Corydalis: A Medicinal Plant in Chinese Herbalism for Pain Support

Corydalis yanhusuo is a medicinal plant used for centuries for its analgesic properties

Pain is considered the most common complaint worldwide for which patients seek treatment. Conventional analgesic agents play an important role in modern pain therapy, but they cause several adverse effects.

Therefore, newer and better analgesics continue to be investigated. In this controlled clinical trial, the authors evaluated the analgesic effects of Corydalis yanhusuo.

The active compound, dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), is effective at alleviating thermally induced acute pain. Additionally, it displays moderate dopamine receptor antagonist activities. By using selective pharmacological compounds and dopamine receptor knockout (KO) mice, we show that DHCB antinociceptive effect is primarily due to its interaction with D2 receptors, at least at low doses. We further show that DHCB is effective against inflammatory pain and injury-induced neuropathic pain and furthermore causes no antinociceptive tolerance.


Corydalis is an herb often used in traditional Chinese medicine for pain relief. Experts say it can be used for headaches, menstrual pain and back pain – even back pain caused by nerve problems or muscle spasms. Corydalis has been used since ancient times, in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Modern studies suggest that corydalis may be effective at treating pain triggered by cold and may help block inflammation and nerve pain.


A compound, dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), is thought to be responsible for the herb’s pain-relieving effects. Corydalis appears to work similarly to prescription pain medications that block pain signals in the brain. However, experts say corydalis can be used to treat chronic pain without carrying the same risk of addiction that many prescription pain medications do.

According to Michigan Medicine:

Scientists have isolated a number of alkaloids from the tuber of corydalis, including corydaline, tetrahydropalmatine (THP), dl-Tetrahydropalmatine (dl-THP), protopine, tetrahydrocoptisine, tetrahydrocolumbamine, and corybulbine. Of the full range of 20 alkaloids found in the plant, THP is considered to be the most potent. In laboratory research, it has been shown to exhibit a wide number of pharmacological actions on the central nervous system, including analgesic and sedative effects. dl-THP has been found to exhibit a tranquilizing action in mice. Scientists have suggested that dl-THP blocks certain receptor sites (e.g., dopamine) in the brain to cause sedation.

In addition to its central nervous system effects, studies in the laboratory have shown the alkaloids from corydalis also have cardiovascular actions. For example, dl-THP has been shown to both decrease the stickiness of platelets and protect against stroke, as well as lower blood pressure and heart rate in animal studies. Additionally, it seems to exert an anti-arrhythmic action on the heart. This was found in a small double-blind clinical trial with patients suffering from a specific type of heart arrhythmia (e.g., supra-ventricular premature beat or SVPB). People taking 300–600 mg of dl-THP per day in tablet form, had a significantly greater improvement than those taking placebo pills.

Other human clinical trials on dl-THP have shown the ability to fall asleep was improved in people suffering from insomnia after taking 100–200 mg of dl-THP at bedtime. No drug hangover symptoms such as morning grogginess, dizziness or vertigo were reported by people taking the alkaloid extract.

Reports from Chinese researchers also note that 75 mg of THP daily was effective in reducing nerve pain in 78% of the patients tested. Painful menstruation (dysmenorrhea), abdominal pain after childbirth, and headache have also been reported to be successfully treated with THP.

Extracts of the herb may also be useful in the treatment of stomach ulcers. In a large sample of patients with stomach and intestinal ulcers or chronic inflammation of the stomach lining, a 90–120 mg extract of the herb per day (equal to 5–10 grams of the crude herb) was found to improve healing and symptoms in 76% of the patients.

How to Use Corydalis for Pain Support

For an analgesic or sedative effect, the crude, dried rhizome is usually recommended at 5–10 grams per day. Alternatively, one can take 10–20 ml per day of a 1:2 extract.