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Gambir stems and thorns (Gou Teng) in Chinese Medicine

Gambir stems and thorns

Chinese: 钩藤

Pinyin: Gōu Téng

Parts used: Dried stems and thorns from the branches

TCM category: Herbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Sweet

Organ affinity: Liver Pericardium

Scientific name: Uncaria rhynchophylla, Uncaria macrophylla, Uncaria hirsuta, Uncaria sinensis or Uncaria sessilifructus

Other names: Hook Vine, Cat's claw, Gambier

Use of gambir stems and thorns (Gou Teng) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove the stems and thorns from the branches, cut into sections and dry.

Dosage: 6 - 15 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Calms Liver Wind and relieves spasms. Clears Liver Heat and sedates Liver Yang.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which gambir stems and thorns may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Headache Dizziness Eclampsia Hypertension Seizures Convulsions

Common TCM formulas in which gambir stems and thorns (Gou Teng) are used*

Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

Source date: 1958 AD

Number of ingredients: 11 herbs

Formula key actions: Calms the Liver. Extinguishes wind. Invigorates the blood. Clears heat. Tonifies the Liver and Kidneys.

Conditions targeted*: InsomniaHeadache and others

Gou Teng is a king ingredient in Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin, Gou Teng is sweet and cooling. It is often used to treat internal Wind. Its calming and cooling action is supplement by the heavy and salty Shi Jue Ming (Abalone shells)

Read more about Tian Ma Gou Teng Yin

E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Source date: the Qing dynasty

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Nourishes Yin. Nourishes Blood. Calms the Liver. Extinguishes Wind.

Conditions targeted*: EncephalitisMeningitis and others

Gou Teng is an assistant ingredient in E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang, Gou Teng sedates the rising Yang and extinguishes Wind.

Read more about E Jiao Ji Zi Huang Tang

Key TCM concepts behind gambir stems and thorns (Gou Teng)'s properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), gambir stems and thorns are plants that belong to the 'Herbs that pacify Internal Liver Wind and stop Tremors' category. These herbs are used to treat so-called 'hyperactive Liver Yang'. Concretely this translates into high blood pressure as well as seizures, spasms, convulsions, dizziness and vertigo. These herbs often seem to have a powerful antispasmodic effect on the nervous system.

Furthermore gambir stems and thorns are plants that are Cool in nature. This means that gambir stems and thorns tend to help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition gambir stems and thorns can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Gambir stems and thorns also taste Sweet. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Sweet ingredients like gambir stems and thorns tend to slow down acute reactions and detoxify the body. They also have a tonic effect because they replenish Qi and Blood.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such gambir stems and thorns are thought to target the Liver and the Pericardium. In TCM the Liver is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions. The Pericardium is also called the "heart protector". It is the first line of defence for the Heart against external pathogenic influences

Research on gambir stems and thorns (Gou Teng)

The potential for development of leads from Uncaria continues to grow, particularly in the area of immunomodulatory, anti-inflammatory and vascular-related conditions.1

Cat's claw is an effective treatment for osteoarthritis. The species, U. guianensis and U. tomentosa are equiactive. They are effective antioxidants, but their anti-inflammatory properties may result from their ability to inhibit TNFα and to a lesser extent PGE2 production.2


1. ME Heitzman, CC Neto, E Winiarz, AJ Vaisberg et al. (2005). Ethnobotany, phytochemistry and pharmacology of Uncaria (Rubiaceae). Phytochemistry, 66(1): 5-29. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phytochem.2004.10.022

2. Piscoya, J., Rodriguez, Z., Bustamante, S. et al. Inflamm. res. (2001) 50: 442. https://doi.org/10.1007/PL00000268