White Peony Root: Benefits and Side Effects

Natural medicine uses white peony to help calm muscle cramps, inflammation, and anxiety. What does the evidence say? In this article we'll tell you all about it!
White Peony Root: Benefits and Side Effects

Last update: 21 August, 2021

White peony root comes from the plant with the scientific name Paeonia lactiflora Pall. It belongs to the peony (Paeoniaceae) family and is cultivated in East Asia, Europe, and North America. People also know it by “garden peony”, “Chinese peony” or “bai shao”.

According to historical data, traditional Chinese medicine has used dried peony roots for more than 1000 years. Particularly so as a complement in reducing inflammation, pain, and fever. But, what does the science say about it? What are the side effects? Below, we tell you all about it!

Benefits and uses of white peony

In China and other Asian countries, many people know of the medicinal uses of white peony root. Similarly, the supplements that come from it are available in North America, Europe, and several other places in the world. Many people also enjoy the flower itself for its aesthetic.

An article published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences tells us that peony has important compounds with pharmacological action. Among these, the following stand out:

  • Monoterpenes
  • Volatile oil
  • Triterpenes
  • Tannins
  • Stilbenes
  • Flavonoids
  • Polyphenols

However, there’s still no solid evidence about the benefits of white peony root in humans. Specialists conducted a large part of the studies on animals, and the results weren’t conclusive. But, scientists believe that the findings are promising for the development of future medication.

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Immunomodulating effects

We can obtain a few known compounds from white peony root, such as “total peony glycosides”. Specialists have been studying these substances for their potential as anti-inflammatories. According to a review published in the  Journal of Ethnopharmacologythese properties help to regulate the immune system.

With that in mind, many people believe that it has the ability to reduce symptoms of autoimmune disorders such as the following:

  • Oral lichen planus
  • Psoriasis 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sjögren syndrome

Of course, given the severity of these illnesses, peony root supplements shouldn’t be a first-line treatment. Also, it’s important to consult your doctor before using it as part of your treatment.

person with psoriasis on their hands scratching themself
The fact that it has potential immunomodulating properties means that people can add this root to their treatment for illnesses such as psoriasis. However, this should always be in combination with tested drugs.

Anti-inflammatory activity

To summarize the above, total peony glycosides have anti-inflammatory potential. A study in Frontiers in Pharmacology suggests that these substances help to suppress inflammatory pathways that cause illnesses. This way, it reduces the risk of nephropathy, liver diseases, and arthritis, among others.

Blood flow

In Chinese medicine, people use white peony root as an anticoagulant. In fact, many people believe it helps to prevent thrombosis. Additionally, a study on animals published in Molecular Medicine Reports found that paeoniflorin (one of the glycosides in the plant) increases the action of the plasminogen activator urokinase.

This enzyme helps to resolve thrombosis problems naturally. The experts suggest that it inhibits clots forming. It can even contribute to dissolving those that already exist. Specialists noticed similar results in a review shared in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Analgesic properties

Paeoniflorin, one of the main active components of this root, has a light analgesic effect on the body. A study on animals in Cellular Physiology and Biochemistry determined that the substance acts on the central nervous system and helps to reduce pain.

Mental health

Another use for white peony root is related to mental health. Traditionally, many have used it as an ally against symptoms of depression and anxiety. As a study published in BioMed Research International explains, this is because its extracts reduce the expression of the serotonin transporter.

In other words, it prevents this protein from inhibiting the effects of serotonin, a hormone that contributes to the feeling of well-being. For that reason, it has an anxiolytic and antidepressive effect.

In another study, the paeoniflorin in this root helped to increase the probiotics in the intestine. According to a review shared in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, this also helped to alleviate mood disorders.

Skin health

Anecdotal data claims that white peony root extracts are good to help prevent premature aging. Its followers suggest that it slows down the appearance of wrinkles, marks, and other imperfections that we associate with old age. However, this lacks evidence to support it.

However, a laboratory study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science highlights that paeoniflorin has depigmentation potential. It reduces melatonin and helps to reduce dark marks.

Other uses

Many of the benefits that we attribute to this root haven’t been studied. Popular literature mentions it, but there’s no evidence about its efficiency.

For that reason, when it comes to using supplements you should proceed with caution. The common uses of this root are in the following cases:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Digestive disorders
  • Excessive hair loss
  • Excessive sweating
  • Migraines
  • Respiratory disorders
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS)
  • Mastalgia

Possible side effects of white peony root

The American corporation WebMD suggests that white peony root is safe for the most healthy people, providing they consume it in adequate quantities. Adults have been able to use it without any problems for up to 6 months.

Excessively consuming it is linked with the following side effects:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Diarrhea
  • Digestive issues

Due to the lack of evidence, we recommend that pregnant and breastfeeding women don’t use it. Its anticoagulant properties cause it to be counterproductive in people that are planning to have any kind of surgery. Similarly, it can be dangerous for those with bleeding disorders. For that reason, it’s necessary to consult your doctor before you start taking it.

artistic representation of a blood clot up close in a blood vessel
This root may alter the coagulation process. For that reason, you shouldn’t consume it before going in for surgery.

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Possible interactions with medication

This root and its derivatives slow the blood clotting process. For that reason, you shouldn’t combine it with anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication. This is because there’s a risk of bleeding or bruising.

Some of the drugs to consider are the following:

  • Aspirin
  • Clopidogrel (Plavix ®)
  • Diclofenaco (Voltaren ®, Cataflam ®)
  • Ibuprofeno (Advil ®, Motrin ®)
  • Naproxeno (Anaprox ®, Naprosyn ®)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin ®)

You should also avoid taking it with phenytoin because it reduces its efficiency. This is an anticonvulsant and you should take it in certain concentrations to ensure that it’s effective.

What presentations is white peony root available in?

White peony root extracts are available as capsules, dye, powder, and tea. It’s important to mention that it isn’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), However, you can find it in herbalist stores, pharmacies, health stores, and traditional medicine pharmacies.

A safe dosage hasn’t yet been established and how much you should take will depend on factors like age, state of health, and purpose of the supplement. For that reason, you should follow the pharmacist or herbologist’s instructions, as well as what it says on the label. Of course, wherever possible, it’s always best to consult a doctor first.

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