Rhododendron (Man Shan Hong)
Botanical Name: West – Rhododendron alpin, R. ferrugineum. East – R. molle, R. tsutsuji, R. daurici, R. simsii, R. spinuliferum, R. arboreum.
There are hundreds of species of rhododendrons. Several of them are used in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) as medicine and for food in Tibet and other countries. Each variety in Asia is used for treating what is called Phlegm. In the West phlegm means mucus in TCM. It is associated with sputum, tumors, congestion, swellings, and more. This makes specific rhododendron plants useful for treating inflammation, joint pain, arthritis, asthma, coughs, and other phlegm-related ailments. Azaleas are just one of the subspecies within the rhododendron family of flowers. New studies confirm the plant’s anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and liver-protecting potentials.
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Western Name: Rhododendron
Also Known As: Azalea, Rusty-leaved Rhododendron, Rose du Diable, Snow Rose
Organs/Systems: Cardiovascular, Muscular/Skeletal
Key Actions: Flower, Leaf, Twig: Analgesic, Anaesthetic, Sedative, Insecticide, Anti-inflammatory, Antimicrobial, Antiviral, Antifungal, Antidiabetic, Antioxidant, Anticancer, Antitussive, Expectorant Roots: Anti-inflammatory
Medicinal Uses: Arthritis, nerve pain, gout, sciatica, trigeminal neuralgia, migraine, headaches, fevers, cancer, cardiovascular disorders.
Pin Yin: Nao Yang Hua – R. molle / Chinese Azalea. Du Juan Hua – R. simsii / R. spinuliferum / India Azalea. Man Shan Hong – rhododendri daurici / Rhododendron Leaf. Ying Shan Hong – Translates as “Azalea”.
Also Known As: Si Xiang Shu (translates as “Thinking Home Bush”)
Meridians: Lung, Spleen
Key Actions: Stops Cough, Dissolves Phlegm, Reduce Fever, Relax Muscles
Medicinal Uses: Tracheitis, rheumatism, coughs, colds, insect bites, hypertension, arthritis, migraines, neuralgia, trigeminal neuralgia, muscle pain, gout, high blood pressure, gallstones, kidney stones, weak connective tissues, hardening of the muscles, joint pain associated with sensitivity to a change in the weather, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, skin diseases, fever, constipation, chronic bronchitis.
Basic Habitat / Botany:
There are over 1,200 species of rhododendron worldwide, with most being endemic in China. Azaleas and Tsutsusi are two of the subgenus of flowering shrubs found in the genus Rhododendron and the family Ericaceae. Typically rhododendrons are evergreen and azaleas are deciduous. Rhododendrons have ten or more stamens, azaleas have only five. Rhododendrons have large, paddle-shaped leaves and bell-shaped flowers that end in trusses. Azaleas have small, elliptical leaves, and trumpet or tubular-shaped flowers that end in shoots. Rhododendrons can grow to be 80 feet tall. Azaleas can grow to be 8 feet tall. Both have fragrant flowers that bloom in a wide array of colors from white, pink, gold, purple, orange, and red.
Rhododendrons like the temperate zones of the Northern Hemisphere and prefer to live near or under trees. They are native to Asia, Europe, and North America. They like to grow in coarse grasses and shrubs. They can also be found growing in thin pine woods. Azaleas and rhododendrons are now grown all over the world as popular ornamental garden plants.
Parts Most Frequently Used: Flower, Root, Leaf, Twig
Flavors/Temps: Bitter, Pungent, Sour, Neutral, Toxic
Caution: R. daurici (Dahurian), R. molle, and R. arboreum are the varieties most commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. At proper doses, and not used for long a long time, rhododendron is appropriately used as a medicine. Large doses are toxic. It is not recommended for pregnant women. All varieties of rhododendron are considered toxic. Symptoms of poisoning can include sweating, coma, chills, seizures, cardiac and respiratory arrest, and even death.
Key Constituents: Grayanotoxins (including Andromedotoxins), Flavonoids (including: Farrerol and Flavonol), Manganese, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Selenium, Sodium, Chromium, Cobalt, Cadmium, Nickel, Lead, Arsenic, Saponins, Tannins, Steroids, Glycosides, Quercetin, Rutin
Rhododendrons and azaleas share the same character in Chinese. Azaleas are in fact a subspecies of the rhododendron genus. Several rhododendron species have been used safely and effectively in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) to help treat asthma, congestion, coughs, joint pain, chronic tracheitis, and more. Modern research confirms that rhododendrons have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and liver-protecting potentials. Rhododendrons and azaleas are also both highly toxic, some species more so than others, knowing which to use and how to use them is critical.
Studies of R. dauricum, a species often used in TCM, have revealed the presence of numerous flavonoids in the leaves and twigs. This includes the compound farrerol which is known for moving phlegm and alleviating coughs. Each variety of rhododendron is generally identified as being useful for treating what is called, “Phlegm.” In the West phlegm is associated with mucus, in TCM, it is associated with mucus, sputum, tumors, congestion, swellings, and more.
Other flavonoids present in R. dauricum and R. arboreum show anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and antioxidant properties. Some of these same flavonoids exert vasodilatation and myocardial preservation in vascular smooth and cardiac muscle cells. The plant and its constituents continue to be studied for the possible development of a potent drug that could be used for treating cardiovascular disorders.
There are about twenty different species of rhododendron commonly referred to in Materia Medica, all are toxic, some more than others, and while some may overlap in properties, each can also have its own particular application or recommended use.
List of Rhododendron Species included in the Oriental Medicine Materia Medica:
R. anthopogonoides / Xiao Ye Pi Pa (Savory Rhododendron)
R. arboreum / Shu Xing Du Juan (Treelike Rhododendron)
R. capitatum / Tou Hua De Juan (Capitate Rhododendron)
R. chrysanthum / Niu Pi Cha (Goldmat Rhododendron)
R. cinnabarinum / Zhu Sha Du Juan (Vermillion Rhododendron)
R. collettianum / A Fu HanDu Juan Hua (Afghanistan Rhododendron)
R. dauricum / Man Shan Hong (Dahurian Rhododendron)
R. fauriel / Fu Lei Shi Du Juan Hua (Pere L. Faurie’s Rhododendron)
R. japonicum / Ri Ben Du Juan Hua (Japanese Azalea)
R. lingii / Ru Yuan Du Juan (Ruyuan Rhododendron)
R. mariae / Ling Nan Du Juan (Lingnan Rhododendron)
R. metternichii var. hondoese / Mei Te Ni Du Juan Hua (Metternich Rhododendron)
R. micranthum / Zhao Shan Bai (Manchurian Rhododendron)
R. molle / Nao Yang Hua (Chinese Azalea)
R. mucronatum / Bai Hua Ying Shan Hong (Snow Azalea)
R. mucronulatum / Ying Shan Hong (Korean Rhododendron)
R. ovatum / Ma Yin Hua (Ovateleaf Rhododendron)
R. przewalskii / Long Shu Du Juan (Przewalsk Rhododendron)
R. seniavinii / Mao Guo Du Juan (Hairfruit Rhododendron)
R. simsii (and also R. spinuliferum) / Du Juan Hua (India Azalea)
R. tsutsuji / Tsutsuji (Japanese Azalea)
R. tsinghaiense / Qing Hai Du Juan
The leaves of the variety R. arboreum / Shu Xing Du Juan (Treelike Rhododendron) native to Tibet, are used externally for their astringent properties. They are made into a paste or poultice that can be applied to the forehead to treat headaches. A juice made from the bark of this plant is used to treat coughs, diarrhea, and dysentery. A tea made from the flowers is used to prevent vomiting and a juice made from the flowers can help ease menstrual disorders and is enjoyed for its nutritional value and flavor. The flowers are also dried and powdered for use in foods and drinks. In Tibet, the tender spring leaves of this species are used as a cooked vegetable, the flowers are eaten raw or cooked (especially enjoyed in fish curry dishes for their sour flavoring and color). The flowers are also pickled by adding salt and chili. As always, with rhododendron, large quantities can cause intoxication and are not recommended.
A juice, known as “burans” or “buransh”, is traditionally made from the flowers (R. arboreum /Shu Xing Du Juan (Treelike Rhododendron) in Nepal and it is a popular beverage and culinary ingredient used for making Indian curries, bread, chutney, and even pakoras. The juice has a lovely raspberry color and a sour, slightly sweet flavor. It will have a jelly-like texture and is rich in potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamin C. It is enjoyed as an appetizer or to help cure mountain sickness or stomach upsets due to high altitudes.
Rhododendron honey, also called, mad, wild, or toxic honey, has been used since ancient times as a medicine. It is made by honeybees that collect nectars from rhododendron flowers. It can cause severe vertigo, hallucinations, arterial hypotension, and bradycardia if consumed in large amounts. In medicinal amounts, studies have shown that it helps lower blood sugar and lipid levels, while also exhibiting antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant, and antimicrobial properties.
Mad Honey is made from a specific type of rhododendron plant, it is used for medicinal purposes only as it, contains a neurotoxin found in rhododendron and also azalea plants. The honey is harvested from high cliffs where the bees build their nests. Untreated cases of severe intoxication can have symptoms that can last up to 24 hours. Studies have linked the honey used medicinally to be effective for improving heart health, healing wounds, and cleansing blood.
Rhododendron contains chemicals that can lower blood pressure and interfere with the electrical activity of nerves. At low doses, it can reduce pain. At higher doses, it is toxic and poisonous.
The grayanotoxins found in rhododendron plants can disrupt sodium channels impacting the skeletal and cardiac muscles. All parts of the plant are considered poisonous, and ingesting as little as 0.2% of an animal’s body weight has resulted in poisoning. Keep your pets away.
The name “rhododendron” derives from the Greek words for “rose” and “tree”.
In Asia, R. arboreum / Shu Xing Du Juan leaves can be used to produce a juice that has traditionally been sprinkled in beds and on linens to prevent bed bugs and lice. The wood of this tree is also used in Nepal for making tools, small buildings, and fences. The wood is also an excellent source of fuel as it burns long and warm.
In China, azalea is also known as “thinking home bush” (Si Xiang Shu). The plant is immortalized in poetry by Du Fu. In Japan, there is an annual azalea festival held in Higashi Village which contains over 50,000 blooming azalea plants. In the United States, the Azalea Trail is a designated path, planted in private gardens, that is scattered across Mobile, Alabama. It is the state flower for West Virginia and Washington in the United States. Azaleas are the symbol of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal. The flowers can be a symbol of caution and danger.
In Nepal and other parts of Asia, rhododendron tree flowers are juiced to make a juice concentrate that is used medicinally and in curry dishes and beverages.
Azaleas and rhododendrons were once so infamous for their toxicity that to receive a bouquet of the flowers in a black vase was considered a well-known death threat. In their day, they were used as poison.
A certain variety of rhododendron contains a neurotoxin that can cause hallucinations and be harmful if used in high doses or inappropriately. The honey made from the flowers is called “Mad Honey”. It is not recommended for general use but is used effectively as a medicinal honey by trained professionals.
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