Cistanche is a traditional herb with adaptogenic properties that provide many health benefits.
Cistanche has been used for centuries for supporting immune function and brain health, as well as helping with healthy aging.
The Chinese name of this plant is “Rou Cong Rong”. It’s also called desert cistanche.
In this article, we will look at the various cistanche benefits and side effects, its safety, and its history. We’ll also look at how to take cistanche supplements.
Table of Contents
- What is Cistanche?
- Health Benefits of Cistanche:
- Best Cistanche Supplement:
- Cistanche Safety:
- Cistanche Dosage:
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
- Cistanche vs. Other Herbs:
- Read More:
What is Cistanche?
Cistanche is an endangered plant in the Orobanchaceae family that’s found in the arid lands and warm deserts of northwestern China.
The scientific name for this herb is Cistanches herba. There are two primary varietals of cistanche, including Cistanche tubulosa and Cistanche deserticola. Both of these types of cistanche are used interchangeably.
You can read our breakdown of the differences and similarities of Cistanche tubulosa and Cistanche deserticola here.
This herb has many different common names, including desert cistanche and desert ginseng.
As a traditional tonic in Chinese medicine, it’s said that cistanche benefits the body in a variety of different health ways, including chronic renal disease, impotence, female infertility, morbid leucorrhea, profuse menorrhagia, and senile constipation.
Modern research shows that the benefits of cistanche are tied to improved cognitive function, immune system support, healthy aging, as well as support for sexual wellness (and testosterone production).
Health Benefits of Cistanche:
Cistanche is an herb that has been traditionally used for its adaptogenic properties.
Adaptogens are herbs that help the body deal with external stressors such as toxins, physical and emotional stress, and harmful microorganisms like bacteria and viruses.
Below we’ll review the top research-backed health benefits of cistanche.
1. May Improve Brain Function
Research shows that Cistanches herba may help to improve brain function and memory retention.
There are three aspects of memory ability that you can impact when it comes to improving cognition:
- The capacity to learn, especially as it applies to long-term memory storage.
- The capacity to remember facts and knowledge, often known as consolidation.
- The ability to recall information stored in long-term memory.
Test tube studies have confirmed that Cistanche tubulosa extract can significantly improve these aspects of cognitive function by preventing the loss of neurons.
Various other animal and cell culture studies have shown the brain-boosting benefits of various species of cistanche.
A specialized cistanche extract (called Memoregain®) was studied for its ability to treat mild Alzheimers. The study noted that individuals with Alzheimer’s showed no obvious aggravation of cognitive function, independent living ability, and overall conditions but were stable throughout the study.
Comparison with other long-term medications with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors suggests that Memoregain® has the potential to be a possible treatment option for mild to moderate Alzheimers.
Summary:A combination of laboratory research alongside a human clinical trial suggests that cistanche may be beneficial for brain and overall cognitive function. Additional human clinical trials are needed to prove out these findings.
2. May Support Immune Health
Research shows that cistanche benefits immune health.
A test-tube study showed that an extract of Cistanche salsa, one of the common varieties of this plant, worked to increase antibody production in human lymph node lymphocytes. Antibodies are a key part of the adaptive immune system that works to fight off pathogens.
In an animal study, daily intake of a cistanche extract increased native T and natural killer cells in the blood and spleen, decreased pro-inflammatory IL-6, and increased overall longevity.
Summary:Cistanche contains Echinacoside, a phytochemical known to help support the immune system. Initial test-tube and animal research shows that cistanche helps to improve immune function. Further research involving human clinical trials is needed to prove these initial findings.
3. May Support Healthy Aging
New research shows that cistanche may be able to help with healthy aging by increasing HGH production.
A recent study found that various phytochemicals within C. tubulosa work to stimulate human growth hormone (HGH). The researchers noted that this is thought to be a result of ghrelin receptor activation.
This is an important finding as HGH levels are known to decrease over time. Stimulating HGH production can help to slow aging as it works to increase cell regeneration.
Summary:Laboratory research suggests that cistanche may have an anti-aging effect by increasing HGH production. While this initial research is promising, it needs to be proven by human clinical trials.
4. May Support Sexual Wellness
Research suggests that cistanche may help to improve sexual wellness.
It’s also been discovered that Echinacoside, a phytochemical found in Cistanches herba, has vaso-relaxing activity. This could be potentially useful in supporting male sexual health through increased blood flow.
It should also be noted that this herb has been used traditionally by multiple cultures to support sexual function.
Summary:The studies mentioned above are a combination of test-tube and animal studies. Further research should be conducted, preferably double-blinded human clinical trials.
Best Cistanche Supplement:
The ideal way to supplement with cistanche is by taking cistanche powder or cistanche capsules.
We recommend looking at Lost Empire Herb’s cistanche powder. Lost Empire makes some of the best cistanche supplements that we’ve come across. It’s a potent 8:1 extract, which helps ensure you get all of the key phytonutrients of this herb in a small daily serving.
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 these days provide. They also have a 365-day money-back guarantee.
Lost Empire’s clean, high-quality products are a great way to add this herb to your healthcare routine.
You can also click here for a complete overview of the best cistanche supplements.
Cistanche has been considered a safe traditional medicine in China over the past thousand years.
Below is a review of the current safety studies on Cistanches herba.
Safety Class: 1 (can be safely used when consumed properly)
Interaction Class: A (no clinically relevant reactions are expected)
The Botanical Safety Handbook rates cistanche as being in the safety class of 1, meaning it can be safely used when appropriately consumed. It has an interaction class of “A” which suggests that no clinically relevant adverse reactions are expected to occur.
Animal studies suggest that this herb could possibly potentiate barbiturates, hence, caution is advised if using cistanche alongside sedative drugs.
Click here for a more in-depth look into the side effects and drug interactions of cistanche.
Besides that, this herb is generally well tolerated and appears to be safe to consume for most individuals.
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Various traditional Chinese medical texts do not indicate any cautions for taking this herb during pregnancy or lactation.
Although no concerns have been identified, safety has not been conclusively established.
Standard dosing for cistanche is as follows:
Tincture (1:5): 2–3 mL (40–60 drops), three times per day.
Decoction: Add 1–2 tsp. of the dried, ground herb to 8 oz. water. Simmer for 5–10 minutes, then steep for 45 minutes. Take two cups per day.
Extract Granules (5:1): Take 1000mg one-to-two times daily.
Click here for additional information regarding recommended cistanche dosages.
Naming & Taxonomy:
The name “cistanche” refers to a variety of different species of plants in the cistanche family. See the section below that outlines the different species of cistanche.
This herb is referred to as “Desert Ginseng”. This is a nod to its various health benefits.
In the Western world, this herb is often called broomrape, or desert broomrape plant.
Generally, cistanche species distribute in arid lands and deserts in the northern hemisphere, such as the provinces of Xinjiang, Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai, and the Ningxia Autonomous Region in China in addition to similar regions of countries such as Iran, India, and Mongolia.
Cistanches herba grows primarily in China, Inner Mongolia and the provinces of Xinjiang, Gansu, and Qinghai.
The growth and cultivation of cistanche species require severe environmental conditions: extreme arid climates, depauperate soils, large temperature difference, intensive sunshine, and less than 250mm of annual precipitation.
Species of Cistanche:
Cistanche is a genus within the Orobanchaceae family and includes over 20 different species throughout the world.
Below are the main species:
There are many different types of cistanche, so we have put together a helpful article going over the similarities and differences of the two most common types of cistanche:
History & Traditional Use:
The dried succulent stems of the cistanche species were first mentioned in Chinese Materia Medica by Shen Nong, where they were dubbed “cistanche” (Rou Cong-Rong in Chinese).
Among all the tonics in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), cistanche has been venerated as a superior tonic and is sometimes referred to as “ginseng of the desert.”
Cistanches herba is a popular herb in TCM that is used to cure chronic renal disease, erectile dysfunction, female infertility, severe leucorrhea, metrorrhagia, and senile constipation.
Cistanche contains bioactive compounds such as phenylpropanoids, some of which have been shown to have neuroprotective (tubuloside B), osteoprotective (cistanosides A to L, echinoside), anti-inflammatory (acteoside), and hepatoprotective (isoacteoside) effects.
Adaptogen (probable), antioxidant, astringent, hepatoprotective, mild laxative, and anti-inflammatory activities.
Cistanche vs. Other Herbs:
Cistanche is often compared with other herbs. We have put together several helpful articles going over common comparisons.
Below, we’ve compiled our articles going over cistanche for additional reading.
Cistanche is a herb that has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese practices as an herbal remedy.
In recent years, more research has been done on the plant and its potential benefits to human health. Cistanches herba seems to be generally safe with minimal side effects.
It can help support immune function, brain function, sexual function, and healthy aging if taken regularly over time.
If you’re interested in trying this herb consider looking for it at your local health food store or shop online.
As always, it is highly recommended to speak with a qualified health physician before adding a new dietary supplement or herb to your diet.
What Are The Side Effects of Cistanche?
The common side effects of cistanche are typically mild, they include nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and dizziness.
What’s The Best Time To Take Cistanche?
Cistanche isn’t known for having a stimulating effect, so it can be taken at any point throughout the day. Some users even report that cistanche taken before bed helps to improve sleep quality.
That said, cistanche promotes mitochondrial ATP (i.e. cellular energy) production, which can be potentially stimulating for some individuals. In this case, it’s best to take in the morning for some users.
Does Cistanche Help With Hair Loss
Yes, cistanche appears to be able to help prevent hair loss.
A study found that a herbal combination of Cistanche tubulosa and kombu (Laminaria japonica) helped to increase hair density and follicle size.
Can You Make Cistanche Into a Tea?
Yes, you can make cistanche tea by combining cistanche powder with hot water. Mix together and drink.
What’s The Best Form of Cistanche?
Both Cistanche deserticola and Cistanche tubulosa are used interchangeably. Even though they have slightly differing phytochemical structures, each of these types of cistanche provides various health benefits.
You can read our in-depth comparison of Cistanche deserticola and Cistanche tubulosa here.
How Long Does It Take Cistanche to Work
There is no standard length of time. Some users may feel results quickly (within a week) while others may take longer. Generally, when adding a new supplement to your routine, it’s best to commit to 1-2 months of consistent use.
Gardner, Z., McGuffin, M. (2013). The botanical safety handbook [2nd edition]. American Herbal Products Association.
Guo, Q., Zhou, Y., Wang, C. J., Huang, Y. M., Lee, Y. T., Su, M. H., & Lu, J. (2013). An open-label, nonplacebo-controlled study on Cistanche tubulosa glycoside capsules (Memoregain(®)) for treating moderate Alzheimer's Disease. American journal of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias, 28(4), 363–370. https://doi.org/10.1177/1533317513488907
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical herbalism: The science and practice of herbal medicine. Healing Arts Press.
Li, Z., Lin, H., Gu, L., Gao, J., & Tzeng, C. M. (2016). Herba Cistanche (Rou Cong-Rong): One of the Best Pharmaceutical Gifts of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Frontiers in pharmacology, 7, 41. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2016.00041
Lin, S., Ye, S., Huang, J., Tian, Y., Xu, Y., Wu, M., Wang, J., Wu, S., & Cai, J. (2013). How do Chinese medicines that tonify the kidney inhibit dopaminergic neuron apoptosis?. Neural regeneration research, 8(30), 2820–2826. https://doi.org/10.3969/j.issn.1673-5374.2013.30.004
Liu, J., Yang, L., Dong, Y., Zhang, B., & Ma, X. (2018). Echinacoside, an Inestimable Natural Product in Treatment of Neurological and other Disorders. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 23(5), 1213. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules23051213
Maruyama, S., Hashizume, S., Tanji, T., Yamada, K., & Tachibana, H. (2008). Cistanche salsa extract enhanced antibody production in human lymph node lymphocytes. Pharmacologyonline, 2, 341-348.
Wang, T., Chen, C., Yang, M., Deng, B., Kirby, G. M., & Zhang, X. (2016). Cistanche tubulosa ethanol extract mediates rat sex hormone levels by induction of testicular steroidgenic enzymes. Pharmaceutical biology, 54(3), 481–487. https://doi.org/10.3109/13880209.2015.1050114
Wang, N., Ji, S., Zhang, H., Mei, S., Qiao, L., & Jin, X. (2017). Herba Cistanches: Anti-aging. Aging and disease, 8(6), 740–759. https://doi.org/10.14336/AD.2017.0720
Winston, David. (2007). Adaptogens: Herbs for Strength, Stamina, and Stress Relief. Inner Traditions/Bear & Company.
Wu, C. J., Chien, M. Y., Lin, N. H., Lin, Y. C., Chen, W. Y., Chen, C. H., & Tzen, J. (2019). Echinacoside Isolated from Cistanche tubulosa Putatively Stimulates Growth Hormone Secretion via Activation of the Ghrelin Receptor. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 24(4), 720. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules24040720
Wu, C. R., Lin, H. C., & Su, M. H. (2014). Reversal by aqueous extracts of Cistanche tubulosa from behavioral deficits in Alzheimer's disease-like rat model: relevance for amyloid deposition and central neurotransmitter function. BMC complementary and alternative medicine, 14, 202. https://doi.org/10.1186/1472-6882-14-202
Yoshikawa, M., Matsuda, H., Morikawa, T., Xie, H., Nakamura, S., & Muraoka, O. (2006). Phenylethanoid oligoglycosides and acylated oligosugars with vasorelaxant activity from Cistanche tubulosa. Bioorganic & medicinal chemistry, 14(22), 7468–7475. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bmc.2006.07.018
Zhang, K., Ma, X., He, W., Li, H., Han, S., Jiang, Y., Wu, H., Han, L., Ohno, T., Uotsu, N., Yamaguchi, K., Ma, Z., & Tu, P. (2014). Extracts of Cistanche deserticola Can Antagonize Immunosenescence and Extend Life Span in Senescence-Accelerated Mouse Prone 8 (SAM-P8) Mice. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2014, 601383. https://doi.org/10.1155/2014/601383