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Botanical Name: Polygonum multiflorum
Common Name: He-shou-wu
Habitat: Fo-ti is a plant native to China, where it continues to be widely grown. It also grows extensively in Japan and Taiwan.
Description:Fo-ti is the dried or cured root of a twining vine in the knotweed family, found throughout China, except in the extreme northeast. It is also occasionally grown in American gardens as an ornamental. Ask Chinese herbalists about “fo-ti” and they wont know what you’re talking about. The name was given to the plant by a marketer in the early 1970s for the American herb business. In China, it is known as he-shou-wu.
The sprawling twining runners of Fo Ti very quickly reach 30 feet and can cover four square feet of fence or trellis in about two months. This is a beautiful deep green vine that has stayed evergreen at just below freezing. In England it is sometimes referred to as fleeceflower and it is certainly an appropriate name. When Fo Ti flowers, the little cream colored flowers are in such great abundance it is as if the whole plant is covered with fine cotton.
Active constituents: The major constituents of fo-ti are anthraquinones, phospholipids (e.g., lecithin), tannins, and tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside. The processed root has been used to lower cholesterol levels in Traditional Chinese Medicine. According to animal research, it helps to decrease fat deposits in the blood and possibly prevent atherosclerosis.2, 3 However, human clinical trials are lacking to support this use. Test tube studies have suggested fo-ti’s ability to stimulate immune function, increase red blood cell formation, and exert an antibacterial action.4 None of these effects has been studied in humans. The unprocessed roots have a mild laxative action.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
The Chinese common name for fo-ti, he-shou-wu, was the name of a Tang dynasty man whose infertility was supposedly cured by fo-ti. In addition, his long life was attributed to the tonic properties of this herb.1 Since then, Traditional Chinese Medicine has used fo-ti to treat premature aging, weakness, vaginal discharges, numerous infectious diseases, angina pectoris, and erectile dysfunction.
In Chinese medicine the dried (unprocessed) root and the cured (processed) root are considered two different herbs. The unprocessed root is used to relax the bowels and detoxify the blood. The processed root is used to strengthen the blood, invigorate the liver and kidneys, and supplement vital energy (qi). Processed fo-ti is one of the more widely used tonics in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), which employs it to enhance longevity, increase vigor, and promote fertility. It is also an ingredient in TCM formulas for premature gray hair, low back pain, angina pectoris, low energy, and other conditions.
Medicinal Uses: The unprocessed root is sometimes used medicinally. However, once it has been boiled in a special liquid made from black beans, it is considered a superior and rather different medicine according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The unprocessed root is sometimes called white fo-ti and the processed root red fo-ti. According to Chinese herbal medicine, the unprocessed root is used to relax the bowels and detoxify the blood, and the processed root is used to strengthen the blood, invigorate the kidneys and liver, and serve as a tonic to increase overall vitality.
How much is usually taken?
The typical recommended intake is 1-1 1/2 teaspoons (4-8 grams) per day.5 A tea can be made from processed roots by boiling 1/2-1 teaspoons (3-5 grams) in 1 cup (250 ml) of water for ten to fifteen minutes. Three or more cups are suggested each day. Five fo-ti tablets (500 mg each) can be taken three times per day.
In Chinese medicine, fo-ti is a longevity tonic that is used for greying hair, premature aging, weakness, vaginal discharge, and erectile dysfunction. Red fo-ti is considered a tonic to increase vitality and energy, strengthen the blood, kidneys and liver. White fo-ti is used for constipation.
There is evidence that fo-ti can lower serum cholesterol, decrease hardening of the arteries, and improve immune function.
There are no controlled studies on the effectiveness or safety of fo-ti in humans. Preliminary studies with animals have found that fo-ti may attenuate diet-induced increases in plasma cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and plasma triglycerides. In animal studies, there is some evidence that fo-ti may enhance learning and memory and prevent the degeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons in the brain.
Possible Side Effects and Safety Concerns:
Rarely, people develop an allergic skin rash after taking fo-ti. Other side effects include loose stools. Taking more than 15 grams of the processed root can cause numbness in the arms and legs.
There have been three published case reports of acute hepatitis following the use of a fo-ti product called Shou-wu-pian, which is manufactured in China. It is not known whether it was due to fo-ti or product contamination.
One study tested 32 plants used for menopause in traditional Chinese medicine. They found that fo-ti had the greatest estrogenic activity. People with estrogen-related cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate should take extra caution because the effect of fo-ti in humans is not known.
The unprocessed roots may cause mild diarrhea.6 Some people who are sensitive to fo-ti may develop a skin rash. Taking more than 15 grams of processed root powder may cause numbness in the arms or legs.
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with fo-ti.
The unprocessed root can cause loose stools or diarrhea, sometimes with intestinal pain and nausea. The unprocessed root is considered potentially more toxic than the processed form. One case of allergic reaction to the cured root has been reported, although this form of fo-ti is considered to be minimally toxic when taken in proper doses. Large doses have resulted in numbness of the extremities as well as skin rashes.
Disclaimer:The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplements, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider