Herb Profile: He Shou Wu
There is a reason why the other common name for He Shou Wu, "Fo-Ti", translates to “elixir of life” in Chinese (Yance, 2013). For anyone out there prematurely greying or dealing with the throws of “getting older,” it's time to get to know He Shou Wu. A classic longevity tonic, rejuvenating adaptogen, and cognition enhancer, He Shou Wu builds from the root up so we can continue to thrive and blossom into our old age.
Not many people know that the Chinese name He Shou Wu was actually the name of a man in the Tang dynasty “whose infertility was supposedly cured,” by this herb (Yance, 2013). Not only that; after beginning to use this root his grey hair returned to black and he continued to live on to the ripe old age of 130! While we would love to travel back in time and interview He Shou Wu himself, at least we can still experiment with and learn from the root itself.
Unfortunately, we cannot promise the same results as He had when you use this herb...BUT centuries of traditional use as a longevity tonic and increasing scientific studies help confirm the vast potential of health benefits offered by He Shou Wu.
Like we mentioned above, He Shou Wu is commonly used to help reduce the signs of aging in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), serving as the antidote for hair loss and premature greying (Yance, 2013). He Shou Wu is also found to improve the overall quality of blood, hair, and teeth—all things we could stand to strengthen as we grow older.
We will dive into more detail later on, but first, let’s zoom out for a moment and take a look at the bigger picture.
There are a LOT of factors that affect our longevity. Some of the most common ailments the modern human is faced with are cancer, heart health, stress levels and oxidative stress, brain degeneration, and overall lack of vitality.
He Shou Wu can play a beneficial role in all of these. Yes, ALL of them. Keeping this golden nugget of information in mind, it’s no wonder Mr. He lived until 130.
For The Fellas
Remember how our man He is noted to have “cured” his infertility with He Shou Wu?
Well, one of the virtues of this magical root is to nourish the fluids in the body, including the semen. Yes! Your semen need nourishment in order to grow into strong little swimmers... (Who knew!?)
The herb He Shou Wu is a potent tonic for the reproductive organs and sexual vibrancy. Like what we were talking about in our ashwagandha herb profile when we say “sexual vibrancy,” we don’t mean that instant arousal, “Let's get it on...” kind of thing...but more of a long-term sexual energy restorative.
(When it comes to these herbs, they work more organically with the body, unlike the libido-boosting pharmaceuticals we're used to hearing about.)
Through tonifying the functions of the reproductive organs themselves, replenishing our energy reserves, and restoring our vital sexual fluids, He Shou Wu is helping prime our body for a life filled with lasting sexual vitality.
Although He Shou Wu is commonly pigeon-holed as a “male tonic,” which deters women from using it, this root can also be used to nourish the lady-part reproductive fluids as well!
He Shou Wu has been used to help regulate vaginal discharges and vulvovaginitis (Yance, 2013). Even though it has an affinity for the fellas...there are some hidden benefits for the ladies too.
If you read our codonopsis herb profile, then you know how special it is to find something that is both nourishing and energizing at the same time.
Well, luckily He Shou Wu is another one of these unique herbs that offer rejuvenating, energy-restoring, and stress-balancing properties all at the same time.
As a rejuvenating adaptogen, He Shou Wu isn’t just here to immediately pick up your energy levels then leave you hanging... Instead, it helps regulate your epinephrine and norepinephrine (the flight/fight hormones that are released when the body is under extreme stress) levels throughout the day so that when stressful events occur (and unfortunately, they’re bound to happen every now and then!), we don’t react with an immediate panic, doomsday mentality.
After all, we use adaptogens to help us adapt to daily stressors in a balanced way, not to simply kick-start our energy as a way to push through while keeping our stress levels at a low-boil in the background until panic ensues again.
Naturally, through cultivating this kind of balance to stressors, He Shou Wu also supports more stable moods and mental state (keep reading as we dive into the brain in the next section...), (Yance, 2013).
This is what He Shuo Wu looks like in the Rasa Koffee blend 👇👇👇
Remember when we talked about our vital Essence in the eleuthero herb profile? And the Qi tonification in our codonopsis herb profile? Well, He Shou Wu also helps strengthen our vital essence and our liver Qi, thus supporting our hormonal balance and neuroendocrine system as well (Yance, 2013). Some of you might be thinking...is this redundant? Why do we need another adaptogen in Rasa that seemingly does the same thing??
It’s all about herbal synergy and action potentiation. When He Shou Wu is combined with the other herbs in Rasa, these tonification actions are potentiated, or in simpler terms, super-charged.
When used in an herbal team like this, the blood building and vital reserve restoring actions of He Shou Wu are also strengthened (Yance, 2013).
Moral of the story: when certain adaptogens get together, we can do the long-term, root-based, and necessary health work more efficiently.
Our man Mr. Wu might have lived as long as he did because of what his magic root was doing for his brain. He Shou Wu is considered a neurological tonic herb and is used to support and help prevent an array of different neurodegenerative diseases (Bounda & Feng, 2015; Yance, 2013).
How does this work?
It’s all about the special compound tetrahydroxystilbene glycoside. Although the enormity of this scientific word might sound daunting at first, the main takeaway here is to know that this bioactive component offers profound brain-protective mechanisms, enhancing our memory and cognition and even prolonging life (Yance, 2013; Bounda & Feng, 2015).
And perhaps if you start using He Shou Wu regularly, you might even start remembering extremely long compound names like this one!
Our brain is responsible for SO many functions and processes in the body, including the hormonal cascade affected by our stress levels. When we put the vital importance of the brain’s role into focus, we realized it’s never too early to start protecting and strengthening its inherent power.
He Shou Wu offers dome defense here by enhancing our HPA axis and regulating our epinephrine and norepinephrine levels, aka helping balance our central stress response system (Yance, 2013).
And since our ability to adapt and handle stressors goes hand-in-hand with the development of many neurological conditions later in life...So it's safe to say that He Shou Wu is looking out for your overall health in many ways.
Not A One Size Fits All
Like all herbs, He Shou Wu is not a “one size fits all” kind of herb. One important sourcing note to be aware of when attaining He Shou Wu is whether it is cured or unprocessed. When unprocessed He Shou Wu is used at higher doses than recommended, it could cause tummy troubles such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. In general, cured He Shou Wu is considered safer, milder in effect, and tends to cause fewer GI irritations (Skenderi, 2003).
If you are dealing with a liver disease or disorder, then use He Shou Wu with caution and only under the guidance of a professional healthcare provider. Additionally, He Shou Wu is not indicated for use if you are experiencing loose stools or phlegm stagnation such as during a respiratory infection or other acute illness.
In It For The Long Run
If we treat our bodies right with herbs like He Shou Wu, we have the potential to be here for quite a long time!
Even though it seems like we've covered a lot of ground in this article, in reality we have only had time to scrape the surface on what He Shou Wu has to offer.
In addition to being a longevity tonic, rejuvenating adaptogen, and cognitive enhancer, He Shou Wu also has anticancer potential, provides detoxification support, is used for chronic malaria and specific skin disorders, contains powerful anti-inflammatory action, can help regulate bowels, and is used for insomnia, among other incredible properties (Bounda & Feng, 2015; Yance, 2013). A true “elixir of life” if you ask us.
Be sure to drop us a line around your thoughts around this powerhouse adaptogen in the comments below. We love to hear from you!
About the Author
Heather is a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist, Medical Anthropologist, Writer, Whole-Body Wellness Coach, and Holistic Educator. Connect with her on her personal website www.heathersaba.com and Instagram (@heathersaba)
Bounda, G.A. & Feng, Y.U. (2015). Review of clinical studies of Polygonum multiflorum Thunb. and it’s isolated bioactive compounds. Pharmacognosy Research, 7(3), 225-236. doi: 10.4103/0974-8490.157957.
Shen, B., Truong, J., Helliwell, R., Govindaraghavan, S., & Sucher, N.J. (2013). An in vitro study of neuroprotective properties of traditional Chinese herbal medicines thought to promote healthy ageing and longevity. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 13, 273. doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-13-373.
Skenderi, G. (2003). Herbal vade mecum. Rutherford, NJ: Herbacy Press.
Yance, D. (2013). Adaptogens in medical herbalism: Elite herbs and natural compounds for mastering stress, aging, and chronic disease. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.