The rhizome (underground extension of the stalk) of picrorhiza has a long history of use in Indian
medicine for the treatment of digestive problems. Other traditional uses include treatment of scorpion sting, asthma, liver diseases, and febrile infections.
What Is Picrorhiza Used for Today?
There are no scientifically established medicinal uses of picrorhiza.
Picrorhiza is often advocated as a treatment for asthma, based primarily on two studies conducted in the 1970s.
However, neither of these studies was conducted in such a manner as to produce reliable results in the modern sense. Only
double-blind, placebo-controlled studies
can actually show a treatment effective, and the two such studies of picrorhiza for asthma failed to find the herb more effective than placebo.
(For detailed information on the overwhelming importance of this type of trial, see
Why Does This Database Rely on Double-Blind Studies?
One small, double-blind study found picrorhiza root (375 mg, 3 times daily) more effective than placebo for reducing signs of liver damage in people with acute
However, this study was highly preliminary and suffered from numerous flaws. The other evidence used to support the use of picrorhiza as a
is even weaker, consisting of
Other proposed uses of picrorhiza that have undergone some study, but at present lack meaningful evidence that they include the following: enhancing response to vaccinations,
speeding the healing of
and enhancing the effectiveness of conventional treatment for
A typical recommended dose of powdered picrorhiza ranges from 400 mg to 1,500 mg daily, or an equivalent amount in extract form.
Like all plants, picrorhiza contains a variety of chemicals. Some of the more investigated of these constituents include picroside I, kutkoside, androsin, and apocynin. Some picrorhiza extracts are standardized to contain a stated amount of one or more of these substances. However, since no constituent of picrorhiza has any established medicinal benefit, such standardization has no known practical implication.
Based on its long history of traditional use, picrorhiza appears to be relatively safe. However, systematic, scientifically modern safety studies of picrorhiza are lacking. For this reason, we do not at present recommend the use of this herb.
Many herbs and other treatments considered safe based on traditional use have later turned out to present severe, previously unrecognized risks. Herbalists would be expected to notice immediate, dramatic reactions to herbal formulas, and one can assume with some confidence that treatments used for thousands of years are at least unlikely to cause such problems in very many people who take them. However, certain types of harm could be expected to easily elude the detection of traditional herbalists. These include safety problems that are delayed, occur relatively rarely, or are difficult to detect without scientific instruments.
Due to the lack of comprehensive safety evaluation, we strongly recommend against use of picrorhiza by pregnant or nursing women, young children, or people with severe liver or kidney disease.
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