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Herbs & Botanicals

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Gambir (gou teng)

What is gambir? What is it used for?

Gambir is a woody, climbing shrub native to China and other parts of southeast Asia. The plant consists of a thin, wooden stem that is reddish-brown in color, with broad green leaves. Most of the stem branches also have hook-like appendages, which the plant uses to attach itself to a surface.

The medicinal part of gambir is a watery extract, which is taken from the plant's leaves and young shoots. The main ingredients in the extract are tannins and catechins.

Gambir acts mainly as a sedative; it dilates peripheral blood vessels and lowers blood pressure. It is also used to treat hypertension, dizziness and anxiety. In traditional Chinese medicine, gambir is used to calm wind to relieve convulsions; calm the liver; and remove (or clear away) heat.

How much gambir should I take?

Gambir decoctions are usually given in a dosage of 3-12 grams.

What forms of gambir are available?

Gambir is most readily available as an extract, which can be found at specialty stores and Asian markets. The extract is made using the plant’s leaves and younger shoots.

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

Excess amounts of gambir have been known to cause diarrhea, kidney damage, swollen feet and nausea. Because the herb acts as a sedative, it may enhance the effects of anesthesia. The high tannin and catechin content of gambir can irritate the stomach and cause gastrointestinal pain. As a result, long-term and/or excessive use of herbs that contain tannins (such as gambir) is not recommended. As always, make sure to consult with a qualified health care practitioner before taking gambir or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.

References

  • Arnone A, Nasini G, et al. Structure elucidation of the binary indole alkaloid uncaramine. Journal of the Chemical Society Perkin Transactions I(3): 571-576.
  • Bradley PR (ed.) British Herbal Compendium, Volume 1. Dorset: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992.
  • Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1996.
  • Lewis WH, Elvin-Lewis MPF. Medical Botany. Plants Affecting Man’s Health. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1977.
  • Yu CS, Fei L. A Clinical Guide to Chinese Herbs and Formulae. Translated by Jin Hui. Churchill Livingstone, 1993.

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