Herbs & Botanicals
Acanthopanax Bark (wu jia pi)
What is acanthopanax bark? What is it used for?
Acanthopanax bark is the outer covering, or peel, of the eleuthero, known by some practitioners as Siberian ginseng. This article will refer to the specific properties of the bark; the rest of the plant will be discussed elsewhere. The plant is native to east Asia, and usually grows on the slopes of the mountains of Japan and China. The bark (grayish-brown in appearance) is usually harvested from the root while the roots are gathered in the summer and autumn, then dried in the sun and cut into thick slices to be used raw.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, acanthopanax bark has pungent, bitter and warm properties, and is associated with the Liver and Kidney meridians. Its functions are to dispel wind and dampness, to strengthen the tendons and bones, and to promote urination. It helps treats conditions such as rheumatic pain and arthritis in the limbs, and weakness and pain in the knees and lower back. Acanthopanax is often mixed with other herbs such as eucommia bark, mulberry and angelica root to create larger herbal formulas.
There are two types of acanthopanax bark produced in China: northern and southern. The southern variety is non-toxic, contains vitamins A and B (along with various oils and acids), and helps to strengthen the bones and muscles. The northern variety is considered more toxic; while it is used to kill pain, it should not be consumed in large doses or for an extended length of time.
How much acanthopanax bark should I take?
The typical dose of acanthopanax is between five and 10 grams, decocted in boiling water for oral administration.
What forms of acanthopanax bark are available?
Dried slices of acanthopanax bark can be found at many Asian markets and specialty stores. Some shops also sell powdered acanthopanax bark. Many vendors also sell large formulas that incorporate acanthopanax bark with other herbs.
What can happen if I take too much acanthopanax bark? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
While the southern variety of acanthopanax bark is non-toxic, the northern variety of acanthopanax bark is considered toxic, and should not be used excessively or for extended periods of time.
Acanthopanax bark is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association has given it a class 1 rating. However, the German Commission E has noted that it should not be given to patients with high blood pressure. Patients with high blood pressure or who are taking blood pressure medications should consult with a health care provider before taking acanthopanax bark. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care practitioner before taking acanthopanax bark or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Blumenthal M, Busse W, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, pp. 124-125.
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- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 5.
- Yu CL, Ye TX, et al. Modern Medical Immunology. Publishing House of Shanghai Medical University, October 1998.