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Arisaema (tian nan xing)

What is arisaema? What is it used for?

Arisaema is a perennial plant that grows in Northa America and Asia. The North American version is also known as jack-in-the-pulpit. It grows in sandy and loamy soils, and can reach a height of approximately 18 inches.

The plant's roots and rhizomes are used medicinally. The roots are harvested in the autumn or winter, when the plant is dormant, and are dried and boiled before being incorporated into herbal formulas. The roots are usually reddish in color, and somewhat fibrous; the fibers and skin are removed from the rhizome before being dried.

In traditional Chinese medicine, arisaema is considered to have bitter, pungent and warm properties, and is associated with the Lung, Liver and Spleen meridians. Its functions are to treat damp coughs, phlegm and heat in the lungs, and wind phlegm. Depending on the condition being treated, arisaema may be combined with other herbs, including tangerine peel, trichosanthes and pinellia.

When prescribed internally, it is always used dried, and almost always in conjunction with fresh ginger root. Dried arisaema root is used internally to treat coughs, tumors, epilepsy and muscle spasms. Externally, fresh arisaema root can be applied to the skin to treat skin ulcers and other conditions.

How much arisaema should I take?

The typical dosage of arisaema is between 4-9 grams per day, taken with with boiling water as a decoction, depending on the condition being treated. For external applications, larger doses may be necessary.

What forms of arisaema are available?

Arisaema is available either raw or dried, in whole, sliced, powder, pill, tablet and decoction forms.

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

The North American version of arisaema has been given a class 1 safety rating by the American Herbal Products Association, provided the tuber is dried properly. However, the Asian version of arisaema (tian nan xing) has a class 2B rating, which means it should not be used during pregnancy. Raw, unprocessed forms of arisaema are toxic.

Arisaema also contains calcium oxylate crystals, which cause an extremely unpleasant sensation in the mouth. These crystals can be neutralized by steeping the herb in boiling water, or drying or cooking it thoroughly. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking arisaema or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • Bown D. Encyclopedia of Herbs and Their Uses. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1995.
  • Chevallier A. The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. London: Dorling Kindersley, 1996.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, pp. 426-427.
  • Kunkel G. Plants for Human Consumption. Koeltz Scientific Books, 1984.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 13.
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