If you’re like me, you’re a big fan of peonies. These large red, white or pink flowers grow on plants that are three to four feet tall, signaling to the world that summer is finally here. But did you know that the roots of these beautiful bushes are also important Chinese herbs? It’s true! And what’s more, they’re commonly used for conditions related to women’s health.
The herbs derived from peony root include:
Red peony, or Chi Shao Yao. The main action of this herb is to move blood, and it’s especially useful in treating some women’s health issues, such as cramping, amenorrhea and abdominal pain. Because it helps to move and circulate blood, Chi Shao Yao can be used to treat swelling and pain that has occurred as the result of a traumatic injury. Chi Shao Yao can be used to clear heat, especially Liver heat that comes from anger, frustration or stress, and it can help cool your blood. It’s cooling effect, however, is not as strong as the other peony herbs
White peony, or Bai Shao. While it may seem to make sense that the red and white distinction between the peony plants is based on the color of the flowers, it’s actually a description of the color of the roots. In fact, white peony may be the same plant as red peony, but in many cases, the white is wild and red is cultivated. That said, the two herbs have different actions. Bai Shao is a more calming and nourishing herb than Chi Shao. The white variety of this plant nourishes the Yin and Blood and helps to regulate the menstrual cycle. It can be used for uterine bleeding, menstrual dysfunction and other women’s reproductive issues. Research on this herb has revealed that it contains phytoestrogens, which are compounds similar to estrogen, and may explain its usefulness in treating reproductive problems.
In addition to its nourishing properties, Bai Shao calms Liver Yang and alleviates pain. It’s used for rib and abdominal pain, and stops spasms and cramping. It’s often used to treat painful abdominal and intestinal cramping. It’s helpful in treating headache and dizziness from Liver Yang rising upward toward the head. Animal studies on Bai Shao have found that it inhibits the breakdown of the feel-good neurotransmitter, serotonin. This may be related to why Bai Shao is also helpful in the treatment of anxiety and depression.
Mu Dan Pi is also a peony derived herb, but it comes from the root of the tree peony. Its most notable action is to clear heat and cool blood. Mu Dan Pi is included in formulas when fever or excessive heat in the body causes bleeding, such as nosebleeds, coughing of blood or profuse menstrual flow. Like Chi Shao Yao, Mu Dan Pi also helps to move blood and relieve pain. It can be used after a traumatic injury to reduce bruising and swelling. And like both of the other peonies, Mu Da Pi also helps to relieve Liver fire moving upward, to treat headaches and redness or inflammation of the eyes.
While each of these herbs come from the root of the peony plant, they each shine in different ways. Chi Shao Yao for moving the blood, Bai Shao for its nourishing properties and Mu Dan Pi for its ability to clear heat. Knowing which herb is most appropriate in a formula is nuanced and takes years of study and experience. If you’d like to know more about Chinese herbal medicine, or find out it it’s right for you, please contact me.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.