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Herbs & Botanicals

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Cinnabar (zhu sha)

What is cinnabar? What is it used for?

Cinnabar is not an herb, but a type of mineral, consisting primarily of mercury sulphide, an ore. It is bright red or dull red in color, and lustrous in appearance. The most famous cinnabar deposit is located in Almaden, Spain, where it has been mined for centuries.

In China, cinnabar is mined in the Hunan, Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou provinces. After mining, the purest forms of cinnabar are extracted, rinsed clean with water, then ground down into a powder. After being refined, it is dried in the sun, then bottled for use.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, cinnabar has sweet, cold and slightly toxic properties, and is associated with the Heart meridian. The main functions of cinnabar are to clear away heat and tranquilize the mind.

Traditionally, cinnabar has been used as a tonic to reduce the incidence of palpitations, restlessness and insomnia. It is also used to treat sore throats and cold sores that occur in the mouth and tongue. In addition, cinnabar can applied externally to treat certain skin disorders and infections.

How much cinnabar should I take?

The typical dosage of cinnabar is between 0.3 grams and 1 gram, ground into powder and mixed with water as a decoction for oral use. Larger amounts can be applied to the skin as necessary.

What forms of cinnabar are available?

Cinnabar is available as a powder, which is manufactured in pill, capsule and tablet forms. It is often included with other herbs as part of a larger formula.

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

Because cinnabar contains mercury, it should not be used for extended periods of time, nor should it be taken in large doses. In addition, cinnabar should not be taken by patients diagnosed with liver or kidney problems.

As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking cinnabar or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 755-756.
  • Ho BS, Lin JL, Huang CC, et al. Mercury vapor inhalation from Chinese red (cinnabar). J Toxicol Clin Toxicol 2003;41(1):75-8.
  • Tang YS, Lin PY, Ou WP. Effects of cinnabar and realgar in angong niuhuang powder on lactate dehydrogenase and its isoenzymes in rats with infectious cerebral edema. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi May 2005;25(5):436-40.
  • Wang JH, Ye ZG, Liang AH, et al. Absorption and distribution of mercury and arsenic from realgar and cinnabar of angong niuhuang pill in normal rats and rats with cerebral ischemia. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi July 2003;28(7):639-42.
  • Ye ZG, Wang JH, Liang AH, et al. Comparative studies on pharmacological effects of angong niuhuang pill with its simplified prescicription. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi July 2003;28(7):636-9.

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