Trichosanthes kirilowii, or Gua Lou in Mandarin, is a common plant frequently seen in most Chinese courtyards, where people grow them mainly for the sake of landscaping. Thanks to its richness in nutrients and a variety of medicinal ingredients contained, it has a certain therapeutic effect on a number of diseases. No wonder it is classified as one in the 50 most fundamental Chinese herbs. That’s to say, trichosanthes are one of the must-have herbs in all pharmacies of Traditional Chinese medicine. And this edible herb deserves that title because it comes with so many health benefits, from healing frostbite by applying its pulp on affected parts to removing phlegm-qi stagnation in chest and abdomen.
What is Trichosanthes kirilowii?
Its Chinese name mainly refers to the dried fruits of Trichosanthes kirilowii Maxim. or sometimes T. rosthornii Harms in the family Cucurbitaceae. Medicinally the fruit, along with its stem, is harvested in autumn when it is mature. And then place it in the shade to dry. And its comes with various common names, such as Trichosanthes fruit, fructus Trichosanthis，snakegourd fruit, snakegourd seed, Chinese cucumber, and so on. Its main habitats in the wild include tussock on a hillside, forest edges, and damp valley. Now most of them are from cultivation, mainly produced in Shandong, Anhui, Henan and other places.
Its plant is a perennial herbaceous vine. Stems are with ridges and 2 to 3 tendrils. Leaves are alternate. Blades are wide ovate-cordate, 5 to 14cm long, and with 3 to 5 shallow to deep lobes and equal length and width. Male flowers grow at the 1/3 of upper end and 3 to 8 flowers form racemes. Female flowers is solitary and with about 6cm peduncle. Fruit is from oval to spherical, 7 to 11cm long, and with orange fruit flesh. Seeds are flat oval, 11 to 16mm long, and 7 to 12mm wide. And it flowers from June to August and fruits from September to October.
Chief chemical compositions are triterpenoid saponin, organic acids, salts, resins, sugars and pigments. The seeds contain fatty oil, saponin and more. Trichosanthes skin comes with a variety of amino acids and alkaloids. And the plant contains the toxic anti-HIV type I ribosome-inactiving lectin trichosanthin.
Trichosanthes kirilowii benefits
The whole fruit can be used for medicinal purposes. As a whole, it is called Quan Gua Lou or Gua Lou Shi, which is good at moistening lung to remove phlegm and activating qi to relieve choking sensation in chest. Its peel, or Gua Lou Pi, can clear heat and eliminate phlegm. Trichosanthes kirilowii seeds, or Gua Lou Ren, can lubricate the intestines. And trichosanthes kirilowii root, or Tian Hua Fen, can help produce saliva and slake thirst, moisten dryness, and reduce pathogenic fire. And its pharmacology says it all.
Modern Trichosanthes pharmacological actions
1. The total saponin and amino acids contained in peel have expectorant effect;
2. Its injection has coronary-artery-dilatation effect on isolated guinea pig heart;
3. Its injection showed an obvious protective effect on posterior pituitary induced acute myocardial ischemia in rats;
4. Its injection has lipid-lowering effect too;
5. It has inhibition to staphylococcus aureus, streptococcus pneumoniae, pseudomonas aeruginosa, hemolytic streptococcus and haemophilus influenzae;
6. Its seeds can cause diarrhea.
Proven Trichosanthes herbal remedies
Chinese Materia Medica says that this herb is sweet and slightly bitter in flavor and cold in properties. It goes to meridians of lung, stomach, and large intestine. Prime functions are removing heat-phlegm, relieving angina pectoris and removing stasis, moistening dryness, and laxation. Basic trichosanthes kirilowii uses and indications are lung-heat cough, thoracic obstruction, diabetes, constipation, boils. and more. Recommended dosage is from 9 to 20 grams in decoction, tea pills, or powder.
1. Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan. Qing Qi Hua Tan Wan comes from Yi Fang Kao (Verification of Formulas). It is basically formulated for phlegm-heat obstructing lung, a cough accompanied with yellow mucus, thick phlegm that is hard to cough out, and distention and fullness in chest and diaphragm. Other major herbal ingredients are Huang Qin (Baical Skullcap Root), Dan Nan Xing (Arisaema Cum Bile), Zhi Shi (Immature Bitter Orange), and so on.
2. Gua Lou Xie Bai Bai Jiu Tang and Gua Lou Xie Bai Ban Xia Tang. These two formulas are from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). This herb often works with Xie Bai (Chive Bulb) and Ban Xia (Pinellia Rhizome) to treat obstruction of qi in the chest and pain that is so sharp that patients can’t lie down on the bed.
3. Xiao Xian Xiong Tang. Xiao Xian Xiong Tang is chosen from Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage). Trichosanthes combine with Huang Lian (Coptis Rhizome) and Pinellia Rhizome to phlegm-heat chest bind induced painful abdominal mass and pain when pressed.
4. Shen Xiao Gua Lou San. This prescription is from The Fu Ren Da Quan Liang Fang (A Great, Complete Collection of Fine Formulas for Women). In this formula this herb couples with Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Ru Xiang (Frankincense), Mo Yao (Myrrh), and others for the treatments of the beginning of acute mastitis, which is red, swollen, hot, and painful.
Trichosanthes kirilowii side effects and contraindications
Do not take Trichosanthes kirilowii during pregnancy due to the fact that it may result in miscarriage. And TCM believes that this herb is sweet, cold, can slippery in nature, which should not be used in cases of spleen deficiency induced loose stools, cold-phlegm syndrome, and dampness-phlegm syndrome. What’s more, it is incompatible with Aconitum herbs.