English: Tsaoko fruits

Chinese: 草果

Parts used: Dried ripe fruit

TCM category: Aromatic herbs that transform Dampness

TCM nature: Warm

TCM taste(s): Pungent

Organ affinity: Spleen Stomach

Scientific name: Amomum tsao-ko

Other names: Caoguo

Use of Cao Guo (tsaoko fruits) 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: Dry fry the fruit until the outer skin is yellow and swollen and remove the skin. Crush before use.

Dosage: 3-6g.

Main actions according to TCM*: Dries and warm Cold-Dampness, removes phlegm and treats malaria

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Cao Guo may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Abdominal pain Abdominal colic Vomiting Malaria Constipation

Common TCM formulas in which Cao Guo is used*

Da Yuan Yin

Source date: 1642 AD

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Opens the membrane source by thrusting out pathogens. Clears away filth. Transforms turbidity.

Conditions targeted*: MalariaInfluenza and others

Cao Guo is a king ingredient in Da Yuan Yin. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Da Yuan Yin, Cao Guo is an aromatic herb that transforms turbidity. Thus, it stops the vomiting and vents the Pernicious Influences lurking in the half-Exterior, half-Interior level.

The strong, aromatic and acrid, and properties of this herb help it reach and open up the membrane source, which turbidity has constrained.

Read more about Da Yuan Yin

Jie Nue Qi Bao Yin

Source date: 1107

Number of ingredients: 7 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates Cold and Heat. Harmonizes the Stomach. Directs rebellious Qi downward.

Conditions targeted*: Malaria and others

Cao Guo is a deputy ingredient in Jie Nue Qi Bao Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Jie Nue Qi Bao Yin, Cao Guo is acrid and warming to strongly dry Dampness. It also strengthens the Spleen Yang and facilitates the venting of
lurking malarial pathogens to the Exterior

The combination of Areca nut and Tsaoko fruit has a long history in treating malarial disorders.  

Read more about Jie Nue Qi Bao Yin

Qing Pi Tang

Source date: 1253 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Harmonizes and resolves. Transforms Phlegm and dries Dampness. Improves the Spleen's transportive function. Clears Heat. Moves Qi.

Conditions targeted*: Malaria and others

Cao Guo is a deputy ingredient in Qing Pi Tang. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Qing Pi Tang, Cao Guo dries the Dampness and transforms the Phlegm. It also circulation Qi to facilitate the venting of the pathogen.

Read more about Qing Pi Tang

Key TCM concepts behind Cao Guo's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Cao Guo belongs to the 'Aromatic herbs that transform Dampness' category. This category of herbs resolves a TCM condition called 'Cold Damp Stagnation', especially as it affects the Stomach and Spleen. In modern medicine this often translates into symptoms such as distended chest and abdomen, lack of appetite, nausea and vomiting

As suggested by its category Cao Guo is Warm in nature. This means that Cao Guo 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 Cao Guo can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Cao Guo 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 Cao Guo 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 Cao Guo is thought to target the Spleen and the Stomach. In TCM the Spleen assists with digestion, Blood coagulation and Fluids metabolism in the body. The Stomach on the other hand 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 Cao Guo

Constituents of Amomum tsao-ko showed strong radical scavenging and antioxidant activities1


1. TS Martin, H Kikuzaki, M Hisamoto et al. (2000). "Constituents of Amomum tsao-ko and their radical scavenging and antioxidant activities". Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society. 77: 667. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11746-000-0107-4

Use of Cao Guo as food

Cao Guo is also eaten as food.