PEONY –Paeonia Brownii, Paeonia Lactiflora, Paeonia Veitchii, Paeonia Suffruticosa, Paeonia Officinalis, etc.
Also known as: White Peony, Red Peony, Bai Shao, Coral Peony, Mou-tan
Parts used: root, flowers
Systems/organs affected: liver, spleen, lungs, nervous system, female reproductive, blood, cardiovascular, kidneys
Properties: antispasmodic, astringent, emmenogogue, blood tonic, yin tonic, analgesic, anodyne, sedative, anti-inflammatory, vulnerary, febrifuge, depurative
Peony is a member of the Rununculaceae family. It is a perennial with dark green leaves that are divided into lobed leaflets. It has red stems and several different color variations of flowers. The roots are fleshy and either red or white (referring to white or red peony-unlike most assumptions it refers to the root color here rather than the flower color). While the root is most commonly used for medicine, the flowers also have found a home in herbal kits with European cultures. The tree peony is also included in this class and rather than be a tree flower, it is in fact a bush with very woody stems. The peony can get up to 28 inches tall and grows wild throughout China, Tibet, Mongolia and eastern Siberia. As it is a very popular flower it can now be found throughout the globe.
Peony is perhaps one of the oldest flowering herbs to be used as medicine dating back some 4000 plus years in ancient Chinese texts. Peony was actually named for the Greek physician Paion, who was reputedly the physician or caretaker to the Gods. He used peony quite often for maladies of all kinds. The healing properties were later recorded by the Roman scientist Pliny who used it for at least 20 different illnesses. Buddhist monks took it to Japan where they developed a smaller, more delicate version in the 8th century. In China it is known as the ‘king of flowers’ and has been grown there since 900 BC. The tree peony was believed to bring riches and honor and was symbolic of spring’s arrival. The Chinese used both the tree peony and the common peony for medicinal purposes. They found within their studies that peonies (Paeonia Lactiflora) yielded two separate kinds of medicine which is commonly known today as Bai Shao (white peony) and Chi Shao (red peony). The white peony was used for circulation issues, menopause, as a liver tonic, for abdominal pain, menstrual cramping and more while the red peony was used to relieve hot conditions (fevers, sores, inflammation, etc.), to control bleeding and for eczema. In fact, it was used to treat eczema by the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, England. Tree peonies (Paeonia Suffruticosa) were commonly used for gastro-intestinal issues, bleeding, as an antibacterial and for pain management.
The early Europeans used the common peony to ward off epilepsy (often used as a charm in that respect) although it isn’t used much in that regard today. Herbalists do recognize a difference between male and female peonies according to the plants appearance though. Female peonies have smaller, darker flowers that are more divided and contain black seeds. The female peony is also far more fragrant than its male counterparts. There are around 30 different species of peony and it is widely prized for weddings and as an ornamental plant aside from its medicinal uses.
Peony has been used by Asian cultures for centuries as a medicinal. They have used it extensively for childhood convulsions, epilepsy, whopping cough, chorea (abnormal involuntary body movements) and as a blood tonic. Peony contains a glycoside called paeoniflorin that has been found to act as an antispasmodic and a calming agent. One study conducted on a combination of licorice root and peony was found to relieve muscle cramping due to diabetes, cirrhosis and dialysis. Another one conducted on a formula containing peony root, dong quai and a few other herbs, was found to reduce painful menstruation and cramping. Paeoniflorin was also found to improve mental function in animals-possibly making it a promising aid for mental illnesses like dementia and Alzheimer’s. Red peony root has been found in Asian studies to have antioxidant activity. It was also found to contain proanthocyanidins, flavonoids and of course, paeoniflorin. The root and bark also contain polysaccharides that have been found to stimulate immune cells in lab tests. Red peony root was found to prevent liver damage from chemical toxins-whether by itself OR in combination with other herbs. An extract of the root was used in a small study to reduce fibrosis in some patients with chronic viral hepatitis. The Chinese use a combination of peony extracts to help with thrombosis and excessive clotting. In one study done on rabbits it was found to lower cholesterol. A small human study confirmed this but more testing is required. One study done on Mou-tan bark found it had a remarkable effect on lowering one’s blood pressure. Peony may also hold some promise for women with PCOS as it was found to improve fertility in women suffering with this condition. Peony was found to also contain paeonol, a compound found to have anti-fungal, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory capabilities and used for skin complaints and wound care. As a tonic it has been used for gastrointestinal issues and as an antidote for poisoning. An extract of the flowers is said to be a skin regenerative and hair conditioner.
White peony has a number of studies under its belt as well. In June of 2010 a study was published on the antioxidant effects of peony on the liver. The study published in the ‘Archives of Pharmacol Research’ found that peony extract protects the liver from oxidative stress. A study published in ‘Die Pharmazie’ in August of the same year found that peony inhibits blood coagulation. They found 18 different constituents that are active in the blood protecting the cardiovascular system from excessive clotting. In March of 2010 the results of a study done on rats was published in ‘Phytomedicine’. The study found that an extract of peony root reduced the urinary albumin in diabetics thus reducing the stress on the kidneys. (This could help many a diabetic escape dialysis-using other nutrient based options as well of course).
Peony has also been used for fevers, gout, respiratory issues, upset stomach, neuralgia, migraines, whopping cough, chronic fatigue, osteoarthritis and as an abortifacient to name a few.
Of special note: peony should NOT be used by pregnant or nursing for the aforementioned reasons (uterine contractions, etc). It should not be used by those taking blood thinners or blood pressure medications. Do not use if scheduled for surgery as it may increase the chance of bleeding-stop using at least 2 weeks before scheduled surgery. Peony should be taken in short spurts for most people-take up to 4 weeks and then let the body rest for a few weeks before starting again as needed. As always, consult a qualified physician before ever starting a new regimen.
As is customary with my posts I am including some links herein for your perusal. Use them wisely. Stay strong and healthy!