He Shou Wu

Polygonum multiflorum

Herbs gallery - He Shou Wu

Common names

  • Flowery Knotweed
  • Fo Ti
  • He Shou Wu
  • Ho She Wu
  • Ho Shou Wu

A botanical name called fo-ti is listed in most of the recent herbal listings, this name is sometimes cross referenced to the he shou wu - this is the name of the plant that the majority of herbalist authors claim as the proper name for the listed herbal medication. The dried tuberous root of the plant Polygonum multiflorum is what both of these names are directed at, this plant is an herbaceous climbing vine belonging to the plant family Polygonaceae that is a native of Japan. Traditionally and even now, the plant has seen widespread use in the folk remedy of China and other far eastern countries. The designation fo-ti is not accepted by some herbal writers because of the potential for confusion that exists in mistaking this herb with the herbal mixture that is marketed as fo-ti Tieng in many parts of the world. Fo-ti or he shou wu is very different from this product having the registered trademark name Fo Ti Tieng. The product called the Fo-ti Tieng is made from a mixture of the leaves and stems of a dwarf variety of the herb gotu kola - botanical name Centella asiatica belonging to the plant family Apiaceae, with the root of Indian physic herb - botanical name Gillenia trifoliata, which has emetic and laxative actions, and belongs to the plant family Rosaceae, along with minute quantities of the caffeine bearing cola or kola nuts, and some dried cotyledons of the Cola nitida herb, of the plant family Sterculiaceae, and other similar species. Thus the mixture Fo-ti Tieng is not referring to the same he shou wu.

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The confusion all of these names and nomenclatural similarities is confusing, and may have done on purpose with ulterior motives in order to confuse the paying consumer into buying with a relatively high price a much cheaper product with a similarly name - this is a common tactic of unscrupulous herbal marketers. Anyway, the discussion here refers to the herb commonly called the fo-ti, sometimes referred to as the he shou wu, and always referring to the root of the Polygonum multiflorum herb. The size and age of the plant from which the root was derived was deemed to control its properties according to the Chinese system of medicine - they believed size and age conferred different properties on the root. The Chinese believed in the principle of the older the better and thus, they deemed that using a fifty year old root would preserve one's natural hair color and prevent hair from graying or thinning out. In the same manner, a root one hundred years old is supposed to help a person maintain a cheerful disposition and features. New teeth is supposed to regenerate by consuming a one hundred fifty year old root, while a root which is two hundred years old is supposed to preserve a person's youth and energy as well as vitality. Immortality is supposed to be gained by eating three hundred year old roots. At any rate, preserved ancient specimens or even very old ones are not to be found anywhere and most of these claims are specious at best.

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The report of the American Herbal Pharmacology Delegation in the year 1975, following a visit to the People's Republic of China gave out a more realistic appraisal of the beneficial properties of the he shou wu. In the report, the delegation mentioned the use of the he shou wu in the treatment of scrofula - which is tuberculosis of the lymph glands, it also said the herb was used in treating cancer, as well as constipation and that it was used combined with other medicinal herbs in the treatment of weakness in the liver and the spleen, the use of the herb in treating vertigo and problems like insomnia was also noted by the delegation. The effectiveness of the medication in the treatment of diabetes is also mentioned in old reports sourced from European herbal literature; this is very interesting as the herb is apparently never used for the treatment of this condition in China or the Far East.

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The presence of the compounds called chrysophanol and emodin - in the free state and in combination with other glycosides, has been discovered during chemical analysis of the he shou wu herb. Small amounts of the chemical compound called rhein have also been seen in these extracts. A cathartic property is displayed by all of these anthraquinone derivatives and these compounds account for the distinct effectiveness of the medication in the herbal treatment of constipation in patients. There is also a distinction that is made between the terms "raw he shou wu" and "cured he shou wu" in the Chinese medical literature. The main difference is that the cured herb is made by steaming raw herbs for up to twelve hours followed by sun drying for a period of eight hours at a time; this process is repeated up to nine times to get the cured herb. The mode of preparing this cured herb in the recent Chinese works is by steaming the raw herbs for upwards of thirty two hours at a time, this process results in the complete reduction of the free and conjugated anthraquiones in the herb by 42 per cent or even up to 96 percent in the product. There is no distinction between the processed-cure - or unprocessed-raw - root in the majority of western herbal literature. The herb is connected to a very potent anti-microbial action, as well as an ability to protect the liver and an ability to reduce cholesterol in the recent herbal literature.

The only real action of the he shou wu may be a laxative effect, this is the best described property exhibited by the herb. At the same time, there are other species of the Polygonum herb which do contain compounds such as the leucoanthocyanidins which possess a strong anti-inflammatory action, with an ability to decrease the blood coagulation in the body, aside from various other cardiovascular effects in general. There always exists a possibility that some of these beneficial compounds would be eventually discovered in extracts of the he shou wu herb. Till such studies come up with concrete results, the only known medical use of the herb is in the manner of a laxative, possessing many unspecified side effects and chemicals.

Parts used



Mention of the he shou wu can be found in the Chinese medical treatise dating to 713 AD, though it is not the earliest tonic herb listed in the Chinese herbal lore, its wide and prevalent use today has certainly made the he shou wu one of the better known herbs. Millions of men and women make use of the he shou wu in the Far East, they take it for its supposed rejuvenating and toning abilities - the herb is also used by men and women as a fertility booster.

The greatest use for the he shou wu in the Chinese system of herbal medicine is in the role of a general tonic for the liver and kidneys of people with renal or hepatic problems. The he shou wu cleanses the blood by directly strengthening the functioning of the liver and the kidneys; this action enables the qi within the body to circulate freely inside the person and leads to improved health.

Individuals affected by certain distinct physical symptoms, like persistent dizziness, physical weakness and numbness, as well as blurred vision, that are directly indicative of inefficient nerves and "blood deficiency" benefit from supplements of the Chinese herbal medication known as he shou wu.

Individuals who show physical signs of premature aging, such as premature graying of hair and wrinkling of skin are often prescribed the he shou wu remedy as a first step. The main reason for the use of the herb is that it will help the body of the person function in a much better balanced and healthy manner. This is one of the main uses of the herb in the Chinese system of medicine.

He shou wu is also normally prescribed for the treatment of chronic cases of malaria, in such cases the herb is used combined with other beneficial herbs like the ginseng (Panax ginseng), the Chinese angelica (Angelica sinensis), and the green tangerine peel - Citrus reticulata. The he shou wu is very effective in this role.

Habitat and cultivation

The he shou wu herb is cultivated widely in central and southern China, this region is also the original home of this plant. Propagation of the he shou wu is carried out using the seed stocked from harvested plants, the root division method of cultivation is also used during the spring, and the plant is also propagated from stem cuttings during the summer months. Growing plants need a lot of protection from the cold during the winter months, and growth is best in well fertilized soil. Drying of unearthed roots from three to four year-old plants is carried out during the autumn months. Though generally not available in the commercial market, the best therapeutic value can be obtained from the older and larger roots - needless to say, these are highly prized and fetch a premium if sold on the open herbal market.


The ability of the he shou wu to lower raised cholesterol levels was demonstrated in animal experiments conducted in the People's Republic of China, the results were significant and impressive as far as animal subjects were concerned. Similar results were also obtained in another clinical trial involving human subjects, where about 80% of the patients all of them suffering from high blood cholesterol showed improvements after being given he shou wu root decoctions over a period of time.

At the same time, the ability of the he shou wu to raise blood sugar levels in people with low blood sugar was also demonstrated in other Chinese conducted research.

The ability of the he shou wu remedy to counteract the tuberculosis bacillus has also been demonstrated in research conducted in China. At the same time, some clinicians believe that malaria may also be treatable using the he shou wu derived medications.

Usual dosage

He shou wu herbal tea can be prepared from the processed roots of the herb, by boiling about three to five grams of the herb in 250 ml - a cup of water for about 10 - 15 minutes - this decoction must then be strained. Patients typically drink about three or more cups daily as a part of their treatment. In the market, 500 mg he shou wu tablets are also available and these can be used as well. Dosage of these tablets is normally five tablets taken thrice daily.

Side effects and cautions

A mild diarrhea may be caused by the consumption of unprocessed roots. In addition, some individuals have a sensitivity to the he shou wu and can develop a skin rash if using the herb. Some numbness in the arms or the legs may also come on as a side effect if the herbal remedy is taken at very high dosages.


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