White peony, technically named Paeonia lactiflora Pall., is a flowering plant native to east Asia. It grows in many parts of the world, though, including China, Mongolia, and Siberia. It’s also grown as a common garden plant in the northern United States.
Other names for white peony include:
- garden peony
- Chinese peony
- bai shao (or bai-shao)
For more than 1,000 years, the dried root of the white peony has been used in ancient Chinese medicine. It’s traditionally used to treat a wide range of ailments, including fever, inflammation, and pain. Some of these medicinal benefits have been proven by science.
Read on to learn about white peony root and how it’s typically used.
Scientists are still learning about medicinal properties of the white peony root. Some of the available research is outdated or involves animals instead of humans.
Here’s what science has determined so far:
White peony for estrogen
According to a 2019 research review white peony root contains phytoestrogens. These compounds are structurally similar to estrogen, the primary female sex hormone, and they act like estrogen in the body.
Also, according to a 2012 review older studies have examined the effect of paeoniflorin, a main compound in white peony. Paeoniflorin has been found to increase the activity of aromatase, an enzyme that turns testosterone into estrogen. The compound also reduces testosterone synthesis.
White peony root for anxiety and depression
In a 2020 study on rats, white peony root extract was found to reduce expression of serotonin transporter (SERT).
Typically, this protein “captures” serotonin — a chemical that contributes to happiness and well-being — so it can be broken down and recycled. Inhibiting SERT prevents this process, which increases serotonin and in turn produces an anti-anxiety and antidepressant effect.
A 2019 study found that paeoniflorin also increases probiotics in the gut, which may improve your balance of gut bacteria. This also benefits anxiety and depression, according to a 2017 research review.
White peony root for autoimmune disorders
White peony root contains glycosides. These are compounds with a carbohydrate attached. This includes paeoniflorin, among other compounds.
When these glycosides are extracted (removed) from the root, it’s known as total glycosides of peony (TGP).
According to a 2020 review, TGP can regulate your immune system. It’s been found to effectively treat autoimmune conditions like:
White peony for inflammation
Similarly, TGP has benefits for inflammatory disorders. According to a 2019 research review, paeoniflorin in TGP can suppress inflammatory pathways. The researchers suggest that it may be beneficial for chronic inflammatory conditions, including:
White peony root for pain
A 2018 animal study found that paeoniflorin has an analgesic (pain-relieving) effect. According to the researchers, this is due to paeoniflorin’s anti-inflammatory properties in the central nervous system.
White peony for blood flow
In ancient Chinese medicine, white peony root is used to prevent thrombosis. A 2016 animal study examined this effect. The researchers found that paeoniflorin increased activity of plasminogen activator urokinase, an enzyme that supports the natural resolution of thrombosis.
White peony thins your blood so clots don’t form. It also helps your body better resolve any existing blood clots.
A 2019 review also notes that the active compounds in white peony, including paeoniflorin, can increase blood flow by inhibiting blood coagulation (clotting).
White peony root for skin
When applied to a human skin sample, the extract reduced melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives skin its color.
So, white peony root extract may be useful for controlling overproduction of melanin.
Other benefits of the white peony root lack sufficient evidence. To date, it has not been proven to help:
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- hair loss
- menstrual cramps
- digestive disorders
- breathing issues
Theoretically, the proven benefits mentioned above may help some of these ailments. For example, the pain-relieving effect of white peony root may ease menstrual cramps.
However, more hard scientific evidence is necessary to confirm the benefit.