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Herbs & Botanicals

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Gastrodia (tian ma)

What is gastrodia? What is it used for?

Gastrodia refers to the tuberous root of an orchid-like plant, gastrodia elata. It is an unusual herb in that it requires the presence of two other organisms for sustenance: armillaria mellea, a type of mushroom, must be incorporated into the tuber in order to maintain its maturation and growth, and another fungus, mycena osmundicola, is required to sprout the seeds.

Gastrodia has been incorporated into traditional Chinese medicine for at least 2,000 years. It was originally called chi qian, meaning red arrow, because the plant has a red stem shaped like an arrow's staff. It was later given the status of a "superior herb," meaning that it could be taken for a great length of time to promote health and prolong life.

There are two traditional uses for gastrodia:

  1. To calm the liver wind. Gastrodia is used for syndromes of internal liver wind, such as convulsions, tetanus and epilepsy, as well as dizziness and headache due to excess liver yang. More recently, it has been used for the treatment of neurasthenia, nervous headache and hypertension.

  2. To expel wind evil and alleviate pain. In these instances, gastrodia is used to treat migraine, arthralgia due to wind dampness, numbness and general fatigue.

How much gastrodia should I take?

Gastrodia is given in doses of 3-10 grams per day, boiled in water and served as a tea. Powedered gastrodia tuber can be taken in doses of 1-1.5 grams per day each time, 2-3 times per day.

What forms of gastrodia are available?

Raw, dried gastrodia tuber is available at some Asian markets and specialty stores. Gastrodia extracts and powders are also available.

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

Gastrodia is generally considered safe, even for prolonged uses. The American Herbal Products Association has given gastrodia a class one rating, meaning that it is safe when consumed as recommended. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with gastrodia. As always, consult with a licensed health care practitioner before taking gastrodia or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Bensky D, Barolet R. Chinese Herbal Medicine Formulas and Strategies. Seattle: Eastland Press, 1990, p. 424.
  • Dharmananda S. Gastrodia. 1998. Available online at http://www.itmonline.org/arts/gastrod.htm.
  • Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1993, p. 142.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R (eds.) American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 55.
  • Wang D. Investigation of the chemicophysical characteristics of the active components in the Chinese herb gastrodia elata bl. by capillary zone electrophoresis. Analytical Sciences April 2002;18:409-412.

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