A variety of carrot unknown to most Americans, Cnidium monnieri is a leafy annual with flowers that grow in clusters. The herb has been a popular remedy in Asian folk medicine for millennia, being first described about 2,000 years ago in the Chinese herbal classic Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. Cnidium's reputation for treating itchy skin conditions persists to this day. Only the seeds and essential oil of Cnidium monnieri, which belongs to the Apiaceae family, are used as a drug.
The seeds, which are also referred as she chuang zi or she chuang dze, are somewhat yellow in color and have a sweet smell. They are believed to have several important therapeutic properties, including antibacterial, antifungal, and astringent effects. Some of these claims have been supported by animal and laboratory studies. In one test tube investigation, published in the Chinese journal Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih in 1991, researchers demonstrated that Cnidium monnieri was effective against several strains of bacteria and fungi. Cnidium monnieri also appears to have anti-pruritic activity, meaning that the herb may help to alleviate itching . In a study of mice, published in the Japanese journal Biological & Pharmaceutical Bulletin in 2000, cnidium was shown to significantly reduce the itch-scratch response in rodents.
In the somewhat ethereal parlance of Chinese folk medicine—in which diseases are often believed to occur due to disruptions in the flow of bodily energy—cnidium seeds are considered warm, bitter, and acrid. The essential oils derived from the seeds include camphene, borneol, pinene, and terpineol.
While not approved by the FDA, cnidium seeds have been reported to have several beneficial effects. Because the seeds have not been extensively studied in people, their effectiveness is based mainly on animal studies and their ancient reputation as a folk remedy in China. In modern times, the herb is primarily used to treat skin conditions such as scabies, eczema , ringworm, and itchy, oozing skin lesions. It is also thought to be helpful in the treatment of vaginitis and vaginal discharge. Cnidium is used externally for all the purposes mentioned above. The seeds may also be taken internally to treat impotence as well as infertility in both sexes.
Cnidium has shown some intriguing activity against asthma and osteoporosis in animal studies, though the clinical implications of these findings are not yet known. In one investigation, published in the Chinese journal Chung-kuo Chung Ya Yao Tsa Chih in 1990, chemicals in Cnidium monnieri called coumarins appeared to protect guinea pigs from the effects of bronchial asthma, which the animals experienced after inhaling histamine. The researchers also demonstrated that the coumarins can relax the tracheal muscles of guinea pigs in test tube experiments. A possible link between cnidium and osteoporosis was examined in two rodent studies published in the Chinese journal Chung-kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao in 1994 and 1997. Both studies suggest that cnidium can help to prevent osteoporosis induced by glucocorticoid drugs.
The optimum dosage of cnidium seeds has not been established with any certainty. Dosage may range from 3-12 g. Because cnidium seeds have been recommended for a variety of purposes, and can be used internally and externally, consumers are advised to consult a doctor experienced in the use of alternative remedies or Chinese medicine to determine proper dosage.
To treat skin conditions, the herb is usually applied to the skin in the form of a solution or ointment. Vaginitis and vaginal discharge are treated with a douche prepared from the seeds.
In Chinese folk medicine, cnidium seeds are often combined with other herbs or minerals. When used externally, the seeds may be mixed with stemona and sophora for itchy, oozing skin lesions or with calomel for scabies and eczema (including genital eczema). Taken internally, cnidium seeds are often combined with schisandra or cuscuta to treat impotence or infertility.
Cnidium seeds are generally available in bulk or in combination products (such as powders or pills) that contain several different herbs.
Cnidium seeds are not known to be harmful when taken in recommended dosages, though it is important to remember that the long-term effects of taking the seeds (in any amount) have not been investigated. Due to lack of sufficient medical study, cnidium seeds should be used with caution in children, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, and people with liver or kidney disease.
Cnidium seeds should not be applied to skin that is hot, dry, and sore.
Do not confuse cnidium seeds with the essential oil derived from them. While the seeds may be taken internally, the essential oil should not be ingested except under the supervision of a doctor.
While cnidium has shown some activity against bronchial asthma and osteoporosis in animal studies, it is not yet recommended for either of these conditions. Both diseases are potentially serious and require a doctor's care.
When taken in recommended dosages, cnidium seeds are not associated with any bothersome or significant side effects.
Cnidium seeds should not be used at the same time as croton seeds, fritillaria , or peony root, according to practitioners of Chinese folk medicine. When used externally, cnidium seeds have been combined with stemona, sophora, and calomel without apparent harm. When used internally, the seeds have been safely mixed with schisandra and cuscuta.
Editors of Time-Life Books. The Drug and Natural Medicine Advisor. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1997.
Cai, J., B. Yu, G. Xu, et al. "Studies on the quality of fructus Cnidii-comparison of antibacterial action." Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih 16, no. 8 (1991): 451-453, 510.
Chen, Z. and X. Duan. "Mechanism of the antiasthmatic effect of total coumarins in the fruit of Cnidium monnieri (L.) Cuss." Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih 15, no. 5 (1990): 304-305, 320.
Liao, J. M., Q. A. Zhu, H. J. Lu, et al. "Effects of total coumarins of Cnidium monnieri on bone density and biomechanics of glucocorticoids-induced osteoporosis in rats." Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao 18, no. 6 (1997): 519-521.
Tohda, C., Y. Kakihara, K. Komatsu, et al. "Inhibitory effects of methanol extracts of herbal medicines on substance Pinduced itch-scratch response." Biol Pharm Bull 23, no. 5 (2000): 599-601.
Xie, H., Q. N. Li, L. F. Huang, et al. "Effect of total coumarins from dried fruits of Cnidium monnieri on glucocorticoidinduced osteoporosis in rats." Chung Kuo Yao Li Hsueh Pao 15, no. 4 (1994): 341-344.
American Botanical Council. P.O. Box 144345, Austin, TX 78714-4345.