In different people’s eyes, pulsatilla (Bai Tou Weng) presents different avatars to them. Funny fellows may see an old man with white hair; gardeners may see a beautiful spirit and want to fringe their courtyard with this valued ornamental plant; practitioners of homeopathic remedies may see the medicinal part and apply it for a number of diseases. And it is enlisted in so many Chinese herbal formulas that it is long ago deemed as one of the 50 essential Chinese herbs. No matter for what purposes, this is one of impressive herbs that is worth your time to study or just giving it a glimpse.
What is pulsatilla?
It is not a single herb, instead referring to a range of similar plants. Basically it refers to the plants of genus Pulsatilla, which is viewed as a subgenus under the genus Anemone sometimes. Furthermore, it has a variety of different names for this specific group, such as magnoliid dicot genus, pasqueflower (pasque flower), and family Ranunculaceae – crowfoot family and buttercup family. In addition, the word itself also means the shaking of a flower in the wind. Statistically, there are 33 different species in the world, such as Pulsatilla chinensis, Pulsatilla nigricans, Pulsatilla patens, and Pulsatilla vulgaris, etc.
This herb is one of herbaceous perennials, with conical root, longitudinal grain, densely white pubescent throughout, and 10 to 40 cm in height. It has 4 to 5 pieces of basal leaves, 3-sect or ternate sometimes. Solitary terminal bell-shaped flowers is bright yellow in color, mostly stamens, with 3 to 4 cm stem and 6 petal-like sepals, which are in two whorls, bluish violet in color, and densely white pubescent. Blooming period is from March to May. The fruits are achene, clustered into head shape, styles persistent, and white haired, which mimics an old man with white hair so that it is also called as white-headed man (literally) in China.
The root rather than the whole herb is used medicinally in TCM. It is long cylindrical or conical, slightly curved or twisted and slightly flat, 5 to 20cm long, and 0.5 to 2cm in diameter. The skin is yellowish-brown or dark brown, with irregular vertical wrinkles or longitudinally furrowed, and 2 to 3 branching in the middle sometimes. The caducous cortex makes the yellow xylem exposed easily, very often rotten into pits, and lengthways prominent netted pattern. The root head is slightly expanded, forked sometimes, several layers of remnant sheath-shaped petiole and spire, and densely villous. The texture is hard and crisp, with slightly flat cross section, yellowish white in color, sometimes with gap between cortex and xylem. It is slightly odorous and bitter in taste. Thick and solid one is preferred medicinally.
What is it used for?
Basically, this herb is widely used as ornamentals and the root is used medicinally.
As mentioned previously, it is one of valued ornamentals thanks to its elegantly 3-sect or ternate leaves, solitary terminal bell-shaped flowers, and interesting image of white haired head. It is widely being cultivated in gardens, terraces, roads, and glades. Also, it is an ideal ground cover plant because of its early blooming and dwarf.
In the west, this is one of traditional medicinal herbs of Native Americans and initial ingredient in homeopathic treatments. Anemone is capable of curing a number of conditions. According to documents, it was widely used for both male and female reproductive health like PMS and epididymitis. And it was also used to induce abortions and childbirth by Blackfoot Indians. Else, its plant extracts are able to tranquilize the mind and relieve a cough.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view, this herb is bitter and cold in nature and covers meridians of stomach, liver, and large intestine. Main functions are to remove heat and eliminate toxins, clear blood heat and relieve diarrhea, and dry dampness and kill parasites. Main usage and indications are amebic dysentery or bloody flux due to excess fire toxicity, nosebleed, internal hemorrhoids with massive bleeding, unpleasant vaginal discharge, pruritus vulvae, swelling sores, and scrofula. Regular dosage is 9 to 15 grams in decoction.
And main related Chinese herbal formulas are as follows.
(1). Bai Tou Weng Tang (Pulsatilla Decoction), from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Medical Treasures of the Golden Chamber), is primarily designed for amebic dysentery or acute dysentery with burning like fire in anus, sore stomach, and frequent bowel movement urge keeping people to go to toilet but no stool to come out. Other herbal ingredients are Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome), Huang Bai (Amur Cork Tree Bark, Phellodendron), and Qin Pi (Bark of Korean Ash Branch);
(2). Bai Tou Weng Wan (Pulsatilla Pill), from Sheng Hui Fang (Sagacious Benevolence Formulary), is mainly for recurrent dysentery, which keeps diarrhea day and night and abdominal cold pain or stomach cramps. Other individual herbs are Huang Dan (Minium), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), Lang Dang Zi (Chinese Henbane), and Bai Fan (Alum); Another version, from Sheng Ji Zhong Lu (The Complete Record of Holy Benevolence), is for consumption due to cold deficiency, dysentery, and postpartum vaginal discharge. Other accompanied herbs are Ai Ye (Mugwort Leaf, Moxa) and Mi Cu (Rice Vinegar);
(3). Bai Tou Weng Jia Gan Cao E Jiao Tang (Pulsatilla Decoction Combined with Licorice and Donkey-Hide Glue), from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Medical Treasures of the Golden Chamber), is a formula exclusively for extreme deficiency due to dysentery after childbirth. Other herbs include Gan Cao (Licorice Root), E Jiao (Donkey-Hide Glue, Gelatin), Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome), Huang Bai (Amur Cork Tree Bark, Phellodendron), and Qin Pi (Bark of Korean Ash Branch).
Possible side effects and contraindications
Leaves and stems in family Ranunculaceae are poisonous because of the ingredient cardiogenic toxins and oxytoxins. In other words, it may slow down the heart beat. If overdose is taken mistakenly, symptoms will follow, such as diarrhea, low blood pressure, throwing up, unconsciousness, and eclampsia. And pregnant or lactating women should avoid it as well. Else, TCM-wise, pulsatilla should not be used for those who are suffering from diarrhea or dysentery in deficient and cold nature. Stick to above-mentioned principles will protect you from using this herb the wrong way. So, always keep this in your mind please.