Phragmites communis, or phragmites australis, is an impressive Chinese herb with high food and medicinal value. In China there is an old saying that goes “the consumption of rhizoma phragmitis drink in spring and mung bean soup in summer can help live a long, healthy life.” No doubt this is an accurate portrayal of what phragmites is capable of. The main medicinal parts of this herb are its roots (Lu Gen) and stems (Wei Jing), which have very similar medicinal properties since they come from the same plant. If a closer look is taken, traditionally they put emphasis on slightly different medicinal uses – the root is good at helping produce saliva and slake thirst while the stem is adept at clearing lung heat. As a matter of fact, medicinally the stem is often replaced with the root since it is absent at the pharmacy. For the same reason, phragmites communis root is the focus here.
What is phragmites communis?
Medicinally it refers to the fresh or dried rhizomes of Phragmites communis Trin., which is a plant in the family Gramineae. Other names of this herb include Cane, Common Reed, Flag Pole, Roseau Cane, Giant Reed, Reed Rhizome, Giant Reed grass, Rhizoma Phragmitis, Roseau, Yellow Cane, and so on. In China it is widely distributed throughout the country. For medicinal purpose it can be harvested all through the year. After the digging, it needs to remove buds, fibrous roots and membranous leaves. Usually it is used fresh or dried.
Phragmites is a tall perennial herb, which can grow to 1 to 3 meters. Stout underground stems grow transversely, with hollow internodes and buds on nodes. Stems are erect and hollow. Leaves are alternate and 2 rows; sheath is cylindrical and ligule is hairy; blades are flat, 15 to 45cm in length, 1 to 3.5cm in width, and with rough edges. Spica arrange into large panicles, which are apical, 20 to 40cm long, slightly drooping, and with white pubescence in the lower stem axillary. Flower is bisexual, with stamens 3, pistil 1, style 2, and pinnate stigma. Fruit is oval, with separated palea. Flowering and fruit time is from July to October. Phragmites communis habitat includes shore and shallow water of river and pond.
Carbohydrates contained in Phragmites australis rhizomes have a variety of immunocompetent polysaccharides compounds like Xylan. In addition, it still contains asparamide, betaine, coixol, tricin, taraxerol, arabinose, vitamin B1, B2, C, protein, fat, and so on.
Phragmites communis health benefits
When it comes to quench your thirst and get rid of dry mouth, phragmites is truly one of the best herbs you should choose. Dry mouth refers to consciously insufficient fluid in mouth, which is one of important symptoms and signs in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to make a differential diagnosis. The reason for dry mouth and thirst are twofold – weakened body resistance and excessive pathogen. No matter either of them causes this symptom, it always involves the pathological mechanism of insufficient yin. As a result, phragmites australis tea or extract can offer the relief to the dry mouth.
Sun Simiao, a famous pharmacologist in Tang Dynasty, ever formulated a really simple but effective herbal prescription called Mai Dong Lu Gen Tang (Ophiopogon and Carbohydrates Combination), which has impressive preventive and therapeutic effects on excessive sweating, dizziness, dry throat, annoy, and constipation. And there were also clinical reports that ophiopogon and carbohydrates based formulas could significantly reduce a variety of symptoms after radiation treatment, including dry mouth, loss of appetite, inhibition of defecation and others.
Modern pharmacological actions of phragmites australis
1. It exhibits antipyretic, sedative, analgesic, hypotensive, hypoglycemic, and antioxidative and estrogen-like effects;
2. It inhibits β-hemolytic streptococcus;
3. Coixol contained inhibits skeletal muscle;
4. Tricin contained has relaxant effect on the intestine.
Selected phragmites australis herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica thinks that it is sweet in taste and cold in properties. It covers meridians of lung, stomach and bladder. Main functions are removing heat to promote salivation, relieving restlessness and arresting vomiting, diuresis, and promoting eruption. Prime phragmites communis uses and indications include polydipsia due to fever, vomiting caused by stomach heat, lung-heat induced cough, spitting pus in pulmonary abscess, heat strangury, measles, and puffer fish toxin. Recommended dosage is from 15 to 30 grams in dried herb (or 60 to 120 grams in fresh herb) in decoction.
1. Wu Zhi Yin from Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases (Wen Bing Tiao Bian). It fresh juice is mixed with ophiopogon tuber juice, pear juice, chufa juice and lotus root juice to cure fever-induced body fluid impairment, vexation heat and thirst.
2. Lu Gen Yin Zi from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). Its fresh root is matched with Zhu Ru (Bamboo Shavings), Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome), etc. to stop vomiting due to stomach heat.
3. Sang Ju Yin from Wen Bing Tiao Bian. It is combined with Sang Ye (mulberry leaf), Ju Hua (chrysanthemum), Xing Ren (Apricot Seed), etc. to treat wind-heat cough.
4. Wei Jing Tang from Qian Jin Fang. It is formulated with Yi Yi Ren (Coix Seed) and Dong Gua Ren (Winter Melon Seeds), etc. for the treatment of vomiting pus in pulmonary abscess.
Phragmites communis side effects and contraindications
Phragmites australis seems safe to be consumed. And to date no known drug interactions and side effects were reported. TCM wise it is considered as cold in nature. Hence, it shouldn’t be used in the pattern of deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach.