Ho Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), is also known as Fo-ti, Fo-ti-teng, He Shou Wu, Chinese knotweed and Flowery knotweed. In North America and Europe, this herb may be known as Polygonium multiflorum or Radix poltgoni multiflori. Ho Shou Wu is a widely used Chinese herb and is a popular herbal remedy for gray hair and hair loss. Indeed the name SHOU-WU means “a head full of black hair” in Chinese.
According to Chinese traditional medical theory hair condition is an indication of the health of the body’s internal organs. Weaknesses in the kidney and liver tend to manifest as symptoms such as hair loss and premature gray hair. Such conditions can be corrected by replenishing the nutrients that are necessary to revitalize our kidneys and livers – at least that is what Chinese herbalists believe. Ho Shou Wu is usually taken orally as a dietary supplement. Long term used is recommended by most Chinese herbalists. More recently, topical lotions have been formulated containing extracts from the herb for treating hair loss.
Health benefits of Ho Shou Wu
In traditional Chinese medicine Ho Shou Wu has been used for thousands of years and is believed to:
• Treat premature graying of hair and hair loss
• Tonify the kidneys and liver
• Balance a fragile yin
• Treat weak bones
• Protect the skin against UVB damage
He Shou Wu is considered to be one of the most important of the Chinese herbal tonics. It is believed to restore vitality and virility by strengthening the liver, reproductive, urinary and circulatory systems.
The tuberous roots and the stems have antibacterial, anticholesterolemic, antispasmodic, astringent, cardiotonic, demulcent, depurative, hypoglycaemic, laxative, sedative and tonic properties.
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 increasing blood sugar levels. Applied topically the roots are used to treat ringworm, bleeding wounds and sores.
The leaves and roots tonify the liver and kidneys, fortify the blood, strengthen the muscles and prevent premature greying of the hair. The stem has deobstruent and sedative properties. It is taken internally in the treatment of insomnia and neurasthenia. Extracts of the plant have shown antipyretic, antitumour, hypoglycaemic and sedative activity.
Ho Shou Wu dosage
One of the most commonly found brands of Ho Shou Wu is Shou Wu Pian. It is manufactured by Shanghai Chinese Medicine Works in China. The dosage is 5 tablets three times daily. This is a very common dosage for Chinese herbs. Chinese herbs are usually very mild in nature. The herb has been taken by the Chinese for thousands of years and few side effects have been reported.
Each 4-bottle package can last 1-2 months. It is not necessary to take the supplement every day. If sore throat or light headache is experienced, the suggested dosage can be reduced by half.
Side effects of Ho Shou Wu
Excessive doses of Ho Shou Wu can cause sore throat, headache, skin rash and numbness of the extremities.
Although there is no specific mention of Ho Shou Wu, there have been reports that some members of this genus can cause photosensitivity in susceptible people. Many species also contain oxalic acid. Whilst not toxic, this substance can bind to 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 Ho Shou Wu in their diet since it can aggravate their condition.
Ho Shou Wu is considered a dietary supplement similar to vitamins and, as such, it is not regulated by the FDA.
Constituents of Ho Shou Wu
Ho Shou Wu contains stilbene glycosides similar to resveratrol but with superior antioxidant activity. Resveratrol has been suggested to extend lifespan by a variety of mechanisms. Anthraquinones, polydatin, 2, 3, 5, 4′-tetrahydroxy stilbene-2-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside, arbutin, and resveratrol are found in Ho Shou Wu. Anthraquinones in Ho Shou Wu include physcion, emodin, and questin. Other substances in the herb include chrysophanol, rhein, polygonimitin B and gallic acid.
Ho Shou Wu contains several derivatives of tetrahydroxystilbene that are antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds investigated for their effects on neurons. Ho Shou Wu also contains the laxative compound emodin and a number of derivatives of emodin; this accounts for a potential adverse effect of the herb in causing loose stools when consumed in quantity.
Scientific studies on Ho Shou Wu
Several published human clinical studies have supported the traditional uses of Ho Shou Wu. While results vary among studies and individuals, over 60% of people who had hair loss (alopecia) experienced hair regrowth within 3 months after taking He Shou Wu. In animal studies using an aging mouse model, He Shou Wu was demonstrated to lower total cholesterol and triglyceride, to reduce brain pathological changes and promote learning and memory (1,2,3, 4).
Potential rare liver reactions to Ho Shou Wu
Ho Shou Wu is known for being a safe herb with little toxicity, and one that is used for a prolonged time in some anti-aging formulas. However, the Medicines and Health Care Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the UK have issued an alert about potential adverse liver reactions to Ho Shou Wu. Reports on these adverse effects have been published (3,4,5,6).
There are many signs and symptoms of liver disease. These include jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes), dark urine, nausea, vomiting, unusual tiredness, weakness, stomach or abdominal pain, and /or loss of appetite. If a liver disorder is diagnosed it is recommended that Ho Shou Wu should be discontinued.
Individuals who have previously experienced liver complaints or other serious health complaints are advised not to take Ho Shou Wu without speaking to a doctor first.
Ho Shou Wu cultivation details
Ho Shou Wu is a quickly spreading vine that will spread rapidly. There are delicate flowers that appear in the fall. The roots are harvested in the fall, preferably from plants 3 – 4 years old, and are dried for later use. The stems are harvested in late summer or early autumn and are also dried before use.
Ho Shou Wu can grow in ordinary garden soil but prefers a moisture retentive not too fertile soil in sun or part shade. This species can withstand temperatures to at least -15 0C. Seed should be sown in spring in a cold frame. 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, over winter them in a cold frame and plant them out the following spring after the last expected frosts.
1. Chan YC et al. Polygonum multiflorum extracts improve cognitive performance in senescence accelerated mice. Am J Chin Med. 2003; 31:171-179.
2. Chan YC et al. Beneficial effects of different Polygonum multiflorum Thunb. extracts on memory and hippocampus morphology. J Nutr Sci Vitaminol. 2002; 48: 491-7.
3. Battinelli et al. New case of acute hepatitis following the consumption of Shou Wu Pian, a Chinese Herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2004; 140: E589
4. But et al (1996) Hepatitis related to the Chinese medicine Shou Wu Pian manufactured from Polygonum multiflorum. Veterinary and Human Toxicology. 1996; 38: 208-282
5. Park et al. Acute hepatitis induced by Shou Wu Pian, a herbal product derived from Polygonum multiflorum. Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2001; 16: 115-117
6. Panis et al. Recurrent toxic hepatitis in a Caucasian girl related to the use of Shou-Wu-Pian, a Chinese herbal preparation. Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition. 2005; 41: 256-258.