Common name: Jiaogulan
Other names: Fairy herb, gospel herb, immortality herb, blue ginseng
Latin name: Gynostemma pentaphyllum
Affinities: Nervous system, immune system, digestive system, circulatory system
Actions: Expectorant, nervine tonic, immune tonic, hypotensive, cardiac tonic, diuretic, antipyretic, anti-tussive, anti-inflammatory
Diseases: Anxiety(3), stress headaches(3), insomnia(3), jet lag(3), hypertension(2), high cholesterol(2), ageing(3), obesity(1), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease(2), type II diabetes(1), chronic bronchitis(3)
Parts used: Herb
Characteristics: Jiaogulan is a perennial creeping plant (Yang et al., 2013). Jiaogulan’s native habitat is the mountains of southern China and Korea. It also grows in Japan (Winston, 2007). It prefers well-drained soil and full sun.
History: Jiaogulan was first mentioned in Zhu Xio’s book Materia Medica for Famine (1406 CE) as a food for survival (Winston, 2007). Wu Qi-Jun, in his book Zhi Wu Ming Shi TuKao Chang Bian (1848), which translates to ‘plant materials which are well known, accurately illustrated’, discussed a number of medicinal purposes for Jiaogulan. Historically, its use was limited primarily to the mountains of Southern China, here it was used for fatigue, increase endurance, to enhance immunity, and to confer longevity. In TCM it is indicated for heat clearing, detoxification, and as an anti-tussive and expectorant for the treatment of cough and chronic bronchitis (Megalli et al., 2005). In Japan it is indicated as a diuretic, antipyretic, anti-inflammatory, and general tonic.
Current applications: Jiaogulan is a more calming adaptogen. In Dr. Saleeby’s book, ‘Wonder herbs: A guide to three adaptogens’, it is listed in having applications in treating high blood pressure, balancing cholesterol, improving immune function, lowering blood glucose, reducing cancer risk, and also slowing the ageing process (Saleeby, 2006). With its calming ability, it may have a role in the treatment of anxiety. David Winston writes, ‘it is ideal to use, along with diet and exercise, to reduce the chances of heart attack or stroke for people with many cardiac risk factors’ (Winston, 2004). He also recommends it in combination with hawthorn, dan shen, kudzu root, and tien-chi ginseng for individuals with angina and mild congestive heart failure. In addition, he mentions this formula may be of benefit in treating or preventing arterial disease and arterial insufficiency.
Science: Jiogulan’s principal saponin compounds are structurally similar to those found in ginseng and they are thought to be responsible for many of the pharmacological activities (Rujjanawate et al., 2004). There are a wide variety of studies on jiogulan on experimental models and few on humans. Studies on models suggest jiogulan may be useful in treating hyperlipidemia (Megalli et al., 2005), gastric ulcers (Rujjanawate et al., 2004), type II diabetes (Norberg et al., 2004), and reducing inflammation (Lin et al., 1993). It may have a cardioprotective role (Circosta et al., 2005).
There is a convincing and recent human clinical trial where a jiogulan extract was shown to decrease some of the biochemical problems assoicated with obesity (Park et al., 2014). It may also be effective in treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (Chou et al., 2006). An additional human clinical trial found that consuming jiaogulan tea was effective in combating type II diabetes, although the study was lower powered it was well controlled and agrees with an earlier in vivo study (Huyen et al., 2010; Norberg et al., 2004).
Safety: Jiaogulan is safe within the defined dose range. Avoid use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
Dosage: See dosage on packaging.
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory activity: One study found that two saponins from jiogulan had anti-inflammatory activity ex vivo and may inhibit IL-6 and COX-2 mRNA expression (Yang et al., 2013).
Anti-inflammatory activity(II): A study on rats found that water extract of jiogulan had anti-inflammatory activity in vivo (Lin et al., 1993).
Anti-oxidant activity: One study found that jiogulan polysaccharides had anti-oxidant activity ex vivo (Wang et al., 2007).
Anti-hyperlipidemic effects: A study found that jiogulan was effective in rats in lowering triglyceride, cholesterol and nitrite in acute hyperlipidemia (Megalli et al., 2005).
Gastroprotective effects: One study found a butanol fraction of jiogulan was effective in rats in preserving gastric mucus synthesis and secretion, they deemed it has gastroprotective abilities (Rujjanawate et al., 2004).
Cardioprotective effects: A study found that jiogulan has protective effects against various types of stress of deterioration of the heart in vivo experimental models (Circosta et al., 2005).
Modulation of blood sugar: One study found a molecular from jiogulan was ability to induce insulin secretion from pancreateic cells ex vivo and it also could improve glucose tolerance and enhance insulin levels in vivo (Norberg et al., 2004).
Research in humans
Obesity: A recent study (n = 80, double blind placebo controlled) found subjects who took a patented extract of jiogulan at 450mg per day for 12 weeks had significantly lower total abdominal fat area, body weight, body fat mass, percent body fat, and BMI than the placebo group (Park et al., 2014).
Fatty liver disease: One study (n =56, single blind placebo controlled) of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease found that after treatment with jiogulan for 6 months’ significant improvements were seen in the treatment group (Chou et al., 2006).
Type II diabetes: A study (n = 24, double blind placebo controlled) found jiogulan improved the symptoms of type II diabetes significantly compared with the placebo group (Huyen et al., 2010). Jiogulan was consumed in tea form, twice daily, at 3g per dose.
Chou, Shuo-Chi, et al. “The add-on effects of Gynostemma pentaphyllum on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” Alternative therapies in health and medicine 12.3 (2006): 34.
Circosta, C., R. De Pasquale, and F. Occhiuto. “Cardiovascular effects of the aqueous extract of Gynostemma pentaphyllum Makino.” Phytomedicine 12.9 (2005): 638-643.
Huyen, V. T. T., et al. “Antidiabetic effect of Gynostemma pentaphyllum tea in randomly assigned type 2 diabetic patients.” Hormone and metabolic research 42.05 (2010): 353-357.
Lin, Jer-Min, et al. “Evaluation of the anti-inflammatory and liver-protective effects of anoectochilus formosanus, ganoderma lucidum and gynostemma pentaphyllum in rats.” The American journal of Chinese medicine 21.01 (1993): 59-69.
Megalli, Samer, et al. “Phytopreventative anti-hyperlipidemic effects of Gynostemma pentaphyllum in rats.” J Pharm Pharm Sci 8.3 (2005): 507-515.
Norberg, Åke, et al. “A novel insulin-releasing substance, phanoside, from the plant Gynostemma pentaphyllum.” Journal of Biological Chemistry 279.40 (2004): 41361-41367.
Park, Soo‐Hyun, et al. “Antiobesity effect of Gynostemma pentaphyllum extract (actiponin): A randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled trial.” Obesity 22.1 (2014): 63-71.
Rujjanawate, C., D. Kanjanapothi, and D. Amornlerdpison. “The anti-gastric ulcer effect of
Gynostemma pentaphyllum Makino.” Phytomedicine 11.5 (2004): 431-435.
Saleeby, J.P. Wonder Herbs: A guide to three adaptogens. Xlibris Corporation, 2006.
Wang, Zhaojing, and Dianhui Luo. “Antioxidant activities of different fractions of polysaccharide purified from Gynostemma pentaphyllum Makino.” Carbohydrate Polymers 68.1 (2007): 54-58.
Winston, David, and Steven Maimes. Adaptogens: herbs for strength, stamina, and stress relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Co, 2007.
Yang, Fei, et al. “Two new saponins from tetraploid jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), and their anti-inflammatory and α-glucosidase inhibitory activities.” Food chemistry 141.4 (2013): 3606-3613.
Yang, Fei, et al. “Two novel anti-inflammatory 21-nordammarane saponins from tetraploid Jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum).” Journal of agricultural and food chemistry 61.51 (2013): 12646-12652.