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(Lizard's Tail family)


• Medicinal / Folk-medicinal aspects: Extracts and other preparations from plants in this family are used externally, principally in North America and the Far East, as astringents and antimicrobials / antifungals to treat haemorrhoids, wounds, and skin infections. •
• Adverse effects:  •
• Veterinary aspects:  •

This small family of bog, swamp, and sub-aquatic plants comprises six species in four genera found in eastern Asia and North America, namely Anemopsis Hook. & Arn., Gymnotheca Decne., Houttuynia Thunb., and Saururus L. (Mabberley 2017). Members of this family were formerly classified in the Piperaceae.

Some are cultivated as ornamentals around ponds and in aquaria (Wright & Dewar 1913, Hunt 1968/70).

Anemopsis californica Hook. & Arn.
[syns Anemia californica Nutt., Houttuynia californica Benth. & Hook.f. ex S.Watson]
Lizard Tail, Yerba del Mansa, Yerba Mansa

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Houttuynia cordata Thunb.
[syns Houttuynia foetida Loudon, Polypara cochinchinensis Lour., Polypara cordata Kuntze]
Bishop's Weed, Chamaeleon Plant, Cordate Houttuynia, Fishwort, Heartleaf, Lizard Tail

According to Stuart (1911) in a text on Chinese materia medica, the juice of the fresh leaves is prescribed in poisoned sores, infectious skin diseases, piles, prolapsus ani, and other such conditions. The prepared herbal product is known as yu xing cao (鱼腥草), or as Herba Houttuyniae.

A 63-year-old female developed violet-reddish butterfly shape macules on both cheeks and erythematous macules on the forehead, V-neck, chin, nape, forearms, and hands after having taken a decoction prepared from the dried leaves for about twenty days. She gave a weakiy positive patch test reaction to an aqueous extract of the dried leaves. A more strongly positive reaction occurred in photopatch testing with UVB irradiation (Saito & Saito 1995).

Houttuynia Cordata Extract / Flower/Leaf/Stem Water / Water / & Powder [INCI; CAS RN 164288-50-0; of uncertain composition (see Schmidt 2017)]a, and also Houttuynia Cordata Flower/Leaf Extract & Houttuynia Cordata Leaf/Stem Extract, INCI names with no assigned CAS RN, are recognised cosmetic product ingredients variously purported to have skin conditioning, antioxidant, emollient, humectant, skin protecting, antimicrobial, masking, and fragrancing properties (Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products 2019, CosIng 2023/4).

The genus Houttuynia Thunb. is monotypic, its natural range extending from Japan through China to the mountains of Nepal and to Java (Mabberley 2017).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]

Saururus cernuus L.
Swamp Lily, Lizard Tail, Water Dragon

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Saururus chinensis Baill.
[syns Saururopsis chinensis Turcz., Saururus cernuus Thunb., Saururus loureiroi Decne., Spathium chinense Lour.]
Chinese Lizard's Tail

Saururus Chinensis Extract / Flower Extract / Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract / Leaf/Root Extract, Leaf/Stem Extract, & Root Extract [INCI; of uncertain composition (see Schmidt 2017)] are recognised cosmetic product ingredients variously purported to have skin conditioning, antioxidant, astringent, emollient, antimicrobial, and bleaching properties (Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products 2019, CosIng 2023/4).

[Further information available but not yet included in database]


  • CosIng (2023/4) COSING Ingredients-Fragrance Inventory. [online article]: https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/cosing/pdf/COSING_Ingredients-Fragrance%20Inventory_v2.pdf ; accessed March 2023 [url] [url-2]
  • Hunt P (Ed.) (1968/70) The Marshall Cavendish Encyclopedia of Gardening. London: Marshall Cavendish [WorldCat]
  • Mabberley DJ (2017) Mabberley's Plant-Book. A portable dictionary of plants, their classification and uses, 4th edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat] [doi] [url]
  • Saito F, Saito N (1995) Phytophototoxic dermatitis induced by Houttuynia cordata. Environmental Dermatology 2(3): 208-211 [url]
  • Schmidt RJ (2017) Regulation (EC) No 1223/2009 – a recast of the Cosmetic Products Directive 76/768/EEC – in regard to the safety of plant-derived cosmetic product ingredients. The Expert Witness (20): 35-37 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Standing Committee on Cosmetic Products (2019) Commission Decision (EU) 2019/701 of 5 April 2019 establishing a glossary of common ingredient names for use in the labelling of cosmetic products. Official Journal of the European Union 62(L 121): 1-370 [url] [url-2]
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Wright CH, Dewar D (1913) Johnson's Gardener's Dictionary, revised and enlarged edn. London: G. Bell and Sons [WorldCat]
  • [ + 8 further references not yet included in database]

Richard J. Schmidt

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