Family • Berberidaceae - Nandina domestica Thunb. - SACRED BAMBOO - Nan tian zhu

Scientific names

Nandina domestica Thunb.
Nandina domestica var. lineanifolia C.Y. Wu ex S.Y. Bao

Common names

Firepower (Engl.)
Nandina (Engl.)
Nanten (Engl.)
Heavenly bamboo (Engl.)
Sacred bamboo (Engl.)

Other vernacular names

BRAZIL: Avenca japonesa, Bambu celeste, Bambu do ceu.
FRENCH: Nandine fruitiere.
ITALIAN: Nandina.
SPANISH: Bambu celestial, Bambu sagrado, Nandina.
SWEDEN: Nandina.

Despite its name, Nandina is not a bamboo. It is an evergreen shrub growing to 2.5 meters high, with numerous unbranched stems growing from the roots. Leaves are 2- to 3-pinnate, with narrow leaflets up to 5 centimeters long, pink to red before turning green. Flowers are small, white, in panicles, up to 30 centimeters long. Fruit is a bright red or purplish berry, each containing 1 to 3 seeds.


– Recently introduced to the Philippines.
– Still rare in cultivation.
– Native to Asia, occurring in India, Japan, and China.


• Berries contain alkaloids such as nanterine, used in research as an antidote to MDMA.
• All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing hydrocyanic acid, and can be fatal if ingested.
• Study has isolated an alkaloid, nantenine, with ability to block chemically induced head-twitching in mice.
• Roots yield domesticine, O-methyl domesticine(nandinine), nandazurine, berberine, jatrorrhizine. The stem yields domesticine, O-methyl domesticine, berberine, jatrorrhizine, magnoflorine, menispermine, nandinine, isoboldine, nandazurine, dehydronandinine, sinoacutine, N-nornandinine, hydroxynandinine, nuciferine, dehydroisoboldine, palmatine, coptisine, columbamine, thalifendine, thalidastine, 5- hydroxy berberine, epiberberine, groenlandicine.
• Study isolated a tyrosinase-inhibiting compound, 4-ß-D-glucopyranosyloxybenzoic acid.

Additional Sources and Suggested Readings

(1) Nandina / Wikipedia

(2) Antifungal potential of essential oil and various organic extracts of Nandina domestica Thunb. against skin infectious fungal pathogens / Vivek K Bajpai et al / Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology • Volume 83, Number 6 / July, 2009 / DOI 10.1007/s00253-009-2017-5

(3) Nantenine isolated from Nandina domestica Thunb. inhibits adrenergic pressor responses in pithed rats / Hisatoshi Tsuchida and Yasushi Ohizumi / European Journal of Pharmacology • Volume 477, Issue 1, 5 September 2003, Pages 53-58 / doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2003.08.002

(4) Studies on the identification, biosynthesis and metabolism of a cyanogenic glucoside in Nandina domestica Thunb. / Y P Abrol et al / Phytochemistry • Volume 5, Issue 5, September 1966, Pages 1021-1027 / doi:10.1016/S0031-9422(00)82800-9

(5) Tyrosinase Inhibitory Activity of Ethanol Extracts from Medicinal and Edible Plants Cultivated in Okinawa and Identification of a Water-Soluble Inhibitor from the Leaves of Nandina domestica / Toshiya Masuda et al / Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry • Vol. 71 (2007) , No. 9 pp.2316-2320

(6) Studies on scavenging activity against DPPH free radical in fresh leaves from some common subtropical plants of garden and afforestation in China / He YunHe et al / Acta Horticulturae Sinica / Faculty of Forest Utilization, Anhui Agricultural University, Hefei 230036, China.

(7) Heavenly Bamboo — Nandina domestica / Steven Foster

(8) Feeding Behavior-Related Toxicity due to Nandina domestica in Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) / Moges Woldemeskel* and Eloise L. Styer / Vet Med Int. 2010; 2010: 818159 / doi: 10.4061/2010/818159

(9) Plant Compound Blocks Hyperthermia Caused by Ecstasy

(10) Synthetic studies and pharmacological evaluations on the MDMA (“Ecstasy”) antagonist Nantenine / Onica LeGendre, Stevan Pecic, Sandeep Chaudhary, Sarah M. Zimmerman, William E. Fantegrossi, and Wayne W. Harding* / Bioorg Med Chem Lett. 2010 Jan 15; 20(2): 628. / doi: 10.1016/j.bmcl.2009.11.053

(11) Beta2-adrenoceptor-mediated tracheal relaxation induced by higenamine from Nandina domestica Thunberg / Tsukiyama M, Ueki T, Yasuda Y, Kikuchi H, Akaishi T, Okumura H, Abe K. / Planta Med. 2009 Oct; 75(13): 1393-9. / doi: 10.1055/s-0029-1185743. Epub 2009 May 25.

(12) Biphasic tracheal relaxation induced by higenamine and nantenine from Nandina domestica Thunberg. / Ueki T, Akaishi T, Okumura H, Morioka T, Abe K. / J Pharmacol Sci. 2011;115(2):254-7. Epub 2011 Jan 26


– Studies suggest antifungal and antioxidant properties.
– Berries are considered toxic.

– Cyanide toxicity from berries: The berries contain cyanogenic glycosides that liberate hydrogen cyanide when damaged.

Parts utilized
Roots, leaves, and fruits.

– No reported medicinal folkloric use in the Philippines.
– In Chinese medicine, dried berries used for cough. Also, tonics are derived from the bark and root-bark are used for eye conditions, flu, muscle pain, rheumatism, gastrointestinal maladies and fever.
– Fruit used for cough, asthma, whooping cough, malaria, and penile ulcers.
– In Japan, fruit used to treat cough and breathing difficulties.

Study Findings
• Antifungal: Study of oil and extracts revealed antidermatophytic effect against Trichophyton rubrum, T mentagrophytes, Microsporum canis. Results suggest that N domestica mediated oil and extracts could be a potential source of natural fungicides to control certain important dermatophytic fungi.
• Nantenine / Adrenergic Pressor Inhibition: Nantenine isolated from Nandina domestica showed it has antagonistic activities on a1-adrenoreceptors, a2-adrenoreceptors and 5-HT2A receptors in pithed rats.
• Cyanogenic Glucoside: Study isolated a new cyanogenic glucoside, p-glucosyloxymandelonitrile, in the young shoots of N domestica.
• Tyrosinase Inhibitory Activity: Study investigated the extracts of 53 parts of 36 plants species for tyrosinase inhibitory activity. The extract of Nandina domestica showed potent activity attributed to a known compound 4-ß-D-glucopyranosyloxybenzoic acid, revealed to have tyrosinase inhibiting activity for the first time.
• Radical Scavenging: Study to determine free radical scavenging activity of leaf extracts showed N domestica to be among those with the highest IC50 values.
• Cyanide Toxicity from Berries: Study reports of cyanide toxicity in Cedar Waxwing birds attributed to ingestion of N. domestica berries. In 2009, dozens of Cedar Waxwings were found dead. All the birds had pulmonary, mediastinal, and tracheal hemorrhages. Intact and partly digested berries were the only food found in the GI tract of the birds. Nandina berries contain cyanide and other alkaloids extremely poisonous to animals.
• Nantenine / Potential MMDA Hyperthermia Antidote: Nantenine has been isolated from Nandina domestica. It has been shown to effect both the serotonin and epinephrine neurotransmitter systems and calcium channels. Studies suggest a potential for use in people who develop high fever with Ecstasy overdose. (±)-Nantenine displayed high affinity and selectivity for the α1A adrenergic receptor among several other receptors suggesting that this α1 subtype may be significantly involved in the anti-MDMA effects of the enantiomers.
• Higenamine / Tracheal Relaxation: A crude extract has been shown to inhibit histamine- and serotonin-induced contraction of isolated pig trachea, an effect that was not explained by nantenine. Study yielded a major constituent from the most active sub fraction, higenamine, a benzyltetrahydroisoquinoline alkaloid. Results indicate that higenamine was the constituent responsible for the tracheal relaxation through stimulation of ß-2 receptors.
• Biphasic Tracheal Relaxation / Compartive Effects of Higenamine and Nantenine: Results suggest a NDE relaxes the trachea quickly through ß-adrenoceptor stimulation by higenamine and slowly through Ca(2+) antagonism by nantenine.

– Cultivated.
– Extracts, leaf powder in the cybermarket.