Fo ti is the American name for the herb Polygonum multiflorum. Polygonum is a member of the Polygonaceae family of plants. In Chinese herbalism, fo ti is called he shou wu or ho shou wu. Other names are fleeceflower and Chinese cornbind. In Japan the herb is called kashuu. It is one of the most popular herbs in Oriental medicine, used as an overall health tonic, as a tincture to increase longevity, and as a remedy for various health conditions.
Fo ti is a perennial flowering vine that reaches heights of 3-6 ft (0.97-1.8 m). It is native to southwestern China, Japan and Taiwan, but can be cultivated in many regions, including parts of North America.
The root of the plant is the part most frequently used for medicinal purposes, although Chinese herbalists occasionally use the stems for different applications. The root has a sweet and slightly bitter taste. Chinese herbalists claim it has slightly warming effects in the body, and works by increasing levels of blood and vital essence. These are two of three essential substances in the body, according to Chinese medicine. Chinese herbalists also maintain that fo ti strengthens the liver and kidneys. Fo ti root is used in conjunction with other herbs in many medicinal tonics.
Research in the West has shown that fo ti has antitumor and antibacterial properties. It also lowers blood pressure (hypotensive effects) and increases circulation (va-sodilatory effects). Fo ti contains emodin and rhein, two laxative agents that have shown promising anti-cancer activity as well. Fo ti also contains lecithin, a B vitamin that aids in fat metabolism and lowers cholesterol. Researchers have isolated a flavonoid in fo ti called catachin, which is also found in green tea. Catachin inhibits tumor cells and has antioxidant effects, which may be the source of the anti-aging properties that the herb is known for in China.
Fo ti is recommended for many conditions. It is used as an overall health strengthener, and to prevent premature aging and graying hair. Chinese medicine recommends it to increase sperm quality in men and fertility in women. It is used for diseases associated with weakness in the liver and kidneys. These illnesses are characterized by blurred vision, dizziness, weakness in the knees and lower back, intermittent fevers, dull complexion, swollen lymph glands, and sores and boils on the skin. Fo ti has also been used traditionally in Chinese medicine for non-acute malaria, for lowering cholesterol, and for nervous disorders. As it has both laxative and tonic effects, it is good for constipation in the elderly. It is also used to treat vaginal discharges, and its slightly sedative effect makes it a treatment for insomnia. In Chinese medicine, the vine part of polygonum, which is called ye jiao teng, is used to treat insomnia as well as irritability and numb or itching sensations in the limbs. In the West, fo ti is showing promise as an adjunctive form of herbal therapy in cancer treatment.
Fo ti can be purchased as whole or sliced roots, in tablets, and as a tincture. It is available in health food stores as well as Chinese herb stores and markets. The reader should note that the Chinese don’t recognize fo ti as the herb’s proper name; in Chinese markets it should be referred to as he shou wu or as polygonum.
Fo ti root usually comes in slices. The older and larger the root, the higher quality and more expensive. In addition, dark roots are considered a higher grade than roots that have white streaks in them. The root can be eaten or prepared as a tea or tincture. To make tea, the root should be boiled for 30 minutes or more to extract all the active ingredients. For one serving of the root or tea, 5-15 g are recommended. For a tincture, chopped roots can be soaked in alcohol for one month or longer, and 30 drops of the tincture can be taken daily. Tinctures can also be purchased; daily dosages vary according to the concentration.
For sedative purposes, fo ti vine is generally taken with the evening meal or before bedtime. Fo ti can be taken continuously for up to one month; the patient should then wait one month before using it again.
Fo ti is used in many herbal tonics. For longevity and overall health, it is combined with Asian ginseng. Chinese herbalists recommend combining fo ti with Asian ginseng, dong quai, and tangerine peel as a tonic for non-acute malaria or for recovery from a long illness. For sore knees and lower back problems, herbalists combine fo ti with cuscuta, psorolea fruit, and lycium fruit. As part of a program of cancer treatment, fo ti is combined with other tonic and immune-enhancing herbs, including Korean ginseng, astragalus, milletia, and codonopsis. Experienced herbalists can assist consumers with special preparations and applications.
Catachin-A flavonoid found in fo ti that has antioxidant and tumor-inhibiting qualities.
Flavonoids-Pigments found in plants that protect plants against environmental stress. In humans, they appear to have anti-aging effects.
Tonic-Any substance that strengthens and tones the entire system.
Sedative-A substance or medication that calms and lowers bodily activity.
Fo ti is generally a safe herb, but it is not recommended for patients with diarrhea or heavy phlegm in the respiratory tract.
Reported side effects with fo ti are generally rare. They include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, numbness in the extremities, flushing of the face, and skin rashes.
Some herbalists advise patients to reduce their intake of onions, garlic, and chives while taking fo ti for extended periods.