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Coptis (huang lian)

What is coptis? What is it used for?

Coptis is a small, perennial herb found in North America, Greenland, Iceland and Siberia. Its name is derived from the Greek "kopto," meaning "to cut," in reference to its leaves, which are dark green and divided.

It is also known by a variety of names, including goldthread and yellow root, because of the plant's root, which are golden yellow in color. The root is used medicinally.

Coptis was originally used by Native Americans to treat canker sores and mouth sores. In traditional Chinese medicine, it is used for gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, hypertension, and bacterial infections. The plant's roots contain berberine, which can be used as an anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, and berberine-like alkaloids which are believed to facilitate healing.

How much coptis should I take?

The amount of coptis ingested depends on the condition being treated. Some practitioners recommend 2-10 grams of coptis powder; others recommend 15-60 ml of a coptis tincture. Coptis teas can also be made by steeping whole root or powder in water; these beverages are used to treat jaundice and vomiting.

What forms of coptis are available?

Some Asian markets and specialty stores sell whole, dried coptis root. It is also available in powder and tincture forms.

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

Coptis should not be taken in large doses for extended periods of time. It is extremely bitter. Repeated use may cause nausea and vomiting, and because it is used to treat hypertension, it should not be used by people taking antihypertensive medications. In addition, because coptis displaces the presence of bilirubin, it should not be administered to infants with jaundice.

As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care professional before taking coptis or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • A Barefoot Doctor's Manual. American translation of the official Chinese Paramedical Manual, Running Press, Philadelphia (1990).
  • Brinker F. Herb Contraindications and Drug Interactions, 3rd ed. Sandy, OR: Eclectic Medical Publications, 2001.
  • Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. New York: DK Publishing, Inc., 1996.
  • Huang KC. The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs, 2nd ed. New York: CRC Press, 1999.
  • PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 1999.
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