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Herbs & Botanicals

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Agkistrodon (bai hua she)

What is agkistrodon? What is it used for?

Although agkistrodon is not an herb, it is nevertheless a vital component of herbal medicine. Also known as the multibanded krait, agkistrodon is actually a type of poisonous snake, similar to the cottonmouth.

The snake's skin has a distinctive pattern, with a black dorsal surface and a whitish ventral surface with large scales; hence its name, "bai hua she," which means "white flower snake." A typical agkistrodon can grow up to 15 inches long. The entire body of the snake is used in herbal remedies. The snake is killed and its viscera discarded; the remainder of the snake is then dried in the sun and cut into thick slices.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, agkistrodon has sweet, salty, warm and toxic properties, and is associated with the Liver and Spleen meridians. Its main functions are to dispel wind and stop convulsions. Agkistrodon is often used to treat conditions such as hemiplegia, muscle cramps and spasms, and seizures. It can also treat a variety of skin disorders, such as itching, rashes, numbness, and skin ulcers. Animal studies have shown that agkistrodon can act as a sedative and lower blood pressure.

How much agkistrodon should I take?

The typical dose of agkistrodon is between 3 and 10 grams, taken with boiling water and drunk as a decoction. Agkistrodon powder is also available, and is usually taken in much smaller doses (1-1.5 grams per day).

What forms of agkistrodon are available?

Dried slices of agkistrodon can be found at some specialty stores and herbal shops. Other stores sell powdered agkistrodon, but this is usually quite difficult to obtain.

What can happen if I take too much agkistrodon? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because of its toxic properties, agkistrodon should be used with extreme caution, especially in patients diagnosed with yin deficiency and/or blood deficiency. In addition, because agkistrodon acts as an anticoagulant, it should not be taken by patients using antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking agkistrodon or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Dharmananda S. Oldenlandia and scutellaria: antitoxin and anticancerherbs. Available online at www.itmonline.org/arts/oldenlandia.htm.
  • Flaws B. Diabetic peripheral neuropathy - Chinese medicine update. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients Aug-Sept. 2003.
  • Flaws B. Somnabulism and Chinese medicine. In: Flaws B, Lake J. Chinese Medical Psychiatry. Boulder, CO: Blue Poppy Press, 2000.
  • Kaptchuk T. The Web That Has No Weaver. Lincolnwood, IL: Congdon & Weed, 1983, pp. 118-128.
  • Zheng G, Wang Y. A brief exploration of wind-dispelling medicinals in the treatment of hypertension. Zhong Yi Za Zhi (Journal of Chinese Medicine) 2000(4):197-198.

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