Common Names

Rehmania root , Chinese Foxglove, Shu Di Huang
Botanical Name
Rehmania glutinosa

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What is it?

In herbal medicine we use the thick, initially orange, tuberous roots. Rehmania comes from a small perennial herb that produces large flowers reminiscent of Foxglove and it has sometimes been called Chinese Foxglove. Rehmania is very highly regarded in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is seen as one of the 50 fundamental herbs.

In TCM it is thought that Rehmania has very different uses according to whether it is taken fresh, simply dried or, as we in our own clinic use it, ‘cured’ where it has been steeped and mulled in wine made from millet!




How has it been used?

It is difficult to pin Rehmania down to a few key uses, which is a happy problem that is common to the tonic class of herbal medicines. It has many traditional recommendations for conditions where there is some degree of fever or inflammation, for example arthritis, hives and asthma. It has also had widespread use for women’s health problems such as heavy bleeding or spotting between periods.

However, the main historical uses of Rehmania would appear to be with regard to its nutritive and tonic properties. This is where the Rehmania is seen to excel. In modern terminology we might use terms like stress, adrenal exhaustion, nervous system burn-out etc.

Herbs that noticeably improve and support energy were always given the highest level of regard in the old traditions of medicine. The slower, and more surely, they worked the better they were understood to be able to make a lasting difference to health and longevity, whereas medicines that merely worked to take away symptoms were given a much lower ranking in the scheme of things.


Science on Rehmania

~Clinical trials using Rehmania produced positive therapeutic effects in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and urticaria i.e. hives (Hu CS. Chin Med J 1965;51:290)

~ Taking Rehmania along with Astragalus produced positive therapeutic effects in patients with chronic nephritis (kidney disease) and the same preparation also demonstrated anti-allergy effects and the promotion of immune function (Su ZZ, He YY, Chen G. Chung Kuo Chung Hsi I Chieh Ho Tsa Chih 1993;13(5):259-260, 269-272)

~ Experimental tests with Rehmania in the laboratory showed that it was able to abolish the suppressive effects of cyclophosphamide and dexamethasone on immune function and it showed protective effects on disturbances in heart, liver and kidney functions during chemotherapy (Li P, Shi XH, Wang FL. Chin J Immunol 1987;3(5):296-298,320)

~ Further laboratory studies with Rehmania showed some intriguing effects on the pituitary and adrenal cortex, appearing to prevent or even reverse tissue damage from the administration of steroidal drugs (Cha LL, Shen ZY, Zhang XF et al. Chin J Integr Trad West Med 1988;8(2):95-97)

~ The authors, titles and the 'where-and-when' published of over 40 further studies and articles on Rehmania are listed in a PDF found here

Safety of Rehmania

Rehmania is a safe herb that is not known to cause any adverse effects when taken in normal therapeutic amounts. Excessive doses may cause temporary bowel looseness. Rehmania is considered safe to take during pregnancy and whilst breast-feeding and it may be used with confidence by the young and old.

General comment on herbal safety

All medicinal herbs that have the power to do good have the potential to do harm. The old maxim 'the poison is in the dose' precisely describes how too much of anything can be bad for us. The ancient rule to 'firstly, do no harm is, to this day, held as the core directive by all practitioners of traditional herbal medicine. 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 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 that, not so long ago, decried herbal medicines as ineffectual, have now taken up a different adversarial position; that they are dangerous substances that 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'. Such cautions are absurd to the point of the ridiculous, but fear is a universal driver that has long been proven to be effective at manipulating people.

Unfortunately, the same unnecessary fear and worry has crept into many natural health websites and popular publications on herbs. Herbs that we have safely used for thousands of years, that have no reports of adverse reactions in the medical literature despite widespread use by millions of people, are suddenly described as contraindicated because of something that should have been seen as completely unimportant, or at the utmost a merely theoretical concern, such as a laboratory study on one of the herb's constituents to use an all too common example.

I wonder sometimes if the writers of such articles feel that the herb will be more deserving of respect if it is thought to be a little bit dangerous, in other words more like a drug than something that has simply come out of the earth and been used by ordinary people for generations beyond count.

There is just so much misinformation about herbal medicine on the internet now. Ludicrous claims and cautions abound in equal measure; it seems like one group are trying to make money out of the public whilst the other are busily trying to scare them off.

I have to believe that the kind of reader who takes the time to read pages on herbs that are as extensive as this one is much less likely to be swayed by marketers or misinformers. I hope that you will keep your wits about you if you get conflicting opinions from people who have never really got to know these herbs, who have never worked with them, or learned how to use them safely and effectively.

I want to remind you that the reason that herbs can never be patented and owned by any individual or corporation is because they are, and always will be, the People's medicine. They belong to all of us and it is my great hope in sharing this work that you will learn how to use them wisely for yourself, and the people you care for. Be safe, but do not be afraid.


Personal experiences

I have used a great deal of the cured Rehmania in decoction form. Once you start using it in practice, or making preparations of it yourself, you soon understand why it has such a high reputation as a tonic; there are deep, penetrating, and nutritive qualities to this herb.

If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or just have your own reasons to want to get to know this herb at a much deeper level, then I warmly encourage you to get hold of some to try it for yourself with a quiet and attentive mind to observe for yourself how it makes you feel.

Whether you slowly boil it into a tea (in which case it swells up like a weird little black sponge) or simply chew and swallow some, or take some good quality tincture made from it, I think you will likely feel how nourishing it is and will understand at a personal level how Rehmania is a herb that gets in at a deep level and helps nurture the body’s self-repairing capacity. I think it can be safely used by anyone who has been experiencing excessive tiredness and fatigue with an expectation that they should get some improvement from it.

Further to this, if you would like to learn more about the ancient art of pulse testing, a simple but powerful way to ask the intuitive intelligence of the body for its responses to a herb by feeling the pulse whilst giving a tiny dose by mouth, read here

Rehmania can be excellent when adrenal exhaustion is a particular issue. I think that it is a 'trophrestorative' for the adrenals; something that can nourish health back even after long-lasting illness. I am also in the practice of using it for people with thyroid health disorders, especially when there are antibodies to the thyroid found in the blood and there is a history of an auto-immune condition that has affected thyroid health.

The traditional, high-dose method of using Rehmania as a decoction (where doses of at least 5 grams and up to 10 grams are quite common) has a lot to offer and I think that we must be prepared to use it in quite substantial doses if we will prefer to use it in a liquid extract or tincture form.

That said, the tincture of Rehmania clearly gets a lot of active principles out of the herb; it has a rich, potent and vibrant energy that may convey significant benefits at a lower dose than what can be achieved with the same weight of herb by decoction. I will personally use around 4, or even 5 mls a day, in divided doses, to feel confident of getting a strong therapeutic action from the herb.

Rehmania combines perfectly with Panax Ginseng, Astragalus, Licorice root and Withania for tiredness and adrenal exhaustion.


Constitutional note

Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Rehmania 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, Rehmania can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing', more about this here

Please 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