Learn More About Dr. Leung's Research Philosophy

Dr. Leung says "My thinking has changed and I no longer trust research findings on botanicals unless... "
Click to read more about Dr. Leung's research philosophy.

Friday, June 22, 2007


Astragalus, the root of Astragalus membranaceus (Fisch.) Bge. and other Astragalus spp., can be used raw or cured. Astragalus is a qi (energy) tonic, with healing, antiviral, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, immunomodulating, and diuretic properties. The raw version has traditionally been used most commonly for spontaneous/night sweating, edema, painful joints, chronic sores/abscesses, nonhealing wounds and ulcers. Cured astragalus has traditionally been used for general weakness, fatigue, lack of appetite, diarrhea due to spleen deficiency, rectal prolapse, and uterine bleeding. Other, more modern uses include colds and flu, diabetes, stomach ulcer, neurodermatitis, and AIDS.

Documented use of astragalus root in China dates back at least two thousand years. It is one of the major qi (energy) tonics, being used in countless formulas as well as in various soup mixes. Although the raw and cured roots are distinctly different entities, some of their uses often overlap. Most of the above listed properties and uses have a documented scientific basis, some more extensive than others.

The chemistry and pharmacology of astragalus have been extensively studied mainly by Chinese, Japanese, and European researchers. It contains many types of chemical components. The ones found to be pharmacologically active so far include polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides, and flavonoids, none of which alone account for the overall properties of astragalus. Other pharmacological effects not listed above include hypotensive, vasodilating, improvement of learning and memory, liver protectant, and increase in stamina.

Astragalus, in combination with other traditional Chinese herbs (e.g., licorice), is now widely used for its beneficial immunologic effects, especially in AIDS treatment by alternative health care physicians.

Astragalus is an herbal food with over two thousand years of safe use history. It contains a wide variety of both conventional (amino acids, minerals, etc.) and non-conventional (flavonoids, polysaccharides, triterpene glycosides, sterols, etc.) nutrients. It can serve as a source for both types of nutrients to help our body cope with the hardships of our modern lifestyle.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including astragalus on pages 5-6. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Sour Jujube Kernel

Sour jujube kernel is the seed of Ziziphus spinosa Hu and Z. jujuba Mill. var spinosa (Bge.) Hu ex H.F. Chow. It has brain tonic, tranquilizing, body fluid secretory promoting, and excessive perspiration preventing properties. The most common traditional uses for sour jujube kernel are neurasthenia, insomnia, nightmares, night sweat, forgetfulness, palpitations, and thirst.

Sour jujube kernel is probably the most commonly used sedative herb in China for treating sleep-related problems such as insomnia and nightmares. Its first recorded use dates back two thousand years. Since then, it has become a major ingredient of Chinese sedative and hypnotic formulas, some of which are well known and can be obtained over the counter in Chinese herb shops throughout the world.

Sour jujube kernel is also used in soups and drinks for diet therapy. One recipe for rice soup in Yin Zhan Zhen Yao (a diet herbal published in 1330 A.D.) simply calls for cooking 100 g of rice to form a soup and then adding 15 g of roasted sour jujube kernel powder shortly before serving. It is said to be good for palpitations, insomnia, excessive dreams (nightmares) and tightness of the chest.

Sour jujube kernel contains a wide variety of chemical components, including flavonoids, flavonoid glycosides, triterpenes and triterpene saponin glycosides, alkaloids, sterols, fatty acids, cyclic AMP and cyclic GMP and others. Modern scientific studies have shown it to have strong sedative and hypnotic effects in both humans and in experimental animals (mice, rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits and dogs). As with most drug-oriented modern scientific studies on herbs, no one single active principle has been found. Rather, the flavonoid glycosides (spinosin, swertisin, and zivulgarin), alkaloids and the saponins (jujubosides A and B) have all been shown to be active. Perhaps that is the reason sour jujube kernel has been safely and effectively used for over two thousand years!

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including sour jujube kernel on pages 85-86. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Magnolia Is Xinyi

Magnolia, also known as Xinyi, is the flower bud of Magnolia biodii L., M. denudata Desr. and other Magnolia spp. (Family Magnioliaceae). Properties of the magnolia bud include clears nasal cavity, antiinflammatory, antiallergenic, antihistaminic, antimicrobial (fungi, bacteria, viruses), muscle stimulant and relaxant, and local anesthetic. The most common traditional internal uses are for nasal congestion, common cold and associated headache, and runny nose. The most common traditional external uses are nasal decongestion, toothaches, and facial dark spots. Some more modern and recent uses are allergic rhinitus, chronic rhinitis, and paranasal sinusitis.

The magnolia flower bud looks like a pussywillow bud but when crushed it smells strongly of eucalyptus. It is readily available from any China Town herb shop. It is one of the most effective nasal decongestants I have ever come across.

I used to have a very bad case of hay fever, both in the spring and fall, all of which started during my third year as a graduate student in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I tried all kinds of over-the-counter and prescription drugs for hay fever. Some worked while others didn't. Those that worked caused drowsiness and made life equally miserable. Later, as my interest in Chinese herbal medicine was rekindled, I discovered magnolia flower and started using it. My hay fever was so bad that my nose was completely plugged at night, and I had to breathe totally through my mouth. When it got that bad, none of the modern nasal decongestants worked.

To make the tea, a handful of the buds (8 to 10) are crushed and steeped in boiling water and covered for about 5 minutes. After straining off the hairs, the tea is drunk. Incidentally, it tastes rather bad; only a koala would like it! A cup before bedtime got me through the night. To my amazement, after two seasons of use (once at night and once in the morning whenever I remembered), my hay fever was greatly relieved, to the point that I didn't need any more modern medications. That was a number of years ago. Now I only occasionally need magnolia. Skeptics may say I just happened to be outgrowing my hay fever the same time I started using magnolia flower. Maybe and maybe not. I was also skeptical at first after reading reports from China describing its use in treating rhinitis with amazing results. But the more I read about its history of use and modern studies on its various effects, the more I am convinced that magnolia flower indeed works.

The written record of magnolia flower being used to "clear the nasal cavity" dates back three thousand years. Although modern laboratory studies have discovered various active components (neolignans, lignans, alkaloids, volatile oil, flavonoids, etc.) in magnolia flower, scientists still cannot determine what accounts for its nasal decongestant effects. But as a former hay fever sufferer - and still one occasionally - I can only say "Who cares?" I am just glad that I can count on magnolia flower when I need it, even though it makes a horrible tea. To my colleagues and fellow scientists who happen to read this: It is not just the volatile oil that works.

Because of its antiinflammatory effects, extracts of magnolia flower are now used in certain cosmetics to relieve irritation or inflammation caused by certain cosmetic ingredients.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including magnolia flower on pages 63-64. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

DONG QUAI For Me Argentina

Danggui is the root of Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels (Family Apiaceae). It is a blood tonic (purifies blood, promotes blood formation and circulation, and regulates menstrual flow), and it also moisturizes and lubricates the intestines. The most common traditional uses for danggui include menstrual disorders, (irregular menses, metrorrhagia, amenorrhea, cramps, pain, etc.), anemia, weakness due to loss of blood, insomnia, headache, constipation, boils and ulcers, and traumatic injuries. Modern uses include high blood pressure, rheumatism, arthritic pain, muscle pain, neuralgia, and shingles.

Chinese angelica is known in English under numerous names, including danggui, dong quai, tang kwei, tang kuei, dang qui, etc. Only two of these are the officially "correct" names, danggui and tang kuei. The former is based on the official Chinese pinyin transliteration system and is closest to the actual pronunciation in Chinese (Mandarin). The latter, tang kuei, is based on the older Wade-Giles transliteration system which is less accurate and is now only used in Taiwanese and other free-world publications which represent only a minor proportion of all Chinese publications.

With its first recorded use dating back two thousand years, danggui is perhaps the most widely used tonic in the world, especially among Chinese women. It is eaten in soups and popular dishes such as "danggui duck" and "danggui chicken". While growing up in a household of mostly women, I often ate these dishes. Although danggui is primarily for women, it can be consumed by men as well.

Since its recent introduction to the American health food market, danggui has increasingly gained popularity among American women for their menstrual problems. As it has a very strong and distinct odor, it is difficult for dishonest manufacturers and marketers to cut it too much with cheap and inert fillers. Consequently, unlike other expensive herbs (e.g., ginseng and aloe vera), danggui products can be identified by their unique fragrance. As a general rule, the stronger the odor, the better the product (at least for now, or until the shysters find a cheap synthetic odor to pass off as danggui).

Like other tonics, danggui acts very subtly in our body. It would be extremely difficult to prove its effectiveness one way or the other by modern clinical trials. But with over two thousand years of safe and beneficial use, who needs them? The only people who want clinical trials are the drug industry and associated government bureaucrats who stand to lose big financially if American women don't need drugs to take care of problems associated with menstruation.

Incidentally, you may have heard something about the Canadian government requiring a cautionary pregnancy label for danggui products. I have no idea where they obtained the data on which they based their decision, but I suspect it was based on misinformation as well as prejudice against herbal products. First, in laboratory studies, danggui has been shown to have both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on the uterus and other smooth muscles of animals. That should tell you that one can't treat a tonic herb like danggui as if it were a single synthetic chemical. Second, there is no record in the traditional Chinese literature warning against its use in pregnancy. On the contrary, it is well known for its "fetus-calming" properties and is sometimes prescribed along with other herbs to prevent abortion and to treat other pregnancy-associated conditions. My personal opinion is that some bureaucrat had confused lovage with the real danggui because the former is also known in China as "European danggui". Unlike danggui, lovage is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including danggui, on pages 21-23. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Friday, June 08, 2007


The fruit of Capsicum frutescens L., C. annum L. and their hybrids are commonly known as capsicum. They can also be referred to as red pepper, cayenne pepper, chili pepper or hot pepper (see our earlier post on hot pepper for more detail). Properties include rubefacient, stomachic, appetizer, carminitive, circulatory stimulant, gastrointestinal stimulant, general tonic, antiinflammatory, and analgesic. The most common traditional uses of this herb are as a digestive aid, flatulence, colic, cramps, diarrhea, and toothache (all internal uses). It is also used externally as a counterirritant in arthritis and rheumatism, chilblain, frostbite, sprains, hematomas, and poisonous snake bite.

Capsicum is rich in vitamins (A, C, beta-carrotene, etc.) and other nutrients. It is a favorite of Western herbalists who frequently use it in herbal formulas as a catalyst to enhance the effects of other herbs.

The major active constituent in capsicum is capsaicin, which has pain-relieving and antiinflammatory activities. It is also very irritating to mucous membranes and will cause intense pain when inadvertently rubbed into the eyes.

The traditional use of capsicum in treating arthritis and rheumatism now has a scientific basis in capsaicin, which is presently used in numerous external pain-reliving balms. The major drawback to these otherwise highly effective remedies is that extreme caution needs to be exercised in order to avoid accidental contact with mucous membranes, especially in and around the eyes.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including capsicum, on page 12. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Eleuthero is the dried root and rhizome of Eleutherococcus senticosus (Rupr. and Maxim.) Maxim. (Family Araliaceae). Properties include that of tonic, stimulant, adaptogenic, strengthens tendons and bones, removes rheumatism, invigorates blood and breaks up blood stasis, and diuretic. The most common traditional uses of this herb are rheumatism, arthritis, backache, edema, weakness of legs, impotence, and traumatic injuries. Modern uses include stress and low resistance to diseases.

Eleuthero, or ciwujia, is one of several wujias that have been used interchangeably for over two thousand years in China as a general tonic to treat various conditions. Although also called Siberian "ginseng" with tonic properties like ginseng and belonging to the same family, eleuthero contains active constituents that are quite different from those of ginseng. Thus, it does not contain the well-known saponin glycosides (called ginsenosides) which are the major active principles of ginseng. Instead, its active components (called eleutherosides) are glycosides of sterols, phenylpropanoids, coumarins, lignans and triterpenes. It also contains other nutrients such as vitamins (E, beta-carrotene, etc.) and polysaccharides, among others.

As typical in research on tonics, bits and pieces of scientific evidence have shown eleuthero to have broad biological effects, including hypoglycemic, antiinflammatory, diuretic, estrogenic, gonadotropic, antihypertensive, antioxidant, immunomodulating, antitumor, antiedema, stress-resistant, etc. Although some of the activities have been attributed to certain eleutherosides and polysaccharides in eleuthero, the fact remains that we still don't know how and why eleuthero works. Instead of looking for a single chemical hoping it will give us the key to eleuthero's secrets, we should be evaluating the whole herb. The problem is that, based on the current system of drug research support, no drug company or government agency would be interested in supporting work which is not on a single patentable chemical. Well-known herbs and formulas cannot be patented and without a patent, the financial supporter or its associates and friends cannot make big money.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including eleuthero on pages 24-25. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Red Sage or Danshen

Note: The topic of today's post, danshen, is not to be confused with dangshen (or codonopsis) from last week.

Red sage (known as danshen in Chinese) is the root and rhizome of Salvia miltiorrhiza Bge. (Family Labeatae). Danshen activates blood, removes blood stasis, promotes menses, relieves pain, reduces fever, and is a calmative. The most common traditional uses of this herb are for blood circulation problems, angina pectoris, palpitations, tight chest, irregular menses, menstrual pain, amenorrhea, metrorrhagia, leukorrhagia, abdominal pain, abdominal mass, insomnia, painful and stiff joints, skin sores and ulcers. More modern uses include chronic hepatitis, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, skin diseases (psoriasis, acne, eczema, scleroderma, neurodermatitis, etc.).

The first recorded use of danshen dates back at least two thousand years. Considered one of the major huo xue hua yu (activating blood circulation to disperse stasis) herbs, it is normally used in teas, wines, and sometimes in soups along with rice or other foods/herbs. Modern scientific studies have confirmed many of its traditional properties and uses: cardiovascular, anticoagulant, antibacterial, antiinflammatory, antioxidant, sedative, antiatherosclerotic, antitumor, etc. Its major active ingredients include several tanshinones (phenanthrene diketones), plant acids (salvianolic acid, danshensu, oleanolic acid, etc.) and diterpenoids (miltirone, salvinone); it also contains vitamin E.

Although traditionally used mainly to benefit the cardiovascular system, danshen and the isolated tanshinones have recently been successfully used in treating acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin conditions.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including danshen on page 74. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.