Ji Gu Cao (Herba Abri or Chicken Bone Grass)

What Is Ji Gu Cao

Ji Gu Cao commonly known as Herba Abri or Chicken Bone Grass is the dried whole part of Abrus cantoniensis Hance, which is a climbing liana belonging to the family Leguminosae. It is a relatively practical and common Chinese herbal medicine, which first appeared in <Lingnan Caiyao Lu> (Records of Picking Herbs in Lingnan) in 21 years of the Republic of China (1,932 AD).

There are about 12 species of Abrus, which are mainly distributed in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, Africa, South America, and Australia. Some of these species are common medicinal plants.

Abrus cantoniensis Hance also known as Guangdong Abrus is the main material of herbal tea and edible plant. This plant likes sunlight and drier environments and is not cold hardy. They are often scattered on the ground or wrapped around other plants. They grow well in well-drained sandy loam or humus loam. They mainly grow in sparse forests, thickets, or hillsides at an altitude of 200 meters. They are distributed in southern China and some countries in Southeast Asia.

Abrus cantoniensis

Abrus cantoniensis Hance can be gathered in any season. People gather them, remove their pods and silt, dry them, cut them into pieces, and make them into Chinese herbal medicines.

Ji Gu Cao contains cantoniensistriol, sophoradiol, soyasapogenol A, abrisaponins So1, abrisaponins So2, abrisaponins D2, abrisaponins D3, abrisaponins F, abrisaponins SB, kaikasaponinⅠ, soyasaponinⅠ, abrisaponin I, abrine, hypaphorine, chrysophanic acid, physcion, salicylic acid, β-sitosterol, daucosterol, quebrachitol, adenine, adenosine, flavones, polysaccharides, volatile oils, amino acids,and some trace elements.

Within the same genus, Abrus mollis Hance has the similar ingredients and efficacy, which is often used as an alternative material for A. cantoniensis.

According to the Chinese Pharmacopoeia, the medicinal property of Ji Gu Cao is relatively cool, with a sweet and slightly bitter taste. It has a certain therapeutic effect on the pathological changes of the liver and stomach meridians.

In traditional Chinese medicine, it is often used to drain dampness to relieve jaundice, clear heat and remove toxins, disperse the depressed liver-qi and alleviate pain, and treat jaundice due to damp-heat, distending pain in hypochondrium, distending pain in epigastrium, acute mastitis, oxyhepatitis, chronic hepatitis, icteric hepatitis, chronic hepatitis B, cirrhosis, hepatomegaly, chronic cholecystitis, gastric ulcer, bile-regurgitational gastritis, cholelithiasis, arthritis, ABO Incompatibility, urinary system infection, urolithiasis, liver cancers, gastrointestinal tumors, and snake bites.

There are more than 50 kinds of traditional Chinese medicine prescriptions containing it, such as Fu Fang Ji Gu Cao Granules, Jie Shi Tong Pian, and Gan De Le Granules.


  • Anti-inflammation, inhibiting xylene-induced ear swelling and cotton ball granuloma in mice [1].
  • Anti-oxidation, scavenging hydroxyl radicals, superoxide anion radicals, and DPPH radicals.
  • Reducing CCl4-induced liver injury in mice and protecting the liver.
  • Decreasing aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol levels, and increasing high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in laying hens with fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome [2].
  • Draining dampness, and treating jaundice caused by stagnation and steaming of damp-heat in the liver and gallbladder.
  • Clearing heat and removing toxins, treating acute mastitis and snake bites.
  • Dispersing the depressed liver-qi and treating distending pain in hypochondrium and epigastrium caused by stagnation of liver qi.
  • Its total saponins have potent inhibitory effects on HBV replication both in vivo and in vitro [3].
  • Its alcoholic extract has an inhibitory effect on Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa [4]. In addition, its ethyl acetate extract has a significant inhibitory effect on Helicobacter pylori in vitro [5].
  • Its ethyl acetate extract can shorten the healing time of skin wounds in mice, improve the wound-healing effect, and enhance the tensile strength of the healed skin [6].
  • Its water-soluble polysaccharides can promote proliferation and enhance the pinocytic and phagocytic capacity in macrophages [7].
  • Its polysaccharide significantly prevents the migration of MCF-7 cells and stimulates lymphocyte proliferation along with nitric oxide (NO) production of peritoneal macrophages [8].
  • Its polysaccharides can inhibit the proliferation of liver cancer HepG2 cells and breast cancer MCF-7 cells [8]. In addition, its ethyl acetate fraction can selectively inhibit the proliferation of MCF-7, DU145, and HEP3B tumor cells, and have no inhibitory effect on the proliferation of normal cells PNT-2 [9].
  • Its total flavonoids attenuated the inflammatory response of LPS on mouse mammary gland by inhibiting the expression of CD14/TLR4/NF-κB/MAPK pathway, enhancing the expression of tight junction proteins and restoring LPS-induced gut microbial dysbiosis [10].
  • Studies have found that its flavonoids can alleviate the pathological changes of gastric ulcers in mice, significantly increase the level of superoxide dismutase in the serum of mice, reduce the level of myeloperoxidase, and protect the acute gastric ulcer induced by ethanol [11].
  • Studies have found that it may inhibit epilepsy occurrence by reducing neuronal damage, increasing blood drug concentration, reducing drug resistance, shortening seizure time, prolonging seizure cycle, etc., which can serve as a reference in epilepsy treatment [12].


  • It can be used in combination with Yin Chen (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae) and Di Er Cao (Hypericum japonicum) to treat jaundice caused by stagnation and steaming of damp-heat in the liver and gallbladder.
  • It can be combined with Liang Mian Zhen (Radix Zanthoxyli) to treat distending pain in hypochondrium and epigastrium caused by stagnation of liver qi.
  • It can be used in combination with Bai Mao Gen (Rhizoma Imperatae), Che Qian Cao (Plantago Asiatica), Fu Ling (Poria), Guang Jin Qian Cao (Herba Desmodii Styracifolii), Hai Jin Sha (Spora Lygodii), Shi Wei (Folium Pyrrosiae), and Yu Mi Xu (Corn Silk) to treat urinary system infection and urolithiasis.
  • It can be used in combination with Zhi Zi (Fructus Gardeniae), Gou Qi Zi (Fructus Lycii), Bai Shao (White Peony Root), Yin Chen (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae), San Qi (Notoginseng Radix et Rhizoma), Niu Huang (Artificial Calculus Bovis), etc. to treat distending pain in hypochondrium, abdominal distention, fatigue, dry mouth, bitter mouth, brown urine caused by the accumulation of damp heat in the liver and gallbladder.
  • It can be used in combination with Yin Chen (Herba Artemisiae Scopariae), Chui Pei Cao (Sedum sarmentosum), Zhi Zi (Fructus Gardeniae), Dan Shen (Radix et Rhizoma Salviae Miltiorrhizae), and Wu Wei Zi (Fructus Schisandrae) to treat toxic hepatitis.

Side Effects

The seeds of A. cantoniensis are poisonous. Taking A. cantoniensis with seeds may cause burning in the mouth, difficulty swallowing, nausea, and vomiting.

Precautions and Warnings

  • The dosage of Ji Gu Cao should be controlled at 15-30g.
  • It can be made into decoctions, pills, powders, or mashed for external use.
  • People who are allergic to Ji Gu Cao should not take it.
  • When using it, all its pods should be removed first.
  • It should not be used at the same time as potassium iodide.
  • Patients with weakness due to deficiency-cold should not take it.
  • Pregnant and breastfeeding women should take it under medical supervision.