Ho Shou Wu: What’s in a name

Ho-shou-wu (pinyin: heshouwu) is derived from the roots of Polygonum multiflorum. The herb was first recorded (1,2,16) in the Ri Huazi Bencao (Tang Dynasty, 713 A.D.) and then incorporated into the well-known Kaibao Bencao (Song Dynasty; 973 A.D.). The herb was originally called jiaoteng, referring to its form: an intertwining vine (jiao = intersecting, teng = creepers). The newer name came from a story that is typically related something like this: Mr. Ho (full name, in pinyin, is He Tianer) from Hebei Province, at age 58, had not been able to father a child. A monk advised him to eat jiaoteng gathered from a mountain, which Ho then did, and consumed regularly. Soon after, he was able to father several children, his hair turned from gray to black, his vision improved, and his body became more youthful. He lived to age 130 (some say 160), still with black hair. Since then, the herb has been called Mr. Ho’s hair is black (shou = head; wu = black). Ho’s son is also reputed to have lived to be 130 years (3, 4).

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