Herb: He Shou Wu

Latin name: Polygonum multiflorum

Synonyms: Fallopia multiflora

Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat Family)

Medicinal use of He Shou Wu:

He Shou Wu is considered to be one of the most important of the Chinese herbal tonics and is widely used in that country. It is said to restore vitality and virility, working especially on the liver and the reproductive, urinary and circulatory systems. Some care should be exercised, however, since excessive doses can cause skin rash and numbness of the extremities. The roots and stems are antibacterial, anticholesterolemic, antispasmodic, astringent, cardiotonic, demulcent, depurative, hypoglycaemic, laxative, sedative, tonic. The roots are taken internally in the treatment of menstrual and menopausal complaints, constipation in the elderly, swollen lymph glands and high cholesterol levels. They are very effective in reducing high cholesterol levels in the blood and increase blood sugar levels. Externally, they are used to treat ringworm, bleeding wounds and sores. The roots are harvested in the autumn, preferably from plants 3 - 4 years old, and are dried for later use. The leaves and roots tonify the liver and kidneys, fortify the blood, strengthen the muscles and prevent premature greying of the hair. The stem is deobstruent and sedative. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia and neurasthenia whilst it is applied externally to ringworm. The stems are harvested in late summer or early autumn and are dried for later use. Extracts of the plant have shown antipyretic, antitumour, hypoglycaemic and sedative activity.

Description of the plant:

Perennial Climber

4.5 m
(15 feet)

to October

Habitat of the herb:

Woods, north to latitude 42° 30' north. Along the banks of streams and in valley shrub thickets.

Edible parts of He Shou Wu:

Leaves - raw or cooked. Seed - raw or cooked. It is rather small and fiddly to utilize. Flowers. No more details are given. Root - cooked. It should be washed several times in order to leech out the bitterness. This process will also remove many of the vitamins and minerals from the roots. A famine food, it is only used when all else fails.

Propagation of the herb:

Seed - sow spring in a cold frame. Germination is usually free and easy. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer if they have reached sufficient size. If not, overwinter them in a cold frame and plant them out the following spring after the last expected frosts. Division in spring or autumn. Very easy, larger divisions can be planted out direct into their permanent positions. We have found that it is better to pot up the smaller divisions and grow them on in light shade in a cold frame until they are well established before planting them out in late spring or early summer.

Cultivation of He Shou Wu:

Woods, north to latitude 42° 30' north. Along the banks of streams and in valley shrub thickets.

Known hazards of Polygonum multiflorum:

Although no specific mention has been made for this species, there have been reports that some members of this genus can cause photosensitivity in susceptible people. Many species also contain oxalic acid (the distinctive lemony flavour of sorrel) - whilst not toxic this substance can bind up other minerals making them unavailable to the body and leading to mineral deficiency. Having said that, a number of common foods such as sorrel and rhubarb contain oxalic acid and the leaves of most members of this genus are nutritious and beneficial to eat in moderate quantities. Cooking the leaves will reduce their content of oxalic acid. People with a tendency to rheumatism, arthritis, gout, kidney stones or hyperacidity should take especial caution if including this plant in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.