He Shou Wu: How This Ancient Chinese Herb Can Help You Recharge

by Amy Myszko

Imagine an elderly Chinese man with thinning, silver hair, trekking through the forests of ancient China in search of a cure for aging. He discovers a root and after consuming it for weeks, maybe months, he re-emerges from the forest with thick black hair, ready to start a family with his new young wife. This is the folk story behind He shou wu (also known as Polygonum multiflorum and Fo-ti), an ancient Chinese botanical remedy with numerous scientifically verified benefits. The name He shou wu actually means the “black-haired Mr. He” in Chinese.

He Shou Wu for Optimal Aging

Adaptogens are herbal remedies (often roots) that naturally support the body in fighting stress and reducing the effects of aging. He shou wu is an excellent example of a Traditional Chinese Medicine adaptogen that has been used for thousands of years to promote vitality and longevity. Scientific research has verified the effectiveness of He shou wu for conditions ranging from atherosclerosis to liver injury, cancer and diabetes. There is even evidence to show that the topical use of He shou wu can help to regrow hair. Traditionally considered a male tonic, He shou wu probably has benefits for both sexes when used internally or externally.

Benefits of He Shou Wu

In research studies, some of the reported benefits of taking He shou wu include antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor properties. He shou wu also benefits blood cholesterol levels and may help reduce age-related cognitive decline, such as that found in Alzheimer’s disease. Anecdotally, He shou wu is used to reverse graying hair, improve hair growth and is taken for sexual stamina and overall vitality.

Raw vs. Traditionally Processed He Shou Wu

Many Chinese adaptogens are treated or processed in very specific ways to promote efficacy or to make the remedy safer. This seems to be the case on both counts with processed He shou wu. According to research, raw and unprocessed He shou wu may be more likely to cause liver toxicity, while the processed form is considered safer. The traditional method of processing He shou wu in black bean soup before drying may also change some of its chemical constituents, positively affecting the herb’s medicinal actions.

Safety, Side Effects and Proper Use

There is some evidence that when taken in too large a quantity or over too long a period of time, He shou wu may cause liver damage in some individuals. The exact mechanism behind the damage is still unknown. But, as with most botanicals and other natural remedies, it is important to use it under the supervision of a qualified healthcare practitioner. Also be sure to look for traditionally prepared varieties of He shou wu, which appear safer than the raw form, and take it only as directed.

Amy Myszko is a Certified Clinical Herbalist, Certified Lactation Counselor and Licensed Lactation Care Provider who has been practicing herbalism and nutrition since 2007. She recently graduated with a master’s in Lactation and is pursuing a career as a Holistic Lactation Therapist.