What Are the Medical Uses of Atractylodes?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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Atractylodes, also commonly called bai zhu, is a plant frequently used in traditional Chinese medicine as treatment for gastrointestinal and genitourinary disorders. Indigenous to Chinese mountain valleys, these plants are reputedly used by Asian athletes as an energy enhancer. Considered a chi tonic, Atractylodes is a common ingredient found in many Chinese herbal preparations.

Oriental herbalists believe that these plants enhance the performance of the various organs in the digestive tract, including the liver, the spleen, and the stomach. The Chinese believe that the herb has positive effects on the meridians of the body. Black and white species of Atractylodes are frequently prescribed by Chinese physicians for abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting along with appetite loss. This alternative medicine is also commonly prescribed for edema, as practitioners believe the plant possesses diuretic properties. Atractylodes can also be used for dizziness and mental fatigue.

As a chi tonic, the Atractylodes supplement reportedly restores metabolic function by improving appetite, which enhances energy levels. Chinese physicians recommend the herbal treatment for nutritional deficiencies that include anorexia, hypoglycemia, and malnutrition in addition to malabsorption disorders. Other conditions for which the herb might be prescribed are metabolic acidosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some women use atractylodes for miscarriage prevention or to calm overly restless unborn children. Asian patients suffering from breast, cervical, stomach and uterine tumors have also taken the herb.


The substance usually extracted from Atractylodes is an oil containing acetylenes, butenolide B, and various forms of atractylon. Other chemical components are lactones, polysaccharides, and sesquiterpene, along with vitamin A. The white herb is generally only available in Chinese food stores and pharmacies and is commonly given in the form of an extract, decoction, powder, or tea. Preparations are usually made from the rootstalk of the plant, and choice plants must be aromatic, firm, and large.

Some American physicians believe the herb is safe for consumption when doses do not exceed 1.32 grams daily. Health care providers also suggest not taking the Atractylodes supplement for longer than seven weeks at a time. The atractylenolide chemical found in the herb can produce dry mouth, nausea, and an unpleasant lingering aftertaste. There are no listed drug interactions associated with the herb.

The plant belongs to the Asteraceae/Compositae family and may induce an allergic reaction in some people. Other plants in this species include chrysanthemums, daisies, and marigolds, along with ragweed. People are generally advised to consult with a health care provider before taking this herbal supplement.


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