The amazing medicinal uses of Suan Zao Ren, also known as sour jujube seed in English-speaking countries, were recorded very early on the “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, in which this Chinese herb was placed in the top-grade category thanks to the healing properties of settling five Zang viscera, losing weight, and prolonging life. So, do not underestimate this wild fruit that is not eye-catching at all because it may be the one and only medication that can cure the insomnia that has troubled you so long. In Chinese herbal remedies, it nourishes the liver, tranquilizes the heart, calms the mind, and arrests sweating. Today it is often used to treat neurasthenia, irritability, insomnia, nightmares, night sweats, nervousness, and so on. From the point of view of western medicine, it extends the deep sleep hours by impacting the slow-wave sleep (SWS).
What is Suan Zao Ren?
It refers to the dried mature seeds of Ziziphus jujuba Mill. var. spinosa (Bunge) Hu ex H. F. Chou, which is a species in the family Buckthorn, Rhamnaceae. Apparently it is different from the ordinary jujube fruit that is commonly known as Chinese date or red date. And other common names of this herb include Sour Jujube Seed, Semen Ziziphi Spinosae, Spina Date Seed, Suanzaoren, Zao Ren, and the like. It is mainly grown in provinces of Hebei, Shanxi, Liaoning, Henan, Shanxi, Shandong, and Gansu in China. It is usually harvested during late autumn and early winter when the fruits are ripe. And the following steps are to remove the flesh and the jujube pit shells, collect the seeds, and dry in the sun. Medicinally it is normally used raw, or fried. By the way, smash them before the use.
Its plant is a deciduous shrub or small tree, 1 to 3 meters in height. Older branches are brown and shoots are green; branches are with 2 types of thorns. One is in the needle shape and about 2cm long and the other is retroflexed and about 5mm. Leaves are alternate and with very short petiole; stipules are slender and needlelike; blade is elliptic to ovate-lanceolate, 2.5 to 5cm long, 1.2 to 3cm wide, and with acute and obtuse apex, oblique base, and spiny-toothed margin. 2 to 3 small, yellow-green flowers cluster in axil of leaves; pedicels are very short and ovate-triangular; small petals are 5 and alternate with calyx; stamens are 5, alternate with the petals, and slightly longer than the petals; flower disc is 10-lobed; ovary is oval, 2-roomed, buried in the disc, and with short style with 2-lobed stigma. Drupe is nearly spherical, in diameter of 1 to 1.4cm, dark red when ripe, and with obtuse apex and sour taste. Bloom time is from April to May and fruiting time is from September to October. Habitats are sunny or dry hillsides, valleys, hills, plains, roadsides and wasteland. They are resistant to drought and often form a clump of bushes.
Main chemical constituents are alkaloids, sanjoinenine, triterpenoids, flavonoids, 17 kinds of amino acids, a variety of metallic elements, ferulic acid, vitamin C, plant sterols, cyclic adenosine 3′, 5′-monophosphate, and so on. And alkaloids include sanjoinine A (frangufoline), B, D, E (nuciferine), F, G1, G2, Ia (norisocorydine), Ib, K (coclaurine), N-Methylasimilobine (Floribundine), zizyphusine, amphibine D, etc. Triterpenoids include betulinic acid, betulin, ceanothic acid, alphitolic acid, jujuboside A, B, daucosterol, etc. Flavonoids include spinosin (2′’-O-β-glucosylswertisin), zivulgarin, 6″-Sinapoylspinosin, 6″-feruloylspinosin, 6″-p-coumaroylspinosin, swertisin, and more. Amino acids include threonine, valine, methionine, leucine, isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine, etc. And metallic elements are potassium, sodium, calcium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese, etc.
Modern pharmacological actions of jujube seeds
1) Jujuboside, flavonoid glycosides, and its water and alcohol extract have sedative, hypnotic and antiarrhythmic effects. In addition, they can cooperate with the central inhibition of barbiturates;
2) Its decoction and alcohol extract have anticonvulsant, analgesic, body-temperature lowering, and blood-pressure lowering effects;
3) It can lower blood fat, fight hypoxia, reduce tumors, inhibit platelet aggregation, enhance immune function, and excite the uterus.
Suan Zao Ren benefits
Do you ever feel listless during daytime but just can’t fall asleep at night though you are literally tired? That is actually the typical clinical manifestation of people who has difficulty with sleeping. Insomnia has long been documented as a disease in ancient China. So, how did the ancient treat insomnia? The authority words are from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer), which concludes that the Jujube Seed Decoction (Suan Zao Ren Tang) governs patterns of insomnia caused by consumptive disease and deficient dysphoria. Actually it is the inspiration of many later insomnia remedies. From this it’s not hard to see jujube seed plays an important role in the treatment of insomnia, neurasthenia, etc. Besides of treating insomnia, it has tons of other health benefits.
1) Maintaining a good nutritional balance. It is rich in vitamin C too. Eating it regularly can replenish vitamin C required in order to maintain good nutritional balance;
2) Calming the mind and soothing the nerves. Thanks to its special healing properties on insomnia, it is regarded as the “Oriental sleeping fruit.” What’s more, it is also somewhat a tonic. And Zhen Jing An Mian Wan (Calm Sleeping Pill), a commonly used Chinese patent medicine, takes it as one the main ingredients;
3) Arresting sweating and promoting the secretion of body fluid. Since this is an herb of sour flavor, it is often used in spontaneous sweating and night sweating in physically weak people who in particular have feelings of anxiety that always make them tense and irritable;
4) Tonifying liver and kidney and tranquilize mind by nourishing the heart. That’s to say, it works on menopausal syndrome and liver-kidney deficiency induced symptoms, including restless sleep, facial flushing, feverishness in palms and soles, dizziness, tinnitus, abnormal vaginal discharge, enuresis, urinary frequency and so on;
5) Treating insomnia, palpitations, and depression by tranquilizing by nourishing the heart. The traditional medications for insomnia and depression in western medicine are quite addictive and with lots of side effects. In comparison, Chinese herbs for insomnia and depression are not addictive and won’t result in drug dependence. Jujube seeds can effectively help relieve insomnia naturally, improve sleep quality, and relieve headaches, dizziness, fatigue and other phenomena. In addition, it can also relieve stress, anxiety, depression, memory loss, neurasthenia and other symptoms. More importantly, it helps people sleep sound again, in a natural way.
6) Other effects. It has certain antihypertensive effect and it serves as uterine stimulant. As a result, it helps Yin-blood deficiency induced palpitation, insomnia, and forgetfulness and physical weakness causing excessive sweating.
Sample Suan Zao Ren recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is sweet-sour in flavor and neutral in nature. It goes to meridians of heart, spleen, liver, and gall bladder. Essential functions are calming heart, relieving uneasiness of mind and body tranquilization, nourishing liver, and stopping sweating. Basic Suan Zao Ren uses and indications include insomnia accompanied with weakness and irritability, palpitation, spontaneous sweating in the physically weak, and night sweats. Recommended Suan Zao Ren dosage is from 6 to 15 grams in decoction or from 3 to 5 grams in the forms of powder and pills.
1) Suan Zao Ren (zizyphus combination) from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Synopsis of Golden Chamber). Other ingredients are Gan Cao (Licorice Root), Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome), Fu Ling (Poria), and Chuan Xiong (lovage). This formula treats sleeplessness and a feeling of being ill at ease due to liver deficiency accompanied with heat. And it can be also used in the forms of Suan Zao Ren Wan (pills), Pian (tablets), Jiao Nang (capsules), and Ke Li (granules).
2) Gui Pi Tang from Jiao Zhu Fu Ren Liang Fang (Collation and Annotation of Effective Prescriptions for Women). It is combined with Huang Qi (Astragalus Root), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Dang Shen (Codonopsis), etc. to cure palpitation, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue due to Qi-blood deficiency of heart-spleen.
3) Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan from She Sheng Mi Pou (Secret Investigations into Obtaining Health). It is matched with Mai Dong (Mondo Grass), Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia Glutinosa), Yuan Zhi (Senega Root), etc. to heal palpitations, insomnia, forgetfulness, and nocturnal emissions due to heart-kidney deficiency and deficiency of yin-fluid and blood.
4) Suan Zao Ren Zhou from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief). It is coupled with rice and rehmannia juice to cook porridge to cure steaming sensation in the bone and sleep deprivation due to vexation.
5) Ning Zhi Gao from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It is formulated with Ren Shen (ginseng), Chen Sha (cinnabar), and with Ru Xiang (Frankincense Resin) to heal heart-deficiency induced wandering mind, apprehension, trance, forgetfulness, restless sleep, nightmare, and all other diseases related to the heart.
Clinical research of jujube seed
According to reports, it works wonder on the treatment of a variety of diseases that is characterized by the onset during the period of the day from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., anejaculation, hysteria, menopause, pruritus, pain caused by gastrointestinal diseases, and the like.
a) 105 cases of deficiency-type diseases that usually attack at the midnight hour have been treated with the combination of jujube seed 30g and licorice 10g, taken at 10 o’clock at night. And the results of all were quite positive;
b) 4 cases of anejaculation have been treated by taking the powder combination of 30g jujube seed and 60g tea dust with the decoction of 6g ginseng fibrous root, twice a day. And all of them were cured.
Suan Zao Ren side effects, contraindications, and drug interactions
Suan Zao Ren, seeds taken from the ripe jujube fruit, can help the patients get rid of the torture of insomnia and thereby give them a good night’s sleep, recover the heartbeat of patients who are suffering from arrhythmias, and make neurasthenia patients energetic again. As you can see now, this herb offers tons of health benefits. But this is exactly the reason more and more people ignore its side effects and abuse it.
1) Aggravating pathogenic heat. According to Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Shu (Commentary on ‘Shen Nong’s Classic of the Materia Medica), it shouldn’t be used in the patients who are with excess heat pathogen in channels of liver, gallbladder, and spleen because of its astringent nature.
2) Causing diarrhea. According to Ben Cao Qiu Zhen (Facts of Materia Medica), people who have gastrointestinal dysfunction should avoid excessive consumption of it since it can lubricate the intestinal tract.
3) Causing allergy. Its decoction can occasionally result in allergic reactions, such as nettle rash (hives), generalized pruritus, chills, fever, joint pain, and the like.
4) Causing numbness in the lips. The triterpenoids contained can cause numbness, clogging feeling in throat, drooling, stiff tongue, heart rhythm disorders, and a series of other adverse reactions.
5) Causing excessive stomach acid. Excessive consumption will aggravate the condition of hyperacidity because of its acidic property.
a) Shan Dong Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Shandong Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1988; 1:17;
b) Zhe Jiang Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Zhejiang Journal of Chinese Medicine), 1987; 5:204.