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Table of Contents
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 4  |  Page : 189-192

Curculigo (仙茅): A Gift from Brahman (婆罗门) Monks

1 Department of Geriatrics, Longhua Hospital Affiliated to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China
2 Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China

Date of Submission08-Nov-2019
Date of Acceptance08-Nov-2019
Date of Web Publication24-Dec-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Baican Yang
Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_39_19

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Curculigo (仙茅) is also called “Only Thatch Root,” “Ground Palm,” and “Brahman Ginseng.” The name of the “Only Thatch Root” vividly describes its shape characteristics. The nickname “Ground Palm” figuratively shows its growth environment and form feature. The another name “Brahman Ginseng” emphasizes the source, the value, and the efficiency of the immortal grass. The name of “Curculigo” fully expresses its function feature and the application to the ancient regimen culture. Curculigo is not only a sacrificial offering often used by Brahmins to pray for good fortune and dispel disasters, but also used as a special medicine for nobles to live longer. After its introduction into China, Curculigo has been widely applied in both religious development and health preservation.

Keywords: Brahman ginseng, Curculigo (仙茅), ground palm, Indian Brahman culture, only thatch root

How to cite this article:
Fei E, Yang B. Curculigo (仙茅): A Gift from Brahman (婆罗门) Monks. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:189-92

How to cite this URL:
Fei E, Yang B. Curculigo (仙茅): A Gift from Brahman (婆罗门) Monks. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2021 Jul 28];2:189-92. Available from: https://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/4/189/273893

Curculigo, warm in nature. It's the medicine to tonifying Triple Energizer and the gate of vitality. Only those poor constitutional person with weak Yang and cold penuma are suitable for having it. If the strong person with abundant Yang uses the Curculigo, he would become overheated.

Ben Cao Gang Mu[1] (《本草纲目》 Compendium of Materia Medica) [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Ben Cao Gang Mu (《本草纲目》 Compendium of Materia Medica)

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Taoism was current in the Qin and Han Dynasties (秦汉). The Buddhism developed in the Wei and Jin Dynasties (秦汉). Indian pluralistic religious culture gradually spread to the Central Plains (中原 by the Southwest Silk Road (西南丝绸之路). At the same time, the Indian medicine culture marked by Brahman culture was infiltrated. Among them, Curculigo was brought to China along with Indian Brahman Culture and became a member of traditional Chinese medicines. Its name also made Indian Brahman Culture be more mysterious.

  Interpretation of Medical Name Top

There is no definite conclusion about when Curculigo [Figure 2] was included into Materia Medica monograph as a medication. However, many interesting nicknames can be found in many Materia Medica monographs after the Tang and Song Dynasties (唐宋). Some were named according to their morphological characteristics and medicinal parts, such as the “Only Thatch Root.” Other names such as “Ground Palm” were named according to their growth environment and shape characteristic. Curculigo is also named “Brahman Ginseng” to describe its origin and efficacy characteristics.
Figure 2: Curculigo was brought to China along with Indian Brahman culture

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Interpretation of alias

The name of “Only Thatch Root” vividly outlines the shape of Curculigo. “Only,” Shuo Wen Jie Zi[2] (《说文解字》 Origin of Chinese Characters) [Figure 3] was interpreted as “Dogs fight each other.” It means Dogs are aggressive. Moreover, they are outstanding because of aggressiveness. Hence, it was extended to mean single, unique, and independent. Curculigo was known as “Only Thatch Root”. The “Only” vividly shows its morphological characteristics: the root is only one, and there are no branches beside one trunk. Curculigo Leaf was called “Thatch,” such as a weapon “spear” [Figure 4]. The “root” reveals that the medicinal part of Curculigo is rhizome, so it was called “Only Thatch Root.”
Figure 3: Shuo Wen Jie Zi (《说文解字》 Origin of Chinese Characters)

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Figure 4: Curculigo leaf

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“Ground Palm” vividly shows the growth environment and shape characteristics of Curculigo. Curculigo grows near the ground, mostly on hillsides, hilly grasses, and shrub edges. Curculigo looks like a palm, as Su Song (苏颂)[3] said, “Its surface has vertical texture, as a palm, withered in winter and born in early spring, just like the yellow Gardenia with no fruit. 'So it was named' Ground Palm.”

“Brahman Ginseng” emphasizes the origin, value, and efficacy characteristics of Curculigo. Brahman means “pray” and is the high-ranking priest who performed religious sacrifices in ancient India. On the one hand, Curculigo was introduced into China through Brahman monks from India. On the other hand, it also showed that it was the medicine enjoyed by the aristocratic class in the early time, reflecting its lofty social status and medicinal value. Hence, Curculigo is named after Brahman. Curculigo was named with “Ginseng,” meaning that its enriching effect is just like Ginseng. To sum up, Curculigo is called “Brahman Ginseng.” Ben Cao Tu Jing[3] (《本草图经》 Illustrated Classic of Materia Medica) has a clear explanation about this, “Since the Brahman monks from the Western Re gions (西域) offered their prescriptions to the Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty (唐玄宗), they are called Brahmins in the south of the Yangtze River (扬子江) now, saying that their enriching effect is just like Ginseng.”

Interpretation of Curculigo

The name of “Curculigo” actually includes the characteristics of Curculigo's effect characteristics and application in the health preservation (养生) of the ancients. Curculigo was named after immortals. Immortals are similar to those who live in the mountains, because only when people practice in the mountains can they become immortals. It is a metaphor that Curculigo has the function of prolonging life and pursuing immortality. Hai Yao Ben Cao[4] (《海药本草》 Herbal Foundation of Overseas Medicines) recorded, “Eating Curculigo for a long time will relax body and benefit complexion. The leaves resemble Mao, so they are called Curculigo.” The word “Mao” highlights its growth pattern. Curculigo's leaves are like weapon spear, metaphorically expressing its function of eliminating pathogens and protecting body. The name of Curculigo is actually due to the ancients' belief that eating Curculigo for a long time will relax body, enrich essence, add spirit, dispel pathogens, and prevent diseases. Meng Xi Bi Tan[5] (《梦溪笔谈》 Dream Pool Essays) [Figure 5] recorded, “Xia Wenzhuang (夏文庄公) was different from ordinary people in somatoplasm. As long as he slept, he was cold as a dead man. He needed someone to warm him up when he woke up, and he took a long time to be active. He took Curculigo regularly, then the strange disease was eliminated, and he lived to be of old age.”s;
Figure 5: Meng Xi Bi Tan (《梦溪笔谈》 Dream Pool Essays)

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Therefore, “Curculigo” and its nicknames “Only Thatch Root,” “Ground Palm,” and “Brahman Ginseng” all contain the functions of benefiting the kidney and strengthening yang, dispelling pathogens, and protecting the body, which also reflects the close relationship between the name of the medicine and Indian Brahman Culture.

  Curculigo and Indian Brahman Culture Top

Brahma is the creation God of Hinduism and the creator of the Sanskrit letters. Brahmanism believes in Brahman. Brahman is the core population of all knowledge in ancient India. It is the noblest caste in Indian society. It is sacred and inviolable. They advocate nature, pay high tribute to praying for good fortune, and seek, take some longevity products to live longer and more healthily. Brahman monks highly praised Curculigo, believing that eating it for a long time can relax the body, improve the health, benefit the eyes, and strengthen the tendon and bone. There is the saying that “A jin of Curculigo outperforms a thousand jin of Stalactite.” As a result, Curculigo has become a good health product they often take. It means that Curculigo is not only a sacrificial supplies often used by Brahmins to invite good fortune and dispel disasters, but also used as a special medicine for nobles to prolong their life.

Since it was introduced into China, Curculigo has been widely used in religious development, health care and treatment. As a faith totem, Curculigo was worshipped as immortal grass in the Taoism of Pure Name, emerging in the Southern Song Dynasty (南宋). As a good health product, Curculigo became a common and special medicine of imperial relatives and aristocracy in pursuit of immortality. The wide application of Curculigo is also said to be related to Emperor Xuanzong [Figure 6] of the Tang Dynasty.
Figure 6: Emperor Xuanzong of the Tang Dynasty

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The First Year of Kaiyuan (开元) in the Tang Dynasty, Emperor Xuanzong who was soon after accession, felt old before his time, dizzy and tinnitus every day, cold pain in the waist and knee, cold in the limbs, fatigue, loss of appetite because of wallowing in wine and women. Imperial doctors in the palace had no effective medicine to treat him. Without any other means, he made an imperial list to seek good prescriptions from the public. At that time, a Brahman monk offered a secret prescription. Emperor Xuanzong restored to health and began to grow energetic day by day after he took the prescription. Emperor Xuanzong was overjoyed, and he never forgot the secret prescription. He regarded it as the imperial secret prescription and prohibit its spread. During the Anshi Rebellion (安史之乱), Emperor Xuanzong escaped from Chang'an (长安) and the imperial secret prescription was known to the public. There was only one medicine in the secret prescription which was endeared to Emperor Xuanzong, Curculigo. So far, Curculigo's functions of improving health and strengthening the body were known and used widely.

  The Function of Curculigo Top

Curculigo is hot and spicy in nature. It belongs to the kidney, liver, and spleen meridians. It has the functions of warming kidney and strengthening Yang, warming spleen and arresting diarrhea, strengthening tendons and bones, warming and dredging meridians, warming and dispersing cold-dampness. Its major functions are listed below.

Warming kidney and strengthening yang: The influence of lacking kidney-yang on human body is systemic, such as impotence, sexual dysfunction, cold pain of waist and knee, enuresis, tinnitus, adverse urination, impotence of muscles and bones, etc., Curculigo is hot and spicy in nature. It mainly belongs to the kidney meridian and is good at tonifying the Kidney-Yang. Its characteristic is that it can be applied to all kinds of lacking Kidney-Yang, especially to impotence, Yin-cold and reproductive dysfunction caused by Kidney-Yang insufficiency, and both men and women can use it.

Warming and dispersing cold-dampness: Curculigo is spicy and hot in nature so it can disperse bad symptoms and warm the body. Curculigo has the function of warming and dispersing cold-dampness. It is the main medicine for treating wind-cold-dampness arthralgia. Its characteristic is that it can be used not only for local joint swelling and pain caused by various types of wind-cold-dampness arthralgia, but also for joint deformity, cold pain of muscles and bones, soreness and weakness of waist and knee caused by long-term wind-cold-dampness arthralgia complicated by insufficiency of liver and kidney.

Curculigo came from Indian Brahman and was introduced to the Central Plains through the Silk Road. It was not only integrated into the religious culture of China, but also recognized and used by pharmacists and it even became the medicine for pursuing health and longevity. It can warm and tonify the spleen and kidney Yang Qi. It also can warm and dredge the meridian Qi and blood. Curculigo is full of both religious overtones and herbal nature.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Li SZ. Ben Cao Gang Mu. Beijing: People's Health Publishing House; 1975. p. 754.  Back to cited text no. 1
Xu S. Shuo Wen Jie Zi. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing House; 1963. p. 205.  Back to cited text no. 2
Su S. Ben Cao Tu Jing. Anhui: Anhui Science and Technology Publishing House; 1994. p. 307.  Back to cited text no. 3
Li X. Hai Yao Ben Cao. Beijing: People's Health Publishing House; 1997. p. 33.  Back to cited text no. 4
Shen K. New Collation of Meng Xi Bi Tan. Beijing: Zhonghua Publishing House; 1957. p. 98.  Back to cited text no. 5


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]


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