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Smilax (tu fu ling)

What is smilax? What is it used for?

Also known as the glabrous greenbrier, smilax is an aquatic plant that belongs to the lily family, with large, circular green leaves and a thin stem. In China, smilax grows predominantly in the Yangtse river valley and the country's southern provinces. The dried rhizome of the plant is used in herbal remedies.

According to the principles of traditional Chinese medicine, smilax has sweet and cool properties, and is associated with the Stomach and Kidney meridians. It is used to treat a variety of urinary conditions, especially urinary tract infections and cysts; animal studies have shown that smilax can fight cancers of the liver and urinary bladder. In addition, smilax is effective in relieving joint pain and rheumatoid arthritis. In women, it helps to relieve painful menstruation and irregular menstruation, and to treat fibroids and cysts that may develop in the ovaries.

In addition to internal uses, smilax may also be applied externally. It can treat conditions such as skin ulcers and psoriaris.

How much smilax should I take?

The typical dosage of smilax is between 15 and 30 grams per day, decocted in water. Larger amounts of powdered smilax can be used to treat skin conditions. Smilax is also incorporated into some formulas used to treat skin disorders.

What forms of smilax are available?

The most common form of smilax available is as a powder, which can be found at many herbal shops, supplement stores and Asian markets. It should be stored in a dry place for preservation.

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

Smilax is considered safe; the American Herbal Products Association has given it a class 1 rating. However, smilax should be used with caution by patients who have been diagnosed with liver deficiency and/or kidney deficiency. In addition, some traditional texts have suggested that smilax not be consumed with tea, although the exact reason for this remains unclear.

Smilax may interact with certain drugs, including hypnotic medications and digitalis. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking smilax 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. 207-208.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 661-62.
  • Jiang J, Xu Q. Immunomodulatory activity of the aqueous extract from rhizome of smilax glabra in the later phase of adjuvant-induced arthritis in rats. J Ethnopharmacol March 2003;85(1):53-9.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 108.
  • Ruan J, Zou J, Cai Y. Studies on chemical constituents of smilax china. Zhong Yao Cai January 2005;28(1):24-6.
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