He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum Thunb.), also known as Fo Ti or Chinese Knotweed, is one of the most important traditional Chinese longevity herbs, officially listed in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia. It is native to China and some parts of Japan. In Singapore, you can find He Shou Wu at Chinese medical halls.
There is an interesting story of how the herb earned its name. He Shou Wu roughly means “Mr. Wu’s hair stays black.” The legend of this longevity herb is that Mr. Wu was sentenced to death and so the guards took him to a well and threw him in. When they came back a year later to retrieve his bones, they found him alive and his grey hair had turned black. He had survived by eating a vine growing off the well’s walls – the Fo Ti vine.
The fresh dug root sometimes resembles is a human being, and though this is a rare occurrence, it holds to the Doctrine of Signatures in herbal theory: He Shou Wu is a whole body adaptogen that helps rejuvenate the body, balance yin and yang, increase vital essence primarily to the kidney and liver systems, fertility, and guard against premature ageing and greying. It is also said to be calming and stabilising effect to the heart and nervous system with energy-building effects that accumulate with use.
The good news is that modern science has revealed some mechanisms of its anti-ageing effects. One top candidate is He Shou Wu’s ability to inhibit monoamine oxidase or MAO-B, which is associated with the onset of geriatric senility. The primary benefit of MAO-B inhibition is an upregulation of dopamine, which declines with age and is vital for mood, growth hormone release, sexual function, and coordination.
|Botanical Name||Polygonum multiflorum Thunb.|
|Common Name||Fo Ti, Chinese Knotweed, Fleeceflower Root|
|Family||Polygonaceae (Buckwheat family)|
|Ayurvedic/TCM Name||Hé Shǒu Wū (何首乌)|
|Parts Used||Root tuber|
|Native Region||China and some parts of Japan.|
|Geographic Distribution||He Shou Wu is mainly cultivated in Chinese provinces. In the wild, it grows in grasslands roadsides and forest edges.|
|Where to find in Singapore||Chinese medical halls|
|Botanical Description||A perennial aggressive creeper with that grows 1-2 m or longer. It has glabrous branching stems are with ovate-cordate leaves. The root tubers may grow to 10-15 cm long, 3-12 cm in diameter, and weigh over 3 kg.|
|Growing||He Shou Wu may be propagated vegetatively by tuber cuttings or from seeds.|
|Harvesting||The crop is harvested after 3-4 years. The tuber can be left unprocessed (raw or sheng He Shou Wu) or processed (treated or zhi He Shou Wu) by steaming or stewing in black soybean juice for several hours and then drying. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), black soybeans are attributed with the property of supplementing blood and vital essence, and prolonged cooking is believed to enhance its nourishing nature. Treated He Shou Wu is the one that is regularly exported from China.|
|Main Constituents||Anthraquinones (has laxative effect), tannins (catechins), lecithin and minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and manganese.|
|Actions||According to evaluations, raw and treated He Shou Wu have different properties. The treated root is adaptogenic, anti-ageing, blood tonic, yin tonic and restorative. Raw He Shou Wu is less adaptogenic, but is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, detoxifier, hepatic and laxative.|
|Therapeutic Uses||Treated He Shou Wu is used to replenish blood and vital essence, treat anaemia, pale complexion, weakness of limbs and dizziness, treat premature ageing, greying hair and promote longevity, invigorate the liver and kidney, and strengthen bones and muscles. Raw He Shou Wu is used to relieve toxicity, inflammation and constipation, and promote detoxification.|
|Culinary/Medicinal Preparations||Decoction (9-15 g), tinctured or powdered, best taken in combination with synergistic herbs.|
|Recipes from SRK|
|Taste||Raw He Shou Wu: bitter and astringent
Treated He Shou Wu: bitter and sweet.
|Energetics||Raw He Shou Wu: neutral.
Treated He Shou Wu: warming.
|Safety & Dosage||He Shou Wu is generally regarded as safe for long-term use, with no known toxicity in children, pregnant or nursing women. However, excessive use can cause numbness in the hands and feet. The raw root can cause diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and nausea due to laxative effect.|