Polygonum multiflorum / Ho 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 histor

y 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.

Polygonum multiflorum / Ho shu wu

Ho shu wu (also known as fo-ti, ho shou wu, he shou wu, flowery knotweed, and fleeceflower) is a Chinese tonic herb. Its uses were first recorded in Kai pao pen tsao. Its name literally means Mr. Ho’s hair is black (shou = head, wu = black). The name is based on a story about a 58-year-old gentleman named Ho, whose gray hair turned black again after taking the herb. He also become more youthful and was able to father several children. Supposedly he was able to live to 160, retaining his black hair. There are numerous variations of this story, but all center on the fact that the herb not only restored normal hair color, it restored vitality, strength and sexual vigor.

While it is probable that these tales are highly exaggerated or completely ficticious accounts, ho shu wu does have a solid reputation in China as an antiaging herb, and there is plenty of historical, clinical, scientific evidence that demonstrates its value as a medicinal herb.

Ho shu wu has a bitter, sweet flavor with an astringent nature. Energetically, it is a warming herb, used as a tonic for rebuilding weakened conditions. In China it is used to strengthen the body and nourish the vital essence, or basic life energy. It primarily affects the liver and kidneys, nourishing the “yin” energy of both of these organs. Some of its traditional indications in Chinese medicine include: pain in the loins and knees, involuntary seminal emission, bleeding, intestinal gas, and malaria.

The botanical name for ho shu wu is Polygonum multiflorum. The Polygonum genus contains a number of useful medicinal plants, including the Western herb bistort (Polygonum bistorta). All of these plants contain tannins, which make them astringent, meaning they tone tissues and arrest discharges.

What makes ho shu wu interesting is that it also contains anthraquinones, the same compounds found in cascara sagrada and senna. This gives the herb a mild laxative effect. The combination of a stimulant laxative action and an astringent action, makes ho shu wu useful for a variety of gastrointestinal problems. In India it is used for colic and enteritis; in Brazil, it is used for hemorrhoids, in China for ulcerations.

Ho Shu Wu also has some definite circulatory-enhancing properties. Studies have confirmed the plant has the ability to reduce hypertension and blood cholesterol. In addition to directly inhibiting cholesterol, it also decreases cholesterol absorption in the digestive tract. In one study in China, over 80% of high cholesterol patients showed improvement when taking a decoction of the root.

Ho shu wu also helps inhibit the formation of arterial plaque, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. One of the major constituents of this plant is lecithin, a substance that works with cholesterol in the body, which may account for some of these effects.

In Chinese herbal medicine, the most important properties of ho shu wu are its abilities to strengthen liver and kidney function. These are the primary organs that cleanse the blood, giving the plant a tonic action for the blood. It is used for dizziness, weakness, numbness, blurred vision and other symptoms of “blood deficiency.” It is also useful for backache, a common symptom of kidney weakness.

Ho shu wu has some infection fighting qualities. It has been found useful for tuberculosis, malaria, and some types of virial infections. There is also some evidence that ho shu wu can help increase sugar levels in the blood, making it useful for hypoglycemia.

Considering the overall properties of this plant, it is obvious why it would earn the reputation as an antiaging herb. Its ability to aid the cardiovascular system alone makes it a useful tonic to counteract some of the effects of aging.

But, what about ho shu wu’s reputation for restoring color to gray hair? Although there isn’t a lot of scientific data to support this claim, there is folk evidence for it, and clinical trials of various formulas containing ho shu wu in China suggest it may be useful in treating alopecia or hair loss. According the Chinese medicine, the health of the hair is governed by the kidneys and “liver blood.” The kidneys are also thought to govern the bone marrow, and the health of the teeth is connected to the quality of the bone marrow. So, ho shu wu may help us hold onto both our hair and our teeth as we age.

Ho shu wu has also been marketed under the name fo-ti. There is no such herb in China, and the name was invented by Western marketers trying to make an association with a proprietary formula called Fo-Ti-Teng.

Ho shu wu is a gentle, tonic herb that must be taken regularly over a period of many months to have optimal effects. It is very safe and can be consumed in doses up to 5 grams per day (about 8 capsules). Recommended dose is 2-4 capsules twice daily.

Selected References

The Scientific Validation of Herbal Medicine by Daniel B. Mowrey.

The Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants by Andrew Chevallier

Oriental Materia Medica: A Concise Guide by Hong-Yen Hsu

Ho shou wu: What’s in an Herb Name? by Subhuti Dharmananda

Rejuvenating and toning properties

In China, millions take fo-ti regularly for its rejuvenating and toning properties. It is used to increase liver and kidney function and to cleanse the blood. The plant is also prescribed for symptoms of premature aging such as gray hair. 1

Animal data

A Chinese-13-herb mixture (“shou xing bu zhi”) that includes fo-ti has been studied for its antisenility effects in mice. Results showed this mixture was effective in slowing the aging process. 8 It is also indicated for insomnia, weak bones, constipation and atherosclerosis. 2 Lifespan and lipid studies of fo-ti in quails have been performed. 9 Fo-ti also has been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels in animals. 1 The root portion of the plant has exhibited an inhibitory effect on triglyceride accumulation and has reduced enlargement of mice livers. 10

Clinical data

In a clinical trial in humans, fo-ti had similar cholesterol-lowering effects. 1

Other uses

Emodin exhibited vasodilation and immunosuppressive effects in rats, suggesting its usefulness against transplantation rejection and autoimmune disease. Extract of he shou wu significantly reduced tumor incidence in rats in another report. 11 The Chinese use the root of the plant for cancer as well. 3

Stilbenes isolated from polygonum species have been evaluated on rat peritoneal polymorphonuclear leukocyte lipoxygenase and cyclooxygenase activity. 12 A mixture including fo-ti has been studied for its effects on glucocorticoid receptor in senile rat thymocyte. 13 The plant has also been shown to inhibit lipid peroxidation in isolated rat heart mitochondria. 14 Fo-ti also exhibits antimicrobial properties against mycobacteria and malaria. 1

Other uses of the plant include: To increase fertility, 1 to increase blood sugar levels, 1 to treat anemia and to relieve muscle aches. 3


Fo-ti is used at daily doses of 9 to 15 g of raw herb; however, there do not appear to be any clinical studies supporting this dosage.


Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.

Adverse Reactions

One case report describes herb-induced hepatitis in a 31-year-old pregnant Chinese woman from medicine prepared from the plant. 15 The use of these compounds in pregnant women should be discouraged.


There is little information in the area of toxicology from fo-ti. However, all plants that contain anthraquinone cathartic compounds should be used cautiously to prevent developing dependence on their laxative effects.


1. Chevallier A. Encyclopedia of Medicinal Plants . New York, NY: DK Publishing, 1996;121.

2. Reid D. Chinese Herbal Medicine . Boston, MA: Shambhala Publishing, Inc., 1994;150.

3. Duke J. CRC Handbook of Medicinal Herbs . Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Inc., 1989;163-164.

4. Hata K, et al. Yakugaku Zasshi . 1975;95:211-213.

5. Liu C, et al. Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih . 1991;16:469-472.

6. Ma C, et al. Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih . 1991;16:662-664.

7. Grech J, et al. J Nat Prod . 1994;57:1682-1687.

8. Chen J. Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih . 1989;9:226-227.

9. Wang W, et al. Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih . 1988;8:223-224.

10. Liu C, et al. Chung Kuo Chung Yao Tsa Chih . 1992;17:595-596.

11. Horikawa K, et al. Mutagenesis . 1994;9:523-526.

12. Kimura Y, et al. Biochim Biophys Acta . 1985;834:275-278.

13. Zhao W, et al. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih . 1995;15:92-94.

14. Hong, et al. Am J Chin Med . 1994;22:63-70.

15. But P, et al. Vet Hum Toxicol . 1996;38:280-282.