Thunder god vine
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Thunder god vine (Tripterygium wilfordii) is the English translation of the Chinese name for the perennial plant lei gong teng. The plant grows in the mountains of China, as well as Taiwan and Myanmar (formerly Burma). It is a deciduous climbing vine that sheds its leaves, and produces white flowers and red fruit with three "wings." The plant's leaves, flowers, and outer skin of the root are poisonous. In fact, honey taken from the
plant's pollen is also poisonous. The root pulp is the non-poisonous part, which is used medicinally. There is a risk of poisoning if the herb is not extracted properly.
The potentially dangerous aspects of this plant are reflected in two of its Chinese folk names, "Walk Seven Steps and Die" and "Intestine-Breaking Plant." In Asia, the plant is also called "three-wing-nut."
In ancient China, practitioners carefully extracted the portion of the thunder god vine used for treatment. They gathered roots in the summer or early fall. The poisonous bark was removed and the inner portion of the root was utilized. In past centuries, this procedure may have involved grinding the root into a powder. The remedy usually was applied topically to the skin, since there was a risk of poisoning if thunder god vine was taken orally.
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