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Richard Mandelbaum RH (AHG)

2016

Cuscuta chinensis
C. japonica
(*See note)
Convolvulaceae (formerly Cuscutaceae)

C. gronovii

Tu si zi; dodder
Part used: seed (see below)

Native range: Asia; other species widespread


throughout world

Harvestable status / sustainability: widespread in areas

Flavor: acrid, sweet

Energetics: neutral (maybe slightly warm


and dry)

Actions: Chinese Kidney tonic (yin and yang); Chinese Liver Tonic, Chinese Spleen tonic,
demulcent, mild diuretic, cholagogue

Dodder seed strengthens Kidney Yin and Yang but is slightly more of a Yang tonic, therefore
although neutral and appropriate for long-term use, and often used alone, it tends to have
more of an overall warming effect over time. It is sometimes used alone and at high doses for
reproductive ailments as well as other manifestations of Kidney weakness. It also is used to
nourish the Liver and benefit vision. Dodder also has traditional European uses, although
seldom used today.

Indications:
• Nourishes Kidney yang and yin (sometimes used alone):
o Low sperm count, poor sperm motility
Cuscuta has been found in animal and in vitro studies to increase both
sperm count and sperm motility, potentially through an antioxidant
impact protective of sperm DNA against oxidative stress, alone (Yang et
al.) and in formulation with Cornus officinalis, Schisandra chinensis,
Rubus coreanus, and Lycium chinense (Kim et al.)
Richard Mandelbaum RH (AHG)
2016

Seed and stem extract of Cuscuta australis has been found to protect
healthy sperm morphology, traditionally eaten as “ogi” in maize-meal in
Nigeria for male and female reproductive disorders (Omirinde et al.)
o Impotence, nocturnal emissions, premature ejaculation, spermatorrhea,
o Profuse vaginal discharge / leucorrhea, chronic uterine bleeding
o Astringes Jing / Essence and builds Kidney qi in cases of frequent urination,
urinary incontinence and dribbling (builds Kidney qi to assist bladder in holding
urine), prostate enlargement
o Lower back pain and discomfort, prolapse
o Dizziness, tinnitus, blurry or spotty vision
• Chinese Liver conditions affecting the eyes, including weak eyesight, macular
degeneration, dry, irritated eyes, blurry vision, floaters
• Damp Spleen with Kidney yang deficient diarrhea, loose stools, poor appetite
• Heart Qi deficiency with excessive worrying with insomnia, nocturia or nocturnal
emissions
• Also used for threatened miscarriage (restless fetus), sometimes with back pain, uterine
bleeding

• Common combinations include:


o For sexual imbalances and lower back pain (Kidney deficiency): Schisandra,
Eucommia, Rehmannia, Cornus, Lycium, Tribulus, Epimedium
o For urinary incontinence: Poria
o For Damp Spleen: Poria, Astragalus, Atractylodes
o For blurry vision: Lycium, Cornus, Chrysanthemum, Rehmannia, Ligustrum
o For threatened miscarriage: Dipsacus, Eucommia

Traditional European Uses:


Although seldom used today, dodder (Cuscuta europea, C. epithymum, C. reflexa) has a long
history of use in Europe. Generally the whole plant is used. Multiple authors dating back to
John Gerard and Nicholas Culpeper note that the nature of the remedy will vary depending on
its host plant. (Illustration: Arnaldus de Villa Nova, Tractatus de virtutibus herbarum, 1499)
• Skenderi lists European dodder (C. europea) as a mild laxative
and cholagogue used for sluggish bowels and mild constipation
with impaired bile flow (in contrast to TCM indications). He
also lists it as a mild diuretic, antidyscratic for rheumatic
complaints, and used topically for boils.
• Nicholas Culpeper in the 17th century preferred dodder growing
on thyme, and wrote about it: “This is accounted the most effectual
for melancholy diseases, and to purge black or burnt choler, which is
the cause of many diseases of the head and brain, as also for the
trembling of the heart, faintings and swoonings. It is helpful in all
diseases and griefs of the spleen, and melancholy that arises from the windiness of the
Richard Mandelbaum RH (AHG)
2016

hypocondria. It purgeth also the reins or kidneys by urine; it openeth obstructions of the gall
whereby it profiteth them that have the jaundice; as also the leaves the spleen: purging the veins
of the choleric and phlegmatic humours, and helpeth children in agues, a little wormseed being
put thereto. The other dodders do, as I said before, participate of the nature of those plants
whereon they grow; as that which hath been found growing upon nettles in the west country
hath by experience been found very effectual to procure plenty of urine where it hath been
stopped or hindered. And so of the rest.”

Safety, Contraindications, Interactions and/or toxicity:


• AHPA Safety Class 1, Interaction Class A
• Cuscuta seed tonifies both Kidney yin and yang, but slightly favors tonifying the yang,
therefore avoid in case of strong yin deficiency with excess heat and dryness (or
combine with solid yin tonics) including dryness, constipation, dark, scanty urine. (The
whole plant does not seem to have this same contraindication and in fact may have the
opposite.)
• Adverse effects have been reported including nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and gastric
bleeding (AHPA)
• Note that Tierra lists Cuscuta as contraindicated during pregnancy.

Preparation: Decoction
Tincture
Infusion
Capsule

Dosage: 9-15 g per day in decoction


2-4 ml TID tincture

Major plant constituents: phytosterols, phenolic acids, tannins, flavonoids, saponins, resin
(plus possibly some constituents of host plant)

Additional notes:
• Cuscuta is a parasitic, non-photosynthesizing plant often cited in plant intelligence
research for its developed sense of smell (i.e. ability to find preferred hosts by detection
of airborne chemicals emitted by those plants). One plant in Costa Rica found to be 500
m long (Mabberley)
• David Winston considers all spp. of Cuscuta to be interchangeable

Sources:
AHPA Botanical Safety Handbook, 1st and 2nd Editions
Bensky and Gamble, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica
Chen and Chen, Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology
Culpeper’s Herbal
Richard Mandelbaum RH (AHG)
2016

Kim et al., Preliminary Report on the Safety of a New Herbal Formula and Its Effect on Sperm Quality, World J Mens
Health. 2013 Dec; 31(3): 254–261.
Mabberley, D.J., The Plant Book, Second Edition
Omirinde et al., Comparative evaluation of the sperm characteristics and morphology of adult Wistar rats fed either low or
normal protein-energy diets and orally dosed with aqueous Cuscuta australis extracts, Niger J Physiol Sci. 2014 Jun
19;29(1):55-61.
PDR for Herbal Medicines, Third Edition
Skenderi, Herbal Vade Mecum
Tierra, Planetary Herbology
Yang t al., Protection of extract from Cuscuta japonica on human sperm acrosome and ultrastructure, Zhongguo Zhong
Yao Za Zhi. 2006 Mar;31(5):422-5.