Herbs & Botanicals

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Xanthium Fruit (cang er zi)

What is xanthium? What is it used for?

Xanthium is another name for the cocklebur, a common bush native to Europe, North America and western Asia. The name xanthium comes from the Greek "xanthos," meaning yellow, and referring to the bush's seed pods, which turn from green to yellow as they ripen. The pods, or fruit, are used in Chinese medicine, and are referred to as cang er zi based on their color and appearance.

In traditional Chinese medicine, xanthium is associated with the Lung meridian, and is considered to have sweet, bitter and warm properties. It is used to dispel wind and damp, and is one of the most important herbs used for sinus congestion, chronic nasal obstructions and discharges, and respiratory allergies. In the West, xanthium is employed as an analgesic to relieve aches and pains, and headaches associated with nasal congestion and sinusitis. It is often used with other herbs, such as angelica and magnolia.

How much xanthium should I take?

The traditional dosage of xanthium is 3-9 grams per day.

What forms of xanthium are available?

Xanthium is available as a powder or decoction; it is also sometimes offered in pill or capsule form.

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

Several sources consider xanthium to be toxic, although some evidence suggests the toxicity can be removed by washing the fruit in water, subjecting it to high heat, or stir-frying it. Overdosing on xanthium can cause vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. In addition, it should not be used by patients suffering from blood deficiency (anemia). As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking xanthium fruit or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  1. Jing X, Sui J. Elementary introduction about toxicity of Chinese herb cang er zi and rescue measures for poisoning. Heilongjiang Journal of TCM 2000;63(4).
  2. Ling Y. A New Compendium of Materia Medica. Beijing: Science Press, 1995.
  3. State Administration of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Advanced Textbook on Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology, volume 4. Beijing: New World Press, 1995-96.
  4. Yang Y. Chinese Herbal Medicines. Comparisons and Characteristics. London; Churchill Livingstone, 2002.
  5. Zhu YP. Chinese Materia Medica: Chemistry, Pharmacology, and Applications. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1998.

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