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Hydrocotyle - Tetrapanax

(Ginseng or Aralia or Ivy family)


Hydrocotyle L.

This is a genus of about 200 species of creeping perennial herbs of cosmopolitan distribution (Mabberley 2008). Hydrocotyle species have close similarities with Centella L. species (fam. Umbelliferae) and have previously been classified by some authorities in a distinct family, namely the Hydrocotylaceae (Willis 1973).

Hydrocotyle javanica Thunb.
(syns Hydrocotyle nepalensis Hooker, Hydrocotyle polycephala Wight & Arn.)

Perry & Metzger (1980) noted that the sap, if brought into contact with the eyelids causes conjunctivitis.

According Sheh et al. (2005) in the Flora of China, 14 species of Hydrocotyle L. are to be found in China. Hydrocotyle javanica is not included amongst these 14 species. However, Hydrocotyle nepalensis is included, this being described as "part of the highly variable complex of Hydrocotyle javanica Thunberg, which extends from Nepal east to Japan and south through Indonesia into Australia." These authors add that "[the] classification [of this species] is in need of revision across its whole geographic range."

Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides Lam.
(syns Hydrocotyle rotundifolia Roxb., Hydrocotyle splendens Zoll. ex Miq.)

In China, Taiwan and Japan, the macerated plant may be applied as a poultice to bruises or as a styptic to cuts or wounds, especially leech-wounds. A decoction may also be used as a wash for itch. On the Malay Peninsula, the plant is used to treat some skin diseases (Perry & Metzger 1980).

Hydrocotyle umbellata L.

In a survey of Columbian medicinal plants, Lopez et al. (2001) noted that this plant (which is known locally as chupana) mixed with animal fat will "suck the infections out of the skin".

Kalopanax septemlobus Koidz. var septemlobus
(syns Acanthopanax ricinifolium Seem., Panax ricinifolium Siebold & Zucc., Kalopanax ricinifolium Miq., Kalopanax pictum Nakai)
Castor Aralia, Prickly Castor Oil Tree

Stuart (1911), referring to Acanthopanax ricinifolium, notes that the bark and leaves of this thorny tree are recommended for insecticidal purposes and for the treatment of skin disease and all sorts of ulcers and infected sores.

Oplopanax horridum Miq.
(syns Echinopanax horridus Decne. & Planchon, Fatsia horrida Benth. & Hook.f.)
Devil's Club

The stems, petioles, and leaf veins are covered with numerous thin, sharp spines which can inflict painful wounds to those who touch them (Turner 1979). The spines were thought by the Southern Kwakiutl Indians of British Columbia to be poisonous (Turner & Bell 1973).

Panax ginseng C.A.Mey.
(syns Panax schinseng Nees, Aralia quinquefolia Decne. & Planchon)

The root of this species is the Korean ginseng of commerce. In addition to saponins which are thought to be the main pharmacologically active principles, the root contains small amounts of oestrogenic substances which has been reported to cause painful and swollen breasts. Other substances have also been packaged and sold as ginseng, including mandrake root (Mandragora officinarum L., fam. Solanaceae) containing scopolamine, and snakeroot (Rauvolfia L. species, fam. Apocynaceae) containing reserpine (Anon 1979).

Ginseng farmers developed dermatitis from the fungicide dithane which is sprayed on ginseng crops against blight (Schorr 1979).

Panax notoginseng F.H.Chen ex C.Y.Wu & K.M.Feng
(syns Aralia quinquefolia Decne. & Planchon var notoginseng Burkill, Panax pseudoginseng Wall. var notoginseng G.Hoo & C.J.Tseng)
Notoginseng, Yunnan Ginseng, Sanchi Ginseng

The root of this species provides the traditional Chinese medicine San Qi (known also as Tian Qi, Radix Notoginseng, or Radix Pseudoginseng).

San Qi is the principal ingredient of a popular proprietary Chinese traditional medicine known variously as Yunnan Paiyao, Yunnan Baiyao, or Yin Nan Bai Yao. Although originally developed as a remedy for treating knife, sword and gun-shot injuries sustained in battle, it is now promoted also as a haemostat and anti-inflammatory agent for minor wounds. The product is available both for oral administration and for topical application.

Lee & Lam (1987) reported a case of allergic contact dermatitis caused by topically applied Yunnan Paiyao. These authors could not ascertain the composition of the product from the manufacturer so were unable to perform patch tests aimed at determining the identity of the sensitiser in the product.

As is the case for traditional proprietary Chinese remedies, the actual composition of the product will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Some manufacturers do declare the full composition of their product; others reveal only that San Qi is the main ingredient; whilst others claim that their formula is a trade secret. The following list of declared constituents is constructed from information provided on the internet by various manufacturers and distributors:

  • San Qi — Radix Notoginseng — Sanchi Ginseng — Panax notoginseng F.H.Chen ex C.Y.Wu & K.M.Feng
  • Shan Yao — Radix or Rhizoma Dioscoreae Oppositae — Chinese Yam — Dioscorea batatas Decne. (syns Dioscorea oppositifolia L., Dioscorea opposita Thunb.), fam. Dioscoreaceae
  • Chuan Shan Long — Radix or Rhizoma Dioscoreae Nipponicae — Japanese or Wild Yam — Dioscorea nipponica Makino, or Bi Xie — Radix or Rhizoma Dioscoreae Hypoglaucae — Yam, Hypoglauca Rhizome — Dioscorea hypoglauca Palib., fam. Dioscoreaceae
  • San Yu Cao — Herb of Clarke — Boea clarkeana Hemsl. (syns Boea densihispidula S.B.Zhou & X.H.Guo, Streptocarpus clarkeanus Hilliard & B.L.Burtt), fam. Gesneriaceae
  • Lao Guan Cao — Herba Erodii seu Geranii — Sweet Geranium, Cranesbill — Erodium stephanianum Willd., or Geranium wilfordii Maxim., or Geranium maculatum L., or Geranium nepalense Sweet, or Geranium sibiricum L., fam. Geraniaceae. Geranium thunbergii Siebold & Zucc. ex Lindl. & Paxton is also listed as an alternative
  • Gao Liang Jiang — Rhizoma Alpiniae Officinari or Rhizoma Galangae Minoris — Lesser Galangal — Alpinia officinarum Hance (syn. Languas officinarum Farw.), fam. Zingiberaceae
  • Er Cha — Pasta Acaciae — Catechu, Gambier — produced from Acacia catechu Willd., fam. Leguminosae
  • She Xiang — Secretio Moschi Moschiferi — Musk — a secretion of Moschus moschiferus L., the musk deer
  • Bai Niu Dan — Fel Bovis — Ox-bile, or Xiong Dan — Fel Ursis — Bear-bile
  • Bing Pian — Borneol 

The controversy that surrounds the use of animal-derived products in unregulated medicines, and especially the use of bear-bile may be a reason why some manufacturers choose not to declare the full list of ingredients in their particular formulation of Yunnan Baiyao.

Polyscias guilfoylei L.H.Bailey
(syns Aralia guilfoylei Cogn. & Marchand, Nothopanax guilfoylei Merr.)
Guilfoyle Polyscias, Geranium Leaf Aralia, Wild Coffee

Polyscias J.R.Forst. & G.Forst. species (known by their former name Nothopanax Miq.) are popular as hedge plants in Hawaii. In 30 years of practice there, Arnold (1972) had seen only 3 or 4 cases of dermatitis caused by them.

In southern Florida, where this and related species are loosely referred to as aralias, the plants are commonly cultivated as hedges and are a frequent cause of dermatitis, which may be provoked merely by brushing against the leaves. A more acute form may result from handling cuttings (Morton 1958, Morton 1971).

Polyscias scutellaria Fosberg
(syns Aralia balfouriana André, Nothopanax scutellarium Merr., Polyscias balfouriana L.H.Bailey, Polyscias pinnata J.R.Forst. & G.Forst.)
Balfour Aralia, Balfour Polyscias

In southern Florida, where this and related species are loosely referred to as aralias, the plants are commonly cultivated as hedges and are a frequent cause of dermatitis, which may be provoked merely by brushing against the leaves. A more acute form may result from handling cuttings (Morton 1958, Morton 1971).

Schefflera arboricola Hayata
(syn. Heptapleurum arboricola Hayata)

Hammershøy (1981) describes a case of allergic sensitivity to this species and also to Brassaia actinophylla Endl.

Schefflera kwangsiensis Merr.
Umbrella Tree

Contact dermatitis from this species in a gardener was reported by Calnan (1981). A patch test with the leaf was positive at 96 hours but not at 48 hours.

Tetrapanax papyrifer K.Koch
(syns Aralia mairei H.Lév., Aralia papyrifera Hook., Didymopanax papyrifer K.Koch, Echinopanax papyriferus Kuntze, Fatsia papyrifera Benth. & Hook.f., Panax papyrifer F.Muell.)
Chinese Rice Paper Plant

The single species in this genus is a native of South China and Formosa (Mabberley 2008), but is cultivated as an ornamental in the warmer parts of Europe and America. It was originally named Tetrapanax papyriferum.

Dorsey (1962) noted that the heavy yellow pollen produced by the Chinese rice paper plant in the fall and winter months may cause severe dermatitis.

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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