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Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)

Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)

What is Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)?

Rubia Cordifolia Root (qian cao, 茜草), also known as Indian Madder Root, comes from the plant Rubia Cordifolia, also known as Manjishtha. A flowering plant in the coffee family Rubiaceae, Rubia Cordifolia was extensively cultivated till the mid-19th century for the red pigment obtained from its roots. In fact, Rubia Cordifolia is one of the essential sources of red pigment in several regions of Asia, Europe and Africa. Rubia Cordifolia Root contains organic compounds called alizarin and purpurin, which can give red, orange and yellow pigments.

Originally used for the crafting of exquisite carpets and wall hangings, Rubia Cordifolia Root is also used in Indian Medicine, Ayurvedic healing culture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Rubia Cordifolia is a rather controversial plant, as it is rather dangerous to consume it orally, but some cultures still do so. Also, Rubia Cordifolia is used as food for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, including Hummingbird hawk moth.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Qian Cao falls under the category of ‘Herbs that stop bleeding’. Such herbs tend to have hemostatic properties, which mean that they can help to stop various types of hemorrhages and ecchymosis. Cold in nature, Qian Cao can help individuals with too much Heat in their body, such as those experiencing a Yang Excess or a Yin Deficiency, to restore a harmonious yin-yang balance.

Bitter in taste, Qian Cao can cleanse the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. In particular, the herb targets the Heart and the Liver.

Functions and Benefits of Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that Rubia Cordifolia Root has the following health benefits.

Rubia Cordifolia Root can help to cool blood, promote blood circulation and stop bleeding. This herb is thus indicated for bleeding caused by reckless blood flow caused by Blood Heat or Blood Stasis retention inside vessels. For example, the herb is used for epistaxis, uterine bleeding, hematemesis and hemoptysis. Rubia Cordifolia Root can be used alone or combined with other hemostatics such as Ai Ye (Mugwort Leaf) and Wu Mei (Mume Fruit). Rubia Cordifolia Root is also used in herbal formulas to treat menorrhagia and metrostaxis caused by qi deficiency, which contributes to the failure to regulate blood.

As Rubia Cordifolia Root can promote blood circulation, it can also resolve Blood Stasis and dredge meridians and collaterals. The herb is thus indicated for syndromes of obstruction in meridians and collaterals caused by blood stasis, such as amenorrhea due to Blood Stasis, traumatic injury, joint pain, carbuncles in the early stage and Wind-Damp arthralgia. This herb is also commonly used in gynecology.

Rubia Cordifolia Root can help to cool the Liver and transform phlegm as well, which can address chronic cough with pain in the chest caused by Liver Fire attacking the Lungs.

Modern studies suggest that Rubia Cordifolia Root may help to fight cancer and tumours. Lab research demonstrated that it may act against cancer cells in the colon, breast and liver. The herb may also possess anti-tumour activity against various cancers such as myeloid leukemia and histolytic lymphoma. Some research shows that cyclic hexapeptides and quinones present in this plant are responsible for its anticancer activity.

An anti-inflammatory herb, Rubia Cordifolia Root may help to treat inflammatory conditions such as joint pain. Its antioxidant and anti-microbial properties also contribute to its usefulness in weight loss, managing stress levels and combating oxidative stress. Rubia Cordifolia Root has also been used to fight allergies. Research suggests that Rubia Cordifolia Root can calm mast cells in the immune system, prevent the release of chemicals like histamine and thus prevent allergic reactions such as itchy skin and runny nose.

In addition, Rubia Cordifolia Root is also used to manage diarrhea, treat urolithiasis, prevent kidney stones, heal jaundice, ease eczema and psoriasis, increase white blood cell deposits, regulate periods, protect your liver and boost the functions of your Kidneys. The herb can also treat other sensitive skin problems, especially acne. Rubia Cordifolia Root powder is used on hair to reduce hair loss and boost hair growth and radiance.

Close up of Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao), also known as Indian Madder Root
In TCM, Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao) is a Cold herb that can ease menstrual pain.

How to Use Cape Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)

The recommended daily dosage of Rubia Cordifolia Root is 10 – 15g, with a maximum dosage of 30g. It often comes in the form of pills or powder. 

To stop bleeding, you can stir-bake the herb into charcoal to enhance its effectiveness. To activate blood and dredge meridians, you can use the herb in its unprocessed form or stir-bake it with alcohol.

Cautions and Side Effects of Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao)

Rubia Cordifolia Root should not be used by individuals who are experiencing a Jing (essence) Deficiency, Blood Deficiency, or pregnancy. This herb might trigger menstruation among pregnant women and cause miscarriage. Also, breastfeeding ladies should avoid this herb for the time being as it might affect the production of breast milk.

Rubia Cordifolia Root may change the colour of your body fluids, such as urine, saliva, perspiration, tears and breast milk. This herb may also interact with blood thinners such as warfarin and coumadin, hence it is wise to not consume the herb together with blood thinners. 

There are compounds in the plant that are known to potentially cause cancer if consumed orally. Other side effects associated with the herb include restlessness and constipation.


Here is a summary for Heartleaf Rubia Cordifolia Root (Qian Cao):

  • Herb name (Chinese): 茜草
  • Herb name (Pin Yin): qiàn cǎo
  • Herb name (English): Indian Madder Root
  • Herb name (Botanical): Radix et Rhizoma Rubiae
  • Origin of species: Rubia cordifolia L.
  • Part(s) of herb used: Root and rhizome
  • Geo-specific habitat(s): Anhui, Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, Shaanxi
  • Taste(s) & Properties: Bitter; Cold; Administrates the Liver Meridian
  • Actions: Helps to stop bleeding; Eases menstrual and rheumatoid pain

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