Is He-Shou-Wu the Same as Fo-Ti?
Answered by: Robert Newman, L.Ac.
Question from: No Name Given
Posted on: January 12, 2005

Schiff Company makes a product called Shen Min. This product restores your hair color. It does work. The main ingredient is He-Shou-Wu, Is this the same as Fo-Ti ? If so, would Fo-Ti do the same thing?

He Shou Wu, or Radix Polygonum multiflorum, is indeed also called Fo-Ti -- they are the same plant. And yes, it is a good plant for helping to restore the natural color of one’s hair. In fact, the name "He Shou Wu" means "Mr. He’s Black Hair," and it is given that name in connection with its ability to return the color of the hair to its original color.

In examining the ingredients of Shen Min on the internet, I noticed that it contains the extract of He Shou Wu, standardized for 2 compounds in it, the basic powdered root of He Shou Wu (I don’t know if this has been processed first in China), several minerals, a couple of vitamins and a "blend" of a couple of other herbs with other compounds/nutrients. It is indeed possible to obtain a change in the hair color by using just simple He Shou Wu (i.e, Fo-Ti) purchased from a Chinese herb pharmacy, without all of those other ingredients present -- which is much cheaper than buying some tablets. I don’t know to what degree, if any, that the extract with the standardized compounds and the various other nutrients in those tablets assist in restoring the hair color.

Of course, there are limits to this effect from taking He Shou Wu, depending on how long it’s been since one’s hair has changed color or turned gray. Generally speaking, the longer the time that has passed, the less significant the change. Also of importance according to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the hair turns gray because there is a deficiency of the "Kidneys" (this is the Chinese medicine concept of the Kidneys: for further explanation about the concept of the Kidneys in TCM, go to Richters Chinese herbs Q & A web page and see my replies to the questions, "About ‘Luchaio Ling Chih,’" "Is There An Herb That Can Help Acid Reflux?," "Herbs to Heighten Ability to Have a Climax," and "Herbs and Other Approaches for Uterine Prolapse"). If this deficiency is too deep, too severe, then it may be hard to get much or even any change in the hair color from some remedy. For the hair to be healthy and strong and retain its original color, TCM considers it very important that the Blood and the Kidney Essence are sufficient and that the Blood does not contain too much heat or toxicity within it. He Shou Wu helps to improve the state of 2 of those 3 factors. The He Shou Wu is said, according to TCM, to strengthen the Blood and the Kidney Yin and Kidney Essence.

Another great thing about He Shou Wu is that it often is a fairly gentle, mild and well-tolerated herb, so many people can usually benefit from it without problems. What I mean by "often" here has to do with the fact that there are different ways to process herbs in the TCM system, including doing no processing at all and using an herb in its simple raw, dried form. These different processing methods are used for numerous reasons, including: to bring out or amplify different properties and/or functions of an herb which are already present in the raw (unprocessed), dried form; to alter certain properties and/or functions, thereby changing some or many of the properties or functions from what they are in the raw, dried form; to reduce the harshness or toxicity of an herb, etc. So, when He Shou Wu is used in its raw, dried form, it is bitter, sweet, astringent and neutral in temperature, and it is used for moistening the intestines, helping the bowel movements, clearing toxins and softening nodules; it treats constipation and dryness in the large intestine from Blood deficiency, skin inflammations, and subcutaneous nodules including goiters and tubercular nodules in the neck. In this raw form, He Shou Wu will not only be less tonifying, but it will also create additional moistening and dampness in the digestive tract: in those patients who already have too much dampness in their digestive systems and therefore tend to have looser stools or even diarrhea, this is not a good thing. So patients such as those should not be taking raw (unprocessed) He Shou Wu, or at least not taking it by itself (they would need to use a formula that would have other herbs in the formula for helping the digestive system and counterbalancing the stronger moistening effect of He Shou Wu on their digestive systems; also the dosage of He Shou Wu in the formula would have to be fairly conservative). Commonly however, the material we receive in Chinese herb pharmacies here in the U.S. is processed by being cooked with black soybean sauce and yellow rice wine -- it is usually not in its raw form. This changes the He Shou Wu so that it becomes sweet, bitter, astringent and slightly warming in temperature. It now has the functions of nourishing the Blood, tonifying the Liver and Kidney Yin aspect, and nourishing the Essence; it treats early graying of the hair, vertigo, ringing in the ears from deficiency, deafness from deficiency, poor or blurred vision due to Blood deficiency, low back pain and/or weak legs from Kidney Essence deficiency. It is not as hard on the digestive system as the raw material and therefore can be used by a greater number of people with little to no undesirable effects. Furthermore, it is clearly more tonifying.

I will mention here that I too have had personal experience with having my hair color change after consistently using He Shou Wu (Fo-Ti) a period of time. So I can personally attest to its usefulness too.

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