English: Sichuan pepper

Chinese: 花椒

Parts used: Dried pericarp of ripe fruit

TCM category: Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Kidney Spleen Stomach

Scientific name: Zanthoxylum schinifolium or Zanthoxylum bungeanum

Other names: Huā jiāo, Mastic-leaf prickly ash, Chinese pepper, Chinese prickly ash, Flatspine prickly-ash

Use of Hua Jiao (sichuan pepper) 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 seeds and stems to keep only the pericarp (husk). Dry it.

Dosage: 3 to 6g

Main actions according to TCM*: Warms the body core, relieves pain, kills parasites and relieves itching

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Hua Jiao may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Abdominal pain Vomiting Diarrhea Intestinal parasites Ascariasis Itching Eczema

Common TCM formulas in which Hua Jiao is used*

Da Jian Zhong Tang

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 4 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms and tonifies Middle Burner Deficiency. Directs rebellious Qi downward. Relieves pain.

Conditions targeted*: Chronic gastritisGastric ulcer and others

Hua Jiao is a king ingredient in Da Jian Zhong Tang. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Da Jian Zhong Tang, Hua Jiao stimulates the Middle Burner Yang and dispels
Coldness so as to relive pain. It also warms the
gate of vitality (Ming Meng), so that the Yang is mobilized from its origin all the way up to the Upper Burner. 

Read more about Da Jian Zhong Tang

Wu Mei Wan

Source date: 220 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Warms the Organs. Drains Heat. Calms roundworms. Drains the Liver. Calms the Stomach.

Conditions targeted*: AscariasisBiliary ascariasis and others

Hua Jiao is a deputy ingredient in Wu Mei Wan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Wu Mei Wan, Hua Jiao expels parasites and warms the Organs

Read more about Wu Mei Wan

Key TCM concepts behind Hua Jiao's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Hua Jiao belongs to the 'Herbs that warm the Interior and/or expel Cold' category. Herbs in this category are used for Internal Cold with Qi Deficiency and/or Yang Deficiency. In the Yin and Yang system of thought Yang is Hot in nature. A deficiency of Yang will therefore lead to Internal Coldness since there will as a result be more Yin (Cold in nature) than Yang. In extreme cases this can lead to so-called 'Yang collapse' with convulsions or coma and these herbs are particularly indicated to treat such scenarios.

As suggested by its category Hua Jiao is Warm in nature. This means that Hua Jiao tends to help people who have too much 'Cold' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Hot in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Cold in their body are said to either have a Yin Excess (because Yin is Cold in nature) or a Yang Deficiency (Yang is Hot in Nature). Depending on your condition Hua Jiao can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Hua Jiao also tastes 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. Pungent ingredients like Hua Jiao tends 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 Hua Jiao is thought to target the Kidney, the Spleen and the Stomach. 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 Spleen on the other hand assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach is responsible for receiving and ripening ingested food and fluids. It is also tasked with descending the digested elements downwards to the Small Intestine.

Research on Hua Jiao

A volatile extract from Zanthoxylum schinifolium pericarpium is a good candidate for hepatocellular carcinoma (the most common type of primary liver cancer in adults) therapy.1

Isolates of the bark of Zanthoxylum schinifolium, collinin and oxynitidine showed significant activity of anti-HBV (Hepatitis B virus) DNA replication.2

Sources:

1. Soon-Young Paik, Kyung-Hee Koh, Sung-Mok Beak, Seung-Hwan Paek, Jung-Ae Kim (2005). "The Essential Oils from Zanthoxylum schinifolium Pericarp Induce Apoptosis of HepG2 Human Hepatoma Cells through Increased Production of Reactive Oxygen Species" Biological and Pharmaceutical Bulletin, https://doi.org/10.1248/bpb.28.802

2. CT Chang, SL Doong, IL Tsai, IS Chen (1997). "Coumarins and anti-HBV constituents from Zanthoxylum schinifolium" Phytochemistry, Volume 45, Issue 7, Pages 1419-1422

Use of Hua Jiao as food

Hua Jiao is also eaten as food. It is used as an ingredient in dishes such as Dan Dan Noodles or Gong bao chicken.