What are the safest Chinese medicinal herbs?

By Arnaud
May 09, 2018

It's often a real challenge to tell whether a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) ingredient is safe or not. The TCM pharmacopoeia contains thousands of entries, the vast majority of which are very unfamiliar to Westerners. How to tell which ones are harmless?

This situation is compounded by the fact there are very ressources in English on which TCM ingredients are safe. Look up most TCM ingredients on Google and you'll likely find statements like "there is not enough reliable information about the safety of this ingredient". 

Those who've really done a lot of work to understand which TCM ingredients are safe are, unsurprisingly, the Chinese. The China Food and Drug Administration, the Chinese equivalent of the FDA, has classified TCM ingredients into several levels of risks. Their safest designation is ingredients that are both classified as food and TCM ingredients. This means that, in China, such ingredients can be freely added to food or TCM medicinal preparations without limitations. That'd be the equivalent to the GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) classification for the FDA.

We've compiled the list below based on the GRAS list from the China Food and Drug Administration, this means that each ingredient below, according to the China FDA, can be safely eaten as food or be added to TCM preparations. Of course this doesn't mean that precautions are unnecessary: as ever please rely on the advice of medical experts before ingesting anything.

Name Pinyin Chinese
Adzuki Bean Hóng xiaodòu 红小豆
Amomum villosum pods Shā rén 砂仁
Angular Solomon's seal root (polygonatum odoratum) Yù zhú 玉竹
Apricot kernel Xìngrén 杏仁
Balloon flower roots (platycodon) Jiégeng 桔梗
Dadai orange flowers Dài dài huā 代代花
Black pepper Hēi hújiāo 黑胡椒
Black sesame seeds Hēi zhīma 黑芝麻
Brown mustard seeds (brassica juncea) Huáng jièzi 黄芥子
Buddha's hand (finger citron) Fóshou 佛手
Japanese bush cherry seeds (pruni semen) Yùlirén 郁李仁
Cao guo (amomum tsao-ko) Cao guo 草果
Cape jasmine fruit (gardenia jasminoides) Zhī zi 栀子
Chicory Jújù 菊苣
Chinese cinnamon (cinnamomum cassia) Ròuguì 肉桂
Chinese liquorice (glycyrrhiza uralensis) Gāncao 甘草
Chinese nutmeg (torreya grandis) Feizi 榧子
Chinese plum (prunus mume) Wūméi 乌梅
Chinese quince (pseudocydonia sinensis) Mùguā 木瓜
Star anise Bājiao huíxiāng 八角茴香
Chinese white olive (canarium album) Qīngguo 青果
Chrysanthemum flowers Júhuā 菊花
Cilantro Yánsuī 芫荽
Clove Dīngxiāng 丁香
Common purslane Ma chi xiàn 马齿苋
Common reed rhizome (phragmites communis) Xiān lú gēn 鲜芦根
Dahurian angelica root Báizhi 白芷
Dandelion Púgōngyīng 蒲公英
Dong quai (angelica sinensis) Dāngguī 当归
Dried citron (citrus medica) Xiāng yuán 香橼
Dried nanfengmiju mandarin Jú hóng 桔红
Dried nanfengmiju mandarin peel Jú pí 橘皮
Fennel seeds Xiao huíxiāng 小茴香
Fermented soybean Dàn dòuchi 淡豆豉
Field thistle (cirsium setosum) Xiao jì 小蓟
Foxnut seeds (euryale ferox) Qiànshí 芡实
Ginger Jiāng
Ginkgo seeds Báiguo 白果
Ginseng Rénshēn 人参
Goji berry Gouqi zi 枸杞子
Greater burdock seeds (arctium lappa) Niú péng zi 牛篣子
Hawthorn berry Shānzhā 山楂
Heal-all (prunella vulgaris) Xià kūcao 夏枯草
Hemp seeds Huo má rén 火麻仁
Honey Fēngmì 蜂蜜
Honeysuckle flowers Shān yín huā 山银花
Houttuynia herb (houttuynia cordata) Yú xīng cao 鱼腥草
Hyacinth beans (lablab beans) Bái biandòu 白扁豆
Indian gooseberry (phyllanthus emblica) Yú gānzi 余甘子
Japanese honeysuckle flowers (lonicera japonica) Jīnyínhuā 金银花
Job's tears (coix lacryma-jobi) Yìyi rén 薏苡仁
Jujube dates Zao
Jujube seeds Suānzao rén 酸枣仁
Kencur root (kaempferia galanga) Shānnài 山奈
King Solomon's seal root (polygonatum kingianum) Huángjīng 黄精
Kombu (kelp) Kūnbù 昆布
Korean mint (agastache rugosa) Huò xiāng 藿香
Kudzu root Gégēn 葛根
Kudzu root powder Fen gé 粉葛
Lablab flowers Bái biandòu huā 白扁豆花
Lalang grass rhizome (imperata cylindrica) Xiān bái máogēn 鲜白茅根
Lesser galangal root (alpinia officinarum) Gāoliáng jiāng 高良姜
Lily bulb Baihé 百合
Long pepper (piper longum) Bì bá 荜茇
Long-stamen onion bulb (allium macrostemon) Xièbái 薤白
Longan fruit Lóngyan ròu 龙眼肉
Lophatherum gracile herb (lophatherum gracile) Dànzhú yè 淡竹叶
Lotus leaf Hé yè 荷叶
Lotus seeds Liánzi 莲子
Malt Màiyá 麦芽
Malva nut (scaphium affine) Pàng dàhai 胖大海
Masson's pine pollen Sōng huāfen 松花粉
Monk fruit (siraitia grosvenorii) Luóhànguo 罗汉果
Mulberry fruit Sāngrèn 桑葚
Mulberry leaves Sāng yè 桑叶
Nutmeg Ròu dòukòu 肉豆蔻
Pagoda tree flowers (sophora japonica) Huái mi 槐米
Palmleaf raspberry fruit (rubus chingii hu) Fù pénzi 覆盆子
Peach seeds Táorén 桃仁
Peppermint Bòhé 薄荷
Perilla leaves (perilla frutescens) Zi sū 紫苏
Perilla seeds (perilla frutescens) Zi sū zi 紫苏籽
Poria mushroom (wolfiporia extensa) Fúlíng 茯苓
Radish seeds (semen raphani) Láifú zi 莱菔子
Rose flowers (rosa rugosa) Méiguī huā 玫瑰花
Saffron Xī hóng huā 西红花
Sea buckthorn fruit Shājí 沙棘
Sharp-leaf galangal fruit (alpinia oxyphylla) Yì zhì rén 益智仁
Shiral leaves (microcos paniculata) Bù zhā yè 布渣叶
Sichuan pepper Huājiāo 花椒
Sicklepod seeds (senna obtusifolia) Juémíngzi 决明子
Sponge gourd (luffa cylindrica) Sīguā 丝瓜
Sword bean (canavalia gladiata) Dāo dòu 刀豆
Turmeric root Jiānghuáng 姜黄
Vietnamese balm (elsholtzia ciliata) Xiāngrú 香薷
Yam Shānyào 山药

 

Article tags: Safety advice

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