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Stemona (bai bu)

What is stemona? What is it used for?

Stemona is a type of perennial climbing plant native to continental Asia and Australia. It usually grows in areas of dry vegetation, and usually consists of a single thing with alternating, spade-shaped leaves and thick, white tuberous roots.

The roots are harvested in spring or autumn, washed clean, scalded in boiling water, dried in the sun, and cut into thick slices for use when raw or after being fried with honey.

In traditional Chinese medicine, stemona is associated with the Lung meridian. It has sweet, bitter and warm properties. Its functions are to moisten the lungs, stop coughs and expel parasites.

Stemona root can be used both internally or externally. Externally, it can be applied to the skin as a poultice to rid the body of lice and fungi. Internally, it is used to reduce the incidence of both acute and chronic coughs by relaxing the respiratory system and lowering blood pressure. One component of stemona, tuberostemonine, also has been shown to have some pain-relieving properties. There is also evidence that stemona root, when taken in a decoction with alcohol, can prohibit growth of the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.

How much stemona should I take?

The typical dose of stemona is 3-9 grams, usually taken internally as a decoction. A stemona poultice can also be made by crushing the root and applying it to the skin with a damp cloth.

What forms of stemona are available?

Sliced dried stemona root can be found at some Asian markets and specialty stores. Some herb shops also sell stemona pills, powders and decoctions.

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

Although there are no known drug interactions with stemona root, there are isolated reports of it causing allergic reactions and colicky pain in some individuals. It should also be used with caution by patients with spleen or stomach deficiency with diarrhea. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking stemona 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.
  • Huang QH, et al. Antibacterial effects of alcohol-based extract of five Chinese herbs, including bai bu, and their formulas. Journal of Research in Traditional Chinese Medicine 1987;6:281-282.
  • Liang YF, et al. Screening for Chinese herbs with an inhibitory effect on mites in human bodies. Guangxi Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 1999;22(2):40-41.
  • Xu RS, et al. Alkaloids of bai bu (IV): new alkaloids in da bai bu. Journal of Chinese Materia Medica 1992;23(11):582.
  • Zhang QR. One case of allergic reaction to bai bu. Journal of Zhejiang College of TCM 1995;19(2):16.
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