Chinese Clubmoss (Huperzia serrata)

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Chinese Club Moss Summary

Chinese clubmoss, (otherwise known as Chinese firmoss) is a type of moss found in subtropical parts of Southern China, India, and the United States.

The whole herb can be used as a cognitive enhancer, and to treat organophosphate poisoning and neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.

The main form this herb can be found in, however, is its concentrated extract of the alkaloid huperzine-A.

Huperzine-A is a popular addition to nootropic formulas for its ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase. Thus improving reaction times, memory retrieval and storage, and preventing or slowing the onset of Alzheimer's disease. The potency of this chemical is astounding, as less than a mg of the extract is necessary to reach a therapeutic dose.

Huperzine-A can be found alone but is best taken in a formulation or stacked with other nootropic formulas. It's especially beneficial when in combination with racetams like piracetam or aniracetam, or choline donors like alpha-GPC.

You can find huperzine-A in formulas like Onnit Alpha-Brain, or by itself.

 

Indications

  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Cold and flu
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Neurodegenerative disorders
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Poor circulation
  • Rheumatism
  • Swelling
  • To improve memory
  • Varicose veins

Contraindications

  • Nothing noted

Mechanisms

  • Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor
  • NDMA modulator
  • Antiglutamate

Herbal Actions:

  • Nootropic
  • Neuroprotective
  • Antioxidant
 

What is Chinese Clubmoss Used For?

Clubmoss isn't commonly used in Western herbal medicine but has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine. With that said, the most common uses for this herb are for treating neurological disorders — primarily involving memory loss.

The nootropic supplement huperzine-A is popular for enhancing focus and concentration. There is virtually no clinical research on the safety or effectiveness of this compound, however.

 

Traditional Uses of Chinese Clubmoss (Firmoss)

Usage of this herb can be traced all the way back to the Tang dynasty in China. It was mainly used during this time to treat rheumatism, colds and flus, and to relax the muscles and tendons.

More modern Chinese medicinal uses include bruises, sprains, poor circulation, swelling, organophosphate poisoning, myasthenia gravis, schizophrenia, and Alzheimers.

 

Herb Datasheet

Daily Dose

Otheer Relevant Species

  • Lycopodium serratum
  • Huperzia elmeri
  • Huperzia carinat
  • Huperzia aqualupian

Part Used

  • Whole herb

Family Name

  • Lycopodiaceae

Distribution

  • Clubmoss is found worldwide — thee species most commonly used for its huperzinee-A content (Huperzia serrata) is found predominantly in Asia.

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Constituents of Interest

  • Huperzine-A

Common Names

  • Chinese Firmoss
  • Qian Ceng Ta (China)
  • "Thousand layer pagoda"
  • Ground pine
  • Creeping cedar
  • Shi Song (China)

CYP450

Unknown

Duration of Use

  • Avoid long-term use in therapeutic doses.
 

Botanical Information

All club mosses differ from true mosses by their vascular structure. They do hower reproduce via spores.

These plants can live a very long time, and only grow up to 10 cm in height.

 

Habitat Ecology, & Distribution:

Huperzia serrata originates from India, and Southeast China, but are distributed worldwide. They tend to be easily found in subtropical zones in the United States and Southern China.

Due to the value of this herb as a cognitive enhancer, it has been over-harvested in many places where it can be found.

 

Pharmacology & Medical Research

Cognitive Enhancement:

Huperzia serrata contains an alkaloid known as huperzine-A. This alkaloid has been shown to produce anti-acetylcholinesterase activities in the brain [6-]. With fewer enzymes breaking down the acetylcholine, this neurotransmitter becomes more abundant and is more readily available for presynaptic neurons.

Huperzine-A is more effective at inhibiting acetylcholinesterase due to its ability to pass the blood-brain barrier more readily than other medications [9].

Additionally, huperzine-A has been reported to act as an NDMA receptor agonist. This results in a greater release of nerve growth factor (NGF) in the brain.

Alzheimer's Disease

There have been several reviews, including a Cochrane review on this herb for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. All of these studies have noted a possible improvement in Alzheimer's therapy following Huperzine-A containing species. However, all noted a lack of large, long-term, clinical trials on the subject. [6-8].

The primary mechanism of action is suggested to be through a reduction in acetylcholinesterase, and subsequent amyloid beta plaquing on the neurons. [6].

Anti-Seizure

C#urrently, huperzine-A has been shown to posess anticonvulsant activity in mice [10]. Further studies are now underway.

Parkinson's Disease

Currently, only mice trials have been conducted. Protective effects have been noted in these mice trials, however. [11].

 

Phytochemistry

An alkaloid known as huperzine-A is currently regarded as the main active ingredient for the cognitive enhancing effects of Huperzia serrata.

This alkaloid is suggested to account for roughly 0.1% of the dry weight of the herb [1]. Analogs of both Huperzine-A and Huperzine-B have both been made. [3-5].

A similar alkaloid is also contained known as fordine.

In total, this herb contains flavonoids, alkaloids (lycopodine, lycodines including huperzine-A, fawcettimines, and more), triterpenes, flavones, and phenolic acids. [2].

 

Cautions

Not recommended for people with heart disease, seizure disorders, emphysema, or urinary tract blockages.

Consult your doctor if taking other medications and wish to take Huperzia spp. supplements or concentrated extracts.

 

Toxicity

This is a very safe herb to use, even in its concentrated extraction form of Huperzine-A. Side effects of the concentrated extract can include gastrointestinal discomfort and upset, restlessness, headaches, high blood pressure, sweating, appetite suppression. 

Never use huperzine-A supplements while pregnant or breastfeeding.  

 

Synergy

A common addition to nootropic formulas for its cholinergic actions. It's suggested to be especially beneficial with racetams like piracetam due to similar effects on acetylcholine.

 

Author:

Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated May 2019)

 

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References:

  1. Yu CM, Tang XC, Liu JS, Han YY, inventors. Huperzines and analogs. US Patent 5,177,082. January 5, 1993.

  2. Ma X, Tan C, Zhu D, Gang DR, Xiao P. Huperzine A from Huperzia species—an ethnopharmacolgical review. J Ethnopharmacol . 2007;113(1):15-34.

  3. Darrouzain F, André C, Ismaili L, Matoga M, Guillaume YC. Huperzine A—human serum albumin association: chromatographic and thermodynamic approach. J Chromatogr B Analyt Technol Biomed Life Sci . 2005;820(2):283-288.

  4. Jiang H, Luo X, Bai D. Progress in clinical, pharmacological, chemical and structural biological studies of huperzine A: a drug of traditional Chinese medicine origin for the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Curr Med Chem . 2003;10(21):2231-2252.

  5. Dvir H, Jiang HL, Wong DM, et al. X-ray structures of Torpedo californica acetylcholinesterase complexed with (+)-huperzine A and (-)-huperzine B: structural evidence for an active site rearrangement. Biochemistry . 2002;41(35):10810-10818.

  6. Li J, Wu HM, Zhou RL, Liu GJ, Dong BR. Huperzine A for Alzheimer's disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2008;(2):CD005592

  7. Desilets AR, Gickas JJ, Dunican KC. Role of huperzine A in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease. Ann Pharmacother . 2009;43(3):514-518.

  8. Kelley BJ, Knopman DS. Alternative medicine and Alzheimer disease. Neurologist . 2008;14(5):299-306.

  9. Wang R, Yan H, Tang XC. Progress in studies of huperzine A, a natural cholinesterase inhibitor from Chinese herbal medicine. Acta Pharmacol Sin . 2006;27(1):1-26.

  10. Bialer M, Johannessen SI, Kupferberg HJ, Levy RH, Perucca E, Tomson T. Progress report on new antiepileptic drugs: a summary of the Eigth Eilat Conference (EILAT VIII). Epilepsy Res . 2007;73(1):1-52.

  11. Chen LW, Wang YQ, Wei LC, Shi M, Chan YS. Chinese herbs and herbal extracts for neuroprotection of dopaminergic neurons and potential therapeutic treatment of Parkinson's disease. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets . 2007;6(4):273-281