Medically Chinese wild ginger plant, also known as Xi Xin in Pinyin or Herba Asari in pharmaceutical Latin, is a rather controversial Chinese herb. Some, including very famous TCM doctors, think it is non-toxic and can be used in large dose, but others see things differently and believe that it shouldn’t be used more than 1 Qian, an old unit of weight that is equal to 5 grams. In spite of this, it cannot be denied that this is a good herb of expelling pathogenic cold, expelling wind to alleviate pain, and harmonizing seven orifices. But the mentioned is just come of its common medicinal properties. So, what is the wild ginger plant used for? If you want to know more about its medicinal uses, it is a good idea to look at it from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine.
What is wild ginger plant?
Medicinally it mainly refers to the whole dried plant of Asian wild ginger plant, especially Asarum heterotropoides Fr. Schmidt var.mandshuricum (Maxim.) Kitag., Asarum sieboldii Miq. Var. Seoulense Nakai, or Asarum sieboldii Miq. The first two is commonly known as “Liao Xi Xin”, produced mainly in the Northeast, while the third as “Hua Xi Xin” produced primarily in provinces of Shaanxi, Henan, Shandong and Zhejiang. The best harvesting time is autumn or the fruit ripening stage in summer. And the following steps are to remove the dirt, dry in the shade, cut into sections, and use it in the raw form.
Here are some Asarum facts you might be interested in. This is a genus in Aristolochiaceae. It is native to Asia, in particular, Vietnam, Japan, and China. But now is can be discovered also in North America and Europe. The plants in Asarum are characterized by slightly red or brown flowers, creeping underground roots, and kidney-shaped leaves. However, all of this doesn’t explain why it is known as “wild ginger.” Actually, this name comes from its ginger-like smell and taste, instead of from being related. Because of that, it is often put in food to give flavor, just like ginger root.
It contains volatile oil, which mainly includes methyl eugenol, asarone, safrole and other ingredients. In addition, it still contains N-isobutyldodecatetraenamide, higenamine, sitosterol, stigmasterol and so on.
Wild ginger health benefits
As mentioned above, it refers to a few species in birthwort family. Clinically it is commonly used as diuretic and a drug for relieving exterior disorder. Its Chinese name can be literally translated as “small pungent” since it has small root and strong aroma, and pungent taste. It will definitely leave you a lifetime impression if you ever experience its hot and scurrying flavor. It is such a good medicine that can expel wind-cold externally while getting rid of the stagnation of yin-cold internally. Meanwhile, it can relieve pain and prevent cough. Though it is with good cold-expelling property, it is not generally used as the main drug in normal superficies-relieving formulas since it has a weak sweating function.
Up to now it has more than 2,000 years of history of using as medicine. And the earliest extant record is from the “Sheng Nong’s herbal classic.” However, it is the “The Shang Han Lun” (On Cold Damage) that later found and achieved its full potential to treat wind-cold exterior pattern, all kinds of pain, various blocked orifices, cough and asthma due to pulmonary cold, and the like. Today, its therapeutic range has been greatly extended and it is widely used in the treatment of recurrent oral ulcers, impotence, aphasia caused by stroke, bradycardia, epilepsy, Meniere’s disease, anejaculation, testicular pain, female infertility, urticaria, and more. In addition, it is often used for dental anesthesia too.
Asarum, Cinnamon Twig (Gui Zhi), and Ephedra (Ma Huang) are the 3 main herbs used for cold due to wind-cold since they relieve superficies syndrome with their pungent and warm nature. However, ephedra prefers severe wind-cold cold since it is with a stronger ability of sweating; cinnamon twig has such a more moderate sweating and superficies-relieving action that it can be used in all wind-cold, in particular the exterior deficiency accompanied with sweating; Asarum has a stronger cold-dispelling effect although it does a bad job on sweating.
Modern pharmacological actions of Asarum
1) Its volatile oil, water and alcohol extract are antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, sedative, and anticonvulsant. And they are used as local anaesthetic too;
2) Large doses of its volatile oil can excite and then suppress the central nervous system, showing some toxic and side effect;
3) In vitro tests show that it inhibits hemolytic streptococcus, Shigella and aflatoxin;
4) The alcohol infusion of Asarum sieboldii Miq. can resist morphine-induced respiratory depression. The higenamine contained can strengthen the heart, dilate blood vessels, relax smooth muscle, enhance lipid metabolism, elevate blood sugar, and so on;
5) The safrole contained is a toxic carcinogen, which can be easily damaged by high heat.
Sample Asarum recipes on herbal remedies
The Chinese Pharmacopoeia believes that Asarum is acrid in flavor and warm in nature. It goes to meridians of heart, lung, and kidney. Basic functions are expelling wind, removing cold, freeing orifice to relieve pain, and warming lung to transform retained fluid. Primary wild ginger plant uses include cold due to pathogenic wind-cold, headache, toothache, stuffy nose, acute and chronic sinusitis, rheumatic pain, cough or asthma caused by phlegm. Recommended dosage is from 1 to 3 grams in powder or decoction.
1) Xi Xin San from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief). It is combined with Chuan Xiong (lovage), Fu Zi (aconite), Ephedra, etc. to treat wind-cold headache;
2) Zhi Ling San from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is coupled with Xiong Huang (realgar) to cure migraine;
3) Xiao Qing Long Tang from “The On Cold Damage.” It works with Ephedra, Shao Yao (Peony Root), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), etc. to heal chronic bronchitis, bronchial asthma, and the like;
4) Ling Gan Wu Wei Jiang Xin Tang from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is formulated with Fu Ling (Poria), licorice root, dried ginger, and Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Seed) to treat chronic bronchitis and emphysema that are caused by cold fluid retention in lung and characterized by coughing out thin, clear sputum;
5) Ma Huang Fu Zi Xi Xin Tang from “The On Cold Damage.” It is joined with Ephedra and aconite to heal shaoyin disease in initial stage that manifests fever and deep pulse;
6) Cong Er Wan from Gong Shi Jing Yan Fang (Experiential Recipes from Gong’s). It is ground into powder and made into pills to treat deafness.
Wild ginger plant side effects and contraindications
Is wild ginger plant edible? According to textbooks, it is a toxic drug. Because of the obvious poisonousness, initially the dose should be strictly controlled. Otherwise, large doses of its volatile oil can first excite and then suppress the central nervous system, slow voluntary movement and breathing, disappear reflexes, and finally lead to death due to respiratory paralysis. In addition, overdose of Asarum herb may cause arrhythmia because it has a direct inhibitory effect on cardiac muscle.
Main poisoning symptoms include headache, vomiting, irritability, sweating, stiff neck, thirst, increased body temperature and blood pressure, mildly dilated pupils, facial flushing, etc. If left untreated, the condition may quickly turn into spasticity, jaw clenching, opisthotonos, confusion, twitching limbs, urine retention, and finally death caused by respiratory paralysis.
There are two main reasons for Asarum poisoning: either directly swallow excessive dose of its powder or the decoction time is too short to spoil the toxic ingredient. So, strictly comply with Asarum’s usage and dosage to ensure drug safety when wild ginger plant is a must in your remedy.