Notoginseng root is a frequently prescribed herb in Chinese medicine. The scientific names for the plant are Panax notoginseng and Panax pseudoginseng. The herb is also referred to as pseudoginseng, and in Chinese it is called Tien qi ginseng, San qi, three-seven root, and Mountain paint. Notoginseng belongs to the same scientific genus, Panax, as Asian ginseng. In Latin, the word panax means "cure-all," and the family of ginseng plants is one of the most famous and frequently used of all families of herbs.
Notoginseng grows naturally in China and Japan. The Chinese refer to it as "three-seven root" because the plant has three leaves on one side and four leaves on the other. The herb is a perennial with dark green leaves branching from a stem with a red cluster of berries in the middle. It is both cultivated and gathered from wild forests, with wild plants being the most expensive. The root of the plant is used medicinally, and tea is sometimes made from the leaves. At the top of the root is a section called the "age root," which has notches that indicate the age of the particular root. Chinese herbalists consider roots older than three years to be the most effective medicinally. Notoginseng root has a very bitter flavor.
Notoginseng root has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years. One of China's most famous herbalists said that the root was "more valuable than gold." The herb is used as a general tonic, or a medicine to tone and strengthen the entire system. In particular, notoginseng is considered a blood and heart tonic. Chinese herbalists consider it to have a neutral energy, meaning it is neither heating nor cooling in the system. In traditional Chinese medicine, notoginseng is believed to act on the Heart and Kidney meridians, which are the channels that contain the flow of qi (life energy) in the body. The herb was given the name "mountain paint" because a liquid solution of it is prescribed to reduce swelling and boils on the body.
Research has been performed on notoginseng root in China and Japan, although many findings have not been translated into English. From notoginseng, researchers have isolated chemicals called saponins and flavonoids, substances that are active biologically in the body. Some of the saponins in notoginseng are believed to provide the raw materials for the creation of important hormones that regulate energy levels and sexual function. Notoginseng has also been reported to stimulate the immune system.
Other research has pointed to notoginseng's benefits for the heart and circulatory system. Through actions not completely understood, notoginseng appears to increase blood flow to the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart muscle. Heart disease usually results from blockages in the coronary arteries. Notoginseng also seems to increase the consumption of oxygen by the muscles in the heart. These actions have the effect of lowering blood pressure and regulating the rhythm of the heart.
Notoginseng also has been reported to have positive effects on the blood. It lowers cholesterol, and is believed to help dissolve clots. At the same time, it is reputed to stop bleeding both internally and externally. Notoginseng root is one of the main herbs prescribed in Chinese medicine for traumatic injuries. In fact, the root has been distributed to members of armed forces in Asian countries to be used in case of traumatic injury and bleeding.
Possible newer uses for notoginseng root include treatment of HIV infection. A recently discovered xylanase, which is a type of enzyme found in plant roots, was isolated from the roots of are Panax notoginseng.
Notoginseng is used to treat external and internal bleeding, including nosebleeds and bloody stools and urine. According to an American herbalist, notoginseng has been used in the United States for some years to control postpartum bleeding in women and heavy bleeding associated with menopause. As of 2002, some herbalists are recommending notoginseng as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
Notoginseng is also used as a general tonic for the heart and circulatory system, and for such specific problems as coronary heart disease and high cholesterol. Notoginseng is prescribed by Chinese herbalists to relieve the pain of angina pectoris, a condition that results in sharp pain in the chest region. It is also used for painful menstruation and for swelling and boils on the skin.
Notoginseng is available in Asian markets and some health food stores. It comes as dried roots, powder, and in capsules. The root is sometimes steamed and then powdered, which is believed to increase its healing effects for the blood. The powdered root can also be applied topically to wounds and swelling on the skin.
The dried root can be decocted into a tea by briefly boiling and then simmering it for over an hour, in a daily dosage of 3–9 g of root. For the powder, 1–3 g can be stirred into tea or juice as a daily serving. The dried root can be used in cooking as well. A common method of taking the herb in China is to prepare it with chicken or soups.
Notoginseng has been reported to interact with warfarin and heparin, which are medications to thin the blood, or anticoagulants; and with ticlopidine, a drug given to prevent blood platelets from clumping and to prolong bleeding time. Patients taking any of these medications should not take preparations containing notoginseng.
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American Herbalists Guild. 1931 Gaddis Road, Canton, GA 30115. (770) 751-6021. <www.americanherbalistsguild.com>.
Rebecca J. Frey, PhD