Effective Use Of Mild Acting Herbs - Fu Ling
Identity of the material
Hoelen (Poria; Chinese: fuling) refers to a mushroom cultivated in China on the roots of Chinese red pine trees (e.g., Pinus massoniana and Pinus tabuliformis); it also grows wild on these pines and other conifers, as well as on several hardwoods (Bau Yunshen, accessed August 2006). The common name hoelen comes from the original botanical name—Pachyma hoelen—given by the Dutch botanist Georg Eberhard Rumphius in 1741; it is a term that has been used by the Japanese (their medicine influenced by the Dutch) and followed up by the Taiwanese (adopting the Kampo Medicine system of Japan). In 1922, the American mycologist Frederick Adolph Wolf identified the mushroom renamed it Poria cocos, which is the name used in most Chinese texts; the Chinese work expanded greatly in the 1950s and afterward, and they usually relied on names available in 1950. This same mushroom was named Wolfiporia cocos in 1984, and this is its current botanical designation.
In books of Chinese medicine, the description of the material part of this fungus to be used is the “sclerotium.” Sclerotium (plural: sclerotia) is a term that (in modern usage) refers to a dense mass of branched hyphae, which is what makes up hoelen. The Chinese name for the mushroom is fuling; the characters are just phonetics applied to the spoken name of the herb, an ancient term. The name may be modified to indicate the locale from which the material was collected; for example, from hoelen from Anwei may be called Anling, and that from Yunnan may be called Yunling. The outer skin of hoelen is called fulingpi (pi=skin), which is separated off and provided as a separate medicinal item, with reputation of being a good diuretic.
Constituents of hoelen and possible effects
The primary constituent of hoelen is fiber; it is in the form of â-glucan (chains of sugar, mostly glucose; a polysaccharide), called pachyman. This component makes up 91–98% of the dried fungal mass, most of it being an insoluble fiber; there is virtually no lipid (less than 0.15%) and little protein (Wong and Cheung 2005). To make decoctions, the mushroom mass is sliced very thin. When cooked in water to make an herbal tea, most of the insoluble fibre is left behind (though some OF IT becomes suspended by the boiling process), and virtually all the soluble fibre enters the water, forming a somewhat cloudy material.
There is conflicting information about the possible immunological effect of the â-glucan from hoelen; most of the information suggests that it is of relatively low activity. Some other mushrooms of the same family, the Polyporaceae, such as the Grifola species (the Chinese medicinal material zhuling and the mushroom popularized in Japan: maitake), contain immunologically active â-glucans that have been developed into medicinal products by extracting and concentrating the high-molecular weight components (Dharmananda 1999). But with hoelen, there has been little work done on isolating an active polysaccharide fraction for medicinal use. In fact, most efforts with the material are towards developing potentially useful dietary fibres that may promote, rather than impair, mineral absorption (Wong et. al. 2006).
The mushroom also contains several triterpene acids, including pachymic acid, tumulosic acid, eburicoic acid (a component of many mushrooms), and poricoic acid. Some of these are actively being researched for potential medicinal uses, including anticancer effects seen in laboratory studies (for this effect, these components are used in amounts far higher than one would usually get from the crude herb). The triterpenes may have some immunological effects as well (Yu 1996), though far more research into such effects has been done on similar compounds from other mushrooms, especially Ganoderma lucidum, which has a higher concentration of triterpenes (called ganoderic acids). To study these compounds, alcoholic extracts are made, which leave behind the polysaccharides.
Hoelen is very popular in China for making formulas that tonify the spleen and kidney, and in prescriptions that are used to remove excess dampness. In recent years, China reportedly collected 10,000 to 13,000 tons of Poria cocos annually. The main producing area was Anwei Province.
Traditional formulas with hoelen
While hoelen is an ingredient of many formulas, it is a major ingredient in only a few traditional formulas that are widely used today. The following table summarizes most of these, with the % hoelen in formula taken from Thousand Formulas and Thousand Herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Huang and Wang 1993):
|Formula Common Name (pinyin)||Other ingredients||% of formula|
|Hoelen Five Formula (Wuling San)||alisma, atractylodes, polyporus, cinnamon twig||19% (powder decoction)||reduced urinary output, with edema and thirst.|
|Four Major Herbs Combination (Si Junzi Tang)||atractylodes, licorice, ginseng||26% (decoction)||spleen qi deficiency, tendency to loose stool|
|Cinnamon and Hoelen Formula (Guizhi Fuling Wan)||moutan, persica, red peony, cinnamon twig||20% (pill)||abdominal pain and masses associated with blood stasis|
|Vitality Combination (Zhenwu Tang)||atractylodes, peony, fresh ginger, aconite||21% (decoction)||fluid accumulation due to yang deficiency|
|Zizyphus Combination (Suanzaoren Tang)||zizyphus, licorice, anemarrhena, cnidium||22% (decoction)||insomnia, palpitations, sweating due to heat|
|Citrus and Pinellia Combination (Erchen Tang)||pinellia, citrus, licorice, fresh ginger, mume||18% (decoction)||phlegm accumulation with cough and loose stools|
Dosage and effect
The dosage of hoelen used in decoctions as indicated in most Chinese herb texts varies from 9–15 grams for spleen/stomach disorders to 30-45 grams for oedema (Hsu 1986). Even higher doses have been recommended in some instances. For example, in a treatment for schizophrenia, 60 grams of the herb was decocted for the daily dose given for 1–3 months (Zhu 1998). The herb has very low toxicity. In the traditional categorization of the herb, it is considered without taste (bland or slightly sweet) and neutral in nature (that is, relative to warming or cooling properties). In the formulas listed in the table above where the decoction form is used, 9 grams was indicated in each case for the quantity of hoelen, and this is the lowest recommended dose in the Materia Medica. Generally, reports from modern Chinese clinical work indicate use of somewhat larger amounts than that (typically 10–30 grams for a one day dose). By contrast, hoelen is sometimes incorporated into pills, either as a powder or extract, and its daily dosage in that case is quite low.
The glucans may have a soothing effect on the stomach and intestines, which can explain the role of hoelen in formulas that treat nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, stomachache, and stomach ulcer, as well as cases of excess phlegm production that may result from stomach irritation (Tai 1995). This effect will be stronger from decoctions than with the ingestion of pills because of the higher dosage involved, but even the lower dosages in pills may have an effect due to direct contact of the herb with the stomach and upper portion of the intestines.
The triterpenes may be responsible for other claimed effects, such as diuretic action; hoelen is often combined with alisma (zexie), which also has triterpenes and is considered a diuretic (Tang and Eisenbrand 1992). In addition, these compounds can have a benefit for the digestive system. The amount of the triterpenes in hoelen is small, so in order to get an effect of them outside of the stomach and upper intestine, it is important to use decoctions or dried decoctions (e.g. for treating oedema and insomnia).
The attribution of a sedative effect to hoelen (and especially to fu-shen, which is now defined as the smaller hoelen fungus with the pine root embedded in it) is largely the result of the imagination of the ancient alchemists (Sivan 1980) and there is currently little supporting evidence for it. Hoelen was originally thought to arise via the transformation of pine resin. It was said that after a thousand years residing in the ground, the resin became hoelen; after another thousand years, it became fushen, after another thousand years, it become amber (hopu, which is, in fact, derived from pine resin), and after yet another thousand years, it became crystal quartz (the term “thousand years” means a long time, and not the specific duration). The pine tree is itself a symbol of calmness, and the four derivatives of pine resin described here are all considered sedatives of increasing potency attributed to aging in the ground under the influences of earthly and heavenly qi. While this story in interesting, it raises the question whether the fungus truly has significant sedative properties, since its constituents are entirely different from pine roots, amber, and quartz. Other Chinese herbs appear to have more significant sedative effects, demonstrated in pharmacology studies as well as with clinical use (Zhu 1998).
Bau Yunshen (accessed August 2006), Fungi used in Chinese medicine, sunzi1.lib.hku.hk/hkjo/view/34/3400251.pdf
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