Fo ti Root,
He Shou Wu Benefits as a Tonic Herb


Fo ti root (Polygonum multiflorum), also called he shou wu (or ho shou wu), is one of the most important traditional Chinese "longevity herbs" classified under the system of major tonic herbs.

He shou wu is a famous tonic adaptogen that modulates the hormones, tonifies kidney yin and liver weakness.

Polygonum multiflorum is a top "Jing" herb (one of the 3 treasures in TCM) known to replenish the "root of our vitality" by providing deep nourishment, via Jing essence, primarily to the kidney and liver systems.

Although it is an overall energizer to the body, fo-ti is slightly sedative in nature and calming to the nerves with building effects as an energy yin tonic that accumulate with use.

Regular consumption of teas or extracts is particularly strengthening to the lower back and knees as well as fortifying to the bones, muscles and ligaments.

Fo-ti is one of the main ingredients in the patent longevity herbal formula, Shou Wu Chih, originally developed by the well known herbalist Moo San Do Sha.  It contains other tonics such as rehmannia and dong quai, and is used as an anti-aging rejuvenation elixir throughout China.

Fo ti root is known for its ability to concentrate tremendous amounts of "Chi" and nutritional components into its dense root system.

When these roots are consumed, these life-giving nutrients are transferred, helping to both cleanse and nourish the bloodstream and related organs.

The Legend of Li Ching-Yuen


He shou wu is native to China and has a deep seated history among Taoist longevity masters who were proposed to have lived healthy and youthful lives well over the age of 100.  One of the greatest legacies told throughout Asia is the story of Li Ching-Yuen, tonic herbalist and Taoist master.  As the legend depicts Li Ching-Yuen was said to have lived to the age of 252 consuming large doses of tonic brews and tinctures consisting of ginseng, fo ti root, gotu kola, reishi and goji berries. 

He was actually published in the 1933 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest living man (1678-1930), but since then this claim as been retracted as myth.  However this story, as well as many others, represent the traditionally recognized notion of Taoists living well beyond what we think is humanly possible is due, in part, to the consumption of these tonic herbs.

He Shou Wu Benefits

Supports Kidney Health

Fo ti root is specific for building strength in the kidneys and is an essential herb for those with "kidney yin deficiency" or anyone suffering from extreme fatigue, weakness, cortisol depletion or adrenal exhaustion.

As we mentioned, he shou wu's benefits as a yin tonic naturally strengthen the skeletal structure as well as one's muscular physique. 

In TCM "yin" is the material basis for "yang" energy and therefore, when deficient, needs to be replenished in order to build back strength and stamina.  All yin energy in the body comes from the kidney yin and is the reason the kidneys are often referred to as the "root of our vitality" with their position seated close to the bottom of all major organs. 

They are a store house for vital life energies, called "Jing" or "essence" in Chinese medicine, and are in charge of reproduction, water metabolism, filtering of the blood and waste removal.  Fo-ti extracts and teas used over a period of time naturally help to restore Jing energy and nurture kidney functions.

What Causes Yin Deficiency?

As we age we become more susceptible to yin deficiency, which is represented by the drying of the skin, hair and tissues of the body.  However, there are many lifestyle habits that can contribute significantly to the depletion of kidney yin over the course of a lifetime.  This includes the consumption of low quality foods, sodas, alcohol, salty foods, pharmaceuticals; as well as smoking, chronic emotional stress and exposure to environmental pollutants in the air we breathe and foods we eat. 


We personally feel that consuming some major tonic adaptogens, like fo-ti root, on a regular basis are especially important as an adjunct to a health promoting diet and lifestyle.  Most people today are extremely yin deficient, this is why we promote fo-ti root as one of our top 10 superfoods.  It is important, however, to consider your own unique constitution, conditions and health goals as some herbs (or combination of herbs) may be more appropriate for your individual situation.

Known to Restore Hair and Reverse Graying

Fo-ti, or he shou wu, is calming to the mind and relaxes kidney stress associated with the premature graying of hair.  It is known throughout China, not only as a preventative, but also to help gray hair regain its original color and pigment.  He shou wu literally translates as "black haired Mr. He" and has been recognized for centuries as a famous restorative root and anti-aging tonic herb for transforming hair color back to its natural state.

It is also respected as a hair restorative helpful for hair growth and baldness.  This is in part due to fo-ti's effects at balancing hormones as well as strengthening the organs of elimination (kidneys and liver) which in turn increases circulation and blood flow to the hair follicles, stimulating new growth and hair thickness.

According to a PubMed study, "Extracts of P. multiflorum have been reported to promote hair growth in vivo."


Reproductive Tonic That Increases Libido

Fo ti root is known to enhance sexual libido and is specifically nourishing to the reproductive system in both men and women.  It is helpful for increasing fertility, most likely due to its revitalizing effects that nurture yin fluids.  In addition, it helps to maintain and protect the liver.  The liver is in charge of constructing various building blocks needed for proper hormone production and activity that keeps our reproductive systems healthy and strong.


One of the legendary stories about fo ti root's discovery is in the book called "The Legend of He Shou Wu", written by Li Ao of the Tang Dynasty (618-907).  In it he writes about the story of Neng Si, a 58 year old man in poor health who was never able to bear children.  He was the first to discover a twisting 3 yard vine of fo-ti that appeared to be "making love" and out of curiosity took the root home and used it for a period of time. 

"In several years, his hair grew dark again, and his appearance became youthful. Over the next ten years, he fathered several boys and changed his name to Neng Si, meaning "Capable of Bearing Offspring." Li Ao

Fo ti Root Helps The Liver

The liver is the "master detoxifier" and one of the two major organs responsible for the state of our bloodstream.  The blood that runs through our bodies is like the system of rivers that nurtures and feeds the earth.  When it is running clean and unobstructed it, in turn, feeds and nourishes our body.

Polygonum multiflorum provides a gentle liver detox by purifying as well as building the blood and is known to clear redness from the eyes (a sign of liver stagnation).  Prepared he shou wu contains a number of antioxidants that act as a liver tonic with protective and regulatory actions that help to stabilize cells and maintain liver health.

Using "Prepared" He Sho Wu

Usually he shou wu is available prepared or raw.  We ALWAYS use "prepared" roots as opposed to raw versions.  "Raw fo-ti" can actually be toxic to the liver when consumed in high amounts and should largely be avoided by purchasing the herb from high quality sources that are prepared appropriately. 

Prepared roots have been stewed in black bean broth and dried.  They are very different than raw unprepared fo-ti which, in our opinion, should never be consumed because of its hepatotoxic effects.

Fo ti Root Raises SOD Levels

Superoxide dismutase, also called SOD, is a natural antioxidant enzyme produced within the body that plays a significant role as a free radical scavenger and protects against DNA damage.  He shou wu is thought to help preserve healthy amounts of SOD even as we grow older.  SOD is present in almost all extracellular fluids which are increased with regular use of fo ti root extracts. 

"SOD transforms the superoxide radical into ions that are less reactive.  These less reactive ions are then further transformed by the antioxidants catalase and glutathione into safe molecules.  This transformation, called dismutation, is essential to life.  He shou wu supports the normal dismutation process."  Ron Teeguarden

Another principle antioxidant constituent of Polygonum multiflorum is TSG (or Tetrahydroxystilbene glucoside).  TSG, derived from fo ti root, is shown in a Chinese study to help increase SOD as well as improve memory and regulate body weight.  The result also suggested, "that TSG had a promising anti-aging effect by regulating the Klotho gene." 


Nutritional Components

Good Source of Iron

Fo-ti is high in iron content which makes it an ideal tonic for building the blood and preventing anemia.  It contains more than both dong quai and goji, which are known to have considerable amounts.

It is an important nutrient for energy production, muscular functions and also supports a healthy circulatory system.

Contains Zinc

Fo ti root is very rich in zinc, containing 24 times the amount of other herbs with about 42mg of zinc per 100grams.  This is much higher than even animal foods which normally contain between 3-5mg per 100g.

People who eat a high raw vegan or vegetarian diet are often deficient in this important mineral, which is required for cellular metabolism, neurological functions, healthy immune response, reproductive vitality and muscle growth.

High in Lecithin

He shou wu is a good source of lecithin and choline, helpful for cognitive function.  A constituent in lecithin, called inositol, is also known to be good for maintaining healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

He Shou Wu Benefits

  • Nourishes deep energy; kidney yin and "Jing"
  • Acts as a potent reproductive tonic
  • Mildly sedates the nervous system
  • Nurtures ovaries and increases sperm count
  • Contains high amounts of zinc, lecithin and iron
  • Increases libido and sex drive
  • Purifies the blood liver and kidneys
  • Contains antioxidants and increases SOD

How to Use Fo ti Root

Dried Root Pieces or Slices

One of our favorite ways to prepare fo-ti is as a tonic tea.  All adaptogens need to be simmered to release their beneficial properties and healing components.  This involves using the dried root pieces (or sometimes slices) and preparing a decoction by simmering it for 20 minutes to an hour or more in water.

This produces a dark richly-flavored tea you can drink throughout the day.  We usually decoct fo-ti with other tonic herbs and liver cleansers like reishi mushroom, eucommia and dandelion root.

 It is a wonderful addition to most other herbal formulations and can be used as a decocted base for herbal tea infusions using nutritive herbs.  (Try it in our Energy Tonic Tea recipe.)

It is cheaper in the long run to buy it in bulk quantities which gives you a large supply to keep up your tea making habits.  Generally there are different grades you can purchase, with the higher quality roots being darker in color and also more expensive.  We usually buy different grades and mix them together.

Ho Shou Wu Tinctures

Tinctures can be a convenient way to take fo-ti as they are easy to add into teas or can be blended into water.

Herb Pharm offers a high quality prepared fo-ti tincture containing distilled water, certified organic grain alcohol and fo ti root extractives.

Fo-ti (He Shou Wu) Extracts

You can also use powdered herbal extracts or tinctures. The best company in our opinion for high quality tonic extracts is either Jing Herbs or Dragon Herbs. Jing Herbs sells the prepared powdered extract as a loose powder as opposed to capsules.

Recommended Dosage

Fo ti root extract or teas are generally safe to use over a long period of time.  The standard dosage for a powder extract would be approximately:

1 tsp two times per day or 6-12 capsules

For tea decoctions using fo-ti as the active ingredient, we would recommend:

2-4T dried roots or 1/8-1/4C root slices to about 32oz of water

For greater effects it is best to consume teas or extracts throughout the day as opposed to all at once.


Prepared Polygonum multiflorum is considered to be safe and suitable for long term and daily use.  Mild gastrointestinal disturbance, characterized by soft stool, is the only side effect, however, this is very rare. 

As we mentioned, you should only consume "prepared" roots rather than "raw" versions, which are known to be toxic to the liver in large amounts and can have quite the opposite effect of prepared fo-ti for some individuals.

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