Purgative, Cathartic and Laxative Herbs

All herbs which induce evacuation of the bowels fall into this category. The strong, fast-acting drugs which purge drastically are called purgative; medium-strength herbs are called cathartic; and mild, gentle drugs which act mainly by lubrication of the large intestine are referred to as laxative. In addition to various other organs, these herbs all have a strong affinity for the large intestine and/or its connected organ, the lungs.
These medications have three basic effects: they induce or facilitate loose bowel movements in order to eliminate stagnant food and accumulated faeces from the intestinal tract; they tend to “clear heat” and “purge fire” from the system by forcing these excesses out through the bowels with the faeces; they expel excess liquids and reduce swelling by driving out “water-evil” through the faeces and urine.

Strong purgatives should only be used for acute constipation in strong, otherwise healthy patients. Cathartics and laxatives are more appropriate for chronic constipation, as well as children, the elderly, and the weak.children, the elderly, and the weak.



Natural distribution: Western China, Tibet
Parts used: Rhizomes
Nature: Bitter; cold
Affinity: Spleen, stomach, large intestine, pericardium, liver
Effects: Purgative (2-5 g); laxative (1-2 g); astringent (0.3 g) refrigerant; emmenagogue
Indications: Constipation; amenorrhoea; eye pressure from liver inflammation; energy and blood stagnation due to traumatic injury
Dosage: see above
Remarks: The powdered herb applied to burns relieves pain and swelling



Natural distribution: Common world-wide
Parts used: Crystals
Nature: Salty, pungent and bitter; very cold
Affinity: Stomach, large intestine, triple warmer
Effects: Purgative
Indications: Constipation due to heat excess
Dosage: 10-18 g
Remarks: Used with Rheum officinale for constipation; used as eye wash and gargle for heat excess symptoms and on abscesses; the powdered drug is rubbed on the nipples to wean children from breast-feeding; a paste of this drug with Rheum officinale and fresh garlic cloves is taped tightly over the appendix in cases of acute appendicitis.




Natural distribution: India, Arabia, Africa.
Parts used: Leaflets .
Nature: Sweet and bitter; very cold.
Affinity: Large intestine.
Effects: Purgative (4-8 g); cathartic (1-3 g); laxative (0.5-1 g)
Indications: Constipation from heat excess.
Dosage: see above.
Remarks: Doses over 5 g may cause unpleasant symptoms of nausea, vomiting and stomach ache.




Natural distribution: Western Africa, West Indies, India
Parts used: Condensed juice of the fresh leaves
Nature: Bitter; cold
Affinity: Liver, stomach, large intestine
Effects: Purgative (0.3-1 g); laxative (0.06-0.2 g);
Indications: stomachic (0.01-0.03 g) refrigerant; antiseptic; emmenagogue sedative to liver Chronic constipation dizziness, headache and delirium due to liver inflammations; intestinal parasites
Dosage: 0.01-1 g
Remarks: Does not lose effect with prolonged use, so is good for chronic cases of constipation.



Natural distribution: China, India, Afghanistan, Indochina, North Africa
Parts used: Seeds
Nature: Sweet; neutral
Affinity: Spleen, stomach, large intestine
Effects: Laxative; emollient; demulcent; antitussive; antiseptic; antidote
Indications: Constipation due to fluid deficiency, especially in old age and post-natal
Dosage: 11 g
Remarks: Every part is used in medicine; the stalk is diuretic; the oil is demulcent for dry throat; the male flowers are used in wind-injury and menstrual disorders; the resinous female flowers are slightly poisonous, are stimulant to the central nervous system, and are used in nervous disorders; used in excess, remarks Li Shizhen, the latter will induce “hallucinations and a unsteady gait.”


               PRUNUS JAPONICA


Natural distribution: Sichuan, Jiangsu
Parts used: Kernel of the seeds
Nature: Pungent, bitter and sweet; neutral
Affinity: Large intestine, small intestine, spleen
Effects: Laxative; emollient; diuretic; reduces swelling
Indications: Constipation due to fluid deficiency; water-retention
Dosage: 4-7 g
Remarks: May cause slight abdominal discomfort when taking effect against constipation.


           APIS MELUFERA


Natural distribution: Common world-wide
Nature: Sweet; neutral
Affinity: Lungs, spleen, large intestine
Effects: Laxative; demulcent; nutrient; emollient in chronic bronchitis, dry throat and mouth
Dosage: 10-75 g
Indications: Remarks: Honey is the base for making most herbal pill prescriptions; should be avoided by those with chronic loose bowels.




Natural distribution: China, Korea, Japan
Parts used: Roots
Nature: Bitter; cold
Affinity: Lungs, spleen, kidneys
Effects: Purgative; diuretic; reduces swelling; expectorant
Indications: Constipation; water retention; swelling; oppression in chest; epilepsy; external application for pain and numbness in muscles
Dosage: 2-4 g
Remarks: Mildly poisonous; the drug is strong and should be used cautiously; should be avoided by pregnant women, the weak and elderly.



Natural distribution: China, India
Parts used: Seeds
Nature: Bitter; cold
Affinity: Lungs, kidneys, large intestine
Effects: Cathartic; diuretic; reduces swelling; expectorant; antithelmintic
Indications: Constipation; water retention; intestinal parasites
Dosage: 1-2 g
Remarks: Mildly poisonous; the herb is very drying and should be used in small doses sporadically, not regularly




Natural distribution: Southwestern China, Burma, Laos, Vietnam
Parts used: Mature seeds
Nature: Pungent; hot
Affinity: Stomach, large intestine
Effects: Drastic purgative; expectorant; external irritant to erupt abscesses and boils
Indications: Acute constipation due to “cold-excess;” swelling and other forms of water retention; respiratory difficulties due to phlegm accumulation; epilepsy; abscesses
Dosage: 0.04-0.1 g
Remarks: Highly poisonous; the strongest of all purgatives; should be used in small doses sporadically; the croton oil extracted from the seeds is very potent in external treatment of abscesses, boils, carbuncles, etc.

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