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Peony

Paeonia officinalis

Herbs gallery - Peony



Common names

  • Peony

Peony is a perennially growing plant belonging to the Paeonia group. This plant is found growing in the wild as well as cultivated in several gardens. Peony bears distinctive single, large flowers which are red or have a purplish-red hue resembling roses to some extent. The plant usually grows up to a height of anything between two and three feet and has a green colored, succulent stem. The rootstock of peony is chunky as well as knotted.

The type of peony that is widespread in the West Coast is called the California peony (botanical name P. californica). This species bears red and maroon flowers that are about an inch in diameter and dangle from the top of plump stems that grow up to a height of anything between 6 inches to 18 inches.

The root of this plant is used to make an extract that is helpful in the treatment of gout as well as asthma. To prepare this herbal remedy, bring to a boil about one to one-and-a-half pint red wine slowly and then add one-fourth cup of finely sliced peony root. Cover the container and seethe the contents on dimmed heat for about 15 minutes. Remove the container from the heat and allow the peony root pieces to suffuse for another 30 minutes. Subsequently, filter the liquid and store it in a refrigerator. Ideally, this remedy should be drunk two times every day without having food. Here is a word of warning: The leaves as well as the flowers of peony may possibly make you feel unwell and, hence, they are not meant for internal use.

The root of peony is extremely prevalent in traditional Chinese herbal medicine. It is employed to provide relief from pain as well as swelling caused by hurtful wounds, and also to disperse blood clots formed due to severe bruises or bumps. In addition, peony root is also effective in healing abscesses, carbuncles and boils in their initial stages.

Traditional Chinese paintings have immortalized the beautiful peony flowers with their light creamy hue frequently accentuated by butterflies, birds or even clouds. Peony is found growing on its own as well as cultivated in China, while people in Europe and the United States regard the peony highly as an ornamental garden plant. The blossoms of peony are large, attractive and very delicate and are generally found in white, red or pink hues. Peony blossoms during May-June and the flowers hang from the top of fleshy stems that develop from a verdant, deep green thicket of foliage. While the flowers wither away with the onset of the summer, the foliage lingers very much till the occurrence of the maiden frost in autumn, which makes it an eye-catching bush having a height of approximately two to three feet.

The peony is a perennially growing plant that needs very little upkeep. This plant has a preference for a fertile and loose soil and grows excellently in complete sunlight or semi-shade. If you plan to grow peony in your garden you need to be prepared the bed at least one or two weeks in advance in order to enable the loam to stabilize and fertilize the soil using compost as well as bone meal. Generally, peonies are propagated by means of root cuttings, which you can plant from the latter half of August till the earliest major frost of the season.

To propagate peonies, choose a portion of the plant’s root having no less than three ‘eyes’ and establish it in the planting bed approximately two to three inches under the surface of the soil with the eyes at the top. Compress the soil a little and thoroughly water the root transplants. The root pieces ought to be planted at intervals of three to five feet with a view to allow sufficient space for each new plant to grow. During their first winter, provide the plants with some type of insulated covering during the maiden winter of their existence. In addition, the plants may also require some support for their branches during the next spring.

Normally, you should not disturb the peony plants. However, you need to divide them after some years of growth or when the blossoms start becoming smaller and the stalks become very congested. Dividing the plant also helps to harvest the plants’ roots that have therapeutic uses. When you want to divide a plant, just dig in a circular fashion about one-and-a-half to two feet away from the plant’s base up to a depth of one foot. Lift the whole cluster of stems carefully and place them on ground, leaving them untouched for some hours. Subsequently, remove the foliage about two to three inches over the crown of the plant and tenderly rinse the unnecessary dirt sticking to the roots. Cut the root into a number of pieces using a sharp-edged knife. If you wish to replant the root pieces, leave no less than three eyes on every segment. On the other hand, if you are harvesting the roots for medicinal use, go for the fresh, compact and unharmed roots. Wash these roots, cut them into slender pieces and place them on screens to dry in a warm, sunlit place.

Chinese as well as European herbal medicine both use peony roots. According to Chinese researchers, peony roots possess tranquilizing as well as analgesic attributes. Owing to its analgesic attributes, Chinese herbalists have used the peony root to alleviate headaches, stomach pains and infections of the bladder. Herbalists in the eastern Asian countries (also called the Orient) especially use the peony root as a remedy for problems related to women - for instance to alleviate menstrual pain, in addition to promoting a hale and hearty pregnancy as well as childbirth. In Europe, herbalists use the peony root for its well-known antispasmodic and analgesic attributes to treat convulsion and epileptic attacks. Peony roots are also used in the form of an infusion - prepared by boiling one ounce of dehydrated roots of the plant in one pint of boiling water. In addition, herbalists in the Orient also use peony root in several different formulae.

Although, usually, the attractive blooms of peony are not employed therapeutically, they may be used for making fragrant lotions and waters. It is very simple to make aromatic peony water. Take a Pyrex pot and put half a cup of freshly crushed peony flowers and add one cup of water to it. Allow the contents to suffuse for about 10 minutes. Subsequently, take the pot away from heat and filter the liquid. Store the aromatic water in a refrigerator and use it within one week to refresh your body and/ or face. You may also include peony water in your comforting warm bath.

Parts used

Root, bark.

Uses

For more than 2,000 years now, people have been using the root of peony plants for therapeutic purposes. This herb has repute for effectively treating epilepsy as well as stimulating menstrual flow. During the 16th century, peony root was extremely popular among the herbalists. As aforementioned, peony roots possess diuretic, tranquilizing, analgesic, antispasmodic and tonic properties. Although peony root is used to promote a hale and hearty pregnancy and ensure a trouble-free childbirth, it needs to be used cautiously. In fact, not all pregnant women should use this herb, as when taken in large dosages peony root preparations may prove to be toxic. The dried up macerated petals of blooms of different peony species have been employed in the form of a remedy for coughs as well as for treating varicose veins and hemorrhoids.

Currently, European herbal medicine seldom uses peony root. Nevertheless, this herb is believed to possess sedative and antispasmodic properties and it may possibly be used for treating nervous irritation, whooping cough as well as in the form of suppositories to alleviate spasms in the intestine and the anus region.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

Peony is indigenous to the region around the Mediterranean and southern areas of Europe. It is found growing in mountain forests as well as extensively grown as an ornamental garden plant. The root of the plant, which is used therapeutically, is dug up during autumn.

This species needs a profoundly fertile soil, if possible neutral or somewhat alkaline, and thrives well in a place receiving total sunlight or partial shade. Although the peony plants have the aptitude to endure a variety of earth conditions, they wither away when the soil is drenched or extremely parched. Peony plants also have the ability to tolerate soils containing lime. It has been found that while the plants cultivated on sandy soils have an inclination to bear additional leaves, but less number of flowers, plants cultivated on heavy sticky soil usually take a much longer time to get them established, but produce more and superior flowers. Provided that the soil is suitable, peony may also be established in grass. They are able to tolerate temperatures as low as -25°C. Peony is an extremely variable species and a minimum of four sub-species exist currently.

Some named varieties of peony are opted for cultivation for their decorative worth. Peony has a very long life and may survive for about 50 years or even more when cultivated in gardens. Plants belonging to this genus are seldom bothered by browsing rabbits or deer. It is also known to be an extremely greedy and intrusive plant and slows down the growth of other plants in its vicinity, particularly legumes. With the help of its roots that are in the form of tuberous, peony often spreads quite unrestricted. This plant does not like its roots to be disturbed and, it usually takes some time before the plant is able to recuperate following a division. While species belonging to peony are able to hybridize with different plant species provided they bloom simultaneously, they are normally able to fertilize by themselves. If propagated from the seeds, the new peony plants usually take anything between four and five years to blossom. However, when propagated from seeds, the plants breed true species.

When you are propagating peony from seeds, it is best to sow them in cold frames immediately when they mature. Provided that you sow fresh seeds, they will produce roots in approximately six weeks’ time, while the shoots will emerge during the spring. However, if you sow stored seeds, they will take more time to germinate. In this case too, the seeds need to be sown from pots to cold frames immediately, but still they are likely to take about 18 months or additional time to take root.

Remember, the roots of peony are extremely sensitive to being disturbed and, therefore, several cultivators let the seedling to continue growing in the pots in which the seeds were sown for about two growing seasons, prior to transplanting them. Doing so, it enables the plants to develop a superior root system which is able to resist more disturbances. In case you are pursuing this method of propagation, you need to ensure that the seeds are sown sparsely and also provided with liquid fertilizers on a regular basis during the growing season. This will make sure that the plants are nurtured properly. In the normal way, you need to plant the seedlings in separate pots immediately when they have grown sufficiently large to be handled. Subsequently, you may grow these seedlings in cold frames for a minimum of two seasons, prior to transplanting them outdoors during spring when they are in full growth.

If you are propagating peony by the root division method, you need to divide the roots very carefully either in spring or in autumn. Every piece of the root should essentially retain at least one leaf bud. After unearthing the root, you should allow it to settle in shade for some hours, as it will help the roots to be less breakable and make it easier for you to divide them. If the root divisions have more than two leaf bud, also called ‘eyes’, they will normally bear flowers in their second year of growth. However, those having just a solitary or two leaf bud will take several years, as many as four to five, to develop sufficiently to produce flowers.

Constituents

Peony plant is thought to contain paeonine, a volatile oil, tannins, and resins.

Applications

Only the roots of peony plants possess therapeutic properties and are used to prepare different formulations. Roots of different species of peony are used for treating different health conditions.

Root - P. Lactiflora ( red )
DECOCTION: The roots of P. lactiflora (red or the peony sub-species bearing red flowers) are used to prepare a decoction by boiling about 45 grams of the herb in about 600 ml of water - the amount is sufficient for at least three doses. This decoction can be used to treat any health condition that involves overheated blood, counting particular types of skin inflammations, eczema, nosebleeds as well as pain related to wounds. For best results, use this decoction in conjunction with other herbs like fang feng and mu dan pi (botanical name P. suffruticosa).
Root - P. Lactiflora ( white )
DECOCTION: The decoction prepared with the root of P. lactiflora (white, or the peony sub-species bearing white flowers) is used to treat problems related to the liver as well as a number of menstrual problems. When decocted with other herbs, five grams of licorice root plus 20 grams of bai shao yao in about 500 ml of water, it can be effectively used by women to make their skin more beautiful as well as in the form of a stimulant. Ideally, this decoction should be taken internally in measures of half-a-cup twice daily.
Root bark - P. Suffruticosa
DECOCTION: A decoction prepared with the bark of the root of the peony sub-species P. suffruticosa boiled in about 600 ml of water along with additional herbs like sheng di huang is used to treat fevers associated with nosebleeds or as a remedy for warm, dry eczema. You may use a decoction prepared with the bark of P. suffruticosa root and other herbs like fu ling, shan yao, shan zhu yu, shu di huang and ze xie to treat imbalances of the liver.

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