COMMON NAME (Chinese Name)
Gastrodia (Tian Ma)
Gastrodia elata; Rhizoma Gastrodiae
The most common historical and anecdotal uses of gastrodia supplements include the treatment of headaches, convulsions, epilepsy, tetanus, limb numbness, and neurodegenerative disorders. Recent research largely supports this claim; different research teams have found that taking gastrodia tuber extract by mouth may have a neuro-regenerative effect that’s so significant that long-term use may stop and even reverse the progression of neurodegenerative illness and memory loss.
Many of the benefits associated with taking gastrodia supplements by mouth can be linked to its potent anti-inflammatory effects, since inflammation can be responsible for everything from headaches to nerve impairment to cell death. Consequently, in addition to the conditions listed above, gastrodia supplements may show promise for use in controlling the symptoms of asthma.
That said, gastrodia’s most promising uses are still all neurologically-related. Researchers have been able to pinpoint three specific bioactive compounds in gastrodia tuber extracts that may be responsible for these (and other) activities: namely, gastrodin, vanillin, and the fungus Armilleria mellea. Separately, these compounds may have anti-delirium, anti-convulsant, and anti-hypertensive properties, while together they have the unique effect of lengthening sleeping time. Its main component (gastrodin), specifically may have a major impact on the central nervous system as it modulates neurotransmitters, reduces inflammation, and can alter brain chemistry.
This means gastrodia supplements may show promise for use to control central nervous system conditions like epilepsy, memory loss, and even mood disorders. Some studies have also suggested that these supplements may make effective therapies for managing the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and vertigo (though more clinical trials are needed to verify this suggestion). Similarly, studies examining the efficacy of using gastrodia extracts to control the symptoms of epilepsy are promising, but require greater review.
In Chinese medicine, gastrodia is categorized as an herb that extinguishes wind. This means that it helps quell tremors and skin rashes. It is classified as sweet and neutral in temperature and primarily affects the Liver meridian. The species is difficult to cultivate and is considered endangered. The Armillaria mellea mushroom is actually stronger and is able to be used as a substitute.
PREPARATION & ADMINISTRATION
The dried root tubers of gastrodia orchids are most often used in extracts that are served as a tea. In traditional preparations, hot-water decoction has long sufficed, though much of the recent body of research about gastrodia supplements focuses on ethanolic extracts (alcohol-based). Ethanolic extraction can yield different bioactive molecules than aqueous extraction.
People who have a history of low blood pressure, who are currently being treated for blood pressure conditions, or are taking medication that may alter their blood pressure should not drink gastrodia tea or otherwise ingest gastrodia supplements.
Oral gastrodia supplementation is generally understood to have a low risk of toxicity, even for long-term use, though anyone considering taking this should consult with their physician, a certified herbalist, or other qualified healthcare professional. Though there is little risk of acute toxicity, some side-effects and allergic reactions to gastrodia have been reported in humans. Rash, itchiness, dizziness, nausea, headache, vomiting, and heart palpitations are the most commonly reported side-effects. It is worth noting that side-effects they are also most commonly associated with over-dosing.
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