In an ancient Chinese record, a man by the name of He had grown past middle age, his hair had turned gray, and he had been unable to father any children. Taking the advice of a Buddhist monk, Mr. He ate the root of a plant that had captured his fascination, jiaoteng, which translates to creeping vine.

He dried and powdered the root and drank it in his wine. Soon, Mr. He found that his vision was improving, his body was becoming more youthful, and his hair was growing in black, not gray. On top of that, he was able to father several children with his new wife (who was also past her middle years and began taking this herb), and is reported to have lived to 160 years old.

The creeping vine he ate was a preparation of the original He Shou Wu root, which gets its name from the black (wu) hair on Mr. He’s head (shou).

Since there are references to this man and his lineage in ancient Chinese government documents, I tend to think that there is at least a glimmer of truth to the tale (though some reference his name as Ho). At the time Mr. He lived, the He Shou Wu herb was unknown in the Chinese Materia Medica, where all the medical knowledge of the day was compiled, mostly for use by the ruling class. Following the spread of Mr. He’s story, this root was found to be the single most potent tonic herb in all of China. When harvested, this root bears a remarkable resemblance to a knobby little human, with a torso, arms and legs, and a face, where the creeping vines grow where the hair would be. It also tends to grow in pairs.

In terms of Chinese medicine, He Shou Wu is a tonic to the kidneys, the liver, and the blood, and is known to strengthen the spine, knees, and ankles, as well as rejuvenate reproductive organs. Modern science is catching up with these folk tales and is finding quite a lot of uses for this robust little root.

If someone is infected with tuberculosis, they can turn to He Shou Wu, though there are much more practical (and likely) uses. Reducing inflammation is one of the biggest ways this root can help us, reducing insomnia, managing cholesterol levels, and even helping to ease constipation are among its other credits. It can help to strengthen muscles, tendons, and nerves.

Learn More About He Shou Wu

Primarily, He Shou Wu is a longevity tonic that can help regenerate tissues and promote new stem cell growth. Gray hair that grows in a more youthful color is only an indication of the improved functions going on deeper in the body. He Shou Wu has been shown in studies to significantly increase SOD (superoxide dismutase), which is one of the most powerful antioxidants that we produce in our cells. This root helps to strengthen the membranes of red blood cells and stimulate the growth of erythrocytes, which are important for a healthy immune system.

He Shou Wu is being studied for its neuroprotective capabilities and may have other practical uses for those with mental illness such as anxiety or depression and in those with dementia and Alzheimer’s.  

In the 1970’s, a clever marketer out of Hawaii began calling this imported herb Fo-Ti, and many companies still use this name, because it is recognizable. Even medical references include this name, though it describes the same plant.

The only potential side effects are in using the UN-prepared root (raw) for an extended length of time, as it can cause liver damage. The benefits of the raw herb are significantly reduced from the prepared form anyway. To prepare this root, it’s essentially made into a stew with black beans. The slices of the root are then dried and ground, with no additional chemicals or processing needed.

The powdered extract has a mild, earthy flavor, so people can add it to any of their favorite drinks. They can make a honey and cinnamon tea with He Shou Wu stirred in, or add it to a smoothie. I even know people who add it to their Bulletproof Coffee in the morning. Cheers to a long life!

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