He Shou Wu
He Shou Wu (pronounced huh – similar to English "huh", but not as open – show woo) is one of the most popular and highly revered tonic herbs in Asian herbalism. He Shou Wu is the prepared tuberous root of Polygonum multiflorum, a plant that grows in the mountains of central and southern China. It shares the position as the primary essence (Jing) tonic of Chinese herbalism with the Goji berry.
By virtue of its ability to accumulate tremendous quantities of Qi into its root, this herb can tonify the human and animal organs and can tonify and nourish the blood. He Shou Wu is not a stimulant. However, it is one of the greatest energy tonics known to mankind. Its action is cumulative, as any truly healthy tonic dietary supplement would be. Because it is a very mild sedative, it will calm the nervous system. So it can be said that He Shou Wu is both energizing and calming. That is the magic of a great tonic herb.
He Shou Wu helps maintain the strength and stability of the lower back and knees. It is used to maintain youthful sexual drive, normally abundant sperm count in men and to support the health of the ova in women. It is widely used in Asia to maintain the youthful condition and color of the hair. It can calm the nervous system. It has components that are potent antioxidants with gentle actions in the liver and the eyes.
Its strength partially comes from its remarkable ability to support and maintain the healthful cleaning functions of the kidney and liver, which in turn clean the blood.
He Shou Wu is a good source of iron. He Shou Wu contains potent antioxidants and in antioxidant-potentiating molecules. He Shou Wu supports the body’s innate ability to efficiently clear superoxide, the highly reactive free radical, from the body. Free radicals are produced at every moment of our life as part of the living process and our health depends upon our clearing them from our body on a moment to moment basis. This support generally comes from foods and herbs humans consume. It is widely believed that the SOD-generating capacity of He Shou Wu is one of the reasons it is considered by many to have “anti-aging” and “longevity increasing” activity. These actions help maintain healthy physical and mental functions and structures.
He Shou Wu contains zinc. Zinc is an essential trace mineral required by all forms of life. Numerous aspects of cellular metabolism are zinc-dependent. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function and reproduction. Zinc is important to our sexual and reproductive functions.
He Shou Wu has been found to support fundamental immunological functions. He Shou Wu has been found to improve adrenal gland functioning.
He Shou Wu is unsurpassed in its ability to provide deep, primordial energy (Jing, essence) to the cells of the body via the Kidney system as described in Chinese health philosophy. He Shou Wu supports the human body’s “functional reserve.”
He Shou Wu is widely used in Chinese tonic herbalism as a tonic to promote healthy aging by tonifying the Kidney and Liver functions, toning up Jing (vital essence), nourishing the blood, and fortifying the muscles, tendons and bones.
The Legend of He Shou Wu
Li Ao from the Tang Dynasty (618-907) wrote a book called “The Legend of He Shou Wu” documenting in detail its discovery.
Neng Si is the name of the man who is said to have discovered He Shou Wu in China.
“Neng Si was born with a weak constitution. Due to his chronic frailty, he had never been able to marry and as time went by had given up on the prospect of either marrying or bearing children. In addition, he had taken to strong liquor. Nevertheless, he was an enthusiastic follower of Taoism and often shadowed his Taoist teacher in the mountain.
“One day, at the age of 58, he fell into a drunken stupor in the forest. When he awoke, he observed a pair of vines entwined for more than 3 yards. He thought to himself that they appeared to be making love, and in a whimsical mood he dug up the root of the plant, which he took back to his cottage. No one in the local village recognized the herb. A hermit from the mountain saw it, however, and told him, "This climbing plant struck you as peculiar, now surely it is supposed to serve you as a divine tonic. Why don't you take it”?
“He agreed and ground up the root into powder and swallowed a small amount on an empty stomach. In seven days, he started to “realize the Tao of Muman.” He started to feel an unknown vitality flowing through his veins and after a little while he noticed certain urges starting to develop. Soon this previously hapless guy began to experience something very unfamiliar to him – incredible virility – he could barely control his sexual desire. Over the next several months, he became strong. He decided to continue taking the herb, doubling his dosage. 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.””
Though the herb called He Shou Wu’s was well famed as an anti-aging tonic and a fertility enhancing sex tonic,
it did not gain much attention from the health cultivationists (preservationists) after the He family had made it famous. Revered herbalist Li Shi Zhen, who authored a book named The Great Herbalism (published in 1578), the greatest contribution to the development of Chinese herbal pharmacy, noted that though He Shou Wu had been established for a long while, few people were taking the herb at the time. A royal endorsement from an emperor changed that. Ming Dynasty Emperor Shi Zong (reigned from 1521 to 1566) was gifted an herbal elixir called Seven Treasure Beard Beautifying Pill. He enjoyed “great success,” fathering several royal princes and credited the herbal formula for his success. This formula, with He Shou Wu as the main ingredient, became an instant hit among the commoners and He Shou Wu became a household herb throughout Asia ever since.
Li Ao’s Personal Commentary on He Shou Wu
Li Ao, the Taoist sage who recounted the Legend of He Shou Wu, is famous as the sage whose walk “resembled a swift wind.” He had this to say regarding his personal experience with the herb
He Shou Wu:
"I will reveal to you an herbal secret. Taking He Shou Wu helped me to father children. Originally, I preferred peace of mind, and under no circumstances did I want to take this herb, because I had heard it said that it was ‘harmful to peace of mind’ (referring to its stimulation of sexual desire). However, my spouse took it accidentally and we attained the greatest happiness (the highest level of sexual ecstasy). Since then I have continued taking this miraculous herb.”
The Story of Li Qing Yuen
There is a famous story that has been widely spread about a man named Li Qing Yuen, who, as the tale goes, is said to have lived to be 252 years old. All evidence indicates that this is not possible. Therefore, I believe the story of Li Qing Yuen must be viewed as a legend. Nevertheless, it is widely believed in Asia that Li Qing Yuen did indeed live and that he lived to extended age – certainly to be a centenarian.
The story is worth telling because it expresses the deep interest the Chinese have had in the art of longevity and provides some excellent life lessons. According to the story, Li Qing Yuen was born in the mountainous southwest of China, he ran away from home at the age of eleven with three travelers. These travelers were in the herbal trade. Together the boy and his three teachers traveled throughout China, Tibet, and Southeast Asia, encountering many dangerous situations, but all the while studying the herbal traditions of all the various regions.
As Li Qing Yuen became older, he became a practicing herbalist, and was well known for his excellence of health and amazing vigor. He was particularly interested in Taoist life cultivation and had a deep personal interest in tonic herbs. One day, when he was around fifty years old, he met a very old man who, despite of his venerable old age, could out-walk Li Qing Yuen. This impressed Master Li very much because he believed that brisk walking was both a way to health and longevity and a sign of inner health. Li Qing Yuen inquired as to the old sage's secret. He was told that if every day he consumed a "soup" of an herb known as gou qi zi (Lycium chinensis fruit - known to us as Goji berries or Wolfberries) he would soon attain a new standard of health. Of course Li Qing Yuen knew about this Goji but had not made it a central part of his daily herbal regimen. Li Qing Yuen did just what the old sage suggested and continued to consume Goji soup from the time forward.
Because of his radiant health and longevity, he was greatly revered by all those who knew him and he had many disciples who followed him. Even at a very old age, his sight was keen and his legs were strong, and he continued to take his daily vigorous walks. One day, he was on a journey through treacherous mountains. In the mountains he met a Taoist hermit who was much older than him. Impressed by the great illumination of the old Taoist, Li Qing Yuen begged the sage to tell him his secrets. The old Taoist, recognizing the sincerity of Li, taught him some deep secrets of Taoist Yoga (also known as the "Inner Alchemy") and recommended that Li change his diet and consume Ginseng daily, combined with He Shou Wu.
It is said that Master Li also changed his diet accordingly, so as to consume very little meat, and even limited his consumption of root vegetables. He also limited his consumption of grain. Instead, he focused mainly on steamed above-ground vegetables and herbs. He supposedly died in 1930, reportedly after a banquet presented in his honor by a government official. He had married during his lifetime numerous times and lived through many generations of his own descendants, of which he had many.
Ron’s Note: I first reported on this story in 1984 in the book “Chinese Tonic Herbs (Japan Publications).” However, though I have tried, I have found that primary sources of documentation for Li Qing Yuen’s extreme longevity are non-existent. The story had first been reported, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, in a 1933 news agency filing as "the oldest man on earth", having been born in 1680 and just died at 253. The Guinness Book first identified him as Li Chung-yun and later as Li Zhongyun (1993 edition). The Guinness Book noted that “Li Chung-yun was said to have maintained a youthful appearance to the end, crediting it to Taoist wisdom and healthy living.”
The story is representative of a tradition that is rich in the lore of Taoists living to ages unimaginable by us. It is well known that among the Chinese population, the Taoists have always far outlived all other people in Asia. Many have lived to be centenarians and few died prematurely. The Taoist art of longevity, known as the "Way of Radiant Health" is one of the great legacies of the East. The Taoist arts of longevity include tonic herbalism, qi gong, tai ji quan, Taoist yoga, Taoist sexual techniques and many of the martial arts.
The Science of He Shou Wu
“Prepared” or “not prepared,” that is the difference.
The tuber of He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) must be “prepared” in order to be used as a regularly-consumed tonic herb. Unprepared He Shou Wu does not possess the tonic effects and can have unwanted side effects. The freshly picked tubers are sliced, stewed in black bean soup (in a proportion of 10 parts He Shou Wu to 1 part black beans) until the soup is exhausted. The “prepared” roots are then dried. That is all there is to the “preparation.” Of course, no chemicals are used in the making of “prepared” He Shou Wu.
The tuberous root of Polygonum multiflorum (He Shou Wu) has many active constituents. He Shou Wu is rich in anthraquinones, including many phospholipids such as lecithin (3.7%). A stilbene glycoside known as 2,3,5,4-tetrahydroxystilbene-2-O-ß-D-glucopyranoside (henceforth refered to as “he shou wu super-glycoside”) is considered to be the principle active constituent responsible for He Shou Wu’s very powerful antioxidant activity. There are many similar stilbene glycosides present in He Shou Wu. The stilbene glycosides in He Shou Wu are very similar to resveratrol. Several of the stilbene glycosides in He Shou Wu are stronger antioxidants than resveratrol.
Prepared He Shou Wu extract increases the cellular antioxidant activity
He Shou Wu supports the body’s innate ability to efficiently clear superoxide, the highly reactive pro-oxidant (free radical), from the body. This is a normal function that occurs trillions of times a day in every human being.
All organisms maintain complex innate antioxidant systems to prevent damage by oxidation. Antioxidants are chemicals that reduce the rate of oxidation reactions. Oxidation reactions are chemical reactions that involve the transfer of electrons from one substance to an oxidizing agent.
Oxidation is a constant function of life that is accelerated by stress and many other factors. He Shou Wu is rich in potent antioxidants and in antioxidant-potentiating molecules.
Superoxide dismutase (SOD)
Superoxide dismutase, generally referred to as SOD, is a class of closely related enzymes produced within the human body. Of all the antioxidants produced in the human body, SOD is king. SOD proteins are present in almost all aerobic cells and in almost all extracellular fluids. 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.
SOD is much more powerful than any other antioxidant. No external antioxidant is comparable to SOD, as external antioxidants may deteriorate by the time they enter our blood stream and because they cannot match SOD’s performance in clearing free radicals.
He Shou Wu has been shown to help maintain youthful levels of SOD in laboratory animals even as they age. It is widely believed that the SOD generating capacity of He Shou Wu is one of the reasons it has been found to have anti-aging and longevity increasing activity.
He Shou Wu enhances immunity
He Shou Wu has been found to support fundamental immunological functions in mammals.
He Shou Wu enhances adrenocortical function
He Shou Wu has been found to support adrenal gland functioning. He Shou Wu supports adrenal fortitude.
He Shou Wu traditionally functions as a Kidney tonic. Jing controls the functions of adrenal cortex.
He Shou Wu’s Blood Tonic Actions
He Shou Wu enhances the proliferation of blood producing cells
Scientific research supports He Shou Wu’s traditional function as a blood tonic. Prepared He Shou Wu can supports the hematopoietic (blood producing) function of the body. It does this by directly promoting the blood generating hematopoietic stem cells.
Improves red blood cell membranes
Extracts of this herb have been demonstrated to help support the membranes of erythrocytes (red blood cells) and to support the growth and development of erythrocytes in test animals.
He Shou Wu is a rich source of lecithin which is an important raw material of red blood cell and other cell membranes (lecithin is also a major component of nervous tissues).
He Shou Wu contains iron, even more than other blood tonics such as Dang Gui and Goji.
Prepared He Shou Wu supports blood flow and in test animals.
Protects the Liver
Classically, He Shou Wu is considered a Liver tonic. Many studies now support He Shou Wu’s protective and function-regulating actions on the liver. Throughout our lifetime liver cells continually replenish themselves. Adult humans do not die with the same liver they were born with. In experiments on mice, prepared He Shou Wu helps maintain healthy structural integrity of the liver. He Shou Wu acts as a powerful antioxidant in the liver.
Furthermore, researchers have found that this herb can stabilize liver cells by supporting membrane mechanism. He Shou Wu is a good source of plant lecithin. He Shou Wu has a special tropism (attraction) to the liver.
A zinc supplement
He Shou Wu contains zinc. The zinc content of prepared He Shou Wu is as high as 42 mg per 100 grams the herb. This is several dozen times higher than that of most herbs. Animal type foods are considered to be high in zinc, but they only have 3-5 mg per 100 gram, much lower than the 42 mg in He Shou Wu.
Zinc is an essential trace mineral required by all forms of life. Numerous aspects of cellular metabolism are zinc-dependent. Zinc plays important roles in growth and development, the immune response, neurological function, and reproduction. On the cellular level, the function of zinc can be divided into three categories: (1) regulatory, (2) catalytic, and (3) structural.
Zinc supports the metabolism of testosterone, and supports sperm quality and motility.
Effect on Memory
Dietary supplementation with either ethanol or water extracts of He Shou Wu can help maintain brain function and support learning and memory ability.
Potential Adverse Effects of He Shou Wu
Adverse effects are not common (very rare) with extracts of properly prepared He Shou Wu. Potential adverse effects of this herb are mainly digestive canal reactions, usually resulting in thin stool in cases where the herb is not tolerated, and occasional light abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. Raw, unprepared He Shou Wu is a laxative and should not be consumed as a tonic herb, i.e. on a long term basis. Some companies of He Shou Wu products are unaware of this issue and sell unprepared He Shou Wu, resulting in adverse effects.
“Prepared” versus “raw” He Shou Wu
The tuber of He Shou Wu must be “prepared” in order to be used as a regularly-consumed tonic herb. The roots are sliced, gently stewed in black bean soup (in a proportion of 10 parts He Shou Wu to 1 part black beans) until the soup is exhausted. The “prepared” roots are then dried. That is all there is to the “preparation.” Of course, no chemicals are used to prepare He Shou Wu.
The Toxicity Difference: Prepared He Shou Wu has extremely low toxicity.
He Shou Wu has been used for over two thousand years as a tonic herb in China and other Asian regions. In Asia, He Shou Wu is considered to be extremely safe and suitable for long term and daily use.
The LD50 tests for prepared He Shou Wu resulted in NO DEATHS, even after 1000 g/kg. On the other hand, the LD50 of raw (Unprepared) He Shou Wu is 50g/kg, This means even if rats consume their body weight worth of prepared He Shou Wu, they survived. Prepared He Shou Wu is one of the safest herbs or foods known to science.
With an LD50 value of greater than 1000 g/kg, We are only recommending 6-12 capsules (about 3-6 grams) of He Shou Wu per day as a long term tonic dose. [LD50: The LD50 Alcohol Percolate Test – generally referred to simply as the LD50 is a standard toxicity test used in scientific research. The higher the number, the safer the test object. LD50 (Lethal Dose50) is the amount of a substance that, when administered by a defined route of entry (e.g. oral, injection or dermal, etc.) over a specified period of time, is expected to cause the death of 50 per cent of a defined animal population. If no deaths have occurred when the test subject has consumed its weight in the test substance without ANY deaths, the test substance is considered safe beyond question. A score of 1000 g/kg means that the test animal can consume its weight in test substance with 50% dying. But to have NO deaths at 1000 g/kg means the LD50 is actually much higher, but researchers tend to stop there because no animal or human will ever consume its weight in any substance in a short period of time.]
Chemical Constituent Difference – Why Prepared He Shou Wu Is Much Milder and Safer than Unprepared He Shou Wu
The conjugated anthraquinones (such as emodin) present in unprepared He Shou Wu are laxative. After preparation, the amount of conjugated anthraquinones in He Shou Wu decreases, while the free form anthraquinones that have many health-supporting and protective benefits significantly increase. This is why prepared He Shou Wu has a much milder or nil laxative effect compared to raw, and why prepared He Shou Wu is so safe and effective.
Efficacy and Function Difference: The “preparation” eliminates the laxative effect of He Shou Wu and brings out the tonic effect. In addition to toxicity elimination, the special preparation process also enhances He Shou Wu’s therapeutic efficacy. He Shou Wu is known to support macrophages. In a test where mice were fed He Shou Wu prepared by different methods, or not prepared at all, at the dose of 6g/kg, only the prepared He Shou Wu that was stewed and steamed with black soybean soup for 32 hours was shown to support the phagocytic activity of abdominal macrophage. He Shou Wu that was raw or prepared differently showed no obvious results.
Raw, un-prepared He Shou Wu is used as a laxative in Chinese herbalism, and is not used in tonic herbalism.
Dragon Herbs He Shou Wu products are always made from PREPARED He Shou Wu. Unfortunately, many nutritional supplement companies and marketers in America are unaware of this distinction between prepared and un-prepared He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum). Raw He Shou Wu is of course less expensive, and that is often the driving force behind the way many herb companies make their purchasing decisions. As a result, He Shou Wu is sometimes blamed for the unwanted side effect of loose stool that results from the use of the incorrect herb (raw He Shou Wu). Again, Dragon Herbs is extremely aware of this issue and only uses PREPARED He Shou Wu to make its tonic products.*
Dragon Herbs He Shou Wu Extract Capsules
He Shou Wu powdered extract is an 8:1 “pure yield” (100% natural) powdered extract of the highest grade Prepared Polygonum multiflorum tubers grown in the remote high mountains of Yunnan province, China.
Specifications: 100 capsules 480 mg each
He Shou Wu is considered to be a very mild and safe herb. Mild gastrointestinal disturbance, characterized by soft stool, is the only side effect associated with Polygonum multiflorum. However, moderate doses of processed He Shou Wu rarely result in such an effect. Should this occur, the herb may be combined with certain other herbs, and the problem can be eliminated. Consult your herbalist. Again, this side effect is rare.
Ingredients: He Shou Wu (Polygonum multiflorum) root extract (Organically Grown, Certified by ECOCERT).
Other Ingredients: Vegetarian capsules**, rice hull extract.
Take 3 capsules, 2 times per day or as directed by a healthcare professional.
Remember Ron Teeguarden’s “First Rule of Tonic Herbalism,” summed up in a single word – Compliance. If you don’t take the herbs, they won’t work.”
**Pullulan caps 100% natural, water- soluble polysaccharide produced through a fermentation process; vegetable origin; non-GMO; no starch, preservatives or chemical modifications; gluten free.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to
diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.