I spent my formative, college years living in Chicago. Having been born and raised in South Texas, I was a tremendous wimp when it came to winter and cold weather. During those years, I lived in a house with an avid gardener, who carefully cultivated her flowering plants to maintain continuous color from May – September. And late in the spring the peonies bloomed. They were the true hallmark of warmer temperatures. Crocuses and tulips often tricked me into thinking it was spring. It is not uncommon for them to bloom only to be covered with ice a few days later, their colorful blooms laughing maniacally, “Ha, ha! Got you! There’s still more snow!” But peonies do not bloom until the freezing precipitation is good and done. I love peonies.
I was particularly excited years later when I was in acupuncture school learning about traditional Chinese herbs to discover that the same plants to produce these floral beauties also make roots that provide therapeutic effects, white peony root and red peony root. At first I assumed the color of the flower dictated which herb was in play, but soon learned peony root is an excellent example of the lesson my professor liked to summarize as, “It’s not what, it’s how.”
Peony Root Essentials
Paeonia lactiflora or Paeonia rubrae
Common Name (Western)
Chinese Name (Pin Yin)
Chi Shao, Bai Shao
Lactiflora comes from Inner Mongolia and Northeast China (the more northern, colder parts), Rubrae comes from Sichuan, Yunnan, Gansu (the more southern, warmer parts)
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Also known in the garden world as fragrant Chinese peony, paenia lactiflora is responsible for the familiar garden peonies. Whether the herb in question is white peony root, bai shao, or red peony root, chi shao, is determined by the way in which the root is processed after being harvested. In fact, before the Tang dynasty, no distinction was made between these two herbs. The canonical text Shang Han Lun, simply uses the name Shao Yao.
In modern times, red peony root is simply harvested, dried, and sliced. The unmitigated drying process yields the red tint. Often wild peony is used to make red peony root. By contrast, white peony root often begins with cultivated plant, that is harvested, peeled, boiled and then dried and sliced. The boiling process strips away the color, hense the name white peony root.
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Uses in Herbalogic Back in Action, Decompress and Peak Power