Can you imagine a 10-foot tall peony with flowers up to 12 inches across? The tree peony, one of the greatest botanical beauties native to China, is exactly that. It is so revered in Chinese culture that it is one of two flowers that are considered to be the national flowers of China. The scientific name of the tree peony, Paeonia suffruticosa, now applies to more than 1,000 cultivated varieties that are popular in gardens and nurseries worldwide. The tree peony also has a long history of use in Traditional Oriental Medicine (TOM). The medical herb, called Mu Dan Pi or Dan Pi (Cortex Moutan Radicis) is derived from the root bark. The main applications of Cortex Moutan in TOM include clearing heat, cooling blood, clearing fire from deficiency, clearing ascending Liver fire, and mildly invigorating blood. In modern terms, the herb is known to act as an anti-inflammatory agent and as a boost for circulation and the immune system.
Cortex Moutan in Modern Science
An online search for studies about Cortex Moutan at PubMed, the medical database at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, lists nearly 140 articles published on this herb since 1966. These articles entail studies of the chemical components of the herb as well as its biological activities in herbal medicine. The chemical constituents of Paeonia suffruticosa, as listed in Dr. James Duke’s Phytochemical Databases, include about 50 different kinds of organic chemicals. More than a dozen of these occur in the root bark and are unique to peonies. These constituents represent the biologically active substances in Cortex Moutan. Chemists refer to the majority of them as simple phenolics, which are typically known for their antioxidant properties. Many of the other substances are classified different kinds of sterols. The potential health benefits from Cortex Moutan that have been revealed in modern research so far entail positive effects on arthritis, blood flow (anticoagulant), pain, inflammation, fever, asthma, periodontal infection, and cancer. One of the most recent studies on Cortex Moutan, conducted at Jiangsu Provincial Academy of Chinese Medicine in Nanjing was published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2014. It showed that an extract of Cortex Moutan inhibited the inflammation of kidney cells that leads to diabetic nephropathy, a kidney disorder associated with diabetes. The authors concluded that Cortex Moutan might be a useful treatment for the prevention and treatment of diabetic nephropathy. The star of the show among the ingredients of Cortex Moutan is one of the phenolics called paeonol. It has been studied for its biological effects more than any other individual substance from this herb. So far the list of potential beneficial effects includes the following:
- Reduction of cerebral infarction (a type of stroke)
- Analgesic effects
- Anti-mutagenic activities
- Anti-inflammatory effects
- Inhibits anaphylactic reaction (a serious allergic response)
- Inhibits enzymes known as monoamine oxidases (targets for antidepressants)
Another of the simple phenolics, paeoniflorin, has been found to have anti-androgenic properties, which makes it a candidate for treating prostate cancer.
Herbal Skin Care
Certain enzymes drive the response of skin cells to UV light, causing excess pigment formation. A 2013 study by the Institute of Pharmaceutics at Zhejiang University (Zhejiang, PR China) showed that paeonol inhibits one such enzyme. This activity slowed down the effect of UV light on pigment formation. The authors of the study suggested that paeonol might be a therapeutic agent for pigmentation disorder and skin lightening. This and related studies indicate the potential benefits for Cortex Moutan in natural skin care products. Moreover, paeonol, as well as other simple phenolics in this herb, exhibit a fat solubility that enables them to be absorbed into the skin where they can work their magic for good skin health. Jadience Herbal Formulas provides several herbal skin care products that contain Cortex Moutan as one of the key ingredients. This herb is especially helpful as an ingredient in the Total Body Detox Soak, where it is combined with other key herbs such a burdock root, saposhnikovia root and mulberry. A half-hour soak in a bath infused with this formula, just a few times a week, is sure to remove toxins and calm your mind and body.