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Cistanche spp.

Cistanche spp.

Cistanche tubulosa, Cistanche deserticola, Cistanche salsa


No documentation

Vernacular Name

Cistanche, rou cong rong


There are several Cistanche species that are used for multiple purposes.  These plants are parasitic and do not produce chlorophyll but rather live off of the host plant.  The plant is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine formulas for menstrual problems and for joint complaints.  It has been used medicinally for almost 2000 years.

This perennial plant has fleshy, typically unbranched stems and has been compared in appearance to a cross between a pine cone and pineapple or artichoke.  It produces large yellow flowers that are diminished in size closer to the apex.  The seeds are subglobose and the testa, reticulate.

Origin / Habitat

Cistanche species are native to Northern China and Mongolia with the species, Cistanche tubulosa being found in the Middle East.  The plant greatly resembles a pine cone crossed with an artichoke, and during the springtime when blooming, the stems are harvested.  It thrives in desert climates, and is considered parasitic, as it does not contain any chlorophyll and obtains all of the water and nutrients needed to survive from surrounding plants.

Chemical Constituents

Phenylethanoid glycosides (including acteoside echinacoside, tubuloside, cistanosides), beta-sitosterol, daucosterol, succinic acid, triacontanol,  betaine, arabinogalactan and mannoglucan.[1],[2],[3]

Plant Part Used


Medicinal Uses


Neuroprotective; neurodegenerative diseases

Immune health

Kidney health



Aphrodisiac, sexual vitality

Most Frequently Reported Uses

Neuroprotective; neurodegenerative diseases

Immune health


Dosage Range 

Standardized extracts: 1,200–1,800mg daily in divided doses.

Most Common Dosage

500mg Standardized extract three times per day.

Standardization Dosage

Standardized to 4-12% acteosides and 8-25% echinacosides.



The laboratory studies have found that the phenylethanoid glycosides in Cistanche sp. help protect nerve damage by decreasing the expression of tyrosine-hydroxylase, reducing caspase-3 and caspase-8 activation, and inhibiting the decrease of nigral dopaminergic neurons, supporting the use of Cistanche as a neuroprotective agent and in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.[4],[5],[6],[7]  A laboratory study also found that the phenylethanoid glycoside tubuloside inhibited tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha)-induced apoptosis in neuronal cells.[8]

The extract of Cistanche deserticola was found to have neuronal cell protective activity by promoting neurite outgrowth and acting as a NGF (nerve groth factor), supporting its use in treating and preventing neuro-degenerative brain diseases.[9]

The laboratory study reported that an extract of cistanche had anti-fague activity in rats, decreasing serum creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase and lactic acid levels while increasing hemoglobin and glucose in muscle cells.[10]

The extracts of Cistanche are used traditionally to enhance sexual vitality. In a laboratory animal study, Cistanche extract was reported to increase fertility[11],[12] Laboratory studies also support the antioxidant uses of cistanche.[13],[14]

The immune potentiating activity of cistanche may be due in part to an arabinogalactan found in the stems, which has been reported to increase lymphocyte activity in laboratory studies.[15]  A laboratory study found that cistanche polysaccharides increase thymus lymphocyte proliferation due in part to its promotion on thymus intracellular calcium delivery.[16]

A compound found in cistanche, echinacoside, is also found in the popular herb Echinacea. Echinacosides have been reported to have antioxidant activity, neuroprotective and liver protective effects, anti-inflammatory, antitumor, antiaging, immunoregulation, and help improving learning and memory.[17]


There are no human clinical studies available to support the traditional use.

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation

Interaction with Drugs

Based on pharmacology, use with caution in individuals taking medications causing drowsiness or sedation.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Cistanche sp extracts have been reported to have sedative activity in laboratory animals, so caution should be used when taking cistanche and operating automobile or heavy machinery.[18] Discontinue if allergy occurs.

Cistanche sp has been reported safe in recommended doses. 


No documentation

Age limitation

No documentation

Adverse reaction

No documentation


  1. Yang JH, Hu JP, Rena K, Du NS. Structure-activity relationships of phenylethanoid glycosides in plants of Cistanche salsa on antioxidative activity. Zhong Yao Cai. Jul2009;32(7):1067-1069.
  2. Wu XM, Tu P. Chemical properties of a mannoglucan from Cistanche deserticola. Pharmazie. Oct 2004;59(10):815-816.
  3. Yang JH, Hu JP, Rena K, Du NS. Studies on chemical constituents of cultivated Cistanche salsa. Zhong Yao Cai. Nov2008;31(11):1663-1665.
  4. Li WW, Yang R, Cai DF. Protective effects of Cistanche total glycosides on dopaminergic neuron in substantia nigra of model mice of Parkinson's disease. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. Mar2008;28(3):248-251.
  5. Tian XF, Pu XP. Phenylethanoid glycosides from Cistanches salsa inhibit apoptosis induced by 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion in neurons. J Ethnopharmacol.10Feb2005;97(1):59-63.
  6. Geng X, Tian X, Tu P, Pu X. Neuroprotective effects of echinacoside in the mouse MPTP model of Parkinson's disease. Eur J Pharmacol.14Jun 2007;564(1-3):66-74.
  7. Chen H, Jing FC, Li CL, Tu PF, Zheng QS, Wang ZH. Echinacoside prevents the striatal extracellular levels of monoamine neurotransmitters from diminution in 6-hydroxydopamine lesion rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 3 Dec2007;114(3):285-289.
  8. Deng M, Zhao JY, Ju XD, Tu PF, Jiang Y, Li ZB. Protective effect of tubuloside B on TNFalpha-induced apoptosis in neuronal cells. Acta Pharmacol Sin. Oct2004;25(10):1276-1284.
  9. Neuroprotective/neurostimulatory use of cistanche extract. US Patent Application #20070178174.
  10. Cai RL, Yang MH, Shi Y, Chen J, Li YC, Qi Y. Antifatigue activity of phenylethanoid-rich extract from Cistanche deserticola. Phytother Res. 16Jul2009. [Epub ahead of print]
  11. Li J, Huang D, He LQ. Effects of glycosides of Tripterygium wilfordii and Cistanche deserticola on the fertility of male mice. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. Jun2009;15(6):569-572.
  12. Jiang Y, Tu PF. Analysis of chemical constituents in Cistanche species. J Chromatogr A. Mar2009  13;1216(11):1970-1979.
  13. Xiong Q, Kadota S, Tani T, Namba T. Antioxidative effects of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola. Biol. Pharm Bull. 1996;19(12):1580-1585.
  14. Xiong Q, Hase K, Tezuka Y, et al. Hepatoprotective activity of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola. Planta Med. 1998;64(2):120-125.
  15. Wu XM, Gao XM, Tsim KW, Tu PF. An arabinogalactan isolated from the stems of Cistanche deserticola induces the proliferation of cultured lymphocytes. Int J Biol Macromol. Dec2005 30;37(5):278-282.
  16. Zheng QL, Zheng YF, Lu ZL. Immunomodulatory effects of polysaccharide of Cistanche Deserticola .Y C Ma Zhejiang Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. Aug2002;31(4):284-287.
  17. He W, Fang T, Tu P. Research progress on pharmacological activities of echinacoside. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. Feb;34(4):476-479.
  18. Lu MC. Studies on the sedative effect of Cistanche deserticola. J Ethnopharmacol. Jan1998;59(3):161-165.

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