Smilax china L.

Last updated: 15 November 2016

Scientific Name

Smilax china L.


Coprosmanthus japonicus Kunth, Smilax japonica (Kunth) A.Gray, Smilax pteropus Miq. Smilax taiheiensis Hayata, Smilax taquetii H.Lév., Smilax thomsoniana A. D [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Kayu China, ubat raja, gadong China [2];, gadong saberang, akar resting [3]
English  China sasparilla, china root [4]
India Kub chini, choob chini, cinipavu, pavu, cinnapavu, davipantaravaca, madhusnuhi, parankicekai, parangicekka [4]
Indonesia Gadung cina (General), peundang (Aceh), ghadhung tambha (Madurese). [3]
Hong Kong Gum Gong Teng [5]
Sri Lanka China-alla [6]
Philippines Buanal (Ig.); palipit (Bon.); sarsaparillang-china (Tag.); China root, Chinese sarsaparilla (Engl.) [3]
Vietnam Kim chang trung qu[oos]e [3]
Korea Cheong Mi Rae Deong Gul [5]
Japan Sarutori Ibara, San Ke Ri [7]
Saudi Arabia Kasbussini, Kashab-chinae [3]
Holland  China Wortel [8]
France Squine, Racine de Chine [3]
Spain Palo de China [3]
Portugal Esquina [3]

Geographical Distributions

Smilax china is distributed from Japan and southern China, through the Ryukyu Islands to Laos, Vietnam, northern Thailand, Burma (Myanmar) and the Philippines. S. china has long been cultivated in China and Japan as a medicinal plant. The rhizomes are imported into Indonesia and Malaysia. [3]

Botanical Description

S. china is a member of Smilacaceae family. S. china is a climber, up to 5 m long with smooth or sparingly prickly stem and branches. [3] S. china is a hard tendril climbing vine with sparsely prickled or unarmed stems and thick tuberous rhizomes. The leaves are ovate-orbicular, broadly elliptical to ovate-elliptical or narrowly elliptical and measure up to 12 cm long. The petiole is up to 1.5 cm long with the wings of petiolar sheaths rather weakly developed while the tendrils are up to 15 cm long. [3] The inflorescence is born in axil of young leaf, of one umbel of both sexes which 10-25 flowered, representing subglobose and base subglobose measuring 2-3 mm in diameter with many small bracteoles. The male flowers have sepals of yellowish green and measuring 3.5-4.5 x 1.5-2.5 mm. The stamens measure 3-4 mm. The filaments are filiform in shape. The female flowers have six staminodes. The fruits are red berries measures 0.6-1.5 cm in diameter and minutely white powdery. [3][9]


In tropical Asia, S. china occurs only in scrub vegetation and open forest in mountains above 1000 m altitude, but in more temperate regions, it also grows in the lowlands; in the Philippines, it is found in moss forests at 1600-2400 m altitude. [3]

Chemical Constituent

S. china has been reported to contains smilax saponins, 16-hentriacontanone, b-carotene, neo-b-carotene, cryptoxanthin, lutein, lutein epoxide, 4-methylene- 4-methyl-glutamic acid, 4-hydorxy-4-methyl-glutamic acid, arginine, N-a-acylarginine, acidic N-a-acylarginine derivatives. [10] S. china has been reported to contains cinchonin, smilacin, steroidal saponin such as tigogenin, neo-tigogenin, laxogenin, isonarthogenin, pseudoprotodioscin, dioscin, diosgenin, isocery-S-methylcycteamine-sulphoxide, oleic acid, rutin, smilax-saponin A,B,C [5][11][12][13]; kaemperol-7-O-β-D-glucopyranoside, engeletin, isoengeletin, kaempferol, dihydrokaempferol, dihydrokaempferol-5-O-P-D-glucopyranoside, rutin, kaempferol-5-O-β-D-glucopyranoside, 3, 5, 4'-trihydroxystibene, vanillic acid, 3, 5-dimethoxy4-O-β-D-glu-copyranosylcinnamic acid, β-sitosterol, and β-daucosterol [14]; taxifolin-3-O-glycoside, piceid, oxyresveratrol, engeletin, resveratrol and scirpusin A [15]; smilasides A-F (1-6), and three known phenylpropanoids, smiglaside E, heloniosides B, and 2',6'-diacetyl-3,6-diferuloylsucrose. [16]

Plant Part Used

Rhizomes and roots. [10][17][18]

Traditional Use

The main part of the plant, the rhizome was use as antiscrofulatic, carminative, depurative, diuretic, tonic and antivenereal. It came into prominence when da Orta reported his success in treating syphilis, a disease introduced by the Portuguese into India in the mid fifteenth century, in Goa. However, as its fame spread far and wide as an effective treatment for this rapidly spreading disease globally, it fell to disrepute due to the poor quality of the drug being exported. However, it remain the best treatment for syphilis to the east of India because of the better quality and fresher drug. [17]

A decoction of the roots of S. china has been used to treat all stages of syphilis from east to west. It has also been advocated in the treatment of leprosy, scrofula and many skin infections developing into ulcers. In the Far East the roots had been used to treat abscesses, pyoderma and burns. [10]

The roots are use as carminative, depurative, laxative and digestive and being prescribed for treatement of dyspepsia, constipation, flatulence and colic by the Indian who received the drug from Chinese merchants. The Chinese on the other hand made use of this drug to treat cases of gastroenteritis and dysentery. In Korea it was one of the drugs used in the treatment of Acute Appenidicitis, taeniasis and constipation. [9][10]

The roots have been employed to treat cases of paralysis and sciatica. Its tonic effect has been taken advantaged of and was prescribed in cases of general weakness and debilitating diseases. It has also been considered an aphrodisiac and was used to treat impotency.Emperor Charles V was treated successfully for gout using this drug and from thence on it has acquired much esteem for treatment of this and other rheumatic complains apart from its use to treat syphilis in Europe. It was also advocated in the treatment of insanity and neuralgias. [9][10]

It diuretic properties had made the Indians use it to treat urinary tract infection, stone and ulcers of the bladder and even chyluria by the physicians of Hong Kong. It helps in relieving strangury and also seminal weakness. [9][10]

Apart from infective skin conditions this root has been used to treat other dermatological conditions and amongst them is psoriasis. [10]

Preclinical Data


Anti-inflammatory activity

In a study to observe the change in secondary change of secondary inflammation, thymus and spleen weights, T cell subgroup, B cell, NK cell, it was found that an intragastric injection of a decoction of S. china (90, 180 could significantly inhibit adjunctive arthritis mouse's secondary inflammatory swelling, reduce thymus and spleen weights, decrease CD4/CD8, but had little influence on B Cell. This indicate that S. china anti-inflammatory action is more via cell-mediated immunity response rather than humoral. [19]

S. china has been reported to have anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive effects similar to those of Acetyl-salicylate. Upon evaluating it for the inhibition of prostaglandin production (for COX-2 inhibitions) in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-induced mouse macrophage cells the investigators found that both COX-2 activity and COX expression were inhibited. [20]

The study on effects of ethylacetate extract of S. china on acute and chronic inflammation showed significant positive results on test animals indicating that S. china has very strong anti-inflammatory effects both in acute and chronic conditions. [21]

The analysis of butanol extract of S. china whereby 4 steroidal saponins were isolated together with another 13 compounds. Bioassay tests on all these compounds showed inhibitory effects on cyclooxygenase-2 enzyme (COX-2) activities at final concentration of 10-5 M. [22]

The Pakistani investigators isolated Seiboldogenin from ethyl acetate fraction of the plant crude extract. This compound was subjected to a series of tests to determine whether it has anti-inflammatory properties or not. The results showed that it indeed has anti-inflammatory activities and upon computational docking simulations it was found that its molecular interaction was with important amino acid residues in the catalytic site of lipoxygenase. [23]

Antimutagenic and cytotoxic activity

In a study of antimutagenic activity of 36 common herbs in China, it was found that aqueous extract of S. china completely inhibit mutagenic activity of benzo[a]pyrene. [24]

A flavonoid glycoside, kaempferol-7-O-β-D-glucoside, was shown to display anticancer activity. This study had determined that kaempferol-7-O-β-D-glucoside inhibit cell cycle at G1 phase and induce apoptosis conferring it with antiproliferative property. [25]

In a recent study of kaempferol-7-O-β-D-glucoside anticancer activity it was further determined that it is most active in HeLa human cervix carcinoma cells. The mechanism of action showed inhibition of cell cycle at the level of G2/M phase and the apoptosis signal pathway to be via the mitochondrial pathway. Thus, kaempferol-7-O-β-D-glucoside has great potential to be used in the treatment of cancer cervix. [26]

Anti-alzheimer activity

A study to find its inhibitor had lead to the discovery of four compounds (trans/cis-resveratrol mixture, oxyresveratrol, veraphenol, and cis-scirpusin A) from the ethylacetate soluble fraction of S. china root. They showed potent inhibitory activities in a non-competitive manner. B-secretase is an enzyme instrumental in the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. They had less inhibitory activities on a-secretase and other serine proteases such as chymotrypsin, trypsin, and elastase. This shows that these compounds are very selective to b-secretase. [27]

The methanol extract of rhizome of S. china showed protective activity against a synthetic 25-35 amyloid peptide, -induced neurotoxicity in cultured rat cerebral cortical neurons. [28]

Anti-oxidant activity

S. china has been reported to haveantioxidant activities had been subjected to free radical scavenging studies. It was revealed that the methanol extract had high presence of 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) free radical scavenging activity and protective property of cell's viability. This activity was seen in the ethylacetate, butanol and water extracted fractions of the extract. It was also demonstrated that the methanol extract induced an increase of superoxide dismutase, catalase and glutathione peroxidase activities in a dose-dependent manner between 4-100 µg/mL. [29]


No documentation

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

Reduction of adipose tissue and body weight: effect of water soluble calcium hydroxycitrate in Garcinia atroviridis on the short term treatment of obese women in Thailand. In this trial 50 obese women with BMI >25 kg/m2 were randomly divided into two groups of 25. Group 1 was given water soluble calcium hydroxycitrate (HCA) as Garcinia atroviridis while group 2 received a placebo. All were then given similar diet of 1000 Kcal/day. At the end of a two month period it was found that Group 1 loss more weight and at a faster rate than Group 2. This decrease in body weight was attributes to loss of fat storage as evidenced by decrease in triceps skin fold thickness. [30]

Line drawing



Figure 1: The line drawing of S. china. [3]


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  15. Shao B, Guo HZ, Cui YJ, et al. Simultaneous determination of six major stilbenes and flavonoids in Smilax china by high performance liquid chromatography. J Pharm Biomed Anal. 2007;44(3): 737-742.
  16. Kuo YH, Hsu YW, Liaw CC, Lee JK, Huang HC, Kuo LM. Cytotoxic phenylpropanoid glycosides from the stems of Smilax chinaJ Nat Prod. 2005;68(10):1475-1478.
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  19. Lü Y, Chen D, Deng J, Tian L. Effect of Smilax china on adjunctive arthritis mouse. Zhong Yao Cai. 2003;26(5):344-346
  20. Shu XS, Gao ZH, Yang XL. Anti-inflammatory and anti-nociceptive activities of Smilax china L. aqueous extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006;103(3):327-332.
  21. Shu XS, Gao ZH, Yang XL. The anti-inflammation effects of Smilax china ethylacetate extract in rats and mice. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi. 2006;31(3):239-243. Chinese.
  22. Shao B, Guo H, Cui Y, Ye M, Han J, Guo D. Steroidal saponins from Smilax china and their anti-inflammatory activities. Phytochemistry. 2007;68(5):623-630.
  23. Khan I, Nisar M, Ebad F, et al. Anti-inflammatory activities of Sieboldogenin from Smilax china Linn.: experimental and computational studies. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;121(1):175-177.
  24. Lee H, Lin JY. Antimutagenic activity of extracts from anticancer drugs in Chinese medicine. Mutat Res. 1988;204(2):229-324.
  25. Li YL, Gan GP, Zhang HZ, et al. A flavonoid glycoside isolated from Smilax china L. rhizome in vitro anticancer effects on human cancer cell lines. J Ethnopharmacol. 2007;113(1):115-124.
  26. Xu W, Liu J, Li C, Wu HZ, Liu YW. Kaempferol-7-O-beta-D-glucoside (KG) isolated from Smilax china L. rhizome induces G2/M phase arrest and apoptosis on HeLa cells in a p53-independent manner. Cancer Lett. 2008;264(2):229-240.
  27. Jeon SY, Kwon SH, Seong YH, et al. Beta-secretase (BACE1)-inhibiting stilbenoids from Smilax rhizomaPhytomedicine. 2007;14(6):403-408.
  28. Ban JY, Cho SO, Koh SB, Song KS, Bae K, Seong YH. Protection of amyloid beta protein (25-35)-induced neurotoxicity by methanol extract of Smilacis chinae rhizome in cultured rat cortical neuronsJ Ethnopharmacol. 2006;106(2):230-237.
  29. Lee SE, Ju EM, Kim JH. Free radical scavenging and antioxidant enzyme fortifying activities of extracts from Smilax china root. Exp Mol Med. 2001;33(4):263-268.
  30. Roongpisuthipong C, Kantawan R, Roongpisuthipong W. Reduction of adipose tissue and body weight: effect of water soluble calcium hydroxycitrate in Garcinia atroviridis on the short term treatment of obese women in Thailand. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2007;16(1):25.