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. Heinerman 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.


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.

Peony Safety
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.

Personal experiences

Peony is a vibrantly active herb that makes a difference to anyone who uses it for a time. 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 much information 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 exceptionally 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 a moderate dose over a longer time frame. For example if using it as a tincture I might give around just 2 mls a day and as a tea not more than 1 or 2 grams of the root per day.

You would need to use it for quite a few weeks at these levels to see what it can do but if taken patiently it has a remarkable and I would say unique tonic effect...

Peony combines perfectly with Licorice root for hormonal imbalances, with Dong Quai for weak blood and with Ginseng and Withania for anaemia and fatigue.

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?

The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.

There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Peony can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.

Paeony in 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.

Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!



© 2011 R.J.Whelan Ltd