Because main tree peony’s medicinal part is its root bark, it is also known as Mu Dan Pi in Chinese herbalism. Tree peonies purportedly originate from wild flowers grown in mountains and they were first treated as firewood by the ancestors. Later people began to take it seriously. However, to many moutan enthusiasts’ disappointment, what interested our ancestors is not the beauty but the medicinal value. According to the “Shen Nong’s Herbal Classic”, it removes abdominal mass, eliminates blood stasis, and maintains the well-being of the body’s five principal internal organs. That’s to say, it tonifies qi and helps longevity. Coincidentally, modern medicine is of similar mind and confirms that it can dilate coronary arteries, reduce coronary resistance, increase coronary, cerebral, and renal blood flow, improve microcirculation, lower blood pressure, enhance immunity, and so on.
What is tree peony?
Given the fact that tree peony root bark is the main medicinal part, medicinally it refers to the dried root bark of Paeonia suffruticosa Andr., which is a plant in the family Ranunculaceae. Therefore, other names of this herb include Tree Peony Root Cortex, Dan Pi, Cortex Moutan Radicis, Cortex Moutan, Moutan Bark, Tree Peony Bark, moutan root bark, peony bulbs, and so on. In China, it is mainly produced in Anhui, Shandong, and other provinces. After the harvesting in fall, it needs to get rid of the radicula, strip off the root bark, and dry in the sun. It is usually used raw or prepared with wine.
Peony tree is a perennial deciduous shrub, 1 to 1.5 meters in height. Rhizome is fleshy. Branches are short and stout. Alternate leaves are usually biternate compound leaf; handle length is from 6 to 10cm; leaflets are ovate or broad ovate. Large flowers are solitarily grown on the top of the branches; 5 sepals are imbricate and green; petals are 5 or many. Due to variation, most cultivated species are with double flowers, obovate petals, incision on top, and colors of rosy, red, purple, and white; stamens are many, and with red filaments and yellow anthers; pistil are 2 to 5, green, densely pubescent, and with short style, and lobate stigma; faceplate is goblet. Fruits are 2 to 5 follicle-like aggregate fruits, which are oval, green, and covered with brown short hair. Tree peony bloom time is from May to July and fruit time is from July to August. Habitats are sunny and fertile place. And it is often cultivated in gardens.
Its root bark mainly contains phenol, paeonoside, paeonolide, apiopaeonoside, paeoniflorin, oxypaeoniflorin, benzoyl Paeoniflorin, Benzoyl-oxypaeoniflorin, gallic acid, etc. In addition, it also contains volatile oil, phytosterols, benzoic acid, sucrose, glucose, etc.
Tree peony benefits
Peony has been grown throughout the world for medicinal, ornamental, and landscaping purposes. In addition, it is also a nectariferous plant.
Peony flower is large, colorful, and splendid. That’s why it has always been regarded as a symbol of wealth and good fortune in Chinese culture. What’s more, it is also called “the queen of flowers” and “national beauty with heavenly fragrance.” Nevertheless, it earns such a reputation not by the beauty but the innate pride and dignity. Through a good eye for moutan, being big and showy does not necessarily mean beauty. Instead, what does matter is the attitude – it won’t become conceited with full bloom and impudent with gorgeousness. Above all, the most important thing is its strength of character. It is so proud and unyielding that it refuses to bloom when all other flowers are in full blossom. It doesn’t cater to anyone’s likes and it is always the people who should wait patiently. Perhaps that is the exact reason why it is honored as the queen. As you can see now, what makes peony what it is is its character of fearing no one, especially those in power. No wonder ancient Chinese poets always depict it as a tough fighter.
Moutan flowers are edible. Now in China its fresh petals are frequently used to make thick soup or garnish other specialty dishes. What’s more, the petals can be used to distill wine. The liqueur made of peony flowers is known for the mellow taste.
As one of 40 kinds of bulk herbs, it is the main ingredient in a variety of Chinese patent medicine, among which the famous Liu Wei Di Huang Wan (Six Ingredient Pill with Rehmannia) and the relevant series are the biggest source of consumption. And, statistically there are more than 600 pharmaceutical factories, including Beijing Tongrentang, that are producing them. Studies show that its pharmacological and clinical effect is subject to an ingredient called paeonol. That being said, the more peony bark contains paeonol, the better its efficacy it.
Modern pharmacological actions of moutan
1. Paeonol and glycosides contained have anti-inflammatory effect;
2. Its methanol extract inhibits platelet;
3. Paeonol has inhibition on central nervous system, manifested as tranquilizing, cooling, easing pain, relieving muscle spasms, and so on. Besides, it also prevents atherosis, increases secretion of urine, treats ulcer, and promotes uterine hyperemia in animals;
4. It can significantly reduce cardiac output;
5. Its ethanol extract and decoction can increase coronary blood flow; 6. All its decoction, paeonol, and paeonol-removed decoction can lower blood pressure;
7. The anti-platelet aggregation activity exists in paeonol, paeoniflorin, benxoyloxy-paeoniflorin, etc.;
8. Its decoction has inhibition on various pathogens and pathogenic skin funguses, such as Shigella, Salmonella typhi, and more.
Selected tree peonies herbal remedies
The Chinese Materia Medica believes that it is acrid and bitter in flavor and cool or slightly cold in nature. It goes to meridians of heart, liver, kidney, and lung. Fundamental functions are clearing heat and quickening blood circulation to dissipate stasis. Essential indications include heat entering the blood aspect in epidemic febrile diseases, typhus, vomiting blood, nosebleed, fever due to heat lurked in yin aspect, hectic fever due to yin deficiency, amenorrhea caused by blood stagnation, dysmenorrhea, boils, acute trauma (sprains, contusions, and fractures), and pain or numbness caused by wind, dampness, and heat. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 9 grams in decoction, teapills, or powder.
1. Mu Dan Tang from Sheng Ji Zong Lu (Complete Record of Holy Benevolence). It is matched with Zhi Zi (Gardenia), Da Huang (Rheum Palmatum), Huang Qin (Scutellaria), etc. to control acute infectious diseases, such as epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis, ship fever, and so on.
2. Shi Hui San from Shi Yao Shen Shu (The Divine Text of Ten Medicinals). It is coupled with Rhubarb, Da Ji (Cirsium), Xi Cao Gen (Madder), etc. to heal blood-heat causing hematemesis and nosebleed.
3. Zi Shui Qing Gan Yin from Yi Zong Ji Ren Pian (Compiling as Own Duty for Medical Professions). It is combined with Sheng Di Huang (Rehmannia), Gardenia, etc. for the treatment of bleeding from nose and vomiting blood.
4. Qing Hao Bie Jia Tang from Wen Bing Tiao Bian (Detailed Analysis of Warm Diseases). It is equipped with Bie Jia (Soft Turtle Shell), Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena Rhizome), Rehmannia, etc. to treat steaming sensation in the bone but without sweating.
5. Gui Zhi Fu Ling Wan from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). It is formulated with Tao Ren (Peach Seed), Chuan Xiong (Lovage Root), Gui Zhi (Ramulus Cinnamomi), etc. to bring an end to amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea.
6. Mu Dan Pi San from Zheng Zhi Zhun Sheng (The Level-line of Patterns and Treatment). It is used along with Hong Hua (Carthamus Tinctorius), Ru Xiang (Frankincense), Mo Yao (Myrrh Gum), etc. for sprains, contusions, and fractures.
7. Jiang Jun San from Ben Cao Hui Yan (Treasury of Words on the Materia Medica). It cooperates with Rhubarb, Bai Zhi (Angelica Dahurica), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), etc. to get rid of boils and abscess infection.
8. Da Huang Mu Dan Pi Tang from Jin Gui Yao Lue. It joins with Rhubarb, Peach Seed, Mang Xiao (Glauber’s Salt), etc. to treat the early stage of stasis-heat type periappendicular abscess.
Tree peony side effects and contraindications
Chinese tree peony root bark and paeonol are of lower toxicity. The median lethal dose of paeonol, by intravenous injection, by intraperitoneal injection, and by oral administration, is 196mg/kg, 781mg/kg, and 3430mg/kg respectively after 48 hours. Clinically, a small number of patients may have nausea, dizziness and other adverse reactions after consuming this herb. But stopping medication is not an option here since the above-mentioned symptoms will disappear naturally soon. TCM wise, it shouldn’t be used during pregnancy and in cases of blood deficiency with cold and menorrhagia.