Ho Shou Wu is an herbal tonic used within the Chinese medicine system. It maintains a popular and revered space within Asian herbalism. The tonic’s main active ingredient, a plant called Fallopia multiflora (also known as Polygonum multiflorum), grows upon the mountains of Central and Southern China.
This herb offers powerful release and assistance for an array of disorders and diseases. It is used for treating tuberculosis that has spread to the lymph nodes, cancer, inflammation of the prostate and constipation. Ho Shou Wu is also utilized for high cholesterol, insomnia, lower back and knee pain, and premature graying and hair loss, and contains essential nutrients such as iron, antioxidants and zinc.
Reset contacted Paul Rimmer, an herbalist based in the United Kingdom, to find out more about this impressive herbal tonic and its uses. Rimmer is currently training with the International Academy for Traditional Tibetan Medicine and is the founder of Nyishar, a company which sells artisan health tonics.
“Prepared Ho Shou Wu is widely considered to be one of the ultimate ‘yin jing’ herbal tonics of traditional Chinese medicine,” says Rimmer. “An elite status that it shares with select other herbs including goji berry.”
Before taking a closer look at the particular benefits Ho Shou Wu has to offer, it’s probably a good idea to discern exactly what is meant by the term ‘yin jing.’
“According to Chinese medicine, ‘jing’ is the foundational substance of which we are composed; it is our fundamental life force, our youthfulness and ability to reproduce and is inextricably related to our genetics, as we inherit this jing essence from our parents at the moment of conception,” Rimmer explains. “Jing is said to reside in the kidneys and should be considered as a type of battery; keep the battery charged and we will live a long and healthy life. Let the battery drain, however, and we will experience exhaustion, sickness and a shorter lifespan.”
Rimmer continues: “During conception and the gestation period we are developing what is known as ‘prenatal jing.’ This will govern the biological richness, quality and duration of our life, and is very much dependent on the level of jing our parents have to share with us at that time.
“When our prenatal jing is eventually exhausted, we have reached the end of this life. However, from the moment we are born, we are both cultivating and using ‘postnatal jing.’ This form of jing is coming from the nourishment we receive from our mother initially, and from the world around us as we grow and develop. This aspect of our jing battery can be easily depleted through stress, injury, illness, excessive sexual behavior in men and the process of childbirth in women.
“In reality we are using jing in every moment of living. The art is to maintain a healthy level of this life force throughout our lives and know when we need to replenish, which can be achieved in part through the use of specific ‘jing herbs.’ Our prenatal jing is generally considered to be fixed and unchangeable, yet by mindfully cultivating our postnatal jing we can avoid the need to borrow from our ‘prenatal bank account,’ and thus extend wellness and resilience for as long as possible.”
Rimmer goes on to describe both the yin and yang aspects of life sustaining jing energy:
“Jing has both yin and yang branches. The yin aspect of jing relates to deep sustaining nourishment, regeneration, long-term vitality, fertility and the overall health of the kidneys — benefits we can harvest from yin jing herbs such as prepared Ho Shou Wu. Yin is more about storage and accumulation, whereas the yang aspect of jing has a lot more to do with the ‘activity’ of this essence, the ways in which we can use our jing once we have cultivated enough of it. The further classification of yang jing herbs are able to provide us with increased physical strength and endurance, sexual vigor and immediately available energy.”
According to the philosophy of traditional Chinese medicine, adequate levels of jing energy are essential in order to live a healthy and fulfilling life. But how do you detect a lack of it? Rimmer informs Reset:
“Typical signs of a jing deficiency are premature graying of the hair, dry skin, cracked nails, loss of bone density, articulation problems with the joints and connective tissues, poor dental health, infertility and loss of libido. This is where we can begin to understand the nature of prepared Ho Shou Wu, because, as a very powerful yin jing herb, it is incredibly nourishing, restorative and aids in rebuilding our depleted reserves of postnatal jing. It is perhaps the most famous anti-ageing substance in all of Chinese medicine and has been used to successfully reverse grey hair and baldness, among an array of other benefits. This is actually how it got its name, because ‘Ho Shou Wu’ basically means ‘Old Mr. Ho’s head of black hair.'”
Rimmer tells the ancient Chinese story that explains how the herb obtained its somewhat eccentric name:
“An ancient Chinese legend states that this herb was first discovered by an old man named Mr. Ho, who was very old and in terrible physical shape. His posture was crooked and twisted, he was unable to walk without the aid of a stick, he had severe degenerative arthritis, and an overwhelming sense of weakness and exhaustion. He was basically withering away. His face was carved with deep wrinkles, he had lost most of his hair, and what little hair remained was completely grey. As his life force was deteriorating so rapidly, he began to reflect on his life and started regretting that he had never become a father and that there would be nobody to carry on his genetic lineage. Through sheer desperation he searched high and low for a natural medicine that would revitalize his constitution and restore his youthful energy. He wanted to see if it was possible to turn back his biological clock and restore his strength to such a degree that he might enjoy many more active years of life and even reproduce to ensure the continuation if his blood line.
“Despite this intention, one day he reached the threshold of his frailty and collapsed on the side of the road. He lost consciousness almost immediately, but in this subdued state he heard a distant yet soothing voice calling to him. The voice woke him from his decrepit slumber and he opened his eyes to see a ‘sacred’ plant beside him that had a glowing, vibrating aura. The plant spoke to him and instructed him to harvest it, so he carefully loosened the roots from the soil and carried the entire plant to an herbal shaman that he knew of in one of the neighboring villages. The shaman is also believed to have been guided by the ‘voice’ of the plant and he followed instructions on how the roots should be prepared; To be cooked for many hours in a black bean stew — the process of which would completely transform the nature of this natural medicine into one of the greatest herbal tonics for reanimating the life force.
“Old Mr. Ho consumed this medicine regularly and, after some time had passed, his hair began to grow back and return to its original black color. The legend says that his youthful jing essence returned in such quantity that he became strong and handsome once more, and fathered a number of healthy children despite his old age! This story is very well known throughout much of Asia and is the main reason why Ho Shou Wu became so popular. It was also one of the select few favorite herbs of Li Ching Yuen, the Chinese herbalist that is believed to have lived for 256 years, dying in the 1930s.”
The previous tale, although sounding like the stuff myths are made of, reflects what modern science is starting to excavate through research and experimentation. Studies upon studies support the notions of traditional Chinese medicine in its decision to regard the plant so highly.
Rimmer went on to shift his focus to the science:
“Storytelling aside, Ho Shou Wu is more than capable of standing up to the scrutiny of the modern scientific lens. Many studies have been conducted in recent years and have shown that it is excellent for building bone density and strengthening tendons and ligaments, making the body more robust and resilient to injury and general wear and tear. It is also common for both men and women to experience a greater degree of fertility and increased libido when using this herb. It is routinely prescribed in Asia for both men and women that are trying to have children.
“Observation has shown that it is very common for male sperm count to double and even triple while consuming Ho Shou Wu, and the fertility of the female ovum is also enhanced significantly. It is also one of the primary recommendations for women that have just given birth because of its deep rejuvenating properties and ability to restore vital energy to new mothers who are depleted and exhausted from the trials of pregnancy, labor and post-partum life.
“Ho Shou Wu is a premier tonic for the kidneys, which are traditionally understood to be the ‘seat’ of our jing essence. From here it is understood to strengthen the spine (especially the lower back) and enhance the flexibility and durability of the knees and ankles. It also provides good medicine for the liver and gallbladder and increases the healthy flow of bile into the duodenum during digestion.
“Ho Shou Wu can improve the structural integrity of red blood cells and promote their creation and development within the bone marrow, which can ensure a healthy abundance in the bloodstream and of course increase oxygen delivery throughout the body.”
The health giving and disease fighting qualities of Ho Shou Wu seem to form an almost endless list, covering such a vast breadth of conditions. Subhuti Dharmananda, PhD, director of the Institute for Traditional Medicine, claims on the organization’s website that pharmacology studies show that Ho Shou Wu extract “improves the cardiovascular system, enhances immune functions, slows the degeneration of glands, increases antioxidant activity, and reduces the accumulation of lipid peroxidation.” Such findings suggest that Ho Shou Wu is helpful in combating some of the processes that lead to conditions characteristic of old age, thereby also reducing the risk of fatal diseases (e.g. cancer) and incidents (e.g. heart attack, stroke).
Rimmer claims Ho Shou Wu not only benefits the physical body, but also has profound effects upon mental health, such as mood, through certain mechanisms:
“Modern research indicates that Ho Shou Wu is a natural monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor, which means that it can block the metabolism of certain important neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, and by doing so elevates mood and feelings of well-being. It also increases the activity of superoxide dismutase (SOD), an intracellular enzyme that acts as a powerful antioxidant. Other recent studies have revealed genuine neuroprotective capabilities that assist in reversing and preventing Alzheimer’s as well as generally improving mental acuity and memory, both short and long term.”
Rimmer concludes our conversation by dissecting and describing certain constituents within the herb and how applying it to preserve our jing essence may also contribute to the health and vitality of future generations:
“Ho Shou Wu is a rich source of anthraquinones, a constituent which can significantly reduce the inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis and also inflammation within the intestinal tract. They have also shown activity in inhibiting the growth of tumor cells. A word of caution though: anthraquinones can speed up the passage of chyle (digesting matter) through the digestive tract, so over consumption of Ho Shou Wu can sometimes have a laxative effect. This is why it is traditionally formulated with astringent herbs that allow it to be properly digested and assimilated without any unwanted side effects.
“As is the case with all natural medicines, Ho Shou Wu should not be considered as a panacea. It can certainly offer incredible results, but should always be part of a broader strategy that incorporates diet and lifestyle factors, as well as other therapies. While we are all fundamentally made out of the same human ingredients, the amounts/ratios of these ingredients vary greatly from one person to the next, giving us individual constitutions. This is what makes us all so different, and is precisely why one approach to health and healing never works exactly the same way for everybody.
“Ho Shou Wu may not yield the same results for everyone, but considering the demands of our fast-paced, modern lifestyles, stress inducing media, work deadlines, enforced multi-tasking and a growing dependency on stimulants just to cope with it all, it’s easy to see how we are more likely to rapidly deplete our jing essence at this time in human evolution. With that also comes a greater likelihood of having weaker genetics (jing) to pass on to the next generation. If we don’t cultivate and preserve our jing now, it isn’t only ourselves that will suffer, but our children will be born with a disadvantage, which ultimately will effect our species as a whole”.
Traditional Chinese medicine serves as an incredible and often metaphorical guide, highlighting and categorizing certain elements of our health into certain types of energy. Although many people in this age of textbook science and skepticism may look upon it with scrutiny, there is no doubting its validity as a tool and a compass which points towards preserving our vitality in an age where it can so easily be drained. Herbal remedies such as Ho Shou Wu serve as shields against so much of the potential triggers that our culture may hurl at us.
Rimmer ends our conversation with this advice:
“Human culture is changing faster than ever before and having a corresponding impact on the biosphere at large. The rate of these changes is occurring at a rate that we are struggling to adapt to. Adaptogenic herbs like Ho Shou Wu are available to us at this time as part of an overall strategy to achieve and maintain a dynamic sense of equilibrium in a world that appears more unhinged by the day. Favorably changing the human trajectory is a process that starts within ourselves.”