Pedicularis is a relatively large genus (about 600 species) from the Scrophulariaceae family. The genus is best represented in the mountains of SW China. There are 352 species found in China, 271 of them are endemic, making nearly half of all species in the world endemic to China. After my trip to Qing Hai and Northeastern Sichuan last summer I realized that even the largest stands of American species of pedicularis are tiny compared to some of what I saw on this trip, particularly the species in the first picture to the right and the bottom two pictured species. I apologize that I do not have definite identification, but with so many species, it is rather difficult to key the plants out with only a picture.
In North America there are several species used as medicine and were written about by the late GREAT Michael Moore in his book Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West and I believe the revised edition of Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West also has a monograph (not sure and I don’t have it here to reference).
In North America there are 36 species listed, but if you take into account the sub-species, some of which are likely truly separate species that have yet to be delineated, there are 69. Far fewer than China. All but 2 of these are only present in the West and of Northern areas, with only 1 species making it to parts of the Southwestern United States (P. canadensis).
North American species are mostly known for their muscle relaxing relaxing and calming properties. Although I have adapted 1 species to use as an herb to nourish the yin and blood (P. semibarbata). The other species that are well-known and used in North America are P. groenlandica, P. attollens, and P. densiflora.
There are only 7 species mentioned in the Grand Dictionary of Chinese Herbs, with 4 of these listed under the same heading, meaning they are essentially used in the same way. This heading is titled, 太白参 (tai bai shen, P. davidii, P. decora, P. dunniana, and P. rudis. It is listed as sweet, slightly bitter, warm, with a small amount of toxicity. It enriches yin and supplements the kidney, and boosts qi and fortifies the spleen. It is used for dual vacuity of the spleen and kidney.
There is so much more that can be said about this fascinating genus, but I will leave that for the second volume of my book Western Herbs according to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide.
Although I can not positively identify the photos in this blog, you will get a good idea of just how beautiful this little plant is and why I find it so fascinating. I hope enjoy it.