Heracleum or Cow-Parsnip

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) a well known plant from Western North America, being the only Heracleum native to the Americas. The seeds and root are known to be medicinal, but the root is very acrid and must be used with care and small doses. The seeds are more forgiving relating to their dosage and have been found by many herbalists to be excellent in the treatment of digestive pains due to spasm. This genus also has many Chinese species, the center of distribution of this genus in in China. Some are used as a substitute of Angelica Duhuo, and interestingly the genus name is Duhuo.

One species, Heracleum scabridum is called Dian Bai Zhi (滇白芷) as is considered acrid, sweet, and warm, enters the lung channel, treats yang ming headaches from cold evil, heat effusion, expels wandering wind from the skin. It is also used to stop cold pains in the stomach and other parts of the body, as well as wind-damp impediment. It is also used in gynecology in the treatment of prolapse uterus, white vaginal discharge, and painful menstruation due to cold.


Heracleum candicans, known as Bai Du Huo (白独活) and is native to Southwestern China and Tibet at elevations from 2000-4200 meters is considered warm, acrid, and bitter. It dispels wind and dissipates cold, eliminates dampness and stops pain. It is used for common cold, headache, toothache, abdominal pain, wind-dampness impediment pain, and “numbing wind” (also translated as leprosy). It is decocted at 3-9g dosages, or it is made into a pill, powder, or tincture. (Source: Commonly Used Chinese Medicinals of Tibet).

Heracleum moellenderffii and Heracleum hemsleyanum are collectively known as Niu Wei Du Huo (牛尾独活). The former is native throughout much of China (excluding the far northern areas), while the latter is primarily found in Hunan and Sichuan provinces. The root is used and is considered acrid, bitter, and slightly warm.  The Commonly Used Chinese Medicinals of Sichuan says that it enters the liver and kidney channels. It expels wind and dissipates cold, overcomes dampness and stops pain. It is used for common cold, headache, toothache, abdominal pain, wind-dampness impediment pain, lower back and knee pain, and slow healing ulcers. It is administered in 3-9g dosages as a decoction, or produced as a pill or powder. It is also used externally as a liniment (tincture).  One formula for an internal tincture is given as this herb along with du zhong, sang zhi (15g each) and song jie (9g) ground and combined with 500g alcohol. 15g are to be taken daily for wind-cold impediment pain or sourness, cold, and pain in the lower back and knees.


One Response to “Heracleum or Cow-Parsnip”

  1. Amanda Brown April 11, 2012 5:53 am

    I used a topical application of the tincture in a case of bells palsy with excellent results.
    Glad to see more info provided for this helpful plant. Thanks

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