English: Morning glory seeds

Chinese: 牽牛子

Parts used: Seeds

TCM category: Cathartic herbs that drain downward

TCM nature: Cold

TCM taste(s): BitterPungent

Organ affinity: Kidney Large intestine Lung

Scientific name: Pharbitis purpurea or Pharbitis nil

Other names: Pharbitis seeds, Hei qian niu, Hei chou, Er chou

Use of Qian Niu Zi (morning glory seeds) 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: Collect the seeds and dry. Ground to powder before usage

Dosage: 3-9g in decoction. 1.5g used alone as powder

Main actions according to TCM*: Clears Heat and drain Dampness through the urine and the stool. Relieves Food Stagnation and constipation. Kills and expels parasites.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Qian Niu Zi may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Edema Urinary difficulties Constipation Intestinal parasites

Contraindications*: This herb is toxic and should not be used by pregnant women and for people with Spleen or Stomach Deficiency.

Common TCM formulas in which Qian Niu Zi is used*

Yu Gong San

Source date: 1228 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Expels water and . Reduces edema. Unblocks the bowels. Moves Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Cirrhosis with AscitesNephritis with Edema and others

Qian Niu Zi is a king ingredient in Yu Gong San. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Yu Gong San, Qian Niu Zi directs downward. It reduces Edema by promoting urination and driving out water by means of purgation.

Read more about Yu Gong San

Zhou Che Wan

Source date: 992 AD

Number of ingredients: 10 herbs

Formula key actions: Promotes Qi movement. Harshly drives out Water and Heat Stagnation.

Conditions targeted*: SchistosomiasisUremia and others

Qian Niu Zi is a deputy ingredient in Zhou Che Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Zhou Che Wan, Qian Niu Zi purges Heat and water from the Small and Large Intestines through urination. It also interacts synergistically with the Key herbs. 

Read more about Zhou Che Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Qian Niu Zi's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Qian Niu Zi belongs to the 'Cathartic herbs that drain downward' category. The herbs in this category are those whose main purpose is to treat constipation. They're called 'cathartic' because they have an especially strong effect and should only be used for severe intestinal blockage or gastrointestinal swelling.

Furthermore Qian Niu Zi is Cold in nature. This means that Qian Niu Zi typically helps people who have too much 'Heat' in their body. 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 Qian Niu Zi can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Qian Niu Zi also tastes Bitter and Pungent. 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. Bitter ingredients like Qian Niu Zi tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. On the other hand Pungent ingredients tend to promote the circulations of Qi and Body Fluids. That's why for instance someone tends to sweat a lot when they eat spicy/pungent food.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Qian Niu Zi is thought to target the Kidney, the Large intestine and the Lung. According to TCM, the Kidneys do not only regulate the urinary system but also play a key role in the reproductive system and the growth and aging process of the body. The Large Intestine on the other hand receives the "impure" parts of the digested food from the Small Intestine, absorbs the remaining fluids and excrete the remainder as feces. In addition to performing respiration, the Lungs are thought in TCM to be a key part of the production chain for Qi and the Body Fluids that nourish the body.