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Chinese Goldthread Rhizome

Latin: Rhizoma Coptidis

Origin: Chinese Goldthread Rhizome is the rhizome (underground stem) of Coptis chinensis Franch., Coptis beltoidea C. Y. Cheng et Hsiao or Coptis teeta Wall., a perennial herb, of the family Ranunculaceae. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine as an herb mainly to improve digestive functions and to prevent the growth of microorganisms.

Other related species that are also called coptis and are used in similar ways in other parts of the world include Coptis anemonaefolia, which is used in Japan; Coptis trifolia, used in North America; and Coptis teeta, grown in India and is used in Ayurvedic medicine.

Coptis is a low, creeping perennial evergreen that grows in damp boggy spots in woods. The plant produces a mass of thread-like golden rhizomes that are used in healing.

C. trifolia is native to eastern North America as far south as the mountains of Tennessee.

C. chinensis is native to the cooler parts of Asia and is extensively cultivated in Szechwan, Yunnan and Hubei provinces in China. It is reaped in autumn. Dried and used when raw or fried alone or mixed and fried with ginger, with wine or with evodia fruit infusion.

Properties: Bitter in flavor, cold in nature, it is related to the heart, stomach, liver and large intestine channels.

Functions: Clearing away heat to eliminate dampness and purging intense heat to remove toxic substances.

Chinese goldthread rhizome, or coptis, has a long history of use in China. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), coptis is used to treat conditions associated with excess dampness and excess heat, such as insomnia and irritability. Heat in TCM means excessive activity, not high temperature, although the diseased part of the body could be red or inflamed.

In TCM, Chinese Goldthread Rhizome is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs.

Applications: 1. For treating the exopathogenic febrile diseases which are belonging to the type of excessive heat in the blood, manifested as dysphoria (a state of feeling unwell or unhappy) with high fever, coma and delirium:

It is used in combination with rhinoceros horn and rehmannia root to clear heat from the blood, the heart-heat and alleviate restlessness. In cases of excessive pathogenic fire manifested as dysphoria, insomnia, canker sores in the mouth, it is used in combination with cinnabar and rehmannia root known as Zhusha Anshen Wan (Cinnabar Sedative Bolus) to lessen palpitation and tranquilize the mind.

2. For treating the syndrome of excessive fire in the stomach, poor appetite, nausea, toothache due to stomach-fire, and polyuria (excessive secretion of urine):

It is used in combination with gypsum, bamboo shavings to clear the stomach-fire and arrest vomiting. In cases of damp-heat in large intestine, diarrhea with abdominal pain, tenesmus (distressing but ineffectual urge to evacuate the rectum or bladder), it is used in combination with scutellaria root, aucklandia root and Chinese angelica root known as Shaoyao Tang (Decoction of Peony) to clear away heat, remove dampness, promote the qi circulation.

3. For treating superficial pus-forming infections, such as sores, carbuncles, furuncles and boils:

It is used in combination with forsythia fruit, dandelion herb and scutellaria root to clear away heat, detoxicate toxins, and resolve swelling and lumps.

Furthermore, owing to the function of clearing the liver-fire, the preparation is also indicated for the stomach disease caused by liver-fire, hypochondriac pain, acid gurgitation, and conjunctival congestion caused by liver-heat.

Dosage and Administration: 2-10 g.

Decoct the ingredients for drinking or pulverize them for easy swallowing. Use an adequate amount externally. Its cold nature can be reduced when used after being fried. It is mixed and fried with ginger juice to clear heat from the stomach to arrest vomiting; mixed and fried with wine to clear fire from the chest and stir-fried with pig bile to purge fire of the excess type from the liver and gall bladder.

Cautions on Use: As this herb is very bitter and very cold, and taking it excessively or over a long period is liable to impair the spleen and stomach, it should be avoided by those who have spleen-yang insufficiency. An herb which is bitter in flavor and dry in nature impairs body fluids, so it must be used carefully by anyone who suffers yin deficiency and impairment of body fluids.

Berberine, the compound that is contained in Chinese goldthread rhizome, is known to cause contractions of the uterus in laboratory animals. For this reason, it is recommended that pregnant women not take this or any other herb containing berberine.

However, no unwanted side effects have been reported when Chinese goldthread rhizome is used in the amounts recommended by herbalists.

This herb has been used for thousands of years in China in conjunction with other herbs with no reported interactions. Since it is used most extensively in Asian medicine, there are no studies of its interactions with Western pharmaceuticals.

Reference Materials: 'Shen Nong's Herbal Classic' :

"Eye pain due to heat-evil, impairment of the canthi (the angles formed by the meeting of an eye's upper and lower eyelids) with tears shed, spouting bleeding from the anus, abdominal pain, diarrhea and vaginal swelling and pains."

'The Pearl Bag (Zhenzhu Nang)' :

"Six Functions: first to purge the heart of pathogenic fire; second to remove damp-heat from the spleen and stomach; third to be indispensable for various boils and sores; fourth to cure rheumatism; fifth to treat acute conjunctivitis; sixth to stop internal bleeding."

Toxic or Side Effects:

Modern Researches: All species of this herb contain the compound berberine, which is a white or yellow water-soluble alkaloid. Berberine is known to have strong antibiotic effects. In modern studies, berberine was shown to inhibit the growth of streptococcal bacteria responsible for some forms of pneumonia. This antibacterial activity supports the use of Chinese goldthread rhizome to treat skin, mouth, eye, and vaginal infections.

Berberine also is known to stimulate the production of saliva, gastric juice, pancreatic juice, and bile, suggesting that there is a chemical basis for the traditional use of Chinese goldthread rhizome in treating gastrointestinal disorders.

Preliminary studies of berberine suggest that it may also be effective against fungal infections, some viruses, and certain intestinal parasites. The high level of interest in berberine in the research community means that more studies of Chinese goldthread rhizome may soon be available.

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