He Shou Wu
Botanical name: Polygonum multiflorum
Common name: Fleeceflower root, Knotweed root, Fo-ti
Literal name translation: black haired (Mr.) He
Family: Polygonaceae, knotweed family
Part used in Chinese medicine: root and prepared root
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Tonifies Liver and Kidneys, nourishes blood, yin and essence
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Polygonum multiflorum; 06/2007; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Polygonum multiflorum; 06/2007; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Polygonum multiflorum; 06/2007; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
He Shou Wu is the prepared root of Polygonum multiflorum, the same plant as Ye Jiao Teng, which is the stalks and stems of the vine. In fact an alternate name for Ye Jiao Teng is Shou Wu Teng. The plant is a vigorous twining herbaceous perennial vine native to East Asia, traditionally found in China growing along the banks of streams and in valleys and shrub thickets. Before the 1930’s, the plant grew profusely on open hillsides and in villages, especially along the Yangtze River, and local people would gather the wild roots in autumn, using them for their own medicine and to sell at herb markets. In more recent times, the plant material comes primarily from cultivated sources.
Many Chinese herbs have legends that explain their names. The story of He Shou Wu is about a poor man, whose family name was “He”. He was quite sick during a time of famine and most of the people of his village had migrated to other regions where they could find temporary work. Mr. He was too sick to leave and there was little food left in his village, so he gathered and ate wild roots and plant material to keep from starving. One of these plants was Polygonum multiflorum, which had a bitter root not previously known by the villagers. Eating the root regularly, he regained his health and strength and gradually his complexion brightened and hair became black again, a sign of youthfulness. He went on to live a long life of vitality and the herb was named “He” (Mr. He) “Shou” (head) “Wu” (black or crow).
Growing and Propagation
The plant grows best in warm, moist, sandy, well-drained soil high in organic matter, and in full sun to light shade. Growing 3-6 feet long, it blooms from September to October with profuse panicles of small white flowers and the seeds ripen from October to November.
It is recommended that the plant be grown in raised beds that are cultivated to at least one foot deep with a good deal of compost and organic fertilizer added. Seeds can be sown in early spring after the last frost in soil that is kept moist and reaches 60-68 degrees F in temperature. Germination takes about 20 days and once established, the plant is easy to grow, is hardy to USDA zone 7, and can withstand temperatures down to -15 F.
Propagation can also be achieved by division or cuttings. After dividing plants in the spring or fall, large divisions can be planted directly in the garden. Smaller divisions are best grown in pots in the shade or in a cold frame until they are well established, and then transplanted to the garden. Cuttings can be taken between July and August with 3 to 6 inch long pieces, and rooting them in water or planting directly into moist garden soil. They can be transplanted to a permanent location in the spring of their second year of growth, when well established.
Harvesting and Preparation
For medicinal use, the roots are harvested in the spring or fall after 3-4 years of growth, though fall harvested roots are considered best. Roots are cleaned, sliced and dried in the sun. The best roots are large, dense and starchy, not light and fibrous.
The herb called He Shou Wu generally refers to the processed root of Polygonum multiflorum. It is prepared with yellow rice wine and black bean juice that is made by boiling black soybeans in water for several hours. Herb pieces are added to the rice wine and black bean mixture and double boiled or steamed in a non-metallic pot until the liquid has been completely absorbed by the roots. About 10 pounds of liquid is used for processing 100 pounds of He Shou Wu.
Sheng He Shou Wu is the unprocessed root, which has a very different medicinal function than that of the processed root. In its unprepared form, the herb is not a tonic but moistens the intestines and unblocks the bowels. It is also used to treat chronic malarial disorders with qi and blood deficiency.