PINELLIA TUBER (Pinellia ternata)

Latin: Pinellia ternata
Chinese: Fa ban xia

WHAT IT DOES: Pinellia tuber is pungent in taste and warming in action.  It dries up and dissolves mucus in the lungs, stomach and intestines, and stops nausea and vomiting.

RATING: Yellow, due to limitations in use and potential minor toxicity.

SAFETY ISSUES: Pinellia must be processed prior to use, to remove toxic elements (Li et al., 1991, reported in Yeung, 1983).  The traditional method is to cook it with ginger, vinegar and/or alum.  Do not use during pregnancy.  Do not use long term.  Do not use with bleeding disorders.  Use only under the guidance of a trained professional. More on Pinellia safety.

• Dried powder (purified): two to six grams per day
• 4:1 dried decoction: 500-1000 mg per day

Pinellia tuber is perhaps the strongest TCM herb for removing phlegm.  We use it very frequently at our clinic to treat coughs and upper respiratory infections with thick and tenacious phlegm.  It is useful in the digestive system when there are signs of nausea, poor digestion and overall sluggishness, with a thick white coating on the tongue.  It can be used to stop chronic diarrhea due to poor digestion.  It is almost always prescribed in formulas along with tangerine peel and/or ginger root to promote a more effective action (synergy).

A classic formula considerd the best one for mucus reduction anywhere in the lungs or digestive tract is called two-cured decoction (er chen tang).  It consists of pinellia tuber, tangerine peel, poria mushroom and honey-fried licorice root.

Research Highlights

• In animal experiments, taste stimulation by pinellia tuber caused suppression of gastric vagus nerve activity, while stimulation with ginger root caused an increase in nerve activity.  The mixture of the two herbs had a neutral effect.  This demonstrates the rationale behind traditional use of the two herbs together (Niijima et al., 1998).

• The reticuloendothelial system (RES) consists of phagocytic immune cells (those that eat foreign materials and particles).  The RES exists primarily in the liver, and it helps attack cancer cells (Baas et al., 1994).  In pharmacological studies of pinellian G, a complex sugar extracted from pinellia tuber, researchers recorded significant RES-stimulating activity and a reduction in inflammation (Tomoda et al., 1994).  This may partially explain the herb’s anti-phlegm activity.