A powerful herb that has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries, He Shou Wu is part of the buckwheat family. This herb offers many benefits, and it goes by many names.
What is He Shou Wu?
He Shou Wu might sound like a mysterious herb, but it’s the opposite. This common plant is so prolific that it is sometimes used as a ground cover. While it is grown in various regions these days, He Shou Wu originally comes from the Henan, Hubei, and Guangxi provinces of China.
The botanical name for He Shou Wu is polygonum multiflorum. The twining vines give it the nickname “Chinese knotweed.” Like many medicinal plants, this one holds most of its power in its roots.
Many He Shou Wu benefits are associated with vitality, rejuvenation, and anti-aging. In fact, the herb’s most common name translates to “Old Black Haired Mr. He” in honor of the man behind one of the herb’s most common legends. In the traditional story, a man named Mr. He (or Mr. Ho, depending on which version you read) is experiencing premature aging. He’s at his wits’ end, and has tried everything to stop his hair from turning grey ahead of time.
When Mr. He goes to speak to an herbalist, the knowledgeable monk tells him to eat a specific root from the side of a mountain. Mr. He diligently complies, eating the root every day until finally his hair regains its black color, his eyesight improves, he feels more youthful, and he even fathers children. The legend says that Mr. He lived until the age of 130, and that his hair stayed jet-black for the rest of his life.
Of course, we can’t say for sure if this story is true, but as you’ll soon learn, there are many traditional uses for He Shou Wu, along with quite a bit of research proving its benefits.
How is He Shou Wu Sold?
Raw (unprocessed) He Shou Wu roots are a reddish-brown color. They are often sold in dried or powdered form. When dried, they are typically thinly sliced since they’re usually boiled to make tea for drinking, gargling, or topical application.
Processed He Shou Wu roots have been boiled with black soybeans, which lends a dark, earthy color. These are usually sliced or chopped, although they might be powdered as well.
In general, He Shou Wu has a bitter, astringent flavor. It is sometimes sold in supplements that contain honey, which offers benefits of its own while dimming the bitter taste of the He Shou Wu. The herb can also be found in liquid extract, capsule, or tablet form. Since dosages vary, it’s important to check with your practitioner when determining which supplement is best and safest for you. Nutritional Organic Fo-Ti powder is generally considered safe and effective for supporting healthy aging, so long as it isn’t contraindicated for you.
What are Other Names for He Shou Wu?
He Shou Wu goes by several different names, which is why you might be a bit confused when you read up on polygonum multiflorum. Here’s a list of all the names for He Shou Wu we could find.
- Chinese cornbind
- Chinese knotweed
- Climbing knotweed
- Fleece flower
- Flowering knotweed
- Flowery knotweed
- ho shou wu
- hu shou wu
- radix polygoni
- sheng shou wu
- shou woo
- shou wu
- shou wu chih
- shou wu wan
- shou wu pian
- tuber fleeceflower
- zhihe shou wu
- zi shou wu
Traditional Uses for He Shou Wu
In traditional Chinese medicine, He Shou Wu is often prepared raw for constipation, or used in its dried form for a variety of other ailments we’ll explore shortly. In most cases, He Shou Wu is boiled as a tea, after which it might be consumed, used as a gargle for treating painful gums, or applied topically on itchy skin or painful, arthritic limbs. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and herbalists often carefully combine it with other herbs, depending on the ailment.
Before we get into specific fo-ti benefits, it’s very important to note that this herb can be quite strong and it may interact with other drugs. Be sure to talk to your health care provider before adding it to your regimen, particularly if you take medications. If your doctor isn’t aware of fo ti benefits, you may find it helpful to talk with a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner, herbalist, or another holistic health care provider.
Historical uses of He Shou Wu include the following:
- anti-aging for hair and skin, taken internally and added to cosmetic preparations
- dental health
- erectile dysfunction
- grey hair
- high blood pressure
- kidney tonic
- liver tonic
- muscle pain and soreness
He Shou Wu Side Effects
According to the National Institutes of Health, He Shou Wu contains anthraquinones including chrysophanol, rhein, and emodin. These components make it an effective treatment for constipation, but they can accumulate and cause toxicity in the liver over time. Besides hepatotoxicity, He Shou Wu might cause the following side effects:
- abdominal discomfort or pain
If you notice any of these side effects or other potential side effects when taking He Shou Wu, you should stop using the herb immediately and seek medical attention. We do not want to frighten you or dissuade you from trying this natural remedy as it is safe for most people, but just like conventional drugs including over-the-counter NSAIDs like acetaminophen, He Shou Wu has the potential to harm as well as heal. There are documented cases of untreated He Shou Wu toxicity that led to death as well as cases in which liver transplants were required. These are few and far between, however we would be remiss if we failed to mention them. Approach this and other herbal supplements with caution, pay attention to the effects, and never take more than the recommended dosage.
Who Should Avoid He Shou Wu
He Shou Wu may seem capable of working miracles, but it isn’t for everyone.
If you suffer from liver disease now or if you’ve suffered from liver disease in the past, you probably should not take He Shou Wu. If you’d like to try it, we strongly recommend consulting with a practitioner beforehand as it is typically contraindicated for those who suffer from liver conditions.
Because He Shou Wu can act as a strong laxative, it is contraindicated for people who have intestinal diseases as well as for those who have a low tolerance for laxatives. The laxative effect can be passed from mother to child via breast milk. If you are breastfeeding, do not use He Shou Wu.
He Shou Wu isn’t recommended during pregnancy. Practitioners advise avoiding both topical and oral use when pregnant or breastfeeding.
If you have diabetes, you may or may not be able to take He Shou Wu safely. Have a knowledgeable practitioner monitor you and watch for signs of low blood sugar if you decide to take this herb.
People with hormone-sensitive conditions including fibroids, endometriosis, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and breast cancer should avoid He Shou Wu since it can act like estrogen.
Since He Shou Wu can affect blood’s ability to clot, it isn’t recommended for those who have surgery scheduled. Stop using it two weeks before surgery, and be sure to let your doctor know that you have taken He Shou Wu in case you need surgery on an emergency basis.
He Shou Wu Drug Interactions
Like many other supplements and OTC medications, He Shou Wu has the potential for adverse interactions with other medications. In some cases it can prevent prescriptions from working properly; in others, it can make side effects worse. Always double-check with your physician before combining this potent remedy with anything else.
Digoxin: Since He Shou Wu is a stimulant laxative, it can cause decreased potassium levels and make Digoxin (Lanoxin) side effects more pronounced.
Medications changed by the Liver: Many medications are changed by the liver or metabolized by the liver. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any concerns. If you are even slightly doubtful, it’s best to play it safe and avoid this herb.
Blood thinners: Avoid pairing He Shou Wu with blood thinners including aspirin. Since other drugs may have blood thinning effects, double-check before adding this remedy to your regimen.
Diabetes drugs: Since He Shou Wu can cause blood sugar to drop, it’s important to avoid taking it with diabetes drugs that also lead to reduced blood sugar. Taking He Shou Wu with diabetes drugs may cause blood sugar to drop to dangerously low levels.
Medications that can harm the liver: Since He Shou Wu is linked with liver damage, it shouldn’t be combined with other drugs and herbal remedies that can cause liver damage.
Laxatives and/or water pills: Because He Shou Wu is a potent stimulant laxative, it can decrease potassium, cause dangerous dehydration, and lead to low mineral levels when paired with other laxatives or water pills.
Warfarin (Coumadin): If you take He Shou Wu and it causes diarrhea, this can increase the risk of bleeding. Check safe dosage levels with your doctor if you want to pair He Shou Wu with Warfarin.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Brain Health
It is possible that He Shou Wu may benefit your brain, improving function in the areas used for memory and learning. In a study published in the December 2002 Journal of Nutrition Science and Vitaminology, He Shou Wu supplementation led to improved functioning after 18 weeks of use. An in-vitro study published in the November 2012 Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that brain cells treated with He Shou Wu prior to exposure to damaging glutamates were less likely to suffer oxidative damage or early death.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Immune System
Studies have shown that He Shou Wu can help the body build a stronger immune system and fend off some viral and bacterial infections. A November 2008 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that He Shou Wu was able to inhibit MRSA growth. A test tube study published in the June 2010 issue of the journal Planta Medica showed that HIV growth was inhibited by He Shou Wu. The study’s authors noted that the herb was administered at a dosage level that did not harm healthy cells.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Heart Health
Many of us are concerned about cardiovascular disease. A laboratory study that was published in the November 2005 issue of Journal of Pharmacological Science found that He Shou Wu inhibited the formation of arterial plaque by preventing foam cell formation. Foam cells are white blood cells that infiltrate blood vessel linings and lead to hardening of the arteries. This was an animal study, however researchers concluded that He Shou Wu shows promise as a natural heart disease preventative, presumably when paired with healthy diet and other beneficial lifestyle modifications.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Hair Regrowth and Color Retention
We’ve been told time and again that there’s not much we can do about premature graying other than turning to our stylists for fresh color. As it turns out, He Shou Wu might indeed help us keep our natural hair color longer or even reverse greying as the legend says.
Additionally, He Shou Wu has been studied for thinning hair and baldness. In a May 2011 issue of Journal of Ethnopharmacology, He Shou Wu was applied topically during an animal study, and was shown to increase the number of hair follicles as well as the size of hair follicles. Researchers found that the herb worked by activating a gene that is also responsible for controlling the growth of the brain, limbs, and spinal cord.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Extended Lifespan
Could there be something to the tale of Mr. He? While it’s not likely that He Shou Wu will help you live to 130, it may in fact help you live a bit longer than you might otherwise. He Shou Wu stimulates superoxide dismutase, which is one of your body’s free radical scavengers. When activated, superoxide dismutase combats the oxidative stress that is linked to aging and disease, potentially extending life.
He Shou Wu Benefits: Feeling Focused and Energetic
Many people who take He Shou Wu for other reasons find that they feel more focused and content while enjoying higher energy levels and a sense of satisfied relaxation. There aren’t many studies to back this up, but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence suggesting that He Shou Wu might help improve mood and vitality when taken on a regular basis.
He Shou Wu Dosages
Since He Shou Wu dosage depends on the user’s age, general health, the intended purpose, and other factors including combinations with other herbs, it is very important to consult with a knowledgeable practitioner when deciding how much Fo-Ti to take. Even though this remedy is completely natural, is isn’t necessarily safe for everyone at the same level, and dosage has a considerable impact on safety as well as the desired effect.