Shang Lu (Poke Root or Phytolaccae Radix)

Shang Lu commonly known as Poke Root or Phytolaccae Radix is the root of Phytolacca acinosa or Phytolacca americana, which is a perennial herb belonging to the family Phytolaecaceae. It first appeared in <Shennong Ben Cao Jing> in the late Western Han Dynasty (about 100 BC).

There are 35 species of Phytolacca, including herbs, shrubs, and trees. They are mostly distributed in tropical and subtropical regions. Some of them are used as ornamental plants, and only a small part of them are used in food and folk medicine.

Phytolacca acinosa is commonly known as Indian Poke. It often grows in valleys, hillsides, forest edges, or roadsides 500-3,400 meters above sea level. It is distributed in China, North Korea, Japan, and India.

Phytolacca americana is also known as American pokeweed, pokeweed, and poke sallet. It is native to eastern North America, the Midwest, and the Gulf Coast, and has now been introduced into parts of Europe and Asia.

Both Phytolacca acinosa and Phytolacca americana are poisonous. Their tender leaves are edible after processing. But as the plant grows, the toxins contained in the young leaves will increase. Their fruits are not edible and can be made into tannin extract.

From the autumn to the next spring, people gather the roots of Phytolacca acinosa or Phytolacca americana, wash them with water, remove their impurities and fibrous roots, cut them into thick slices, dry them in the sun or shade, use them directly, or stir-fry them with vinegar, and make them into Chinese herbs.

Shang Lu contains phytolaccagenin, 2-hydroxyl esculentic acid, esculentic acid, esculentoside, phytolaccoside, mannose, glucose, galactose, rhamnose, glucuronic acid, galacturonic acid, kaempferol, quercetin, americanol A, Isoamericanol A, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, vanillic acid, sinapic acid, coumaric acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, oleanolic acid, β-sitosterol, β-carotene, stigmasterenol, α-spinachsterol, ergosterol, volatile oils, alkaloids, palmitic acid, linoleic acid, amino acids, γ-aminobutyric acid, histamine, and some trace elements.

According to <Compendium of Materia Medica>, the medicinal property of Shang Lu is relatively cold, with toxicity and a bitter taste. It has a certain therapeutic effect on the pathological changes of the lung, spleen, kidney, and large intestine meridians.

In traditional Chinese medicine, Shang Lu is used to remove water retention, alleviate swelling and dissipate indurated mass, treat renal edema, kidney stones, acute nephritis, chronic nephritis, hepatitis B, hyperplasia of mammary glands, leukorrheal diseases, gastrointestinal bleeding, thrombocytopenic purpura, chronic bronchitis, psoriasis, and snake bites. It is an important component of Shu Zao Yin Zi.

Health benefits of Shang Lu

  • Inhibiting the proliferation of human gastric cancer cells and human promyelocytic cells.
  • Anti-inflammation, inhibiting xylene-induced swelling of the mouse ear.
  • Inhibiting gastric juice secretion and preventing gastric ulcers.
  • Promoting the proliferation of splenic lymphocytes, stimulating spleen cells to secrete cytokines IL-2, IL-4, IL-6, and IFN-γ, and enhancing immunity.
  • Stimulating the mucous membrane of the respiratory tract, promoting the secretion of respiratory mucus and the movement of tracheal cilia, and eliminating phlegm.
  • Inducing diuresis and treating constipation, dysuria, edema, and tympanites.
  • Alleviating swelling and dissipating indurated mass, treating skin sores and abscesses.
  • Inhibiting the replication of poliovirus, influenza virus, herpes simplex virus type I, and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus.
  • Inhibiting Clostridium perfringens, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Shigella, Influenza bacillus, Pneumococcus, and some fungi.
  • Studies have found that injecting its extract into a cat’s vein will cause the cat’s blood pressure to drop, but the duration of action is not long.

Shang Lu is used with other Chinese herbs

  • It can be combined with She Xiang (Moschus) to induce diuresis and treat edema.
  • It with Ze Xie (Rhizoma Alismatis) and Fu Ling (Poria Cocos) can treat edema, tympanites, and constipation.
  • It with Dang Gui (Radix Angelicae Sinensis), Ling Xiao Hua (Flos Campsis), and Pu Huang (Cattail Pollen) can treat postpartum blood stasis syndrome.
  • It with Fu Hai Shi (Pumice), Hai Jin Sha (Spora Lygodii), Huang Qin (Radix Scutellariae), Shi Jian Chuan (Salvia Chinensis), Jin Qian Cao (Lysimachia), Ji Nei Jin (Endothelium Corneum Gigeriae Galli), and Hu Po (Succinum) can treat kidney stones.
  • The topical application of the powders composed of Shang Lu and salt can treat skin ulcers and abscesses.

Side effects of Shang Lu

Shang Lu is poisonous. Overdose of it may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, alalia, dysphoria, convulsions, or polyuria.

In severe cases, it may cause a drop in blood pressure, dilated pupils, coma, central respiratory nerve paralysis, or death from myocardial paralysis.

Precautions of Shang Lu

  • The dosage of Shang Lu should be controlled at 5-10g.
  • It can be made into decoction or mashed for external use.
  • Stir-frying it with vinegar can weaken its toxicity.
  • It should not be used with Gan Cao (Licorice Root).
  • Weak people should not take it.
  • Pregnant women and children should not take it.