Fo-Ti – Traditional Chinese Tonic Herb

Biological description

Fo-ti (Chinese Knotweed, Climbing Knotweed, Flowery Knotweed or Polygonum multiflorum) is a traditional Chinese plant which for centuries has been used in herbal medicine. But no Chinese herbalist will tell you what fo-ti is if you ask him. This is so because the Chinese name of the herb is He Shou Wu, translated as “black-haired Mr. He”. It comes from the legend about an old villager who took he shou wu to restore his dark hair, youth and vitality.

The herb belongs to the knotweed family and is usually valued for its reddish brown bitter roots. The shoots of the plant have a moist shimmer and resemble the shape of the peach and willow trees. The fo-ti leaves are bent and grow individually. There’s the distinction between male and female plants within the herb species: the sprouts of former are yellow-white, and those of the latter – yellow-red. The plant is found growing in China, Japan and Taiwan.


Fo-ti can grow in a typical garden soil, but it usually favors moisture retentive ground in the good sun disposal. The specimens are recommended to be gathered on a cloudless day at the end of spring, midsummer or the beginning of fall. It is better to collect and cultivate the plant after 3-4 years of its growth.

Parts used

Root is the part of the plant that is used with medicinal purposes. Traditionally, it is boiled with black beans to make a preparation known as red fo-ti. The unprocessed root is known as white fo-ti. Red and white fo-ti are used in different ways and have different curing effects. Edible parts of the plant are leaves, seeds (both consumed raw or cooked) and flowers.


Fo-ti is mostly presented in market in tonic forms. Though sliced root, whole root, root powder, capsules, tablets and tinctures are also widely available.


Unprocessed (white) he shou wo acts against toxicosis, inflammation, constipation and hyperlipidemia. The processed root decreases cholesterol levels due to the actions of the chemicals called lectins, which prevent fat retention in the blood and prevent cholesterol accumulation in the liver. The extracts of the processed roots possess antitumor, antioxidant, and immunostimulant, sedative and tonic properties.

Health Benefits

As a longevity tonic, fo-ti is used in Chinese medicine to restore the color of graying hair, weakness, premature aging, erectile dysfunction and vaginal discharge. Unprocessed herb improves memory, affects immune function, and protects the liver from toxins and acts as a powerful laxative. Applied topically, white fo-ti is beneficial in treating skin conditions such as acne, athlete’s foot, dermatitis, razor burn, and scrapes due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fugal properties. Processed fo-ti is considered to be stronger and more useful than the unprocessed one. Acting as antibodies, lectins produce immune-boosting, cholesterol-lowering and estrogen-like effects. The unprocessed herb is used to treat atherosclerosis, insomnia, high cholesterol, menopause symptoms, cardiovascular diseases and fatigue.