COMMON NAME (Chinese Name)
Dendrobium (Shí Hú)
The most common function of dendrobium supplementation is as a general tonic for cold, dry, and dehydrated people. It is used in China after high fevers to replenish the body while continuing to clear leftover heat. Dendrobium is an orchid categorized in Chinese medicine as a Yin tonic, which means it is moisturizing.
Anecdotally, oral use of dendrobium stem supplements is also said to increase sexual “vigor” while also helping detoxify and improve the overall physical health of a person’s body. Empirically speaking, vigor can be difficult to measure. However, the same dendrobium supplements are empirically shown to stimulate the immune system (boosting the strength, speed, and efficacy of immune function) and protect cells against damage by both toxins and deprivation. Given these effects, it’s not too surprising that other historical uses of dendrobium extracts and derivatives include the alleviation of the symptoms of bronchitis and asthma as well as acting as a bowel astringent (shrinking or constricting the smooth muscle of the GI tract to regulate digestion).
More recent research seems to validate these functions, as oral dendrobium supplements (derived from the stems) tend to have potent antioxidant, anticancer, and immunomodulatory effects. Notably, these antioxidant effects are so strong that dendrobium stem can protect against and even reverse the effects of significant damage by toxins.
PREPARATION & ADMINISTRATION
Though some study has focused on the potential medicinal benefits of dendrobium leaves, the vast majority of traditional medicinal uses involve the use of dried or fresh stems. Notably, the available moisture, light intensity, and duration of light exposure during the plant’s growth — as well as the environmental conditions during harvesting — can have significant impacts on the concentrations of antioxidants and other important compounds in hot water decoctions of dendrobium stems. This means that even seemingly identical batches of dendrobium supplements likely will yield inconsistent results with use. What’s more, an ongoing class-action lawsuit against the manufacturer of a popular dendrobium supplement asserts that the herb itself does not have the stimulating and energizing effects claimed; rather, complainants alleged that supplements include dangerous and highly addictive amphetamines. With this information in mind, it’s best to use a reputable TCM practitioner when purchasing your dendrobium supplements.
There isn’t much available research about the potential side-effects, interactions, and contraindications for the use of dendrobium supplements. Given its stimulating (and purportedly energizing) properties, people with heart conditions and high blood pressure may be more at risk and are highly encouraged to consult a physician prior to use. Additionally, TCM often advises against using this herb if you tend to “run cold”. If you’re one of the first to pull out your sweaters each winter, this might not be the herb for you.
You should consult with a certified herbalist, physician or other qualified healthcare professional before taking dendrobium.
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