Rehmania
Common Names

Rehmania root , Chinese Foxglove, Shu Di Huang
Botanical Name
Rehmania glutinosa
Family
SCROPHULARIACEAE ~ Figwort Family

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the thick, initially orange, tuberous roots. Rehmania comes from a small perennial herb that produces large flowers reminiscent of Foxglove and it has sometimes been called Chinese Foxglove. Rehmania is very highly regarded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is seen as one of the 50 fundamental herbs.

In TCM it is thought that Rehmania has very different uses according to whether it is taken fresh, simply dried or, as we in our own clinic use it, ‘cured’ where it has been steeped and mulled in wine made from millet!


FLOWERS


DRIED CHOPPED ROOT


FRESH ROOT

How has it been used?

It is difficult to pin Rehmania down to a few key uses, which is a happy problem common to the tonic class of herbal medicines. It has many traditional recommendations for conditions where there is some degree of fever or inflammation, for example arthritis, hives and asthma. It has also had widespread use for women’s health problems such as heavy bleeding or spotting between periods.

However the main historical uses of Rehmania would appear to be with regard to its nutritive and tonic properties. This is where the Rehmania is seen to excel. In modern terminology we might use terms like stress, adrenal exhaustion, nervous system burn-out etc.

Herbs that noticeably improve and support energy are given the highest level of regard in the old ways of medicine. The slower and more surely they worked the better they were understood to be able to make a lasting difference to health and longevity. Herbs that merely worked to take away symptoms were given a much lower ranking in the scheme of things. In other words it is a way of thinking that is totally opposite to that of pharmaceutical medicine today!

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Science on Rehmania

~Clinical trials using Rehmania produced therapeutic effects in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and urticaria i.e. hives (Hu CS. Chin Med J 1965;51:290)

~ Taking Rehmania along with Astragalus produced positive therapeutic effects in patients with chronic nephritis (kidney disease) and the same preparation also demonstrated anti-allergy effects and the promotion of immune function (Su ZZ, He YY, Chen G. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1993;13(5):259-260, 269-272)

~ Experimental tests with Rehmania in the laboratory showed that it was able to abolish the suppressive effects of cyclophosphamide and dexamethasone on immune function and it showed protective effects on disturbances in heart, liver and kidney functions during chemotherapy (Li P, Shi XH, Wang FL. Chin J Immunol 1987;3(5):296-298,320)

~ Further laboratory studies with Rehmania showed some intriguing effects on the pituitary and adrenal cortex, appearing to prevent or even reverse tissue damage from the administration of steroidal drugs (Cha LL, Shen ZY, Zhang XF et al. Chin J Integr Trad West Med 1988;8(2):95-97)

Safety of Rehmania

Rehmania is a very safe herb that is not known to cause any adverse effects when taken in normal therapeutic amounts. Excessive doses may cause temporary bowel looseness. Rehmania is considered safe to take during pregnancy and whilst breast-feeding and it may be used with safety by the young and old.

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Personal experiences

I have used a great deal of the cured Rehmania for many years now. You only have to get hold of some of the jet-black, sticky root of this herb and start playing with it to start to understand why it has such a high reputation as a tonic.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or just have your own reasons to want to get to know this herb at a much deeper level then I warmly encourage you to get hold of some to have a play with it too! Take some with a quiet and attentive mind and observe for yourself how it makes you feel. Whether you slowly boil it into a tea (in which case it swells up like a weird little black sponge) or simply chew and swallow some, or take some good quality tincture made from it, I think you will quite certainly be able to feel how nourishing and wholesome it is. Rehmania is a herb that gets in at a deep level and helps nurture the body’s self-repairing capacity. I think it can be safely used by anyone who has been experiencing excessive tiredness and fatigue with an expectation that they should get some improvement from it.

The reason I might choose Rehmania over another tonic is when I think adrenal exhaustion is a particular issue for that patient. There have only been some preliminary studies in this area and I hope to see more but my hunch is that this herb is what we call a 'trophrestorative' for the adrenals; that means it is an organ tonic, something that can nourish health back even after long-lasting illness.

I personally think that the decoction is the best way to use Rehmania as it really requires a substantial dose to make a deep impact on exhaustion or adrenal fatigue. Perhaps in the order of a good 5 grams a day, maybe even up to 10 grams in a bigger person or to get the ball rolling in a bad case. These are big doses that would require levels of tinctures that were just too high to sustain for long. Of course these are only general indicators; for someone with a sensitive constitution you might be better off with a half or less of those doses -- much of the true art of herbal medicine lies in getting the right dose for the person, let alone the right herb!

Rehmania does combines rather perfectly with Panax Ginseng, Astragalus, Licorice root for tiredness and adrenal exhaustion. I have also often used it with Hawthorn for deep acting restorative tonic effects to the heart and general spirits.

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Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Rehmania is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Rehmania can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here. .

Traditional Indications for Rehmania

Cured Rehmania is prescribed in traditional medicine

~ to promote blood production and tone the kidneys

~for dizziness or weakness

~ for tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

~to regulate menstruation, (too heavy, or not happening)

~for night sweats


Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!

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© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd