What Is Fo-Ti?

Can Fo-Ti Help Prevent Grey Hair Safely?

Fo-ti (Polygonum multiflorum) is a plant native to China that is also found in Japan and Taiwan. Used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), fo-ti is known as He Shou Wu (which means "black-haired Mr. He"), referring to the legend of an older villager named Mr. He who took the herb and restored his black hair, youthful appearance, and vitality. 

What Is Fo-Ti Used For?

In TCM, fo-ti is used as a tonic for treating dizziness, blurred vision, greying hair, soreness/weakness of lower back and knees, spermatorrhea (involuntary ejaculation), and nocturnal emissions (ejaculation while sleeping), which are believed in TCM to be associated with blood deficiencies. The type of fo-ti typically used is red fo-ti, which is the root boiled in a liquid made with black beans.

Fo-ti is also used in TCM for treating other conditions, including:  

The unprocessed root, known as white fo-ti due to its light color, is traditionally used for treating constipation or is applied topically to the skin for treating acne, athlete's foot, or dermatitis.

Although some preliminary laboratory and animal research suggests that fo-ti may have certain beneficial effects, there's currently a lack of clinical trials to support these findings.

side effects of fo-ti
Verywell / Emily Roberts 

Possible Side Effects

Children and pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn't use fo-ti. It shouldn't be taken in the weeks prior to surgery. 

Fo-ti can cause a number of side effects, including loose stools and diarrhea. Fo-ti may affect blood sugar levels, particularly in people with diabetes. Rarely, people develop an allergic skin rash after taking fo-ti.

Fo-ti may interact adversely with medications such as digoxin, stimulant laxatives, and diabetes drugs.

Liver Damage

Hepatitis (liver inflammation) has been reported following the use of fo-ti. In a review of 450 case reports about liver damage associated with fo-ti, researchers concluded that fo-ti "causes liver toxicity and may cause liver damage in different degrees and even lead to death; most of them are much related to long-term and overdose of drugs."

While this correlation is cause for concern, this study failed to show that fo-ti was isolated as the cause of liver damage, and the study also shows some bias. The report's authors also stated that the liver damage associated with fo-ti is reversible and that after active treatment, the majority could be cured.

This herb can interact with drugs that affect the liver, such as ibuprofen, warfarin, and amitriptyline. 

Estrogen Effects

People with estrogen-related cancers of the breast, ovary, uterus, and prostate, in particular, should avoid fo-ti, as the effect of hormonal effect in humans isn't known.

One study tested 32 plants used for menopause in traditional Chinese medicine. They found that fo-ti had the greatest estrogenic activity.

Dosage and Preparation

It is not safe to self-prescribe herbs. If you want to try this treatment, you should work with a board-certified herbalist/naturopath.

Supplements haven't been tested for safety. Because dietary supplements are largely unregulated, the content of some products may differ from what is specified on the product label.


Fo-ti is available in raw form, as a powder, an extract, or in capsule form. It may also be combined with other products in classical TCM formulas. The safety and effectiveness of fo-ti, when combined with other herbs or compounds, is not known.


There is not enough clinical scientific data to provide a recommended dose of fo-ti. The typical dose is 10 to 30 grams, decocted. According to the Natural Medicines Database, 3 to 6 grams of raw extract and/or 6 to 12 grams of the processed extract have been used.

The appropriate dose for you may depend on factors including your age, gender, and medical history. Speak to your healthcare provider to get personalized advice.

What to Look For

If you choose to buy fo-ti or any other supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label on the product that you buy. This label will contain information about the amount of active ingredients per serving and other added ingredients (like fillers, binders, and flavorings).

Look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. This can include the GMP seal (good manufacturing practice), USDA organic, U.S. Pharmacopeia, ConsumerLab.com, and NSF International. A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness, but it does provide assurance that the product was properly manufactured, contains the ingredients listed on the label, and does not contain harmful levels of known contaminants.

Although fo-ti may have some possible health benefits, it is not without adverse side effects, including the potential for liver damage. If you're still thinking of trying it, it's essential that you speak with your healthcare provider first.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Ho TT, Murthy HN, Dalawai D, Bhat MA, Paek KY, Park SY. Attributes of Polygonum multiflorum to transfigure red biotechnology. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2019;103(8):3317-3326. doi:10.1007/s00253-019-09709-y

  2. Lei X, Chen J, Ren J, et al. Liver Damage Associated with Polygonum multiflorum Thunb.: A Systematic Review of Case Reports and Case Series. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:459749. doi:10.1155/2015/459749

  3. Zhang CZ, Wang SX, Zhang Y, Chen JP, Liang XM. In vitro estrogenic activities of Chinese medicinal plants traditionally used for the management of menopausal symptoms. Journal of Ethnopharmacology. 2005 Apr 26;98(3):295-300. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2005.01.033

  4. National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements. Dietary supplements: what you need to know. Reviewed January 15, 2020

Additional Reading

By Cathy Wong
Cathy Wong is a nutritionist and wellness expert. Her work is regularly featured in media such as First For Women, Woman's World, and Natural Health.