He Shou Wu, also known as Fo-Ti root and polygonum multiflorum in the western world, is an important part of ancient Chinese myths and legends of immortality. In China its historical legends and the effectiveness of ingredients are widespread and widely known to almost everyone. As the story goes, consuming the one that has shapeshifted into human form could make people live forever. However, in the mind’s eye of most people this incredible species is too good to be true – as it turns out nothing could provide humans with biological immortality. As a matter of fact this is truly an amazing herb that is capable of providing any health benefits but everlasting life. According to written records, this herb was initially used in Tang Dynasty and prevalent in the Song and Ming Dynasty. Today, it is hailed as the most famous 4 longevity tonics along with Ren Shen (Ginseng), Ling Zhi (Ganoderma Lucidum), and Dong Chong Xia Cao (Cordyceps Sinensis).
What is He Shou Wu?
Actually this miraculous healing herb means the roots of Polygonum multiflorum Thuna., a plant belonging to the family of Polygonaceae. And it is commonly known as Ho Shou Wu, fo ti tieng root, radix polygoni multiflori (Latin Name), fleeceflower root, fallopia multiflora, fo ti herb, tuber fleeceflower, foti root, and more. And due to misspelling, sometimes it also refers to Ho Shu Wu, Hu Shou Wu, He Sho Wu, and He Shu Wu. It is produced in most parts of China. To ensure the high quality medicinally, the preferable harvesting time is after autumn when their stems and leaves are withered or the following spring before they sprout. After digging its tuber, next slash both ends, wash clean, slice, dry in the sun or slightly dry by the fire. This finished product is called Sheng Shou Wu. And the Zhi Shou Wu should be mixed and steamed with black bean.
Its plant is a perennial twining herb. Roots are long and thin and the end turns into a corpulent tuber, from red-brown to dark brown. Stem base is slightly woody and hollow. Leaves are alternate and with a long handle. Blade is glabrous on sides, narrowly ovate or heart-shaped, 4 to 8cm long, 2.5 to 5cm wide, and with acuminate apex, heart-shaped or arrow-shaped base, entire or slightly wavy margin, dark green top surface, and light green lower surface. Numerous small flowers, about 2mm in diameter, cluster into big panicles. Achenes are oval, with three edges, 2 to 3.5mm long, black, shiny, and covered with persistent perianth outside. Its flowering period is in October and fruit period is in November.
Main chemical constituents are anthraquinone compounds, including emodin, chrysophanol, physcion, rhein, and chrysophanol anthrone. Also, it contains stilbene compounds, such as resveratrol, piceid, and gallic acid, catechin, epicatechin, β-sitosterol, lecithin, and so on.
He Shou Wu benefits
There are many legends about this herb and the origins of its name. The most popular one is the story about “Black-haired Mr. He”. And others are mostly related to reverse gray hair, restore vitality and sexuality, and stay young too. The formation of human form of this herb is an interesting phenomenon. This type of tuber looks like a miniature people figure with head, face, hands, feet, and even breasts and genital in some of them. What is more, very often they occur in pairs, a male and a female. In recent years, related news, often treated as anecdote, were reported from time to time. So, does it work? how to take to make full use of it? From the perspective of TCM (Traditional Chinese medicine), hair and liver blood is closely related and blood is the nutrition source for hair growth. As a result, hair problems, such as hair loss, grey hair, alopecia areata, and male pattern baldness, are all closely relevant to the impairment of kidney jing. And that is where this herb comes in. Actually it has been available in the market in many forms, such as He Shou Wu eetee, Shou Wu Chih, tea, extract, powder, capsules, juice, oil, pills, shampoo, supplements, tincture, and so on. And its modern pharmacological actions can provide more testimonials and unlock the secrets of longevity and rejuvenation of this herb.
Modern pharmacology of Shou Wu
1. The feed containing 0.4% or 2% this herb can significantly prolong the old quails’ survival time and extend their lifespan on average;
2. Its decoction can significantly increase the protein content in brain and liver in both aged mice and young mice;
3. Its decoction can significantly inhibit the activity of type B monoamine oxidase on brain and liver tissue. And it also prevents the old mice’s thymus from shrinking and even keeps the level at young age;
4. Its decoction can significantly increase the weight of thymus, celiac lymph nodes, and adrenal gland. And it has trend of increasing the weight of spleen;
5. Its decoction can increase the total number of normal white blood cells, fight against the immunosuppression of prednisolone and induced leukopenia;
6. Experiments on acute hyperlipidemic rabbits showed that this herb could restore the high cholesterol levels in blood to normal quickly;
7. Chrysophanol extracted from this herb can promote bowel movement.
Proven He Shou Wu formulas
According to Chinese Materia Medica, it is bitter and sweet in flavor and astringent and slightly warm in properties. It covers two meridians of liver and kidney. Basic functions are nourishing yin and tonifying blood, relaxing bowels, preventing malaria, dispersing pathogenic wind, and detoxification. Main medicinal uses and indications are blood deficiency induced lightheadedness, palpitations, insomnia, soreness and weakness in lower back and knees due to liver-kidney yin deficiency, premature graying, tinnitus, spermatorrhea, constipation due to intestinal dryness, physical weakness caused by chronic malaria, rubella itching, carbuncle, scrofula, and hemorrhoids. So, how much He Shou Wu should you take? The answer from Chinese Materia Medica is that the recommended dosage is from 10 to 20 grams in decoction, oil, medicated wine, pills, or powder.
1. Qi Bao Mei Ran Dan. Qi Bao Mei Ran Dan, chosen from Tang Jing Yan Fang (Experiential Prescriptions from Jishan Clinic), is exclusively formulated to improve the hair and restore color, strengthen the bones and tendons, arrest spontaneous emission, and build stamina. Other herbal ingredients in this formula include Chi Fu Ling (Sclerotium Poriae Cocos Rubrae), Fu Ling (Poria), Niu Xi (Achyranthes Root), Dang Gui (Dong Quai), Gou Qi Zi (Goji berry), Tu Si Zi (Chinese Dodder Seeds), and Bu Gu Zhi (Psoralea Fruit).
2. He Shou Wu Wan. This recipe comes from Chi Shui Xuan Zhu (The Black Pearl from the Red River). It is usually designed for yin deficiency due to chronic malaria accompanied with much heat and less cold. Other two basic herbs are Bie Xue (Soft-shelled turtle blood) and Chen Sha (cinnabar).
3. He Ren Yin. He Ren Yin, from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works), is mainly made for qi-blood deficiency due to non-healing malaria. Other herbs are dong quai, ginseng, Chen Pi (Tangerine Peel), and Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger Rhizome).
4. He Shou Wu San. This prescription is from Wai Ke Jing Yao (Essentials of External Medicine). It is basically used for painful, itching sores all over the body. Other three herbs are Fang Feng (Ledebouriella Root), Ku Shen (Sophora Root), and Bo He (Field Mint).
5. Shou Yan Shou Dan. Shou Yan Shou Dan, from Shi Bu Zhai Yi Shu (Medical Book of the Shibu Studio), is typically used for deficiency of liver and kidney, waist and knees weakness, dizziness, dim eyesight, and tinnitus and deafness. Other essential herbs are Sang Shen (Mulberry Fruit-Spike), Hei Zhi Ma (Black Sesame Seeds), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), and so on.
He Shou Wu side effects and contraindications
According to MHRA, adverse reactions of long-term use of He Shou Wu root preparations may have many signs and symptoms of liver disease, including jaundice (skin and sclera jaundice), dark urine, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, weakness, stomach pain, abdominal pain, and loss of appetite. As a result, people with history of liver disease or other serious diseases should take this herb under the guidance of a doctor. And it is highly recommended to consult your doctor or pharmacist to make sure to get a reasonable treatment before taking it. From TCM perspective, it shouldn’t be used in the cases of loose stool and stagnation of phlegm.