Rhinoceros Horn (Xi Jiao)

xi-jiaoAccording 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 The following conclusion on this herb from the perspective of the self-organizing system TCM might also be outdated and offending.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.

29 thoughts on “Rhinoceros Horn (Xi Jiao)

  1. Ms Hinchcliffe

    Take this reference to rhino horn OFF your website NOW. Have you any idea what agony you are inflicting on the animals to get the horn? The poor creature is almost extinct. Who cares what the benefits to humans are? Surely there are other herbs, substances and roots which are just as effective. For the tally stupid there is viagra.
    I will blacklist this site until this entry is REMOVED. Even to give people the impression it is good for them is sending the WRONG message.

    1. admin Post author

      I have to say, with all due respect to Ms Hinchcliffe, this article is all about the subject of serious academic discussions. In other words, here I merely state a fact about this Chinese herb. My personal view is that a TCM doctor should not shy away from talking about it since this is part of Chinese medicine history. However, as you can see I don’t recommended the use of Rhinoceros Horn in the post. In fact, I wasn’t using it and I will not either in the future.

      1. FCO

        Serious academic discussions?! And you call rhino horn a HERB? You are merely pandering to those who believe the totally unproved crap about the medicinal value of rhino horn.

  2. Annie

    This reference is highly unethical to have on. You should state clearly that rhinos are nearly extinct and that consuming and/or buying any part of them is extremely irresponsible. Reading your article does not indicate your position toward its use, and some people might feel its ok to. I also commend the need to archive, but i think this particular post should be more directive in the sense of ” do not use it”. Thanks for your time.

  3. craig

    I doubt this comment will be seen but any references at all to the benefits of using rhino horn is demonic. Raping a continent by extinguishing one of its big five to prevent vommiting. My God.

  4. George

    Making claims like “it works wonders” certainly sounds like you are promoting the use of Rhino horn. Frankly, I doubt that it’s as great as you make it out to be. It would be nice if you could tone it down at the very least, or better yet, replace some of this with a discussion of alternatives. As it stands, I agree with the other commenters that this post is a problem.

  5. Dr.C

    As a practitioner and as a world citizen, I am angry and disgusted that you have posted information about claimed benefit from rhinoceros horn. The disclaimer is like a prostitute’s skirt, or like disclaimers by cigarette manufacturers: ineffective as a deterrent, and a stimulant to the malignant imagination of those with more money than morals.

    You are rubbing salt in the wound.

    Why don’t you post SUBSTITUTES for rhino keratin instead, if you choose to mention it at all?

    There are plenty of beneficial and available herbs you could have posted in that space.

    “To a blind man, a wink is as good as a nod.”

  6. Stasie

    This site, and this article in particular, provide excellent, objective, and well-sourced information on the topic that would be very difficult to compile independently otherwise. It clearly lends pros, cons, and alternatives to the use of Rhino horn in medicine, and bringing your anger to the comments section without reading the article or considering the value of objectivity and leveraging factual information with mercurial pathos is petty and foolish.
    To the authors, do not be shaken by their dissent.

  7. Sam

    It was very sad to see the passing of one of the last Northern White Rhinoceroses this year. This species is almost certainly doomed to extinction due to its hunting by human beings, and failure to preserve its natural habitat. Anyone who actually reads the entry will know that the author does not actually recommend the use of rhinoceros horn. This substance is occasionally used by very wealthy people who are looking for a miracle cure. They will not find it here.

  8. Ms Hinchcliffe

    Stasie – if you read the article objectively you will see that it is ambivalent.
    e.g – “From the perspective of Chinese herbal medicine, it works wonders for all blood poisoning diseases,”

    “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.”

    There should be no article really except the sentiment “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.”
    And add to that, aphrodisiac or other benefits.
    What it guarantees is agony and death to the animal and almost certain extinction.
    Stasie – Please don’t attempt to sound superior by using such phrases as “mercurial pathos”. No one is impressed. The bottom line is that rhino horn has no medicinal properties at all and the article should start by stating this. Your attempt to insult people is irrelevant in the light of what has happened to the rhinoceros. The article is ambivalent at least where it could make a very clear case for the ugliness of the rhino horn trade.

    To the administrator, if your sole interest in writing this article is for the history of Chinese medicine (of which I am very supportive,) then put it in a separate section all about the history of Chinese Medicine. Presumably there are plenty of other unfortunate examples of animal products which are disproven today.

  9. Ben

    Thank you for including this information on your site. As a TCM practitioner i find your site informative and non biased on the use of a substance that most would not include out of fear, either from promoting people to try and source it or fear of backlash from book burning hippies that want this information buried to satisfy their own self righteousness.

    While i have never used and this product , and i doubt i ever will. I do not doubt that at least some of its medicinal effects are accurate. If it were so ineffective it would not have been hunted to near extinction for any medicinal reasons, also as for “scientific proof” what research company today would publicly release a report saying rhino horn cures cancer , or any other major medical effect, even if their research did prove it to be true.

    Keep up the good work, It is very important that we pass on knowledge for future generations so traditional knowledge does not die out.

  10. Heather

    I can completely understand where all of you are coming from as I am a supporter of rhino conservation, however, as a student, writing a paper on the traditional beliefs and uses of rhino horn and how they are untrue, this is the first site I have found that actually talks about the uses and not just how they are going extinct and it doesn’t work. Yes, it is a problem, yes, it needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately, sweeping it under the rug and just telling people don’t do it makes it very difficult for people to understand why it is a problem.

  11. Jan breukel

    I agree totally and don,t believe this rino horn has any benefits on health. Take the article from the website, it is a total disgrace to nature

  12. Cyd

    I don’t care if it has any benefits at all! What I care about is the destruction of the species, which is happening as we speak. It must stop and you must take any reference to it off your site.

  13. Ken Gray

    BUT, the future may be in cloning and growing petri dish rhino horn without having to kill the animal. Technology is on the brink of creating nonlethal hamburgers. Same could be true for many of the traditional remedies which used parts of now near extinct animals.

  14. Sunny

    I am not FOR killing rhinos. I don’t believe the author is either. Many times, he mentions many studies which have shown no benefits to ancient Chinese claims.

    The issue is the Chinese now have more money, but they are too cheap or can’t afford to buy expensive Western medicine. Rhino horns are relatively cheaper for the Chinese commoner, especially compared to surgery.

    I am not FOR killing rhinos, and an AFFORDABLE synthetic alternative needs to be created. That’s the issue that needs to be solved. Affordability.

  15. Tristan Pelser

    This article needs to be removed or amended IMMEDIATELY!

    Firstly, the author claims that this is about a serious academic discussion, but calls rhino horn a ‘herb’! A herb, my friend, is the leafy green flowering parts of a plant. Does a rhino look like a plant to you?

    Secondly, there is an entire paragraph entitled ‘Modern pharmacological actions’. Here the author cites a few research articles of terrible methodology, all on small mammals or reptilian hearts. You can’t infer human pharmacological action from animals, and also – the research is appalling, and the results are non-existent!

    Keratin, the primary component of rhino horn, human hair, fingernails, and horse’s hooves, has NO active component whatsoever. This has been know for a very long time in modern science. That’s why (surprise, surprise!) there have been NO hints of ANY pharmacological action whatsoever in any “studies” conducted.

    As a South African citizen, I see the results of the rhino horn trade first hand. All an undereducated person has to do is to skim your first paragraph, and then get to the “Rhino horn Benefits” section and think “hmmmm, maybe I’ll try some of that?!”

    Basically, you’re promoting rhino horn use. And anybody who says that she/he is NOT promoting rhino horn use, here’s a few of my favorite quotes:

    “…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.”

    “From the perspective of Chinese herbal medicine, it works wonders for all blood poisoning diseases, e.g. blood-poisoning induced skin diseases like psoriasis.”

    “Essential rhinoceros horn uses and indications include fever-induced coma, delirium, rash, vomiting, and epistaxis. ”
    TO the author:

    Basically, if you’d like to made your article about an academic discussion of the traditional uses of rhino horn (which would be interesting), it is very important that you use the PAST-TENSE to describe how it WAS used.

    Also, since you are talking about the remains of a dead animal which was used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years, it doesn’t make any sense to quote ludicrous modern-day ‘studies’ on toad hearts. If I were you, I’d remove that paragraph entirely.

  16. Corinne

    It is very surprising in this day and age to find any article on the internet which explains anything about medicinal properties of Rhinohorn. Apart from the fact that Rhino horn should absolutely be banned from use, it is interesting that the assumption goes around that this very precious beautiful animal’s horn has been used in TCM as an aphrodisiac and something like viagra. Nothing can be further from the truth and this could be because anybody refuses to publish any information about it’s traditional use. It was never used as an aphrodisiac in TCM. On the contrary it was used (and really hope it still is not used) for the something totally opposite from that. I have an old TCM book which contains info about Rhino horn, even contains info about modern research; NOT an aphrodisiac, but cooling and heat clearing. There are substitutes for rhino horn which are chemically identical. Also Buffalo horn is a good substitute. Water buffalos have gone rogue in Northern Australia. They are not endangered. If you happen to look for an aphrodisiac, Rhino horns are not gonna work, seriously.

  17. Nicole

    For anyone who came here from Google looking for alternative to rhino horn for medicinal use, consider: clean fingernail clippings (no, I’m not joking), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmanniae Radix), Huang Lian (Coptidis Rhizoma), Gou Teng (Uncariae Ramulus cum Uncis), Ban Lan Gen (Radix Isatidis), Chi Shao (Paeoniae Radix rubra), Mu Dan Pi (Cortex Moutan), Dan Shen (Radix Salvia Miltiorrhozae), Jin Yin Hua (Flos Lonicerae), Lian Qiao (Fructus Forsythia), Xuan Shen (Scrophulariae Radix) and Zi Cao (Radix Arnebiae), or even water buffalo or cow horn from an ethical harvester that only gets horns from animals slaughtered for their meat.

    I love TCM, but, as this article says, there’s no reason to use rhino horn anymore. None at all.

  18. Richard

    Very informative, thanks. Please disregard the Nazi’s who want this precious, ancient knowledge to be destroyed. They are like Nazi’s trying to burn all the books written by jews. Yes Rhino’s shouldn’t be poached. Anti-poaching laws should be upheld and any perpetrators found poaching endangered animals should be summarily executed on the spot. However, the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine are a completely separate subject, and this knowledge needs to be preserved.

  19. Anon

    Chinese herbal medicine i.e an unverified, unscientific way of wasting hard earned money. Buddy is your nose a herb? I can cut that off and use it to stop vomiting, shall we try?

    1. Ben

      Ok TCM has 2 Millennia of real world trials, thats not proof for you.
      but a lab test paid for and conducted by the company trying to sell their drug, thats solid evidence?

      1. T.

        Well, you could be doing it wrong for 2000 years.
        Medieval medicine of Western Europe dates back to ancient Greece and today nobody with a clear mind would use it anymore.
        Use your TCM for wellness and its placebo effect and leave the real diseases to medical professionals, who can transplant organs and are able to cure many types of cancer with astonishing rates.
        While TCM people were eradicating rhinoceroses and pangolins, we moneyhungry quacks eradicated Smallpox and “de facto” Polio.

        There is a reason nothing in TCM withstands a clinical trial (by NIH standards).
        If a treatment works…. It becomes EBM…. Like Tu Youyous treatment for malaria, that all TCM people love so much. Only by the scientific method Artemisinin was discovered. Use that on all your TCM and see what sticks. Then TCM might win another nobel price.

        1. Ben

          Fairly obvious from this that you have never had any experience with Traditional medicines. so not too sure why you are on this page.

          Many of The patients that come into our clinics do so as a last resort after the hospital has given up on them, for conditions such as cancer.
          Chinese Medicine looks at cancer( and the entire body ) differently to Western medicine and as such a practitioner that truly understands TCM philosophy has no fear of such a condition, through referrals from other successful patients our clinics in the UK now have a fair number of cancer patients that no longer require treatment and are very much alive, living free from cancer.

          There are also many derivatives of herbs used in TCM that are also being used by pharmaceutical companies.

          The difference and reason that a clinical trial will not be shown in favour of TCM is that you cannot patent a single unmodified herb. It would not be financially viable for a pharmaceutical company to tell you that a herb present in nature, without any of their interference will be able to cure you.

          Also the reason that no one in the Holistic health field ( not just TCM ) mentions cancer, is that it is illegal to claim that you can cure cancer, even if you can you have too be discreet about treating such a condition.

          Everyday i see patients getting over conditions that would be deemed chronic or life threatening. If you truly believe that the pharmaceutical companies are there too help and not just make ridiculous amounts of money then i wish you luck the next time you are unwell, most conditions are just given more and more prescriptions as they age, its a sad affair when a patient comes in to us on more than 20 different pills each day.

          Also I and I believe most people within any health industry hold high regard for surgeons and those who transplant organs, one of my close friends is a heart surgeon at our local hospital and his work is vital, Its the pharmaceutical companies that we in the holistic field have issue with.

          So many herbs are made illegal or deemed ineffective in clinical trials, then derivatives of those same herbs are sold for the same conditions. Over 70% of the drugs in your local pharmacy are derived from herbs.

          oh and in regards to China doing it wrong for 2000 years 🙂 ……..must be why theres so few Chinese people left in the world.

  20. CT

    Thanks for compiling the information and posting on your site. I don’t feel the page in any way encourages the poaching of rhino horn. Rather, it clearly states that the substance has no value as an aphrodisiac or anti-cancer treatment. Knowledge is power.


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