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Cynanchum (bai qian)

What is cynanchum? What is it used for?

Also known as the swallow-wort, cynanchum is a cylindrical, branched plant native to several provinces of China. The two most common varieties of cynanchum are cynanchum stauntonii (Decne.) or cynanchum glaucescens (Decne.).

Cynanchum can reach a height of one meter, with narrow, lance-like leaves and flowers that range from yellow to red to brown to black, depending on the species. The roots and rhizomes are used in herbal remedies.

Externally, the rhizomes of cynanchum stauntonii have a yellowish-white or yellowish-brown appearance, and are coiled together in a branchy, fibrous mass that can reach up to six inches in length. The rhizome of cynanchum glaucescens is relatively shorter in comparison, and appears grayish-green or grayish-yellow.

The primary function of cynanchum rhizone is to eliminate phlegm and relieve cough. In traditional Chinese medicine, cynanchum is bitter and pungent in taste and slightly warm in nature, and is associated with the Lung meridian. It promotes the lungsŐ dispersing functions by redirecting lung qi down, expelling phlegm and treating coughs and a congested chest. It is often used with other herbs, such as ephedra, rehmannia and platycodon. In addition to treating coughs, cynanchum is sometimes used to treat internal fevers and bronchitis.

How much cynanchum should I take?

The amount of cynanchum to be taken depends on the condition being treated. Generally, most practitioners recommend a daily dose of 3-9 grams, usually as a decoction.

What forms of cynanchum are available?

Dried cynanchum rhizome is available at some herbal shops and specialty stores. Typically, cyanchum is used as part of a decoction, either with water or alcohol. Alcohol-based cynanchum extracts are also available.

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

Overdosing with cynanchum may cause stomach irritation in some sensitive individuals. In addition, because of its effects on the lungs, it should be taken with caution by patients with asthma. As of this writing, there are no known drug interactions with cynanchum. As always, make sure to speak with a licensed health care provider before taking cynanchum or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • Editorial Committee of Chinese Materia Medica. State Drug Administration of China. Chinese Materia Medica. Shanghai: Science and Technology Press, 1998.
  • Liang AH, et al. Bai qian's effects in relieving cough, eliminating phlegm and relieving asthma. China Journal of Chinese Medicine 1995;20(3)176-178.
  • Lou HX, et al. The isolation of huabei bai qian biological alkaloids and the preparation of their derivatives. Journal of Shandong Medical University 1995;33(2):158-162.
  • Qiu SX. The chemical composition of liuye bai qian. China Journal of Chinese Medicine 1994;19(8):488-489.
  • Shen YQ, et al. Bai qian's effects on the digestive system. Journal of Pharmacology and Clinical Application of TCM 1995;20(3)176-178.
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