Cistanche tubulosa vs. Cistanche deserticola: Similarities & Differences

Cistanche is an herb that’s growing in popularity. Initial research shows that cistanche may help improve brain function, immune health, and sexual function. However, there are two primary types of …

Photo of author
Written by: Daniel Powers, MS
Published on:

Cistanche is an herb that’s growing in popularity.

Initial research shows that cistanche may help improve brain function, immune health, and sexual function.

However, there are two primary types of cistanche. In this article, we’ll break down the difference between Cistanche tubulosa vs. Cistanche deserticola.

cistanche tubulosa vs. cistanche deserticola

Cistanche Overview:

Cistanche is part of the Orobanchaceae (or broomrape) family of plants.

Scientists have discovered 22 different types of cistanche growing throughout the world. These include:

  • Cistanche deserticola
  • Cistanche tubulosa
  • Cistanche salsa
  • Cistanche sinensis

Cistanche is a parasitic plant that grows on the roots of trees and shrubs growing in the desert.

This plant grows in severe environmental conditions: extreme arid climate, nutrient-poor soils, large temperature differences, intensive sunshine, and less than 10 inches of annual rainfall.

Cistanche can be found growing in deserts in the Northern Hemisphere, including Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, and the Ningxia Autonomous Region in China. This herb can also be found growing in Iran and India.

Among the 22 species of cistanche in the world, 4 are found in China.

Cistanche was listed as an endangered species at one point in time, but in recent years cultivation has flourished due to increased consumer demand. While more work needs to be conducted to ensure the survival of wild populations of cistanche, cultivation has helped to ensure its survival.

Agricultural research estimates that there are currently over 200,000 acres of land where cistanche is being grown. The annual output per year is around 6,000 tons.

This herb is generally well tolerated, however, you can read our helpful guide on the side effects of cistanche.

Cistanche is often compared to other herbs for testosterone boosting, in particular, this herb is often compared to tongkat ali, another popular herb for hormone health.

Types of Cistanche:

The two primary types of cistanche that are used in medicine are Cistanche tubulosa and Cistanche deserticola.

cistanche tubulosa vs. cistanche deserticola: cistanche deserticola

Cistanche deserticola Overview:

This type of cistanche is the form of cistanche that was traditionally used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It has been called “the ginseng of the desert” and “Rou Cong-Rong“.

Cistanche deserticola can be found growing on the roots of the black saxaul (Haloxylon ammodendron) tree.

As a plant, Cistanche deserticola is more tolerant to cold weather. It also has higher sugar content. Because of this, this type of cistanche is said to be more beneficial as a laxative.

In TCM, Cistanche deserticola was frequently used to treat chronic renal disease, impotence, female infertility, morbid leukorrhea, profuse metrorrhagia, and constipation due to old age.

Over the last decade, Cistanche deserticola has been extensively studied and shown to be capable of protecting brain and liver health.

Cistanche deserticola has also been shown to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties.

While Cistanche deserticola has been touted as a helpful anti-aging medicine, whether it can increase human lifespan has not been rigorously tested at that time.

cistanche tubulosa vs. cistanche deserticola: cistanche tubulosa

Cistanche tubulosa Overview:

This variety of cistanche has been growing in popularity in recent years.

Cistanche tubulosa prefers to grow on the roots of the red willow (Tamarix taklamakanensis) tree.

This type of cistanche has a bitter taste due to high levels of echinacoside and verbascoside. It also has a lower sugar content, which contributes to its bitter taste.

This type of cistanche has recently become more and more popular.

An animal study found that Cistanche tubulosa helped to improve a variety of health markers in diabetic mice. It was found that this herb helped to improve blood sugar levels, insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and lipid peroxidation.

Another animal study found that Cistanche tubulosa had an antidepressant-like effect on stressed mice.

A lab-based study found that echinacoside, a phytochemical in cistanche, helped to stimulate human growth hormone secretion. It was thought to do this via activation of the ghrelin receptor. This could have potentially profound effects on human health as human growth hormone is a key hormone for health.

While the primary research on Cistanche tubulosa is only lab- or animal-based, the initial findings are promising for benefiting human health.

Cistanche tubulosa vs. Cistanche deserticola: Which Is better?

This leads to the question, when comparing Cistanche tubulosa vs. Cistanche deserticola, which one is best?

The answer is neither. Both types of cistanche are commonly used interchangeably.

In fact, the Pharmacopeia of the People’s Republic of China, the leading source of information about TCM, lists entries for both herbs as having similar health benefits for the kidneys and intestinal tract.

That said, these herbs aren’t identical to each other.

First off, Cistanche tubulosa tends to grow more abundantly. This makes it easier to grow and harvest. Typically, this is the type of cistanche that you will see for sale in various supplement forms.

Second, these two forms of cistanche have different phytochemical configurations.

Cistanche tubulosa tends to have higher echinacoside content. This is thought to give it better antioxidant properties.

Cistanche deserticola contains echinacoside, but at lower levels. However, C. deserticola is unique in that it contains 2′-acetylacteoside.

From a ratio perspective, the contents of echinacoside and acteoside in C. deserticola should be higher than 3 mg/g, and those in C. tubulosa should be higher than 15 mg/g.

cistanche tubulosa vs. cistanche deserticola: cistanche types graph

As stated earlier, both of these herbs can be used interchangeably. They seem to benefit human health in a variety of different ways, although human clinical trials are needed.

A combination study found that Cistanche tubulosa and Cistanche deserticola worked together to boost cognitive function in mice, which demonstrates just how similar these two herbs are.

Whether you buy Cistanche tubulosa or Cistanche deserticola, either plant is a great option.

Where to Buy Cistanche?

As stated in this article, cistanche may benefit the body in a variety of ways. So where can you buy cistanche? And what’s the best type of cistanche?

We recommend looking at Lost Empire Herbs cistanche powder. Lost Empire makes the highest quality cistanche supplements that we’ve seen.

Their cistanche supplement is made from Cistanche tubulosa, which is known for its high echinacoside content.

Lost Empire’s cistanche supplements are independently tested for purity and potency. You can read through the CoA (certificate of analysis) on the product page, which few companies provide. They also have a 365-day money-back guarantee.

Lost Empire’s clean, high-quality products are the perfect way to supplement with cistanche.

You can click here for a complete overview of the best cistanche supplements.

The Botanical Institute is supported by our readers. We sometimes earn affiliate commissions when you click through the affiliate links on our website. Learn more here.


Cistanche is a plant that has been used for centuries in TCM as an herbal tonic.

In recent years, various studies have been done on the plant and its potential benefits for human health. In this article, we’ve detailed that whether you decide to dose with Cistanche tubulosa or deserticola, either type is a great option.

It may help support immune function, brain function, sexual function, and healthy aging if taken regularly over time.

As always, make sure to check with your personal healthcare provider before trying any new supplements.

Photo of author

About Daniel Powers, MS

Daniel has a master's degree in herbal science from the Maryland University of Integrative Health. He has a passion for herbal medicine and how it can be used to support everyday health & wellness.