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Anemarrhena (zhi mu)

What is anemarrhena? What is it used for?

Anemarrhena is a small, ornamental plant native to northern China. A member of the lily family, anemarrhena is a decorative plant, with grasslike leaves and branches and fragrant-smelling flowers that open at night.

The root, or rhizome, is used medicinally, and is often dried for use in decoctions.

Anemarrhena has been used as a staple of traditional Chinese medicine for centuries; its first recorded use dates back to 200 BC. Internally, it is used for a variety of disorders, including congestive fever, high fever, chronic bronchitis, excessive sweating, dry throat, cough, dizziness, lumbago and pneumonia. Externally, it is used as part of a mouth wash to treat oral ulcers. Extracts of the plant contain compounds called saponins — one of which, asphonin, can be used to effectively treat lower back pain.

In traditional Chinese medicine, anemarrhena purges heat, nurtures yin and relaxes tension. It is sometimes mixed with other herbs, such as phellodendron, scrophularia and Chinese foxglove.

How much anemarrhena should I take?

A typical dose of anemarrhena is between 6-12 grams of dried rhizome used in water as a decoction. Make sure to check with a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner for information on the appropriate dosages and any possible drug interactions.

What forms of anemarrhena are available?

Dried anemarrhena rhizomes can be found at some Asian markets and specialty stores. Some herbal vendors also sell powdered rhizome or anemarrhena extracts. Extracts are usually combined with other substances as part of an herbal formula.

What can happen if I don't get enough anemarrhena? What can happen if I take too much? Are there any side-effects I should be aware of?

Anemarrhena should not be used by patients that have diarrhea or, in traditional Chinese medicine, spleen deficiency. Large doses are reported to be toxic and may inhibit heart action. Excess amounts may cause a sudden drop in blood pressure. Make sure to check with a qualified Chinese medicine practitioner before taking anemarrhena or any other herbal remedy.


  • Beyerl P. The Master Book of Herbalism. Custer, WA: Phoenix Publishing Co., 1996.
  • Dong JX, Han GY. Studies on the active constituents of anemarrhena asphodeloides bunge. Yao Xue Xue Bao 1992;27(1):26-32. Chinese.
  • Hallowell M. Herbal Healing. Garden City Park, NY: Avery Publishing Group, 1994.
  • Meng ZY, Zhang JY, Xu SX, Sugahara K. Steroidal saponins from anemarrhena asphodeloides and their effects on superoxide generation. Planta Med 1999 Oct;65(7):661-3.
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