Herbs & Botanicals
Litsea (bi cheng qie)
What is litsea? What is it used for?
Also known as cubeb, litsea is a type of pepper tree that grows in the mountains of China and other parts of Asia. It is sometimes referred to as the "mountain spicy tree" because of its aroma, and because of the small, berry-like fruit it produces (which is also aromatic). While different parts of the litsea tree are used for different conditions, this article will focus on litsea fruit.
The fruit is used as a medicinal, and also as a flavoring in some foods. The typical litsea fruit is globe-shaped, between four and six millimeters in diameter, with a brown outer skin. The fruits are harvested when ripe, cleaned and dried before use.
According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine litsea has warm and acrid properties, and is associated with the Spleen, Stomach, Kidney and Bladder meridians. Its main functions are to dispel cold, protect the kidneys, and promote the creation of qi. It is used to treat digestive disorders such as abdominal pain, hiccups, colic and diarrhea. Litsea fruit also has antiseptic properties, and is sometimes used to treat urinary tract infections.
How much litsea should I take?
The typical dosage of litsea fruit is between two and five grams, ground into powder and taken with boiling water as a decoction.
What forms of litsea are available?
Dried litsea fruit can be found at some Asian markets and herbal shops. Litsea is also available in powder and extract forms. It is typically taken alone, and not in conjunction with other herbs.
What can happen if I take too much litsea? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
There is some evidence that the essential oil contained in litsea fruit may be slightly toxic. As a result, it should not be used for excessive amounts of time, and should be avoided by children and women who are pregnant and/or breastfeeding. The American Herbal Products Association has given litsea a class 2D rating, with a warning that it should not be taken by patients suffering from nephritis.
As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with litsea. As always, however, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking litsea or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Choi EM, Hwang JK. Effects of methanolic extract and fractions from litsea cubeba bark on the production of inflammatory mediators in RAW264.7 cells. Fitoterapia March 2004;75(2):141-8.
- Luo M, Jiang LK, Zou GL. Acute and genetic toxicity of essential oil extracted from litsea cubeba (Lour.) Pers. J Food Prot March 2005;68(3):581-8.
- McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 86.
- Wang F, Yang D, Ren S, et al. Chemical composition of essential oil from leaves of litsea cubeba and its antifungal activities. Zhong Yao Cai August 1999;22(8):400-2.
- Wen J, Zhou F. Studies on the chemical constituents of litsea glutinosea. Zhong Yao Cai April 1997;20(4):191-2.