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Herbs & Botanicals

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Bletilla (bai ji)

What is bletilla? What is it used for?

Bletilla is a type of flowering plant related to the hyacinth. It is native to China and Japan, and resembles an orchid, with white striped leaves and magenta or pink-colored flowers that usually bloom in the summer. The plant's roots and rhizomes are used medicinally.

Externally, bletilla tubers resemble a horn or claw. It is grayish-white or yellowish-white in appearance, with concentric rings and brown rootlets. It has a hard texture and does not break easily. When employed in herbal remedies, bletilla is peeled and dried in the sun, then cut into slices or ground into a powder.

Bletilla is associated with the Lung, Stomach and Liver meridians in traditional Chinese medicine, and has a bitter taste and cool properties. Its mains functions are to reduce swelling and stop bleeding in the lungs and stomach. It is often used with gelatin, donkey glue and cuttlefish bone as part of a larger herbal formula.

Among the modern uses for bletilla are treatment of sores, ulcers and chapped skin. Because of its astringent properties, bletilla is often used to stop bleeding caused by traumatic injuries, heal wounds, reduce swelling, and promote regeneration of tissue. When used with other herbs, bletilla can help treat coughs and phlegmy obstructions.

How much bletilla should I take?

The typical dose of bletilla depends on the condition being treated. Usually, practitioners recommend between 3 and 15 grams of bletilla, taken as a powder. Larger amounts can be applied to the skin, usually mixed with sesame oil.

What forms of bletilla are available?

Whole, dried bletilla root is sold at many herbal shops, Asian markets and specialty stores. Bletilla powder is widely available, as are some decoctions that contain bletilla.

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

Bletilla is incompatible with aconite root, and therefore should not be taken with aconite root or any formulas that contain it. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with bletilla. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking bletilla or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Bown D. Encyclopaedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.
  • Feng G, Kramann B, Zheng C, et al. Comparative study on the long-term effect of permanent embolization of hepatic artery with bletilla striata in patients with primary liver cancer. J Tongji Med Univ 1996;16:111-116.
  • Yeung, HC. Handbook of Chinese Herbs and Formulas. Los Angeles: Institute of Chinese Medicine, 1985.
  • Zheng C, Feng G, Liang H. Bletilla striata as a vascular embolizing agent in interventional treatment of primary hepatic carcinoma. Chin Med J 1998;111:1060-1063.
  • Zheng C, Feng G, Zhou R. New use of bletilla striata as embolizing agent in the intervention treatment of hepatic carcinoma. Zhonghua Zhong Liu Za Zhi 1996;18:305-307

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