Herbs & Botanicals
Realgar (xiong huang)
What is realgar? What is it used for?
Realgar is not an herb, but a mineral, comprised primarily of arsenic and sulphur. It has a reddish-orange color and is usually found in ore veins. In China, realgar is found mainly in the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Sichuan and Yunnan. After being mined, any impurities are removed, after which it is ground into a fine powder for use.
Realgar has acrid, bitter, warm, and toxic characteristics, according to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, and is affiliated with the Heart, Liver and Stomach meridians. It is used internally to kill intestinal parasites and treat sore throats, and is applied externally to treat swelling, abscesses, itching, rashes, and other skin disorders.
How much realgar should I take?
The typical internal dose of realgar is between 0.2 and 0.4 grams, decocted in water and taken up to two times per day. Some practitioners may recommend slightly higher doses (0.3-0.9 grams). Larger doses of realgar may be used if it is being applied topically.
What forms of realgar are available?
The most common form of realgar is as a powder, which can be found at some specialty stores, and even some herbal shops. Realgar is also available in pill, capsule and tablet form, and is sometimes incorporated with other substances into a larger formula.
What can happen if I take too much realgar? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?
Because realgar contains arsenic, it should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, nor should it be administered to infants or small children. In addition, realgar should not be processed through calcinations; doing so will make it highly toxic. Although realgar can be applied to the skin, it should not be used on large areas or for prolonged periods of time. Extensive use can lead to arsenic poisoning.
As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions associated with realgar. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking realgar or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.
- Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 1039-1041.
- Deng Y, Xu H, Huang K, et al. Size effects of realgar particles on apoptosis in a human umbilical vein endothelial cell line: ECV-304. Pharmacol Res December 2001;44(6):513-8.
- Ning N, Peng ZF, Yuan L, et al. Realgar nano-particles induce apoptosis and necrosis in leukemia cell lines K562 and HL-60. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi January 2005;30(2):136-40.
- Pan B, Xu L, Yang X. Advances in the study on antineoplastic action of realgar. Zhong Yao Cai March 2004;27(3):226-9.
- Wang JH, Ye ZG, Liang AH, et al. Absorption and distribution of mercury and arsenic from realgar and cinnabar of angong niuhuang pill in normal rats and rats with cerebral ischemia. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi July 2003;28(7):639-42.