History of Thunder God Vine in Autoimmunity
The many names of Thunder God Vine
The knowledge and use of Thunder God Vine in autoimmunity dates back to the Chinese antiquity.
To begin with, Tripterygium wilfordii Hook F. is the scientific name of the plant (or TwHF in clinical trials).
As well as Lei Gong Teng in Chinese, sometimes translated in Thunder Duke Vine. God or Duke here refers to one of the numerous gods of the rich ancient Chinese religion. Its folk name appears to be: “walk seven steps and die”. The plant is toxic. Everything: the leaves, bark, flowers, the root… The root pulp is the less poisonous part and is medicinally usable. There is a risk of poisoning if the herb is not extracted properly.
Known in China for almost 2000 years but toxicity limits the use
The description of the plant was in the lost Shennong’s Chinese Materia Medica (period of the Three Kingdoms 220–280 AD). The 16th century compilation of the Compendium of Materia Medica by Li Shi-Zheu (1578) also reports the use of Tripterygium wilfordii.
In ancient China, practitioners prepared the roots of Thunder God Vine used for treatment. This preparation included removing the poisonous bark and allowing the roots to dry for at least a year. The root was then ground to powder and applied locally to the skin. Thunder God Vine was not taken orally since there was a risk of poisoning.
The main indications were rheumatoid arthritis, swelling, skin infections, leprosy, fever, boils and chills.
Over the past centuries, extraction made it possible to prepare water based and ethanol based extracts. These extracts are toxic too. They have a positive effect on autoimmune symptoms taken by mouth but never became popular because of associated side effects.
Traditional culture and other uses
Culture of Thunder God Vine also dates back to centuries of course. Extensive culture is traditional in several Southeastern provinces of China, especially in Zhejiang Province. Chinese horticulturists and other non edible product farmers use the bark of the root as an insecticidal powder still nowadays.
Recent development of safe medicinal extracts
In the 1970s in China, research develops 2 extracts with a very diminished toxicity that are both effective and safe taken by mouth. In the 1980s, large clinical studies take place. Since, for the past 30 years one of these extracts is a first intention in a number of autoimmune indications.
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