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Herbs & Botanicals

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Catechu (er cha)

What is catechu? What is it used for?

Catechu is a type of paste made from an extract of the acacia catechu, a type of tree native to India and Myanmar. (Another type of catechu is produced from a shrub called uncaria gambier and is discussed elsewhere on this site.)

In India, catechu is used as a type of dye to turn clothing various shades of olive and brown; the color khaki derives from catechu. It is also used in tanning; when it dries, it appears as a type of cake or powdery, brown cube. Catechu also has a variety of medicinal properties, however.

Catechu is obtained by grinding the wood of the acacia catechu and boiling it in water for 12 hours. The wood is removed from the water, and the extract is steamed until it forms the consistency of a syrup. At that time, the syrup is stirred and poured into molds. After drying, it is broken up into irregular pieces.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, catechu has bitter, astringent and neutral properties, and is associated with the Lung meridian. Its main properties are to drain dampness, stop bleeding, clear the lungs, and transform phlegm. Catechu is used to treat sores, stop infections, and quench oneีs thirst. Some cultures use catechu as a type of mouthwash and to treat oral ulcers. Externally, catechu can treat conditions such as hemorrhoids and eczema.

How much catechu should I take?

The typical dosage of catechu is between three and 12 grams, taken with lukewarm water as an infusion or tincture. It can also be applied externally to help stop bleeding and treat sores. Small pieces of catechu can also be held in the mouth and allowed to dissolve.

What forms of catechu are available?

Whole cakes or cubes of catechu can be found at many Asian markets and herbal shops. Some vendors also sell catechu tinctures, powders and pastes. Externally, it can be applied as a poultice, or mixed with other ingredients as a type of ointment.

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

As of this writing, there are no known adverse effects or drug interactions associated with catechu, provided it is taken in the proper dosage. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking catechu or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Er cha. Available onine.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 162-163.
  • Morton JF. Widespread tannin intake via stimulants and masticatories, especially guarana, kola nut, betel vine, and accessories. Basic Life Sci 1992;59:739-65.
  • Rani P, Khullar N. Antimicrobial evaluation of some medicinal plants for their antienteric potential against multi-drug resistant salmonella typhi. Phytother Res August 2004;18(8):670-3.
  • Thu NN, Sakurai C, Uto H, et al. The polyphenol content and antioxidant activities of the main edible vegetables in northern Vietnam. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) June 2004;50(3):203-10.

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