White Peony Root (Bai Shao)
What is White Peony Root (Bai Shao)?
White Peony Root (bai shao, 白芍), also known as Semen Ziziphi Spinosae, are the peeled roots of the plant Paeonia lactiflora. This herb is obtained by digging the roots of a three to four years old Paeonia lactiflora in the summer or autumn, which is then washed, cooked in warm water and dried under the sun. The word ‘Peony’ is derived from the Greek name ‘Paeon’, referring to the physician of the Gods, reputed to have discovered the medicinal properties of plants in this genus.
White Peony Root has been cultivated since 900 BC, and is widely grown in China provinces such as Zhejiang, Anhui and Sichuan. In the West, Peony petals can be dried and used in potpourri or to scent baths with. On the other hand, in China, White Peony petals are parboiled and sweetened for use as a tea-time delicacy, topping in summer salads, jams, or as a garnish in drinks. In Chinese culture, it is said that ladies who consume White Peony Root tea on a regular basis will become as radiant and beautiful as the flower itself.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Bai Shao falls under the category of ‘Tonic herbs for Blood Deficiency’. Such herbs are used for patterns of Deficiency to replenish one’s ‘Four Treasures’ (qi, blood, yin, yang). Neutral in nature, Bai Shao does not affect the yin-yang balance in your body.
Bitter and sour in taste, Bai Shao can cleanse the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements. The herb can also aid digestion and restrain abnormal discharges of fluids from the body, such as diarrhoea or heavy sweating. In particular, Bai Shao targets the Liver and the Spleen.
Functions and Benefits of White Peony Root (Bai Shao)
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) shows that White Peony Root has the following health benefits.
White Peony Root can tonify blood to address syndromes of blood deficiency. For example, this herb is commonly indicated for irregular menstruation, period cramps, metrorrhagia, metrostaxis, abnormal vaginal discharge, postpartum disorders, gestational disorders, lusterless complexion, dull and lusterless nails, anemia, breast distention and premenstrual syndromes. Also, White Peony Root can astringe yin to check sweating caused by the collapse of yin, such as night sweat and spontaneous sweating. The herb can help to address disharmony between the Liver and Spleen.
White Peony Root can also calm Liver yang and Liver Wind to alleviate pain. It is commonly indicated for pains caused by Liver-Blood Deficiency and tendon dystrophy. White Peony Root is often used together with Liquorice as mutual reinforcement, such as in the Shao Yao Gan Cao Tang (芍药甘草汤). Also, by subduing Liver yang and clearing Liver Heat, Bai Shao can treat dizziness, vertigo, flushed face, irritability, twitches, tremors, muscle spasms, convulsions and other symptoms caused by the hyperactivity of Liver-yang and Blood Deficiency in the Liver.
Also, Bai Shao is highly regarded for its ability to stabilize emotions and improve mental focus. By nourishing Liver blood, this herb can strengthen the Liver to calm one’s spirits and improve one’s mental and emotional clarity. Studies have suggested that Bai Shao may inhibit the actions of serotonin transporters, which increases serotonin levels and produces an anti-depressant effect.
Containing glycosides, Bai Shao also helps to regulate your immune system and treat autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, oral lichen planus and Sjogren’s syndrome. Similarly, Bai Shao may help with chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis, Kidney diseases and Liver diseases.
Other research suggests that White Peony Root may decrease hyperpigmentation, and thus may help to improve one’s skin complexion.
How to Use White Peony Root (Bai Shao)
The recommended daily dosage of White Peony Root is 10 – 30g, when consumed as a decoction. You can use the herb raw to pacify the Liver and astringe yin. When it comes to nourishing blood and regulating menstruation, you can stir-bake it with or without alcohol to enhance its effectiveness.
Bai Shao is also available in supplement forms such as pill, powder and tincture. You can use Bai Shao to make tea too.
You can find White Peony Root and its supplements in herbal stores and Asian specialty markets.
Cautions and Side Effects of White Peony Root (Bai Shao)
Bai Shao should not be used by individuals who are experiencing diarrhoea, Spleen Deficiency or stomach Deficiency. Also, individuals who are experiencing eczema or rashes should avoid using this herb for the time being too.
For individuals experiencing Liver disorders, do not consume this herb in large doses or over a long period of time. As Bai Shao may induce drowsiness, do use this herb with caution if you are driving or operating heavy machinery.
Use this herb with caution if you are taking anticoagulants such as heparin and warfarin, anti-diabetics such as insulin and sulfonylureas, and sedatives.
We strongly encourage you to consult your healthcare provider before deciding to add Bai Shao to your healthcare routine!
Here is a summary for White Peony Root (Bai Shao):
- Herb name (Chinese): 白芍
- Herb name (Pin Yin): bái sháo
- Herb name (English): White Peony Root
- Herb name (Botanical): Radix Paeoniae Alba
- Origin of species: Paeonia lactiflora Pall.
- Part(s) of herb used: Root
- Geo-specific habitat(s): Zhejiang, Anhui, Sichuan
- Taste(s) & Properties: Bitter, sour; Slightly cold; Administrates the Liver and Spleen Meridians
- Actions: Helps to regulate the female menstrual cycle; Eases pain and calms emotions; Helps to relieve headache and related pain due to imbalance in spleen and liver functions; Helps to regulate night sweating
He, S. R., Zhao, C. B., Zhang, J. X., Wang, J., Wu, B., & Wu, C. J. (2020). Botanical and traditional uses and phytochemical, pharmacological, pharmacokinetic, and toxicological characteristics of Ziziphi Spinosae Semen: a review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2020. [Accessed on 18th February 2023]
Mikage, M., & Ono, N. (2009). Herbological study of red peony and white peony used in Chinese medicine. Kampo Medicine, 419-428. [Accessed on 18th February 2023]
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