In traditional Chinese medicine it is used to treat insomnia, and to bring back color to graying hair.
The literal English translation of Fo-Ti is "vine to pass through the night." With a distinctive sweet yet bitter taste, fo-ti was thought to unblock the channels of energy through the body, allowing the escape of the pathogenic influences that cause generalized weakness, soreness, pain, and fatigue. The plant is also used as a wash for itching and skin rashes.
The herb is said to bring color back to graying hair.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, fo-ti is one of the herbs used to nourish the heart and calm the spirit. The Chinese know the plant root as he-shou-wu. Over the centuries he-shou-wu's reputation has bordered on the mythical for its power to produce longevity, increase vigour, and promote fertility.
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Safety in young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease is not known. The root is considered to have minimum toxicity, however,excessive use can cause numbness in the hands and feet. The unprocessed root can cause loose stool, diarrhea, with abdominal pain, and nausea.
Chinese tradition teaches that the herb should be used by itself or cured in the water used to cook black beans for this purpose. The curing of Fo-Ti has been found to increase the phosphates-presumably lecithin-by close to 30%, also increasing the sugar content.