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Fo-Ti

Common name: He-shou-wu

Botanical name: Polygonum multiflorum

Photo

© Steven Foster

Parts used and where grown

Fo-ti is a plant native to China, where it continues to be widely grown. It also grows extensively in Japan and Taiwan. 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.

Fo-ti has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Constipation

High cholesterol

Immune function

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

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.

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.

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.

Are there any side effects or interactions?

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.

References:

1. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 79–85.

2. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 79–85.

3. Foster S. Herbal Renaissance. Layton, Utah: Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1993, 40–1.

4. Foster S, Yue CX. Herbal Emissaries: Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1992, 79–85.

5. Bone K. Clinical Applications of Ayurvedic and Chinese Herbs. Warwick, Australia: Phytotherapy Press, 1996, 49–51.

6. Foster S. Herbs for Your Health. Loveland, CO: Interweave Press, 1996, 40–1.

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