According to Evidence based medicine (EBM), rhinoceros horn or Xi Jiao has no medicinal value at all. This conclusion is almost completely opposite to what traditional medicine professed about this herb. That’s to say, it has been scientifically proven ineffective no matter it is used as an aphrodisiac or a drug for fever and convulsions. In addition, rhino horn is not non-substitutable either even in Traditional Chinese Medicine. In fact, the related entries had been officially removed from The Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (PPRC) since 1993. It means this herb goes away completely from then on. The following conclusion on this herb from the perspective of the self-organizing system TCM might also be outdated and offending. However, the words below don’t mean to be offensive to anyone since this is more an academic discussion among TCM practitioners. So, please take them with a pinch of salt if you feel that way.
Medicinally rhinoceros horn, also known as Xi Jiao, comes from both Asian and African rhinoceros. Traditionally the Asian one is believed with a higher medicinal value. As a Chinese herb with an extremely cold property, it was once considered as one of the few lifesaving drugs people suffering from severe fever could rely on. As you know, even now lack of medical technology is ubiquitous throughout all poor countries, let alone in ancient China. Statistically, there are a lot of old herbal prescriptions containing this herb, which reflects in part that the population of rhino was really large then. Unfortunately, poaching rhinos has essentially made it an endangered species today. To save endangered rhinos and alleviate the shortage, buffalo horns have been used as its substitute since the 1990s.
What is rhinoceros horn?
It refers to the horns of Rhinoceros unicornis L., R. sondaicus Desmarest, R. sumatrensis Cuvier, R. bicornis L., R. simus Cottoni and other species in the family Rhinocerotidae. When consumed in a medicinal manner it should be split, soaked in hot water, taken out, sliced with a special knife, and dried. In addition, it is often used in the form of powder as well.
When it comes to medicinal rhinoceros horns, they are commonly referred to as the horns from Asian rhinoceros. They are characterized by smaller size (all of them are at 30cm long or so), oval chassis (like a watermelon seed or turtle back, slightly narrower at one end and slightly wider at another end), “bamboo pattern” on longitudinal section, “millet grain pattern” on cross-section, and faint scent. But their weights range from 0.5 to 10kg.
Main chemical constituents are keratin. Besides, it still contains other proteins, peptides and free amino acids, guanidine derivatives, sterols and the like. Among the amino acid composition of keratin, cystine accounts for 8.7%. 3 kinds of basic amino acids are histidine, lysine, and arginine.
Rhinoceros horn benefits
It is an age-old medicine for people who live throughout the Middle East and the Far East. There it is hailed as a “panacea” for vomiting, chicken pox and other diseases. In the Middle East, rhino horn is conventional item for a young lad’s decoration and self-defense weapon. Allegedly, rhinoceros horn price there is staggering, e.g. a pretty dagger made of it is worth twelve thousand U.S. dollars there. It is also one of major causes why rhinos are endangered. For that reason, in the past century many types of rhinos, black or white, have been hunted extensively. It is said that now only 20 R. sondaicus Desmarest survive worldwide.
Even though now it is not used as a medicine any more. Knowing a bit more about the medical facts about rhinos can be good for you. From the perspective of Chinese herbal medicine, it works wonders for all blood poisoning diseases, e.g. blood-poisoning induced skin diseases like psoriasis. What’s more, less anti-virus blood cells may lead to the occurrence of cancer. Thus it can be seen that toxic in the blood is terrible. As mentioned above, this is a keratin-like substance and a derivative of hair substances, containing keratin, calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, tyrosine, and the like. Hence，it is often carved into rhinoceros horn cup by artisans in order to let its medicinal ingredient dissolve into the wine. By doing so, it can help cure diseases and improve health.
However, what calls for special attention is that it has been proven by many modern researches that it has no anti-cancer properties at all.
Modern pharmacological actions
1) An impact on heart and blood vessels. Its water decoction has cardiotonic effect on normal or feeble isolated heart of toads and rabbits. And it initially increases, then decreases, finally continues increasing the blood pressure of dogs and rabbits. This change may be the result of combined efforts of heart and blood vessels. In addition, it first contracts briefly and then expands the lower extremity perfusion in toads;
2) Antipyretic effects. Both rhinoceros and buffalo horns show no antipyretic effects to E. coli induced fever in rabbits. Similarly, buffalo horn injection and suspensions have no obvious antipyretic effect to milk-induced fever in rabbits;
3) Other effects. Trotter’s nail and horn of rhinoceros, cow, and sheep have excitatory effect to isolated intestines of rabbit. And they initially reduce the total number of white blood cells in rabbits and then give a sharp rise. Besides, they show no inhibition to Staphylococcus, in vivo and in vitro;
4) From the preliminary test results of isolated heart, isolated intestine, rabbit blood pressure, fever reduction, blood picture, inhibition of the growth of bacteria, some people draw the conclusion that all of items mentioned above basically play a similar role medicinally;
5) After soaked and boiled with saline, it first shows a brief inhibition and then an excitatory effect on isolated frog heart, featuring increased amplitude but nearly unchanged heart rate. The intravenous injection in rabbits can cause rise in blood pressure, vasodilation in ear, excitement to isolated rabbit intestine and uterus, reduction to E. coli induced fever, and slight mydriasis. 0.5 ml intravenous injection of 30% in mice could cause spasms, irregular breathing, and proptosis. But the above symptoms will disappear within 5 minutes, followed by up to 5 – 6 hours of sleep.
Sample rhino’s horn recipes on herbal remedies
“The National Herbal Compendium” believes that it is bitter, sour, and salty in flavor and cold in nature. Vital functions are removing heat to cool blood, relieve internal heat, and arresting convulsion. Essential rhinoceros horn uses and indications include fever-induced coma, delirium, rash, vomiting, and epistaxis. Recommended dosage is from 3 to 6 Fen in juice and powder or from 0.5 to 2 Qian in decoction.
1) Shen Xi Dan from Wen Re Jing Wei (Compendium of Epidemic Febrile Diseases). It is formulated with (aconite), Shi Chang Pu (Acorus Gramineus), Huang Qin (Scutellaria), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia Glutinosa), Jin Yin Hua (Honeysuckle Flower), Lian Qiao (Forsythia), etc. to treat summer epidemics caused by warm and hot pathogens, spasms, mania, delirium, spots, and so on;
2) Qing Gong Tang from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases). It is combined with Xuan Shen (Scrophularia), Lian Xin (Lotus Plumule), Zhu Ye (Folium Bambusae), etc. to cure Taiyin febrile syndrome, coma and delirium;
3) Xi Jiao San from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is matched with Yin Chen Hao (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), Scutellaria, Zhi Zi (Gardenia), Sheng Ma (Cimicifuga), and Mang Xiao (Glauber’s Salt) to heal fulminant jaundice, irritability and fidget, and red painful eyes;
4) Xi Jiao Di Huang Tang from Qian Jin Fang (Thousand golden essential prescriptions). It is joined with Rehmannia, Shao Yao (Peony Root), and Mu Dan Pi (Tree Peony) to treat typhoid fever and febrile disease, blood amassment, epistaxis, vomiting blood, blood stasis inside, yellowish complexion, and black stool;
5) Xi Jiao Xiao Du Yin from Qi Fang Lei Bian (Collections of Incredible Prescriptions). It is equipped with Niu Bang Zi (Burdock), Jing Jie (Schizonepeta), Fang Feng (Radix Saposhnikoviae), Scutellaria, and Gan Cao (licorice root), to heal infantile erysipelas.
Rhinoceros horn side effects and contraindications
Lei Gong Pao Zhi Lun (Lei’s Treatise on Processing of Drugs) says that rhinoceros horn should not be taken by pregnant women; the Ben Cao Jing Ji Zhu (Collection of Commentaries on the Classic of the Materia Medica) says that it dislikes stone-like omphalia; Ben Cao Gang Mu (The Compendium of Materia Medica) says that it dislikes aconite; Ben Cao Jing Shu (Classic Theory of Materia Medica) says that it shouldn’t be used in cases of restlessness in Yin syndrome and smallpox accompanied with Qi deficiency and no high heat.