Wanted Weeds Part 2: Goatheads

Goatheads in a tire

Alright, I will admit it: probably the only people who think there is any value in goatheads are Chinese herbalists.  Bicyclist in the Rocky Mountain region surely consider them a nemesis.  But as a Chinese herbalist who treats itchy skin conditions, I have to admit that these little burrs come in handy.

The goathead, also known as tribulus, puncturevine or Caltrop fruit, is called Bai Ji Li in Chinese.  The part of the weed utilized as an herb is the little thorny “fruit” or seed pod.  In Chinese herbal medicine, we place this herb in the category of herbs that “Calm Liver and Extinguish Wind.”  In regards to skin issues, this herb helps alleviate itching.

Though it is possible to use this herb topically, most often it is combined with other herbs and taken internally to treat itchy skin problems such as eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, urticaria, psoriasis, or general pruritus (itching).  It is also used in herbal formulas to treat vitiligo, warts, neurodermatitis or lichen planus.

Goathead weed

At Zi Zai Dermatology, we hand craft topical products so we don’t use Bai Ji Li as often as I would like (that is mostly because I hand grind all the herbs myself and this is one very durable little fruit!).  I do use it in my clinical practice, however, when I formulate internal herbal prescriptions.

So the next time you are cursing the goathead for giving you a flat tire on your bicycle, perhaps you will recall its anti-itching properties and find it in your heart to feel a little respect for this useful herb (maybe after you patch your tire).

Tags: Chinese herbal medicine, Chinese medicine, goatheads, herbal medicine, herbal skin care, herbs, skin care, weeds

Topics: Chinese Medicine, Herbs for Skin Care

Publish Date: June 7, 2010     *Articles may include updates since original publishing.

About the Author ()

Diana Hermann is a licensed acupuncturist and board certified in Chinese Herbal Medicine. She received her Master Degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine in Portland, OR and trained in China at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Diana treats patients in her Fort Collins, Colorado clinic and hand crafts herbal skin care products for her company Zi Zai Dermatology. In 2015, she completed the Diploma In Chinese Medicine Dermatology program from Avicenna in London, UK. She completed the program for a second time in 2019 in Chicago.

Comments (3)

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  1. My dog Sam got one of these prickly little thorns stuck in his pad this weekend while we were hiking. My boyfriend cursed the goathead for hurting poor innocent Sam. Although I reminded him that the sharp buggers really were great for treating itchy skin problems, the 3 of us agreed they are best kept in a jar on a shelf until they can be made into medicine. Oh well….

  2. clint godfrey says:

    I can’t imagine how puncturevine would help with itchy skin conditions. Whenever i come in contact with it, i itch for hours.

    • Yes, goatheads (Bai Ji Li) can cause allergic contact dermatitis in some individuals when it comes in contact with the skin. But internally, it is excellent at relieving hot, itchy rashes. Ironic, isn’t it? Oral administration is, in most cases, an entirely different case from topical application. I never use this herb in our external products because of this possible allergic reaction.

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