English Name: nux vomica (seed from strychnine tree)
Pharmaceutical Name: Semen Strychni
Medica Category: Substances for Topical Application
Properties: Ma Qian Zi enters the Liver and Spleen channels; it is bitter in nature, cold in temperature, and considered extremely toxic according to TCM theory.
The Chinese Herb Ma Qian Zi is the dried nut that comes from the strychnine tree (aka nux vomica—Strychnos nux-vomica L; S. pierriana A. W. Hill). Unprocessed it is extremely toxic and must be dry-fried and then ground into powder. The powdered, processed herb can also be sprayed into the throat (to address soreness and inflammation) of mixed with vinegar and applied topically).
Ma Qian Zi reduces swellings and disperses nodules and is used externally for dermatological disorders such as abscesses, sores, and ulcerations.
Ma Qing Zi unblocks the channels and collaterals and relieves pain and be administered orally or used topically for this purpose. Clinical presentations indicating the use of this herb include severe muscle aches and pains, arthritic pain (i.e. chronic, severe wind-damp bi zheng (painful obstruction syndrome)), as well as facial paralysis and numbness of the extremities.
General comments about TCM substances for topical application: these substances are categorized differently because many of them are toxic and so should not be used internally; nor should they be used for prolonged periods or at large dosages. This word of caution extends to using these substances over damaged or broken skin, or near sensory orifices through which they can be absorbed and do damage to sensitive/specialized tissues and mucosa. Furthermore, many of these substances are no longer used in TCM and have been added to this glossary for informational and academic purposes.
Internal use of unprocessed Ma Qian Zi is contraindicated. Dry-frying or frying in sesame oil reduces toxicity levels appropriately for short-term use (within correct dosage levels).
Contraindicated during pregnancy and in cases of general debility or weakness.
Avoid large doses and/or long-term use.
Ma Qian Zi used topically will eventually be absorbed systemically and therefore large doses should be avoided; also, use with extreme caution if using this herb topically over a large surface area or near mucous membranes.