Terminalia chebula, also known as haritaki fruit and He Zi herb, is a common herb used in Traditional Chinese medicine, Tibetan medicine, and Ayurveda medicine. It has had very good reviews from different alternative medicine genres, especially in Tibetan medicine, in which it is called as the King. And related statistical analysis showed that its frequency of utilization in Tibetan medicine is higher than that of Gan Cao (Licorice Root) in TCM. That’s to say, almost all Tibetan herbal formulas include this herb. It is native to India, Burma and other countries and was introduced to China as an astringent before the Tang Dynasty, according to Tang Ben Cao (Tang Materia Medica), a revised text compiled in 657-659 A.D.
What is terminalia chebula?
Medicinally it refers to the dried ripe fruits of Terminalia chebula Retz. or Terminalia chebula Retz. var. tomentella Kurt., plants that belongs to the family of Combretaceae. Therefore, its common names include Myrobalan fruit, fructus chebulae, medicine terminalia fruit, chebula fruit, fructus terminaliae chebulae, Sheng He Li Le, terminalia chebulae fructus, Ke Zi, Sheng He Zi Rou, fruit of medicine terminalia, haritaki fruit, chebulic myrobalan, and more.
Its plant is a large deciduous tree, and often reaches 20 to 30 meters. Leaves are alternate or nearly opposite, ovate or elliptic, 7 to 2cm long, 3 to 15cm wide, with short pointed apex, obtuse or rounded base, entire margin, and bald clean sides. Spica grows on the top of branches or leaf axil. Flowers are bisexual and yellow. Drupe is obovate or oval, 2.5 to 4.5cm long, green when young, tan when ripe, and with smooth surface and 5 edges when dried. Seed is 1. And it usually flowers from June to August and fruits from August to October. The habitat and distribution covers roadsides and areas near villages. It originates in India, Burma and other places. In China, it mainly grows in Tibet, Yunnan, Guangdong, and Guangxi.
Key chemical constituents include 23.60% to 37.36% tannin, triterpenoids, sennoside A, chebulin, tannase, polyphenol oxidase, ascorbic acid enzyme and so on. And tannin mainly contains chebulinic acid, chebulagic acid, corilagin, terchebulin, punicalagin, terflavin A, terchebin, glucogallin, gallic acid, and so on. In addition, triterpenoids mainly contains terminoic acid, chebupentol, shikimic acid, dehydroshikimic acid, and more.
Terminalia chebula benefits
As what mentioned before, it is one of the most common Chinese herbs and was known as the King in the medical classic of Tibetan Pharmaceutical Science – Jing Zhu Ben Cao (Tibetan title: Shel. Gong Shel Phreng). As a matter of fact, its health benefits have been the major subject of Tibetan medicine and it has become a symbol of Tibetan medicine thanks to its widespread medicinal uses. What’s more, in Tibetan medicine this herb is considered with all the merits, namely six flavors, eight properties, three processing tastes, and seventeen efficiency, that treat a variety of diseases. In fact, today because of its high medicinal value and properties, terminalia chebula bark and fruit have been made into tea, fruit extract, oil, supplement, and tincture for hair, lyme disease, skin care, cancer, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, weight loss, vitiligo, and so on. So, what is the explanation in its pharmacology? Now let’s take a close look at it.
Modern pharmacological actions of chebula fruit
1. Its tannin has astringent, antidiarrheal effect;
2. In addition to tannin, it also contains lapactic composition, which has the similar effect available on Da Huang (Rhubarb);
3. Its 100% decoction works to a variety of Shigella and has strong effect on Pseudomonas aeruginosa and diphtheria bacilli. Besides, it inhibits Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli, pneumococcus, hemolytic streptococcus, Proteus, and Salmonella typhimurium;
4. Its alcohol extract with hydrochloric acid and ether has stronger antifungal and antimicrobial activity;
5. Cardiotonic effect shows on the extract of ethyl acetate, methyl ethyl ketone, n-butanol and water and large dose of benzene and chloroform extract;
5. The active ingredient of chebulin, extracted from dried fruits with 80% ethanol, has papaverine-like spasmolysis on smooth muscle.
Proven herbal remedies on medicine terminalia fruit
From the description of Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter and sour in flavor and astringent and neutral in properties. It goes to three meridians of lung, large intestine, and stomach. Vital functions include astringing the lung and intestine, descending qi, and relieving sore throat. Chief terminalia chebula uses and indications are chronic diarrhea, chronic dysentery, prolapse of the anus, wheezing, expectoration, and aphonia caused by chronic cough. Recommended terminalia chebula dosage is from 3 to 6 grams in decoction, pills or powder.
1. He Zi Yin. This formula, from Ji sheng fang (Formulas to Aid the Living), is exclusively for the failure of uttering a word due to chronic cough. Other three herbal ingredients are Xing Ren (Apricot Seed), Tong Cao (Rice Paper Pith), and Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome).
2. He Zi Tang. This prescription, from Tai Ping Sheng Hui Fang (Taiping Holy Prescriptions for Universal Relief), is mainly design for aphonia. Other three herbs are Jie Geng (Balloon Flower Rhizome), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), and fresh lad urine.
3. He Li Le San. This recipe, from Sheng Hui Fang, is usually used for chronic diarrhea in the elderly. The other herb is Bai Fan (alum).
4. He Li Le San. This formula, from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer), uses this herb alone as astringent to relieve diarrhea.
5. He Zi Pi San. This prescription, from Lan Shi Mi Zang (The Secret Treasury of the Orchid Chamber), is primarily made for chronic rectocele. Other three herbs include Yu Mi Ke (Pericarpium Papaveris), Ju Pi (orange peel), and Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root).
Terminalia chebula side effects and contraindications
So far no clearly recognized drug interactions about terminalia chebula fruit were reported. And generally it is believed with no toxicity when taken in the recommended doses. However, it is inadvisable to be taken during pregnancy because of its descending and laxative quality. Overdose may cause a variety of adverse reactions, such as extreme leanness, serious weakening, loss of energy, and depletion of bodily fluids. From the point of view of TCM, it shouldn’t be used in the case of exterior syndrome accompanied with damp-heat stagnation inside.