brassicaceae. Besides, the seed of Descurainia sophia (L.) Webb ex Prantl (Sisymbrium sophia) is believed with the same medicinal uses. For that reason, Descurainia sophia seed is also named “Nan Ting Li Zi”. Other common names of it include Semen Lepidii, Tingli Seed, Lepidium Seed, Pepperweed seed, Tansymustard Seed, and more. In China lepidium apetalum is mainly produced in the provinces of Hebei, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, and Jilin. Its whole plants are usually collected in summer when the fruits are ripe. After that, dry them in the sun, remove the coating from the seed by rubbing it, and get rid of the impurities. Medicinally it is used raw or fried.
Lepidium apetalum is an annual or biennial herb, 5 to 30cm in height. Stems are erect or with many branches from the base and covered with white, tiny capitate hairs; lepidium virginicum is an annual or biennial herb, 20 to 50cm high. Stems are erect, single, and with cylindrical glandular hairs on surface. It branches in the upper part and the branch is sparsely pubescent or nearly hairless; descurainia sophia is an annual or biennial herb, 20 to 80cm high. Whole plant is gray. Stems are erect, branched in the upper part, densely pubescent, and with vertical spindle groove.
Lepidium apetalum seed contains sinigrin, fatty oil, protein, and carbohydrates.
From the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine, peppergrass seeds’ main health benefits are to descend Qi and promote water metabolism. Thus, it treats dyspnea due to phlegm obstructing the lung, cough caused by phlegm and fluid retention, edema, etc. Today lung abscess has been very rare in the city and clinically antibiotics are the regular remedy for yellow sputum in pulmonary bronchitis caused by bacterial infection. It seems that it is useless these days. On the contrary, it plays a more important role now in those antibiotic-resistant patients who suffer from chronic infections with yellow sputum white sputum, such as chronic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, chronic bronchiectasis, and the like. After all, clinically peppergrass seed and Sang Bai Pi (mulberry bark) are the most frequently used two that clear lung and eliminate phlegm.
As a matter of fact, these two herbs often occur in pair. The reason for the combination is twofold: both of them can purge the lung to calm panting and induce diuresis to alleviate edema, plus they supplement each other since they have their own respective advantages. Specifically, mulberry bark is of sweet cold nature and with moderate healing properties. It is good at clearing lung heat and descending lung fire. So, it is more fore lung-heat induced cough, asthma, yellow sputum, and skin edema; peppergrass seed has more powerful healing properties, focusing on purging pathogenic water and phlegm in lung. This makes it a particularly appropriate medication for sleeplessness and dyspnea due to prosperous pathogen. What’s more, it is with much stronger ability of alleviating water retention so that it is also used for the treatment of distention, pleural effusion, and ascites.
Modern pharmacological actions of peppergrass
1) Its extract can increase the tonus of the muscle of the heart, enhance myocardial contractility, slow down heart rate, increase the output of a weak heart, and reduce venous pressure;
2) It has diuretic effect;
3) The benzyl glucosinolate contained has broad-spectrum antibacterial activity. That’s to say, it has antibacterial effect on 20 kinds of fungi like yeast and dozens of other strains;
4) At very low doses it still has significant anti-cancer effect.
Sample peppergrass recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia has made it clear that peppergrass seeds are acrid, bitter, and extremely cold. It goes to meridians of lung and bladder. Vital functions are purging the lung’s pathogenic fire to relieve asthma and inducing diuresis to alleviate edema. Prime peppergrass uses and indications include retention of phlegm-dampness in the lungs, dyspnea and cough with excessive sputum, fullness and discomfort in chest and hypochondrium, inability to lay flat, pleural fluid, ascitic fluid, difficult urination, and heart disease associated with pulmonary edema. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 9 grams in decoction. And it can be used in pills and powder as well.
1) Ting Li Da Zao Xie Fei Tang from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is coupled with Da Zao (Jujube Fruit) to buffer its ferocious properties to treat wheezing and sleeplessness caused by phlegm-drool congestion;
2) Ji Jiao Li Huang Wan from “Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer”. It is combined with Fang Ji (Stephania Tetrandra), Jiao Mu (Zanthoxyli Semen), and Da Huang (rhubarb) to cure abdominal dropsy due to stagnant dampness-heat;
3) Da Xian Xiong wan from Shang Han Lun (Treatise on Cold Pathogenic Diseases). It is formulated with Xing Ren (almonds), rhubarb, and Mang Xiao (Glauber’s Salt) to heal chest bind, pleural effusion, and abdominal edema;
4) Ting Li San from Shi Yi De Xiao Fang (Effective Formulas from Generations of Physicians). It is ground into powder to treat coughing up blood and pus due to lung obstruction, inability to lie flat due to asthma;
5) Han Gao Wan from Qie Zhong Fang (Prescriptions in Small Suitcase). It is matched with Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome), Bei Mu (Fritillaria Bulb), and jujube fruit to cure cough.
Clinical research of peppergrass
a) It is important in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Thus, it is often used to treat heart failure. For example, Qian Xin Shuan, literally cardiac suppository, consists of peppercress, Huang Qi (Astragalus Root), Chi Shao (Red Peonies), etc. can be used to treat congestive heart failure. And the total effective rate was 91.1 %;
b) Peppercress lipid-lowering capsules, composed of peppercress, Shan Zha (Hawthorn Berry), Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), etc., treats hyperlipidemia. And the curative effect is definite.
c) It can be used to treat tuberculous exudative pleurisy and the total effective rate was 100%.
Peppergrass seeds side effects and contraindications
It was ever reported that peppergrass seeds could cause allergic reaction, in which the clinical manifestations were generalized papules accompanied with itching, occasional anaphylactic shock, initially chest tightness, suffocation, nausea and vomiting, palpitation, followed by pruritus, restlessness, rash covered in neck, chest and abdomen, pale lips, cold sweat, difficulty breathing, decreased heart sound, and lowered blood pressure. Accordingly, the patients should be given anti-allergic and anti-shock therapy. And in the mild case the symptoms will be gone after the medication has been stopped.
a) Zhong Yi Yao Xue Bao (Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Materia Medica), 1992; 2:79;
b) Yi Xue Yan Jiu Tong Xu (Medical Research Communications), 1999; 9:9;
c) Hu Nan Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Hunan Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1993; 4:46.