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Red Peony Root

Latin: Radix Paeoniae Rubra

Origin: Like Tree Peony, Red Peony belongs to the genus Paeonia of the family Paeoniaceae. Known for their large, showy blossoms, all but two species of the paeonia are native to Europe and Asia; P. browni and P. californica are found along the Pacific coastal mountains of North America.

There are two distinct groups of peonies: the herbaceous and the tree, or moutan, peonies.

The herbaceous peonies are perennials that grow to a height of almost 1 m and have large, glossy, much-divided leaves borne on annual stems produced by fleshy rootstocks. In late spring and early summer they produce large single and double flowers of white, pink, rose, and deep-crimson colour.

The fragrant Chinese Paeonia lactiflora Pall. is the herbaceous peony that the Chinese use as the herb of this page. Besides being used as an herb, P. lactiflora is also a familiar garden peony, which has provided hundreds of cultivated varieties, including the Japanese types, with one or two rows of petals surrounding a cluster of partially formed petals in the centre (petaloid stamens).

P. lactiflora Pall. is grown in most areas of China. The roots are harvested in the autumn from cultivated plants that are 4 - 5 years old and are boiled before being sun-dried for later use. The roots of wild plants are harvested in the spring or (preferably) in the autumn and are sun-dried for later use.

When the whole root is harvested it is called 'Chi Shao Yao', if the bark is removed during preparation then it is called 'Bai Shao Yao'.

Properties: Bitter in flavor, slightly cold in nature, it is related to the liver channel.

Functions: Removes heat from the blood, dissipates blood stasis and alleviates pain.

Red peony root has been used for over 1,500 years in Chinese medicine. It is known most widely as one of the herbs used to make 'Four Things Soup', the most widely used woman's tonic in China. The other three herbs used are prepared rehmannia root, chuanxiong and Chinese angelica root.

Red peony root is also a remedy for gynaecological problems and for cramp, pain, giddyness, menstrual disorders, injuries, high blood pressure, pre-menstrual tension and liver disorders.

A tea made from the dried crushed petals of various peony species has been used as a cough remedy, and as a treatment for heamorrhoids and varicose veins.

Applications: 1. For treating skin eruptions, hematemesis (vomiting of blood) and epistaxis (nosebleed) due to entry of heat into the blood system:

It is used with raw rehmannia and tree peony root-bark.

2. For treating masses in the abdomen with dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), traumatic injuries and skin and external diseases:

(A) Dysmenorrhea and menorrhagia (abnormally profuse menstrual flow) due to stagnation of blood-heat:

It is used with motherwort (Herba Leonuri), salvia red root (Radix Salviae Miltiorrhizae) and shiny bugleweed (Herba Lycopi).

(B) Masses in the abdomen with blood stasis::

It is used with tree peony root-bark, peach kernels, cassia twig, tuckahoe (Poria cocos), etc., e.g., Guizhi Fuling Wan.

(C) Traumatic injuries with blood stasis, swelling and pains:

It is used with olibanum, myrrh and dragon's blood resin in order to heal injuries and kill pain.

(D) Skin and external diseases due to exuberant toxic heat:

It is used with honeysuckle flower (Flos Lonicerae), weeping forsythia fruit (Fructus Forsythiae) and gardenia fruit (Fructus Gardeniae), etc.

3. For treating conjunctivitis (inflammation of the conjunctiva) with nebula:

It is used with chrysanthemum, horsetail (Herba Equiseti Hiemalis), selfheal spica (Spica Prunellae), etc.

Dosage and Administration: 1-15 g.

Decoct the herb and other ingredients for drinking.

Cautions on Use: It should be avoided by those suffering from dysmenorrhea due to blood-cold; and it should not be prescribed for pregnant women.

It is against black false hellebore (Veratrum nigrum).

Reference Materials: 'Shen Nong's Herbal Classic' :

"Relieving blood-arthralgia, dispersing hard masses, killing pain and inducing diuresis."

'Materia Medica of Southern Yunnan' :

"Purging the spleen of fire, sending down abnormally ascending qi, promoting blood circulation, dissipating blood stasis, dispersing blood clots, alleviating abdominal pain and healing skin and external diseases."

'Essentials of Materia Medica' :

"It is used with somewhat similar to those of herbaceous peony root (Radix Paeoniae Alba), especially more effective on abdominal pain with hard masses, blood-arthralgia and masses in the abdomen, dysmenorrhea and hematochezia, as well as carbuncles and conjunctivitis."

Other applications: "Purging the liver of fire and promoting blood circulation by removing blood stasis."

Toxic or Side Effects:

Modern Researches: Red peony root consists of paeoniflorin, paeonol, paeonin, benzoic acid, tannin, resin, essential oil (volatile oil), triterpenes, etc.

The most important ingredient medicinally in the root is paeoniflorin, which has been shown to have a strong antispasmodic effect on mammalian intestines. It also reduces blood pressure, reduces body temperature caused by fever and protects against stress ulcers. Paeoniflorin has tranquilizing, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antipyretic, anticonvulsive, ulcer-preventive and antihypertensive effects.

Red peony root can dilate the coronary artery, enhance hypoxia tolerance, resist platelet aggregation, thrombosis and experimental myocardial ischemia, improve microcirculation and lower the high blood pressure of the portal veins. It can also arrest spasms.

For self protection, the outer skin (bark) of many plants contains essential oil, which in turn has elements that serve as an immediate chemical defense against herbivores and pathogens. How? There is an element called hydroxynitrile glucoside in essential oil. This element will release toxic hydrogen cyanide by endogenous plant glucosidase upon tissue disruption (see Anne Vinther Morant, Kirsten Jorgensen, Charlotte Jorgensen, Suzanne Michelle Paquette, Raquel Sanchez-Perez, Birger Lindberg Moller, and Soren Bak, "beta-Glucosidases as Detonators of Plant Chemical Defense," Phytochemistry Vol. 69, Issue 9 (June 2008), pp. 1,795-1,813).

Glucosidase is a catalyzing enzyme that improves healthy functions of our body. It is a lipase that decomposes fat; it can also check inflammation and improve memory (see Mikako Sakurai, Masayuki Sekiguchi, Ko Zushida, Kazuyuki Yamada, Satoshi Nagamine, Tomohiro Kabuta and Keiji Wada, "Reduction in memory in passive avoidance learning, exploratory behaviour and synaptic plasticity in mice with a spontaneous deletion in the ubiquitin C-terminal hydrolase L1 gene," European Journal of Neuroscience Vol. 27, Issue 3 (February 2008), pp. 691-701).

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