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Herbs & Botanicals

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Stephania (fang ji [han])

What is stephania? What is it used for?

Stephania is a vine-like plant native to China and Japan. The plant can reach a height of four meters, but it takes an extremely long time to grow, and can live up to 150 years or more. It usually consists of a single vine and a massive, woody, trunk-like root that grows above ground. The root is harvested in autumn, dried, sliced and used raw.

Stephania contains various chemical compounds, including glycosides and volatile oils. In Japan, stephania is used as a pain reliever, and to treat inflammation and stiffness of the shoulders and back. In China, stephania is used mainly to treat Bell’s palsy, abdominal pain and asthma, and as a diuretic.

Stephania should not be mistaken for aristolochia. Although the two herbs have similar sounding names in pin yin (han fang ji and guang fang ji), they have quite different properties.

How much stephania should I take?

The recommended dose of stephania is 5-10 grams of dried root, boiled in water as part of a decoction.

What forms of stephania are available?

Whole and sliced stephania roots can be found in some herbal shops.

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

The American Herbal Products Association has given stephania a class one rating, meaning it can be consumed safely when used appropriately. In the mid-1990s, some cases of kidney damage were reported in supplements containing stephania, but the herb causing the adverse effects was found to most likely be aristolochia (guang fang ji). As of this writing, there are no known adverse drug interactions with stephania. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking stephania or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Dharmananda S. The strange story of stephania: Lessons about herb substitution, toxicity, and modern research. Start Group 1997, pp.1-25.
  • Dharmananda S. An analysis of Chinese herb prescriptions for rheumatoid arthritis. August 2000. Available at www.itmonline.org/arts/arthritis.htm.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R (eds.) American Herbal Products Association’s Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 110.
  • Vanhaelen M, Vanhaelen-Fastre R, But P, Vanherweghem, L. Identification of aristolochic acid in Chinese herbs. Lancet 1994;343:174.
  • Zhu YP, Woerdenbag J. Traditional Chinese herbal medicine. Pharmacy World and Science 1995;17:103-12.

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