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Spotlight on Herbs: Corydalis

July 09, 2020

Corydalis makes a beautiful flower, but in traditional Chinese herbs, corydalis root is a powerful herb to relieve pain

Corydalis yanhusuo is an herb on a mission, and that mission is to stop pain. You might have heard of this herb when it was featured on the The Dr. Oz Show where, as is often the case, it was misrepresented in terms of its function and dosage. I was extremely disappointed when the expert the show brought on confused the dosage for the raw herb as the dosage for the powdered, prepared herb. This is a big deal because those measures are different by a factor of 5. If you wanted to take 10 grams of the raw herb and boil it that would be fine but the same dose in a prepared powder would be 2 grams. 

Corydalis yanhusuo is frequently used in traditional Chinese Medicine, and is categorized as herbs that relieves pain. In the literature it is often noted, with little supporting evidence, that this herb when taken correctly is 1/100th as effective at treating pain as morphine. Honestly, this isn’t what I would want to hear if I had just experienced a physical trauma and needed to get my pain under control.  However, for chronic pain, where opiates are not a good, long-term solution, corydalis, when used properly in combination with other herbs, can help reduce pain to reasonable levels with no threat of addiction or building up a tolerance. 


Corydalis Essentials

  • Scientific Name
    Corydalis yanhusuo

    Common Name (Western)

    Chinese Name (Pin Yin)
    Yan Hu Suo

    Central China, in the Jiangsu and Zhejiang areas

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  • Corydalis is a perennial herbaceous plant in the poppy family native to high altitude grasslands. Use of the plant first appears in the Ben Cao Shi Yi, written in 741 CE.  The portion of the plant that is used is the rhizome. It should be a dusky yellow color, cut in slices anywhere from 5mm to 20mm in width. 

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  • In traditional medicine, Corydalis is mainly used for pain of the chest, abdomen, and limbs.  It is also frequently used for gynecological pain.  When prepared as a decoction, a dosage of 3-10 grams is recommended or 1.0 -1.5g of powder mixed with warm water.  This plant is known to contain tetrahydropalmatine, that acts as a muscle relaxant and benefits the action of relieving pain especially when there are tight muscles exacerbating the pain. 

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  • Corydalis has several important cautions: 

    1. This herb is contraindicated in pregnancy. Don't even mess with it. 
    2. This herb has an LD50 of about 100g/Kg which means that a 70Kg person (154lbs) would have to take 70*100g or 7kg (15.4lbs) to have a 50% chance of dying.  Although ingesting over 15lbs of herb might be a difficult way to win a Darwin award, we recommend sticking to the 3-10 gram dosing.
    3. It is rare that an herb from the Chinese Herbal Tradition is used alone. That's another way of saying, don't do it. Most often it is used with other herbs to either increase its function or to decrease side effects. We advise you to consult with an herbalist before using this herb for any therapeutic reason.

Uses in Herbalogic Back in Action

Corydalis is the powerhouse of for pain in Back in Action, both liquid and capsule forms. Because it pairs particularly well with turmeric, we use corydalis to provide help especially when pain is from tight muscles knotting up.  


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