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Herbs & Botanicals

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Rice Paper Pith (tong cao)

What is rice paper pith? What is it used for?

Rice paper pith comes from the stem of a deciduous shrub, Tetrapanax papyriferus (Hook.) K. Koch, which is a member of the ginseng family, and the source of rice paper. It reaches a height of approximately 15 feet, and blooms in late summer. The stem piths are actually hollow. They are gathered in autumn and cut into small pieces, after which the bark is removed. The stems are then dried in the sun and cut into slices.

Based on the precepts of traditional Chinese medicine, rice paper pith has sweet and slightly cold properties, and is associated with the Lung and Stomach meridians. Its main functions are to clear heat and (in women) promote lactation. Among the conditions rice paper pith treats are dysuria, painful urination and frequent urination. It can be taken with other herbs, such as talc and plantain seed.

How much rice paper pith should I take?

The typical dosage of rice paper pith is between 2 and 5 grams, decocted in water for oral administration. To promote lactation, higher doses should be used (15-18 grams). It is often decocted together with other herbs. Excessive doses should not be consumed.

What forms of rice paper pith are available?

Dried rice paper pith can be found at some herbal shops and specialty stores. Powdered rice paper pith is also available, as are larger formulas that contain rice paper pith.

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

Rice paper pith should be used with caution during pregnancy. In addition, because rice paper pith acts as a diuretic, concurrent use with diuretic drugs (i.e., Lasix, Bumex, Demadex, etc.) may theoretically lead to increased urination, which could lead to excess loss of fluids and/or electrolytes. Patients taking diuretic medications should consult with a licensed health care provider before taking rice paper pith. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking rice paper pith 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. 398-399.
  • Chistokhodova N, Nguyen C, Calvino T, et al. Antithrombin activity of medicinal plants from central Florida. J Ethnopharmacol July 2002;81(2):277-80.
  • Jia M, Wei Y, Ma Y, et al. Survey of botanical origin of tong cao (medulla tetrapanacis) and identification of its commercial products. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi August 1997;22(8):454-8, 510.
  • Kojima K, Saracoglu I, Mutsuga M, et al. Triterpene saponins from tetrapanax papyriferum K. Koch. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) November 1996;44(11):2107-10.
  • Mutsuga M, Kojima K, Saracoglu I, et al. Minor saponins from tetrapanax papyriferum. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo) March 1997;45(3):552-4.

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