Rou Cong Rong

Herba Cistanches; Cistanche Sp.

Chemical Constituents

Phenylethanoid glycosides (including acteoside echinacoside, tubuloside, cistanosides), beta-sitosterol, daucosterol, succinic acid, triacontanol, betaine, arabinogalactan and mannoglucan. [3][4][5]


6 to 9 grams [1] of the herb which sometimes can go as high as 21 grams. [2] 



Traditional Use

The properties of Cistanche sp. are sweet, salty and warm. It tonifies the kidneys. 


Neuroprotective activity: 

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 Rou Cong Rong as a neuroprotective agent and in conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. [6][7][8][9] A laboratory study also found that the phenylethanoid glycoside tubuloside inhibited tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha)-induced apoptosis in neuronal cells. [10] 

An 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. [11] 

Immune Support activity: 

The immune potentiating activity of Cistanche sp. may be due in part to an arabinogalactan found in the stems, which has been reported to increase lymphocyte activity in laboratory studies. [12] A laboratory study found that Cistanche sp. polysaccharides increase thymus lymphocyte proliferation due in part to its promotion on thymus intracellular calcium delivery. [13] 

Other activity: 

A compound found in Cistanche sp., 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. [14] 

A laboratory study reported that an extract of Cistanche sp. had anti-fague activity in rats, decreasing serum creatine kinase, lactate dehydrogenase and lactic acid levels while increasing hemoglobin and glucose in muscle cells. [15] 

Extracts of Cistanche sp. are used traditionally to enhance sexual vitality. In a laboratory animal study, Cistanche sp. extract was reported to increase fertility [16] [17] Laboratory studies also support the antioxidant uses of Cistanche sp. [18] [19]


No documentation.

Interaction and Depletions

Interaction with other Herbs

No documentation.

Interaction with Drugs

May have sedative effects especially when taken in combination with other agents having sedative effects.

Precautions and Contraindications

Side effects

Not to be used with diarrhea and/or heat in the kidneys. 

Not to be used in those with patterns of yin deficiency and heat signs. 

Generally considered safe. [2]


Not to be used by pregnant or nursing women.

Age limitation

No documentation.

Adverse reaction

No documentation.


  1. Z. You-Ping. Chinese Matria Medica: Chemistry, Pharmacology and Applications. Florida: CRC Press;1998.352-353.
  2. D. Bensky, S. Clavey, E. Stoger, A. Gamble. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd Edition. Seattle WA: Eastland Press; 2004.775.
  3. J.H. Yang, J.P. Hu, K. Rena, N.S. Du. Structure-activity relationships of phenylethanoid glycosides in plants of Cistanche salsa on antioxidative activity. Zhong Yao Cai. Jul2009;32(7):1067-1069.
  4. X.M. Wu, P. Tu. Chemical properties of a mannoglucan from Cistanche deserticola. Pharmazie. Oct 2004;59(10):815-816.
  5. J.H. Yang, J.P. Hu, K. Rena, N.S. Du. Studies on chemical constituents of cultivated Cistanche salsa. Zhong Yao Cai. Nov2008;31(11):1663-1665.
  6. W.W. Li, R. Yang, D.F. Cai. 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. Mar 2008;28(3):248-251.
  7. X.F. Tian, X.P. Pu. Phenylethanoid glycosides from Cistanches salsa inhibit apoptosis induced by 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion in neurons. J Ethnopharmacol. 10Feb2005;97(1):59-63.
  8. X. Geng, X. Tian, P. Tu, X. Pu. Neuroprotective effects of echinacoside in the mouse MPTP model of Parkinson's disease. Eur J Pharmacol. 14Jun2007;564(1-3):66-74.
  9. H. Chen, F.C. Jing, C.L. Li, P.F. Tu, Q.S. Zheng, Z.H. Wang. Echinacoside prevents the striatal extracellular levels of monoamine neurotransmitters from diminution in 6-hydroxydopamine lesion rats. J Ethnopharmacol. 3Dec 2007;114(3):285-289.
  10. M. Deng, J.Y. Zhao, X.D. Ju, P.F. Tu, Y. Jiang, Z.B. Li. Protective effect of tubuloside B on TNFalpha-induced apoptosis in neuronal cells. Acta Pharmacol Sin. Oct2004;25(10):1276-1284.
  11. Neuroprotective/neurostimulatory use of cistanche extract. US Patent Application #20070178174.
  12. X.M. Wu, X.M. Gao, K.W. Tsim, P.F. Tu. An arabinogalactan isolated from the stems of Cistanche deserticola induces the proliferation of cultured lymphocytes. Int J Biol Macromol. 30Dec2005;37(5):278-282.
  13. Q.L. Zheng, Y.F. Zheng, Z.L. Lu. [Immunomodulatory effects of polysaccharide of Cistanche Deserticola Y C Ma] Zhejiang Da Xue Xue Bao Yi Xue Ban. Aug2002;31(4):284-287.
  14. W. He, T. Fang, P. Tu. Research progress on pharmacological activities of echinacoside. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. Feb2009;34(4):476-479.
  15. R.L. Cai, M.H. Yang, Y. Shi, J. Chen, Y.C. Li, Y. Qi. Antifatigue activity of phenylethanoid-rich extract from Cistanche deserticola. Phytother Res. 16Jul2009.
  16. J. Li, D. Huang, L.Q. He. Effects of glycosides of Tripterygium wilfordii and Cistanche deserticola on the fertility of male mice. Zhonghua Nan Ke Xue. Jun2009;15(6):569-572.
  17. Y. Jiang, P.F. Tu. Analysis of chemical constituents in Cistanche species. J Chromatogr A. 13Mar 2009;1216(11):1970-1979.
  18. Q. Xiong, S. Kadota, T. Tani, T. Namba. Antioxidative effects of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola. Biol. Pharm Bull. 1996;19(12):1580-1585.
  19. Q. Xiong, K. Hase, Y. Tezuka. Hepatoprotective activity of phenylethanoids from Cistanche deserticola. Planta Med. 1998;64(2):120-125.