Scirpus Fluviatilis (River Bulrush, San Leng)

Bolboschoenus fluviatilisScirpus fluviatilis, also known as River Bulrush in common name and San Leng in Mandarin, is a popular circulation-activating and stasis-removing Chinese herb that is particularly used to reduce flatulence, relieve stagnant Qi, and remove abdominal masses in gynecology. Clinically scirpus and White Turmeric Root (Curcuma zedoaria, E Zhu) are often combined together since they are in a mutually beneficial relationship. If put them in the framework of Western medicine, the corresponding disease names would be coronary heart disease, hemiplegia after stroke, urolithiasis, malignant tumors, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, and so on. The medicinal part of this herb is the dried tubers. When it comes to its Chinese name, it actually include 2 main marsh plants in 2 different families – Scirpus fluviatilis in the family Cyperaceae and Sparganium stoloniferum in the family Sparganiaceae. People in China often get them mixed up since they share the same name and similar healing abilities in herbal remedies. In comparison, the scirpus’s spherical tubers are much softer in texture but second in healing properties.

What is scirpus fluviatilis (River bulrush)?

Medicinally it refers to the tubers of Scirpus fluviatilis (Torr.) A.Gray, which is a member in the sedge family. Hence, this herb is also called Scirpus Rhizome. And synonyms of this aquatic plant include Schoenoplectus fluviatilis and Bolboschoenus fluviatilis. It is usually dug in autumn. After that, it still needs to remove stems and leaves, clean with water, cut off the fibrous roots, and dry them in the sun or by the fire.

Scirpus fluviatilis is a perennial herb. Rhizome develops horizontally and it is often inflated and with single or occasionally more than one branch. At the end of the rhizome comes a tuber that is 2 to 4cm long, 1.5 to 3cm in diameter, dark brown, sharp at both ends, and light and bubble-like in texture. Tall and stout stalk is upright, smooth, from 70 to 150cm in height, and in the shape of prism with sharp edges. Alternative leaves are 20 to 30cm long, 6 to 10mm wide, in the shape of narrow strip, and with entire margin, acuminate apex, and sheath-like clasping base. It blooms in summer and inflorescence is complex spikes. Most spikes gather at the top of stem and form sessile-umbrella-like clusters; long, round spikelets are about 1cm; awn-like glume is oblong, slightly membranous, and with cute apex; stamens are 3 in number and with linear or oblong anthers; pistil is with long 2-lobed style. Achenes are triangular obovate and brown. Habitat is swamp. In China, it is distributed in Northeast, Hebei, Shanxi, Inner Mongolia, Xinjiang, Jiangsu, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Taiwan, Guangdong, Guizhou, and Sichuan.

Scirpus health benefits

As mentioned above, scirpus is frequently paired with White Turmeric Root in a clinical context. This is simply because ancient physicians in China have found that these two herbs could supplement each other. That’s to say, on the basis of the common healing properties, scirpus is particularly good at removing blood stasis while White Turmeric Root is better at relieving stagnant Qi. And here are some clinical cesearch records for your reference as follows:

a) 35 cases of coronary heart disease were ever treated with compound scirpus injection, 2ml each time, twice a day. And the results showed a 82.8% efficacy;

b) 22 cases of hemiplegia after stroke were ever treated with the herbal formula that contains ingredients of scirpus, zedoary, Danshen (Salvia Miltiorrhiza), Chuan Xiong (Lovage Root), Di Long (Lumbricus), etc. Generally the patients could began to move the limbs affected by stroke 7 days after the oral administration and get out of bed and walk for the first time with the help of a stick within 2 to 4 weeks and meanwhile the upper limb function will be also restored;

c) 100 cases of urinary tract stones were ever treated with Hua Yu Niao Shi Tang, which consists of scirpus, zedoary, Chi Shao (Red Peonies), Tao Ren (Peach Seed), and so on, 1 days a course, interval of 3 days required after each medication. And 73 cases were cured and 14 cases were improved. The total efficiency was 87%.

Modern pharmacological actions of scirpus

1) Its water extract can cause a prolonged thrombin clotting time (TCT) on human fibrin;
2) Its decoction can significantly inhibit platelet aggregation and meanwhile reduce blood viscosity;
3) It can significantly prolong the plasma thrombin time and activated partial thromboplastin time with kaolin as activator;
4) It can prevent thrombosis in vitro, extend thrombus formation time, shorten the length of thrombus, reduce the weight of thrombus, and shorten euglobulin time;
5) Its decoction has excitatory function on isolated rabbit uterine.

Sample scirpus recipes on herbal remedies

According to the record in “Chinese Pharmacopoeia” (2010 version), it is acrid and bitter in flavor and neutral in nature. It acts on meridians of liver and spleen. Normal functions are getting rid of blood stasis, promoting the circulation of qi, and removing food retention to relieve pain. Basic scirpus uses and indications include abdominal mass, amenorrhea due to blood stasis, and upper abdominal pain, bloating, and fullness in dyspepsia. Recommended scirpus dosage is from 4.5 to 9 gram in decoction.

1) San Leng Cao Jian from Qian Jin Yi Fang (Supplement to Golden Prescriptions). It is decocted with water first, thickened in copper pan again, and drunk with wine to treat a lump in the abdomen.

2) San Leng Wan from Yi Xue Qie Wen (Pulse-taking and Interrogation on Medical Science). It is combined with Da Huang (rhubarb), Peng Sha (sodium borate), Gan Qi (Resina Toxicodendri), and Ba Dou (Croton Seed) to make pills for the purpose of removing all sorts of stagnations and abdominal mass.

3) San Leng Jian Wan from Ji Sheng Fang (Life-saving prescriptions). It is formulated with Curcuma zedoaria, Yuan Hua (Genkwa Flower), and Qing Pi (Orange Rind) to cure absence of menses and a hard mass that is as big as a cup below the belly.

4) San Leng Wan from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is joined with Mu Xiang (Costus), Nao Sha (sal ammoniac), Genkwa Flower, and Croton Seed to heal intraabdominal mass in a postpartum woman.

Scirpus side effects and contraindications

Scirpus fluviatilis is known for its effect on removing blood stasis, which inevitably will increase menstrual flow at the same time. As a result, it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy, skipped periods caused by anemia, and a very heavy flow. Besides, TCM wise it should not be used in cases of damaged kidney-yang, Qi deficiency, and chronic bleeding.


a) Zhong Cao Yao Tong Xun (Journal of Chinese Herbal Medicine), 1978; (8):27;
b) Si Chuan Zhong Yi (Sichuan Chinese Medicine), 1990; 8(2):13;
c) Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi (Chinese journal of modern developments in traditional medicine), 1996; 10(3):183;

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