He Shou Wu 何首乌 (Polygonum Multiflorum Thunb) is one of the most revered tonic herbs of Traditional Chinese Medicine. It is also known as Fo-Ti, Ho Shou Wu, and Jiaoteng. Jianteng was most likely its original name because Jiao translates to "intersecting" and teng to "creepers". Fo-Ti, a common Western name for the herb translates to "vines that tangle in the night". The most common name of He Shou Wu translates to "Mr. He's Black hair" ("He" is a family name and pronounced something like "huh" in English). The name comes from a Daoist text called "Heshouwu Lun (Notes on He-shou-wu)" by Li Ao, written around 813 A.D.
In the story, a Mr. He Tianer from Hebei Province, at age 58, was impotent, malnourished, unmarried, and had never been able to father a child. One day he noticed some vines growing near his home that were intertwined. The He Shou Wu female and male vines grow separately during the day and unite at night. Intrigued by the vine's behavior, and on the advise of a local hermit, Mr. He dug up the plant's roots, dried and powdered them and started taking it daily with a bowl of wine. The legend claims that after a short time, Mr. He's qi "awoke" within him and he became stronger, full of energy, and with a healthy libido. His gray hair darkened, his vision improved, and his depression and loneliness faded. He was soon married and fathered many children and lived to the age of 130. He touted the herb as the secret to his dramatic turnaround. He once announced, "This was caused by the climbing plant. When one takes it, one can live to be 160 years old".
Since then, the herb has been called "He Shou Wu" in reference to Mr. He's darker hair (Shou translates to "head" and Wu to "black"). It is widely used throughout Asia for its hair darkening properties and as a primary fertility enhancing herb.
There are four different preparations sold in China, raw, cooked in bean sauce, extracted in wine, and steamed. When prepared by simmering in bean sauce, it is a potent yin tonic used for maintaining youthfulness and strengthening the body. The raw, unprepared herb is useful as a laxative. The herb has a sweet, but slightly bitter, astringent taste. It is considered an "adaptogen" with a warm nature that supports the health of skin, hair, muscles and overall energy level.
Processing He Shou Wu
During the Tang Dynasty, Lin Daoren wrote the book The Secret Recipes of the Immortals for Treating Wounds and Fractures (Xian Shou Li Shang Xu Duan Mi Fang, 846 AD). The book describes the method of processing He Shou Wu to enhance its tonic properties. The root is simmered or steamed in black soybean (heidou) juice for up to 3 days and then dried. The black soy bean juice is first prepared by boiling black soybeans in water for 4 hours, the liquid poured off and the beans cooked again with less water for 3 hours. The liquids are combined to make the processing juice. Due to the long processing times, processing He Shou Wu is not something usually done at home or in small pharmacies, since it is much easier to buy the powder from a reputable source with the equipment and materials needed to control the quality.
As in all herbs, the quality of the original raw root is important. The most potent roots are at least 5 years old, but unfortunately most powder sold in the US comes from younger plants to save costs.
Processed He Shou Wu is used as a tonic for yin and blood, nourishing hair, strengthening bones and muscles and treating pale complexion, dizziness, tinnitus, premature greying of hair, weakness of loins, metros taxis, leukorrhea, and hyperlipemia.
Black bean processed He Shou Wu has different properties from the raw herb and has the most dramatic effects on preserving the immune system.
Processed He Shou Wu is the only type regularly exported from China. Within China, unprepared (raw) He Shou Wu is used to treat toxicosis, inflammation, constipation, and hyperlipidemia.
Raw He Shou Wu can have a strong laxative effect and must be taken with caution. Even the processed version can cause digestive upset if taken in excess. Patients with liver issues should seek the advice of a physician or informed herbalist before consuming it regularly. Both processed and raw is only recommended for adults.
• Beauty: Helps to strengthen nails and improve skin condition.
• Hair: Believed to prevent and even reverse grey hair.
• Circulation: Improves blood flow
• Anxiety: Can calm the nervous system
• Anti-Aging: Antioxidants and lecithin help to prevent premature aging.
• Aphrodisiac: Boosts libido and encourages a healthy sex drive
• Longevity: Contains powerful antioxidants.
• Mildly Sedative: Helps to relax the body, produce feelings of calm and aids in sound sleep.
• Adrenal: May help to strengthen the adrenal glands.
• Jing Tonic: Tonifies the kidneys, builds blood and increases vitality
• Adaptogen: Enables the body to better deal with stress.
• Safe: Traditionally prepared He Shou Wu is safe to use daily at the recommended dosage.
He Shou Wu by Dragon Herbs now available in our store
Reprinted from Summer 2020 Qi Journal