Agastache

Description

Agastache is a genus of plants found almost worldwide. Different species are used in several native cultures for healing. The best know of these is Agastache rugosa, also called the giant hyssop, wrinkled giant hyssop, Korean mint, or in Chinese Huo xiang.

Agastache rugosa is a perennial or biennial plant that grows to a height of 4 ft (1.2 m). It is native to China, but has spread to Japan, Korea, Laos, and Russia. It grows wild on sunny hillsides and along roads, but also can be cultivated in backyard gardens. The highly aromatic leaves and purple or red flowers are used for healing.

Several other species of agastache found in other parts of the world are used in healing. These include A. nepetoides (yellow giant hyssop), A. foeniculum (anise hyssop), and A. mexicana. Leaf and flower color vary considerably among the different species. Many species of agastache also are grown commercially in the United States for landscaping. In southern China and Taiwan, Pogostemon cablin, a relative of Pogostemon patchouli, the Indian plant that produces patchouli oil, is used interchangeably with A. rugosa.

General use

A. rugosa is used extensively in Chinese herbalism. It's first recorded use dates from about 500 A.D. It is associated with the lungs, spleen, and stomach and is classified as having a warm nature and an acrid and aromatic taste. Traditionally, agastache has been associated the treatment of several different sets of symptoms. It has long been used to treat stomach flu, stomachache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal bloating, and abdominal pain. It is combined with Scutellaria (skullcap) to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. It is also a component of formulas that improve digestive balance by aiding the absorption of nutrients and intestinal function.

In Chinese herbalism, A. rugosa is also used to treat summer flu or summer colds with accompanying low fever, feelings of fullness in the chest, and headache. It is also used to treat dark urine and a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs. A lotion containing A. rugosa is applied externally to treat fungal infections.

Other cultures independently have discovered similar uses for other species of agastache. A. mexicana is grown in Mexico and used to treat gastrointestinal upsets, nervous, and cardiovascular ailments. The leaves of A. nepetoides are used by Native Americans to treat skin rashes caused by poison ivy. A. foeniculum leaves have a strong licorice taste (accounting for its English name, anise hyssop). These leaves can be brewed in a tea to treat coughs, fever, and colds.

Although rigorous scientific testing of the healing claims made for agastache is scarce, one 1999 study done at Seoul National University in Korea has shown that in test tube experiments an extract of the root of A. rugosa significantly inhibited the action of certain proteins associated with the reproduction of the HIV virus.

Preparations

Agastache can be prepared alone as a tea, incorporated into a lotion, or prepared as a pill. The leaves are strongly aromatic, but lose this quality with prolonged boiling (over 15 minutes). Therefore agastache is added last in formulas that must be boiled.

The best know formulas using agastache are agastache formula and Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan, or agastache qi-correcting formula. Agastache formula is used to harmonize the stomach. It is given as treatment for gastrointestinal upsets with chills, fever, and diarrhea.

Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan regulates qi and treats seasonal gastric disorders, especially those occurring during hot, humid weather. This formula is commercially available in both tablet and liquid form. Other cultures prepare agastache either as a tea to be drunk, or use the leaves externally.

Precautions

Agastache has a long history of use with no substantial reported problems.

Side effects

No side effects have been reported with the use of agastache.

Interactions

Agastache is often used in conjunction with other herbs with no reported interactions. Since agastache has been used almost exclusively in Chinese medicine, there are no studies of its interactions with Western pharmaceuticals.

Resources

BOOKS

Chevallier, Andrew. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants. Boston: DK Publishers, 1996.

Molony, David. Complete Guide to Chinese Herbal Medicine. New York: Berkeley Books, 1998.

Zhu, Chun-Han. Clinical Handbook of Chinese Prepared Medicines. Brookline, MA: Paradigm Publications, 1989.

ORGANIZATIONS

American Association of Oriental Medicine (AAOM). 433 Front Street, Catasauqua, PA 18032. (610) 266-2433

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