Andrographis is the herb of Andrographis paniculata, a flowering plant in the Acanthaceae family. The perennial grows wild in thickets throughout south Asia, although it also may be cultivated. In summer and autumn, clusters of small white flowers appear; it is harvested when the flowers begin to bloom. It is traditionally valued as an herbal remedy in China, where it grows in the Guangdong, Guangxi, Fujian, Yunnan, Sichuan, Jiangsu, and Jianxi provinces.
In Mandarin, andrographis is called chuan xin lian, Yi jian xi and Lan he lian, which translate directly as "thread-the-heart lotus." The Cantonese term is chyun sam ling, and the Japanese call it senshinren. English common names include green chiretta, heart-thread lotus leaf, and kariyat. Its pharmaceutical names, used to distinguish it as a medicine, are Herba Andrographitis Paniculatae or alternately Folium Andrographis.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine believe that andrographis affects the large intestine, lung, stomach, bladder, and liver meridians, or energy pathways in the body. It is thought to dispel heat (such as that associated with fever or infection) and is used primarily as a broad-spectrum antibiotic and immunostimulant for a variety of bacterial, viral, and parasitic conditions, including influenza, intestinal infections, hepatitis, pneumonia, and infected wounds. Andrographis's medicinal properties are considered very bitter, astringent, cold, dry, and stimulating.
Andrographis is considered most effective for conditions associated with fever, inflammation, and the formation of pus. It clears heat and relieves "fire toxicity" manifest as sores and carbuncles on the skin. It is also applied topically for snakebite and eczema. Under the supervision of a qualified practitioner, it is used as a uterine stimulant and abortive, to bring on miscarriage or treat prolonged pregnancy or retained placenta.
Andrographis can also be used as an inexpensive substitute for another Chinese herb, coptis (huang lian).
Research on andrographis has generally been conducted in China and has focused on pharmacological investigation. Studies indicate that andrographis cultivated in the plains of Shanghai has significant immune stimulating and anti-infective qualities. In vitro, it inhibits the growth of Diplococcus pneumoniae and other bacteria and delays the deterioration of embryonic renal cells caused by a virus.
Major chemical ingredients include andrographan, andrographolide, neoandrographolide, paniculide A, 14-deoxy-11-oxyandrographolide, and beta-sitosterol.
Andrographis is not generally available in American health food stores, but it can be found at most Chinese pharmacies and Asian groceries.
The standard dose ranges from 10-15 grams as a decoction (strong tea) or 2-5 milliliters as a tincture. Powder doses range from 0.6 to 1.2 grams. Because the herb is extremely bitter, it's recommended that powder be taken in capsule form.
Practitioners of Chinese medicine commonly combine andrographis in patent formulas along with other Chinese herbs. The following are the major herbs with which it is combined and the symptoms for which the combinations are prescribed.
- Pericarpium Citri Reticulatae (Citrus reticulata, Chen pi) for cough associated with Lung heat.
- Herba et Radix Houttuyniae Cordatae (Houttuynia cordata, yu xing cao) and Semen Benincasae Hispidae (Benincasa hispida, dong gua ren cao) for Lung abcess.
- Flos Lonicerae Japonicae (Lonicera japonica, jin yin hua) and Radix Platycodonis Grandiflori (Platycodon grandiflorum, jie geng) for early stages of a disease with fever and sore throat.
- Herba Portulacae Oleraceae (Portulacca oleracea, ma chi xian) for dysentery.
- Radix et folium Polygoni Cuspidati (Polygonum cuspidatum, hu zhang) and Rhizoma Imperatae Cylindricae (Imperata cylindrical var. major, bai mao gen) for hot, painful urinary disfunction.
According to tradition, andrographis is never used in cases of deficient, cold intestinal conditions. When used long-term or in large doses, this bitter and cold herb may damage stomach qi, causing gastric distress and loss of appetite.
Gastric distress and loss of appetite have been noted when the herb is taken in large doses.
No interactions with pharmaceutical drugs have been noted.
Bensky, D. and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica. Revised ed. Eastland Press, 1993.
Fan, W. A Manual of Chinese Herbal Medicine: Principles and Practice for Easy Reference. Shambala, 1996.
Holmes, P. Jade Remedies: A Chinese Herbal Reference for the West. Snow Lotus Press, 1996.
Hsu, Hong-Yen, et. al. Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide. Oriental Healing Arts Institute, 1986.