San Ke Zhen (Radix Berberidis)

What Is San Ke Zhen

San Ke Zhen also known as Radix Berberidis is the root of Berberis julianae, B. sargentiana, B. wilsoniae, B. poiretii, or B. vernae, which is a thorny shrub belonging to the family Berberidaceae. It is an ethnic medicine commonly used by the Tujia people in western Hubei, which first appeared in <Fen Lei Cao Yao Xing> (Properties of Medicinal Herbs by Category) in the 32nd year of Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty (1,906 AD).

There are more than 500 species of Berberis, which are distributed in the temperate and subtropical regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.

Most of the genus are ornamental plants, and only a few of plants have medicinal value. The roots and stems of some of these plants can be used to extract the yellow dye.

Berberis julianae is a drought-tolerant and cold-tolerant evergreen shrub. They often grow on hillsides, ditch edges, forests, shrubs, or bamboo forests at an altitude of 1,100-2,100 meters. They grow well in fertile, well-drained sandy soil. They are distributed in Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Hunan, and Guangxi in China.

B. sargentiana is endemic to China. They are distributed in the Hubei and Sichuan provinces of China. This plant often grows in thickets, roadsides, rock crevices, bamboo forests, or mountains at an altitude of 700-2,100 meters.

B. wilsoniae is a semi-evergreen shrub. They often grow on hillsides, thickets, rocky mountains, river beaches, roadsides, and pine forests at an altitude of 1,000-4,000 meters. They are distributed in Yunnan, Sichuan, Tibet, and Gansu.

B. poiretii is a deciduous shrub. They often grow in mountain shrubs, gravel textures, steppe deserts, ravines, riverbanks, or forest edges at an altitude of 600-2,300 meters. They are distributed in northern China, North Korea, Mongolia, and Russia.

B. vernae is endemic to China. They often grow in floodplains or hillside shrubs at an altitude of 2,200-3,850 meters. They are mainly distributed in Gansu, Qinghai, and Sichuan.


In spring and autumn each year, people gather the roots of Berberis julianae, B. sargentiana, B. wilsoniae, B. poiretii, or B. vernae, remove their fibrous roots and impurities, cut them into pieces, dry them in the sun, and make them into Chinese herbal medicines.

San Ke Zhen contains berberine, berbamine, palmatine, jatrorrhizine, oxyacanthine, magnoflorine, isocorydaline, daucosterol, epifriedelinol, sucrose, quercetin, taraxerol, and β-sitosterol.

Generally, the solid San Ke Zhen with a bright yellow cross-section is preferred.

According to <Fen Lei Cao Yao Xing>, the medicinal property of San Ke Zhen is relatively cold, with toxicity and bitter taste. It has a certain therapeutic effect on the pathological changes of the liver, stomach, and large intestine meridians.

In folk medicine, it is often used as a substitute for Huang Bai (Cortex Phellodendri) or Huang Lian (Rhizoma coptidis).

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), it is used to clear heat and dry dampness, purge fire and remove toxins, treat bacillary dysentery, chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, eczema, jaundice, sore throat, ear discharge, leukopenia, and essential hypertension.


  • Anti-inflammation, inhibiting xylene-induced ear swelling in mice.
  • Lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, and blood lipids.
  • Antagonizing experimental myocardial and cerebral ischemia, and arrhythmias.
  • Inhibiting platelet aggregation, preventing atherosclerosis and thrombosis.
  • Clearing damp-heat in large intestine and stomach, and treating diarrhea and jaundice caused by damp-heat.
  • Removing heat toxins, and treating eczema, skin ulcers, and abscesses.
  • Reducing liver fire and relieving redness and swelling of the eyes caused by excessive liver heat.
  • A small dose of berberine can excite the heart, enhance the contractility of the heart, and increase coronary blood flow.
  • Large doses of berberine can inhibit the heart and weaken the contractility of the heart.
  • A small dose of berberine has a strengthening effect on the excitatory process of the cerebral cortex of animals, and a large dose of berberine has a strengthening effect on the inhibitory process of the cerebral cortex.
  • Inhibiting Staphylococcus aureus, Hemolytic Streptococcus, Pneumococcus, Shigella dysenteriae, Escherichia coli, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Proteus, Candida albicans, and Leptospira.
  • Topical application of its ethanol infusion can treat bruises.
  • Studies have found that the palmatine contained in it can excite the uterus and relax muscles.
  • Clinical studies have confirmed that berbamine can treat leukopenia caused by radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or drugs.


Side Effects

San Ke Zhen is poisonous. Excessive use of it may cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, acid regurgitation, or heartburn.

A small proportion of patients taking it may cause gastrointestinal reactions such as abdominal pain, bloating, or belching.

Precautions and Warnings

  • The dosage of San Ke Zhen should be controlled at 10-15g.
  • It can be made into decoctions or ground into powder for external use.
  • People who are allergic to San Ke Zhen should not take it.
  • People with deficiency-cold in the spleen and stomach should not take it.
  • Pregnant women and children should not take it.