Figwort/Scrophula (Xuan Shen)
Botanical Name: Western – Scrophularia nodosa, S. californica, S. aquatic, S. marylandica. Eastern – S. ningpoensis.
The botanical name for figwort, Scrophularia, comes from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis that the herb is famous for treating. It is a mild herb best known for its ability to clear toxicities in the lymph and skin. It dissolves swellings and tumors of all kinds, including scrofula. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the herb is used to hemorrhoids, psoriasis, ulcers and other skin fungal infections. It can stimulate the uterus, regulate menses, and release a retained placenta. Figwort is an excellent example of an herb that promotes cleansing not through elimination but through actually cleansing the blood, tissues, lymph and skin. It is an excellent cleanser for the glands.
Below is an overview of Figwort/Scrophula (Xuan Shen), combining and interpreting the best of Western Science, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore and more. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Figwort/Scrophula (Xuan Shen).
Western Name: Figwort/Scrophula
Also Known As: Scrophularia, Knotted Figwort, Woodland Figwort, Rosenoble, Throatwort, Carpenters Square, Kernelwort, Escrophularia, Heal-all Scrofula Plant
Organs/Systems: Lungs, Skin, Heart
Key Western Actions & Medicinal Uses: S. nodosa – Detoxing, Mild laxative, Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Circulatory stimulant, Diuretic, Heart Stimulant, Anodyne, Laxative, Emetic. S. ningpoensis – Detoxing, Mild laxative, Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Antibacterial, Antifungal, Antiviral, Antimicrobial, Cooling, Heart Tonic, Lowers Blood Pressure, Sedative, Tonic. Scrofula, tuberculosis, burns, abscesses, wounds, skin eruptions, hemorrhoids, gangrene, ulcers, eczema and psoriasis, expelling worms, cleanses blood, rheumatic conditions, lymphatic disorders, stimulates: the liver, heart and blood circulation.
Pin Yin: Xuan Shen (Translates as “Dark Root.”)
Also Known As: Hei Shen, Yuan Shen, Hei Xuan Shen
Meridians: Kidney, Lung, Stomach
Key TCM Actions & Medicinal Uses: Clears Heat/Cools Blood: used when Heat enters the blood level of warm-febrile diseases (Yin and Xue stages) causing bleeding, dry mouth, purplish tongue, and other similar deficient Heat symptoms as well. Nourishes Yin: fever conditions with constipation, irritability, and dry cough. Drains Fire/Relieves Toxicity: swollen or red eyes, and especially extreme cases of sore throats. Softens nodules: neck lumps due to Phelgm-Fire, sore throat pain, swollen tonsils, scrofula and swelling.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Western – Stems, Leaves. Eastern – Root.
Flavors/Temps: Salty, Sweet, Bitter, Acrid, Cold
Caution: Large doses can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Not recommended for pregnant, nursing mothers, or children. Figwort is a heart stimulant, so if you have a heart disease or irregular heart rate, be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
History/Folklore: The name, Scrophularia, comes from scrofula, a form of tuberculosis, that the herb is famous for treating. It is an infection of the lymph nodes in the neck. According to the “Doctrine of Signatures” if an herb resembles a specific body part than the herb can be considered for treating that condition or body part. The resemblance of the bulbous shape of the plant’s rhizomes to swollen glands led to it being used to successfully treat scrofula. It remains one of the best medicinal plants for treating swelling and tumors. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is called “The King Herb” for treating cancerous tumors.
The species S. aquatic (Water Figwort), S. marylandica (American Figwort) are used in the same way as S. nodosa (Figwort). The Knotted Figwort (S. nodosa) is commonly found throughout England compared to the Water Figwort (S. aquatic) while similar in habitat, differs in the form of its roots and has more distinctly heart-shaped leaves than the Water Figwort (S. aquatic).
Mainly used as a detoxifier, externally the herb will help speed the healing of burns, abscesses, wounds, skin eruptions, hemorrhoids, gangrene, ulcers, eczema and psoriasis. It has also been effective in expelling worms.
Figwort is a good diuretic and blood cleansing herb. It has mild laxative and analgesic (suppress pain) properties. It helps stimulate the liver, heart and blood circulation.
Used to treat skin disorders the herb is often combined with yellow dock (Rumex crispus) .
The constituents harpagoside and harpagid are being studied for their ability to soothe joint pain. Whenever there is a buildup of toxins as in rheumatic conditions, lymphatic disorders, or skin problems such as eczema or psoriasis, figwort is considered for use in treatment.
Compresses soaked in an infusion of figwort can be used to treat eczema skin inflammations and fungal infections.
Figwort has been used as a substitute for the herb devil’s claw (harpagophytum) as the two herbs contain similar constituents.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the herb is dried-fried in salt to enhance the plant’s Yin-nourishing properties.
Good quality is big, thick and hard with a thin skin and a black color. Typical dosing is 9-30 grams.
Amino acids, Flavonoids, Phenolic acids (Ferulic, Vanillic, Caffeic, Cinnamic), Saponins, Cardiac glycoside, Aucubin (an Iridoid glycoside), Harpagoside, Harpagid, Phytosterols, Essential fatty acids, Asparagine, Saponins, Cardioactive glycosides, Alkaloids (including Diosmin), Iridoids (including Monoterpenes, Acubin, Harpagoside and Acetyl harpagide), Phenolic acids, Essential Fatty acids, Asparagine
The name “scrofula” is a form of tuberculosis, a disease that several species of this herb are used for.
The plant has an unpleasant aroma and bitter taste.
Related to Foxglove
Figwort is closely related to the plant commonly called foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). Both plants contain cardiac glycosides that affect the heart. Figwort contains far less of these compounds than foxglove, but if you have heart problems be sure to consult your healthcare provider.
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