Common Names

White Peony root, Bai Shao Yao, Paeonia root
Botanical Name
Paeonia lactiflora, Syn. P. officinalis

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the roots of the white Peony. Peonies grow to about a meter, have large leaves up to 20cm long and usually produce abundant numbers of, large, many-petalled flowers.




How has it been used?

Peony has been used for many centuries as a pain-relieving, cleansing and cooling herb.

Peonies come from the Far East so not surprisingly they figure strongly in the cultures of Chinese, Tibetan and Siberian folk medicine. Uses recorded for Peony from these systems include cleansing the blood, relaxing tense muscles and cramps, regulating women’s hormonal based problems, helping treat fevers, as an antiseptic wash for wounds and for the ‘falling sickness’ (epilepsy).

J. Heinermann writes 'Peony root is very popular in Chinese medicine. It is used to alleviate the pain and swelling of traumatic injuries and to clear away congealed blood resulting from serious bumps or bruises. It is useful in the early stages of abscesses, boils and carbuncles'

Peony has been regarded as a general tonic at least as much as a remedy for sickness; an old Chinese saying goes that ‘a woman who takes Peony root daily will become as beautiful as the Paeony flower itself’

European traditional herbal medicine embraced Peony with enthusiasm, particularly the old English herbal culture. Here it was rated as a treatment for epilepsy and also for spasms and cramps caused by gall-stones or kidney stones.

Modern herbal medicine has focused on Peony as a hormonally active ‘women’s herb’. It has been seen to be helpful for polycystic ovarian syndrome and a medicine that helps balance the menstrual cycle in general.


Paeony folklore

~ Peony's family name Paeonia, is named after the mythical Greek god of healing, Paeos, who used Peony Root to heal Pluto of his wounds from the great Trojan War.

~ Paeos himself is said to have received the plant on Mount Olympus from the mother of the god Apollo.

~ The Peony plant was consequently dedicated to the moon and thought to only be any good if it was harvested at night!

~ In ancient times it was thought to be of divine origin, an emanation from the moon, and to shine during the night protecting shepherds and their flocks and also the harvest from injury, driving away evil spirits and averting tempests.

Science on Peony

~ Peony has a strong level of scientific evidence for the treatment of pulmonary heart disease and there is an increasing body of research in its use in traditional Chinese medicine formulas for such common conditions as uterine fibroids, menstrual problems and hormonal regulation.

~ Andrew Chevallier writes 'Peony has significant anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, and preclinical research indicates that its traditional uses for problems such as rheumatoid arthritis is justified. Paenoniflorin, the constituent thought to be most responsible for these effects, is also thought to lower blood pressure and support blood flow to the heart'

~ Chevallier also writes that 'Peony has a hormone-balancing activity that helps to reverse the symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which include irregular menstruation and infertility. In combination with Licorice root, it has been shown to support regular ovulation and to lower the raised testosterone levels that typically occur in PCOS'

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of nearly 80 further studies and articles on Peony are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Peony

No adverse effects are expected from taking Peony, even in high or frequent doses. It may be confidently taken during pregnancy or whilst breastfeeding and it can be used by the young or old with safety.

General safety note on herbs

Therapeutic substances, and this certainly all includes all medicinal herbs, can do good and, therefore, also have the potential to do harm. The maxim that 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us and the ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. So, not only are we careful to do our best to use the right herbs but, equally, we take care to not give too much of them or use them overlong.

For some years now, against this old, proven and safe way of herbalism, there has been a rising tide of excessive caution and scare-mongering in many parts of the world. The same authorities and medical publications that no so long ago decried herbal medicines as ineffectual have now taken up a different kind of adversarial position. That they are dangerous substances that should not be taken for a long list of reasons and really should only be prescribed by Doctors, who of course have zero training in them.

Lists of '10 popular herbs and why you should avoid them' include things like Garlic and Ginger that might 'thin your blood'. It is absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver, and fear has also been long proven to be effective when used to manipulate and control others.

I realise that the reader who comes to a page like this is unlikely to be swayed by such misinformation, but I nevertheless want to remind you that the reason that herbs cannot be patented or owned by any individual or corporation is that they are the people's medicine. They belong to us all and it is my great hope that you will learn how to use them safely and wisely for yourself and the people you care for. Be safe but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

Peony is a vibrant, health-giving herb. It is a true 'root' medicine, providing a nourishing support that gets deeper over time.

Peony's taste is sweet and first and then bitter and this gives some clues about how it acts in the body. Firstly, as a tonic, then as a cleansing agent. I have found that people who are tired and congested can respond especially well to Peony root. It is a medicine that will particularly serve those who need cleansing but would become too unwell with a more vigorous liver or kidney tonic.

In the olden days Peony was clearly used extensively as a fast-acting first-aid herb and taken in very high doses for short periods of time.

Fortunately, in modern times we have emergency medicine to fulfil those cases of urgent need and for its deeper effects I personally find that Peony is a herb that best suits moderate doses over a longer time frame, up to 4 or 5 mls of its tincture in a day, or 4 or 5 grams of its root in a decoction along with other tonic herbs. You would need to use it for at least a few weeks at these levels to assess its benefits but, if taken patiently, it will likely have a deep-acting tonic and balancing effect...

Peony combines perfectly with other great tonic herbs such as Licorice root, Dong Quai, Withania, Ginseng, Nettles, Alfalfa and Hawthorn.

Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Peony is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?

Part of the reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are either hotter or cooler and, at the same time, either dryer or damper. This useful and rather fascinating subject is introduced further here

Another big part of using the right herb when it is most needed comes from understanding the need to treat what is going wrong for the person that had led up to their getting a health condition. In this light, Peony can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

lease understand that I cannot advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in person in my clinic but for ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area read here

This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd