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Ilex (mao dong qing)

What is ilex? What is it used for?

Ilex comes from a type of holly, flex pubescens Hook et Am. The root of the plant is used in herbal remedies. A typical ilex root is grayish-brown and wooden in appearance, with smaller fibrous roots that branch out from it. The root is harvested, stripped of any fibrous material, then dried and sliced into thin pieces for use.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, ilex root has bitter and cold properties, and is affiliated with the Heart and Lung meridians. Its main functions are to promote circulation, remove stasis, and clear heat and toxins. Among the conditions that ilex root can help treat are angina, high blood pressure, uveitis, coughs, chest congestion, and asthma. Ilex root can also be applied topically to treat skin infections and burns, and to promote wound healing.

How much ilex should I take?

The typical dosage of ilex root is between 30 and 60 grams, drunk with water as a decoction. Some practitioners may recommend larger doses (up to 150 grams per day) for particularly stubborn conditions. In addition to powdered ilex root, some practitioners may administer ilex root tablets, containing an ilex extract.

What forms of ilex are available?

The most common form of ilex root available is powder, which can be found at some herbal shops and specialty stores. In addition, some stores sell ilex root extracts, infusions, and pills. Some Asian markets also offer sliced, dried ilex root.

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

As of this writing, there are no known side-effects associated with ilex root. However, because ilex acts as an anticoagulant, it should be used with caution by patients taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medications. It may also interaction with medications such as coumadin, heparin and enoxaparin. Patients taking these medications should speak with their health care provider before taking ilex. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care practitioner before taking ilex root or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.


  • Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 661-662.
  • Gulluce M, Adiguzel A, Ogutcu H, et al. Antimicrobial effects of quercus ilex L. extract. Phytother Res March 2004;18(3):208-11.
  • Luo RJ, Chen JW, Quan ZL, et al. Effects of ilexonin A on circulatory neuroregulation. Adv Exp Med Biol 1995;363:143-54.
  • Taketa AT, Gnoatto SC, Gosmann G, et al. Triterpenoids from Brazilian ilex species and their in vitro antitrypanosomal activity. J Nat Prod October 2004;67(10):1697-700.
  • Xiong Y, Li C, Luo X. Advances in the study of ilex pubescens Hook. et Arm: chemical constituents and pharmacological action. Zhong Yao Cai May 2002;25(5):371-4.
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