Long revered as one of the most important and powerful herbs in the Chinese Medicine pharmacopeia, He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum), which is also known as Fo-Ti, has a rich and mystical history that illustrates exactly why it grew to such stature and fame and hints at some of its more exotic—and highly sought after—benefits and effects. It was recorded in ancient Daoist texts that Fo-Ti was discovered around 812 AD, when a frail, weak, sterile old man who had fallen asleep in the forest after a night of heavy drinking awoke next to an exceptionally long He Shou Wu vine. Something about the plant struck him as unusual and so he proceeded to dig up its roots (a common practice in China at the time) to take home for further investigation. Upon inquiring in his village about the nature and properties of the plant to no avail, a local hermit suggested he ingest it to discover the effects for himself. Adventurous as he was, he prepared the He Shou Wu roots according to Daoist herbal principles and began consuming it regularly. Within a week, he became quite virile and managed to father a child a few months later after decades of impotency and sterility, which was a miracle in itself. He continued to take Fo-Ti everyday and his strength and vitality returned despite his old age. Eventually, his hair color returned, almost magically shifting from gray to a rich, lustrous black. Over the years that followed, he went on to father at least five more children and lived well into his hundreds, with some sources recording his final age as 160 years old. The man’s name was He Tianer, for which the herb was named He Shou Wu, meaning “He’s Black Hair,” alluding to its incredible origin story.
For some, the tale is a stretch of the imagination; however, in recent decades, credible scientific studies into the properties, composition and benefits of He Shou Wu have confirmed that it does indeed stimulate the body to produce many longevity-promoting substances, including superoxide dismutase, which is the most powerful antioxidant in the human body; and it has been credited with reversing many diseases, DNA protection and repair, and extending lifespan in a number of studies. It also inhibits the MAO-B enzyme that correlates to measurable life-extending and health-enhancing effects. And while this is a compelling reason on its own to take Fo-Ti, it only scratches the surface of the many incredible benefits this herb has for promoting health, wellness, and spiritual awareness.
As alluded to by Mr. He’s story, Polygonum (He Shou Wu) is a powerful, but paradoxically gentle, aphrodisiac and sexual tonic. Known as a kidney Jing tonic, it stimulates and harmonizes adrenal gland function and promotes general endocrine system balance. Jing, in the Chinese Medicine tradition, loosely translates to “vital essence” and refers to the primordial energy that fuels all life and, by extension, our sexuality and drive. Fo-Ti works to increase kidney/adrenal Jing, which is where Daoists believe this energy is stored in the body. This also has the added benefit of harmonizing, balancing, and ultimately calming the nervous system, making He Shou Wu an excellent tonic for those facing burnout or under high levels of stress.
he shou wu (botanical name: polygonum multiflorum) is pleasantly sweet with a taste reminiscent of chocolate, making it great with just a splash of hot water. photo: nitsa citrine
Rich in iron and zinc—two hard-to-get essential minerals—He Shou Wu is a first-class blood builder and cell proliferant. There are a number of compounds in the plant that enhance circulation, strengthen red blood cell membranes and stimulate blood-generating hematopoietic stem cells. Fo-Ti also protects and helps maintain the structural integrity of the liver, improves brain function and memory, and enhances immune system functioning in humans and other mammals.
As alluded to in Mr. He’s miraculous story, He Shou Wu also has a long history of use as a hair growth and rejuvenation tonic. There are literally thousands of first-person reports and a handful of clinical studies of Fo-Ti (or preparations including the herb) demonstrating a remarkable ability to reverse hair loss and restore rich color to white or graying hair. Although the mechanisms are not completely understood, substances with a marked harmonizing effect on the endocrine system (hormone-producing glands) and high zinc content tend to have beneficial effects on hair growth and restoration.
But perhaps the most impressive of all He Shou Wu’s benefits and properties are its effects on our spiritual awareness and higher mental functioning.
In the Traditional Chinese Medicine system, He Shou Wu is also classified as a Shen and Yin tonic. Shen translates to “spirit” and anything with Yin properties, which correlates to the feminine element/energy, promotes receptivity. Therefore, we have an herb that makes us “receptive to spirit,” which the more sensitive among us will definitely notice after consuming Fo-Ti for any length of time. In addition to its powerfully rejuvenative physical effects, He Shou Wu benefits and stimulates our intuitive abilities as well, opening us to our deeper spiritual nature and awareness. Users of Fo-Ti often notice a distinct increase in creativity, inspiration, and intuitive guidance, making it an important herb for artists, meditators, or anyone seeking to expand their experience of reality in profound ways.
Selection and Usage Guidelines
He Shou Wu is unique in that it must be prepared in a more elaborate process than other herbs in order to make it effective for the above uses. Through a centuries-long process of refinement, Daoist herbalists discovered that the Polygonum multiflorum (Fo-Ti) root must be first cooked in a stew of black beans to somewhat alchemically activate its desired benefits. Scientifically speaking, this process has the effect of rendering certain constituents of the plant inert and activating others in a complex series of chemical reactions between the heat and the various nutrients in black beans.
As a rule of thumb, all He Shou Wu should, by default, be prepared in this way; but if you don’t see it explicitly mentioned in the product literature, inquire further to be sure. (Note: All recommended products in this article have been verified to be properly prepared He Shou Wu.)
As with any herb, quality, purity and potency are of the utmost importance. As such, look for organic, wildcrafted, or authentic “Di Tao” labeled herbs, as these tend to be of the highest quality.
Fo-Ti has a pleasant, mild, slightly sweet taste, making it an ideal herb to consume as a tea, tincture, or simply mixed in a glass of water. However, capsules are a viable option as well if you simply cannot stand the taste of powdered herbs. Although it is always recommended to take it internally for maximum benefit, those interested in its hair growth-stimulating properties and benefits of He Shou Wu may also rub the powdered herb directly into the scalp after mixing with water or oil for a deeper effect.
As far as dosages for Fo-Ti go, start with what is recommended on the label of the product, as it is always adjusted to the specific concentration of the product, which can and does vary widely. Once you’ve gotten used to those effects, feel free to increase the dose to your liking. However, take note that larger doses of He Shou Wu can sometimes cause loose stools (although quite rare); if you begin to experience this effect, simply back off to a lower dose and heed your body’s feedback signals.
If you are pregnant, lactating or taking pharmaceutical medicines, be sure to check in with your naturopathic doctor or midwife before consuming.
Recommended He Shou Wi (Fo-Ti) Products
He Shou Wu Liquid Tincture
Herb Pharm offers a whole-root extract of He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti), traditionally prepared with black beans, in an organic, gluten-free grain alcohol. Alcohol is an ancient herb carrier fluid that is deeply penetrating and tends to increase the absorption of medicinal substances in the body.
About The Author
Justin Faerman is the Co-founder of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine.