Codonopsis pilosula is a very popular and extensively used Chinese herb, which is often included into the herbal formulas as Ginseng substitute. This medicinal plant is less expensive, therefore it is often called Poor man’s ginseng. Its other popular name is Bonnet flower.
Codonopsis belongs to Campanulaceae (bluebell or lobelia) family. It is a twining perennial reaching the length of 5 to 10 feet. It is usually very shrubby and dense. The plant has long and thick sweet-tasting root, long soft stems (hairy when young), and oval green leaves. The bell-shaped green flowers of Codonopsis have five petals with light purple veins.
Codonopsis pilosula originates from China and Korea, where it has always grown wildly, but now it is extensively cultivated for medicinal properties. Wild species usually grow on the streams banks and in the shade of the trees in the forests, preferring moist places.
Nowadays, Codonopsis is widely cultivated all over the world to be used as one of the powerful herbal remedies.
The root of the 3-4-year plant is harvested in autumn to be dried and used in the herbal formulas and infusions. Taproots of the wild-growing Codonopsis are said to be more efficacious, although cultivated species has larger roots.
Teas, tablets, and tinctures are the most common forms of the plant available in the stores.
Scientific studies, the majority of which was conducted in China, proved that Codonopsis is a potent appetizer, digestive, stomachic, tonic, adaptogen, galactogogue and sialagogue.
The root of the plant contains triterpenes, steroids,alkaloids, sterins, glycosides, polysaccharides and small amounts of saponins. These components have beneficial impact on the stomach, lungs, and spleen. They stimulate the production of body fluids, strengthen immune system, and increase red and white blood cells count. At the same time, Codonopsis has been found to reduce the production of pepsin enzyme in the stomach, which helps in the healing of peptic ulcers, especially those induced by stress.
Root extracts are also characterized with the power to slow down the speed with which food passes through the stomach, thus helping to improve the functioning of the gastrointestinal tract.
Codonopsis has interferon-inducing and immuno-stimulating activity mainly to the presence of polysaccharides in its chemical structure, which is beneficial for immuno-compromised populations.
Working as adaptogen, Codonopsis improves body’s tolerability to stress, reducing the level of adrenalin. It also dilates peripheral blood vessels, lowering thus high blood pressure.
Surprising it may seem, but along with immuno-stimulating properties, the herb is characterized with restraining this body’s defensive means in case of such serious health disorder as lupus.
The research, conducted on Codonopsis, was mainly done on animals. The action of the majority of the plant’s chemicals is not well understood yet. Consequently, scientists note that more work still should be done, and hopefully, its results will be available soon.
For more than 2000 years Asian people have used Codonopsis as an effective remedy to boost the energy and immune system, increase endurance, and improve body’s ability to withstand stress. Along with such generalized use, the herb has also been taken to fight digestive problems, as indigestion and stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of appetite. Peptic ulcers are also said to heal when treated with Codonopsis remedies.
People, weakened either by illnesses or by chemo- and radiation therapy, may use this herb to strengthen the body and hasten the recovery. Pregnant and nursing women and people with chronic fatigue syndrome benefit from Codonopsis as well, replenishing energy with its help. The plant has also ability to increase milk production. It is even stated in some sources that babies can chew the root of the herb during the teething period.
Chronic headaches, muscle tension, high blood pressure are all the reasons to take Poor man’s ginseng. Boosting lung function, fighting viral infections, curing cough and other respiratory problems are in the scope of Codonopsis activity too.
This herb is often included into the formulas to treat asthma and even cancer and tumours. By the way, the combination of Codonopsis with other beneficial herbs is the most common form of the plant’s use.