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Nux Vomica Seed (ma qian zi)

What is nux vomica seed? What is it used for?

Nux vomica seed comes from a type of tree, strychnos nux-vomica L. (strychnine), which grows in India, Ceylon, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

A typical tree is of moderate height, with a crooked trunk and ash-colored bark, small green flowers and hard berries the size of apples. The berries contain the nux vomica seeds, which are harvested when the berries ripen in the winter. They are removed from the berries, dried, then fried for use in herbal preparations.

Nux vomica seed is bitter in flavor, with cold and highly toxic properties. It is associated with the Liver and Spleen meridians. Its main functions are to reduce masses and obstructions, and to alleviate pain. Nux vomica seed is often incorporated with other herbs to treat conditions such as pain and swelling, inflammation of the throat, arthralgia and rheumatism. In controlled doses, it can help stimulate muscular activity and resolve some cases of alcohol poisoning. It is extremely potent, and should be used only under the supervision of a licensed health care provider.

How much nux vomica seed should I take?

The typical dose of nux vomica seed is between 0.3-0.9 grams, ground up into a powder for use in herbal formulas. It should be prepared thoroughly before use. Appropriate amounts can be applied externally by grinding the seeds into powder and mixing them with liquid to form a type of paste or poultice.

What forms of nux vomica seed are available?

Whole, prepared nux vomica seeds are available at some herbal shops and Asian markets. Powdered nux vomica seed can be found at some specialty stores. Nux vomica seed is also incorporated into several herbal formulas.

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

Nux vomica is considered toxic; large doses can cause spasms, fainting, or possibly even coma. It should not be used by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and should not be taken for prolonged durations. The German Commission E considers nux vomica an "unapproved herb." According to the Commission, "Since the effectiveness of most claimed applications is not documented, the therapeutic use of nux vomica and its preparations, even as bitter principle and tonic, is not justifiable due to the risks."


  • Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds.) The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, p. 355.
  • Boericke W. Pocket Manual of Homoeopathic Materia Medica and Repertory. New Delhi, India: B. Jain Publishers, 1996.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C. (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 547-549.
  • Hulman D. The Consumer's Guide to Homeopathy. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1995.
  • Jonas WB, Jacobs J. Healing With Homeopathy. New York: Warner Books, 1996.
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