Shen Nong (The Divine Farmer) is a legendary emperor who is credited with teaching the Chinese people how to cultivate farmland. His other renowned contribution is that he was the first practitioner of traditional Chinese herbal medicine. He tasted hundreds of herbs to test and analyse their effects. Legend has it that he died after tasting a herb called Duan Chang Cao (Organ-breaking Herb). For thousands of years, people honoured Shen Nong for his great contribution to and sacrifice for humankind. Because of him, Duan Chang Cao was viewed as a very mysterious plant. But nobody knew what exactly Duan Chang Cao was.
Pu Songlings famous novel, Liao Zhai (a novel of various stories of ghosts and spirits) has a chapter about the Water Serpent Herb. It was about a scholar who went by the name of Zhu. In the story, he became thirsty whilst he was travelling and met a beautiful lady who was selling tea by the side of the road. He bought a cup of tea which he then drank. But the tea made his stomach ache and he died. According to the novel, the tea was made with the Water Serpent Herb. After Zhu died, he became a Water Serpent Spirit. He was unwilling to find a substitute (in Chinese mythology, it is believed that people who die unexpectedly look for a substitute to take his/her place, so they can be free of the unintended suffering), but instead helped others who were poisoned.
Li Shizhen, in his Ben Cao Gang Mu (A Reference for Fundamental Herbs), wrote Serpent Herb, also known as the Death Herb and Rats Herb, is poisonous. If eaten one would become disoriented, hence its name. In most parts of China, the herb is known as Lei Hong Teng (Thunder God Vine). There is a special mountain range in Yueyang City, Hunan Province where the herb grows. In Yeyang, the herb is called Yellow Cane. When the locals wanted to commit suicide they would eat about 6 to 7 branches of the herb, and shortly thereafter they will die. Supposedly it makes the organs rot and turn black within half a day of consumption. Therefore it is also known as Duan Chang Cao (Organ-breaking Herb).
About a decade ago, a local youth was diagnosed with leprosy. He could no longer endure the suffering and went to search for the herb in the mountains. He cooked a pot of the Lei Gong Teng and intended to kill himself this way. However, he threw up after he drank the herb, and went into a coma for a day. When he had regained consciousness, he found that his leprosy had been cured. This story became famous. Some doctors from a leprosy clinic were inspired to cook Lei Gong Teng as a way to treat leprosy patients and found the treatment to be highly successful.
[Editors note: Yellow Cane is Leigongteng. It was used as an internal medicine for a very short period of time.]
Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2003/1/10/19862.html
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