Herb Spotlight: Chinese Peony
The Chinese peony is known by many names. You might see it listed as Mu Dan Pi, Moutan or scientifically as Paeonia lactiflora. Unlike its common garden flower relative, the Chinese peony is a woody shrub native to China. While the flowers are edible, its roots provide the medicinal qualities and are traditionally harvested in the fall and dried.
Active compounds in the Chinese peony include abundant glycosides including paeoniflorin, catechins, and volatile oils. It can be found as a supplement on its own but is often included in herbal combinations for enhanced effects. Research supports the traditional use to thin and regulate blood flow, but through investigation has identified other potential uses for this popular herb. Here are a few of them:
Acts as an Anticoagulant
Chinese peony contains 18 active compounds known for their ability to prevent clotting. Some of these include paeonol, paoniflorin and catechin. This anticoagulant effect helps to encourage and support circulation.[i]
Promotes Vascular Elasticity
Animal studies report that in addition to its blood thinning properties, Chinese peony helps blood flow by improving the elasticity of the arteries and veins. This vascular relaxation is done through a couple of different channels and even helps maintain this relaxed state when treated with chemicals to trigger vascular rigidity.[ii]
Protects Heart Tissue
Researchers isolated paeoniflorin and tested it as a way to protect heart tissue against damage that can occur as a result of a heart attack. They used animal models and found those treated with the paeoniflorin had lower levels of TNF-alpha and IL-6 and increased levels of IL-10. These effects protecting the heart tissue prompted healing.[iii]
Supports and Protects the Brain
Chinese peony has demonstrated antioxidant properties that specifically protect brain cells from harm. Scientists have identified 2 monoterpenes – paeonilactone-C and benzoylpaeoniflorin – that offered the greatest protection.[iv]
It also works in combination with other herbs to protect the brain. In one study, researchers created an herbal blend called “Post-Stroke Rehabilitation” featuring peony, astragalus and danshen and four other herbs. Together, they prevented brain cell death during stroke when the test subjects received the herbal blend before and after the event.[v]
May Work as a Therapeutic Aid for Depression
Traditional Chinese Medicine has used peony as a way to treat symptoms of depression. Researchers tested its effect on animal subjects. They found that it seemed to improve mood and behavior and may offer some potential as an anti-depressant, though more research is needed.[vi]
Keeps the Liver Healthy
Although Chinese peony is held by Traditional Chinese Medicine to support the health and functions of all organs, it is specifically regarded as a support for the liver and kidneys. As the two key waste removal organs, these organs play an integral role in heart and brain health. This has led researchers to explore the different ways Chinese peony can support liver health.
In one study, paeoniflorin demonstrated anti-inflammatory effects on the liver. All animals had non-alcoholic steatohepatitis as a result of eating a high cholesterol, high-fat diet. The treated animals had lower liver enzyme levels and lower total cholesterol scores as well as reduced liver inflammation.[vii]
One clinical trial found that peony glucosides could alleviate the liver toxicity of drugs used by patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The researchers divided 204 patients into two groups for this 24-week study. The patients who received the peony showed less liver activity in the form of elevated liver enzymes with a good response measured at 12 weeks.[viii]
May Support Kidney Health
In a test of patients with diabetic kidney disease, peony outperformed a common drug in reducing inflammation and other factors associated with the condition.[ix]
Relieves Joint Swelling
Chinese peony is used throughout China as a treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.[x] Research indicates it helps to relieve the painful symptoms associated with the condition by reducing inflammation. It’s also been found safe and without any adverse side effects.[xi]
[i] Koo YK1, et al. Platelet anti-aggregatory and blood anti-coagulant effects of compounds isolated from Paeonia lactiflora and Paeonia suffruticosa. Pharmazie. 2010 Aug;65(8):624-8.
[ii] Jin SN, et al. Vasodilatory effects of ethanol extract of Radix Paeoniae Rubra and its mechanism of action in the rat aorta. J Ethnopharmacol. 2012 Jun 26;142(1):188-93. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2012.04.035. Epub 2012 Apr 21.
[iii] Chen H, et al. Paeoniflorin improves cardiac function and decreases adverse postinfarction left ventricular remodeling in a rat model of acute myocardial infarction. Drug Des Devel Ther. 2018 Apr 12;12:823-836. doi: 10.2147/DDDT.S163405. eCollection 2018.
[iv] Kim SH1, et al. Chemical constituents isolated from Paeonia lactiflora roots and their neuroprotective activity against oxidative stress in vitro. J Enzyme Inhib Med Chem. 2009 Oct;24(5):1138-40. doi: 10.1080/14756360802667977.
[v] Ip FC-F, Zhao Y-M, Chan K-W, et al. Neuroprotective effect of a novel Chinese herbal decoction on cultured neurons and cerebral ischemic rats. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2016;16:437. doi:10.1186/s12906-016-1417-1.
[vi] Mao QQ1, et al. Anti-depressant-like effect of peony: a mini-review. Pharm Biol. 2012 Jan;50(1):72-7. doi: 10.3109/13880209.2011.602696.
[vii] Ma Z1, et al. Paeoniflorin alleviates non-alcoholic steatohepatitis in rats: Involvement with the ROCK/NF-κB pathway. Int Immunopharmacol. 2016 Sep;38:377-84. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2016.06.023. Epub 2016 Jun 25.
[viii] Chen Z1, et al. Reduced hepatotoxicity by total glucosides of paeony in combination treatment with leflunomide and methotrexate for patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2013 Mar;15(3):474-7. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2013.01.021. Epub 2013 Feb 12.
[ix] Zhu Q1, et al. Clinical study of total glucosides of paeony for the treatment of diabetic kidney disease in patients with diabetes mellitus. Int Urol Nephrol. 2016 Nov;48(11):1873-1880. Epub 2016 Jun 24.
[x] Zhang W1, Dai SM. Mechanisms involved in the therapeutic effects of Paeonia lactiflora Pallas in rheumatoid arthritis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2012 Sep;14(1):27-31. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2012.06.001. Epub 2012 Jun 21.
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