What is Fo-Ti?

Fo-ti is native to central and southern China and is distributed in Japan and Taiwan. It is a perennial climbing herb, which can grow to 30 feet in height. The plant has red stems, heart-shaped leaves and white or pink flowers. The roots of 3- to 4-year-old plants are dried in autumn. The stems and leaves are used also. Raw, wine- or steam-processed, or cured fo-ti is available in the United States.

Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a blood tonic, fo-ti is known as He Shou Wu (which means "black-haired Mr. He"), referring to the legend of an older villager named Mr. He who took the herb and restored his black hair, youthful appearance, and vitality.

Scientific Name

Polygonum multiflorum

Common Name(s)

Fo-ti also is known as he shou wu, flowery knotweed, climbing knotweed, Chinese cornbind, and tuber fleeceflower. This plant should not be confused with the commercial product Fo-ti Tieng, which does not contain fo-ti.

What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Fo-ti is a popular Chinese tonic herb, dating back to 713 AD. It is used to increase liver and kidney function and to cleanse the blood. The plant is also prescribed for symptoms of premature aging, such as gray hair, and is commonly found in hair care products in China. It is also used to treat insomnia, weak bones, constipation, and hardening and narrowing of the arteries. Regarded as a rejuvenating plant, fo-ti has been thought to prevent aging and to promote longevity. According to folklore, the older and larger roots have the most power, potentially offering mortality.

General uses

Because evidence exists of liver injury in humans, P. multiflorum and its extracts should be considered toxic to the liver. However, the plant is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine and in the Ayurvedic medical system of India for its rejuvenating and toning properties, to increase liver and kidney function, for treatment of mental disorders and abnormal amounts of lipids in the blood, and to cleanse the blood. Clinical trials are lacking to support claims for therapeutic purposes, but topical applications for the treatment of baldness and in the treatment of nervous tissue diseases are being investigated.

Health Benefits

In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), fo-ti is used as a tonic for blood deficiencies manifesting as dizziness, blurred vision, greying hair, soreness/weakness of lower back and knees, spermatorrhea and nocturnal emissions. The type of fo-ti typically used is red fo-ti, which is the root boiled in a liquid made with black beans.

Fo-ti is also used in TCM for other conditions, including:

The unprocessed root, known as white fo-ti due to its light color, is traditionally used for constipation or is applied topically to the skin for acne, athlete's foot, or dermatitis.

What is the recommended dosage?

Fo-ti is used at daily doses of 9 to 15 g of raw herb, but clinical studies are lacking. A standard dose in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia is 3 to 12 g/day.