Fo Ti.

To: herblist <HERB.V.EGE.EDU.TR
Subject: Re: Fo Ti
From: Michael Moore <hrbmoore.RT66.COM>
Date: Wed, 31 Aug 1994 22:42:34 MDT

>I am growing a Chinese vine called Fo Ti and I would like to know more about it.
>I have come across two botanical names in two different sources --Polygonum multiflorum and Hydrocotyle asiatica minor--I have no idea which is correct, if either.

Although the name "Fo-Ti" is apparently a genial fabrication dating from the mid 1970's, and although the more appropriate name would be Hu Shu Woo (with many English spelling variations), the plant you are growing sounds like Polygonum multiflorum, a viney member of the Polygonaceae Family, cultivated in temperate regions of China for its drug trade, with fairly large tapered and slightly arrow-shaped alternate leaves, and the typical Polygonum swelling at the juncture of the leaf and stem. The flowers are in diffuse white/pink clusters. The root should be succulent and reddish-brown barked, with caucasian- flesh-colored pith. I am not expert on TCM herb uses...there will be dozens on the List with better knowledge than I have, but it is considered a major tonic herb.

The "Hydrocotyle asiatica minor" is a pure fabrication; the proper name is Centella asiatica, the "minor" is a nonexistant variety supposedly from Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), and put forth by Richard Lucas in a Groovy Herb Book dating from, I believe, about 1969. Years ago, when an herb company in So.Cal. was the only one selling this "wonder" (at 10 times the cost of good old Gotu Kola...Hydrocotyle/Centella asiatica), I wandered sneakily into the back warehouse of the dealer, and found several large drums of H. asiatica minor, labeled both "Indian Pennywort" and "Centella asiatica", purchased from a broker in Minnesota. Another barrel, same lot number and shipping label, was the source of the "Gotu Kola" that was shipped to customers. In any respects, this plant is a creeping subtropic marsh plant from the Parsley Family, is cultivated by a few folks in Hawaii (the fresh plant is an excellent hypothalamic and thyroid tonic), available from Nichols Nursery and others, and grows wild in Galveston Bay and some of the nearby islands...although native to SE Asia. It resembles Dichondra a bit, and has an earthy-celery scent. It will tolerate NO frost.

The name Lucas gave to this plant was "Fo-Ti-Tieng" (borrowed, I guess, from C.F.Leyel, c.1950...although according to her this is a root medicine, and the roots of the Centella/Hydrocotyle genus are no more substantial than Chickweed).

Fo-Ti-Tieng took off, at least in the more primitive herb marketing hustles of a couple of decades ago. Then someone in Hawaii copyrighted the name, and put (puts) out a mixture of Gotu Kola, Kola Nuts (a caffeine source) and Meadowsweet (a coumarinish aromatic with some salicylate content), at a steep price. THEN, wanting to meet the clambering for this-here Fo-Ti-Tieng stuff, other companies put out powders, extracts and capsules of it (the Hawaiian Company promptly sued, since it now OWNED the damn name, and then the FDA apparently disliked the California herb supplier selling this semi-fictional plant and stopped THEM from selling the mythical for other reasons that, in this lawyer-heavy society, it would not be cool to spill the yentas after all these years) and these herb companies had to figure out A) what to legally call it and B) what herb to put into it. There was F.T.Tieng, there was F-T Tonic, someone called their product Forty Tieng (honest!), and the contents ranged from Gotu Kola to a Gotu Kola/Kola Nut mixture, to mysterious cured roots and "flowers" that induced an amphetamine-like sympathomimesis, to Fu-Tze, the cured Aconite slices from China, to God Knows What. I opted for the Fu-tze solution in my store...with many cautions. Then, in the typical undocumented and "...peer review...for herbs...are you Joking?..heh heh" approach of establishment medicine towards nacheral medicine, JAMA published an EXPOZAY on herbs, where it confused Gotu Kola (Centella asiatica) with Kola Nuts (Cola nitida, etc.), crying to the heavens that a Dreaded Caffeine Drug Plant was being pawned off on flower children...conveniently ignoring both the facts that they didn't know what they were talking about (plant-wise) and that Kola Nuts are classed legally as a flavoring agent, and consumed in insane quantities by most Americans in Cola drinks, where it supplies BOTH flavor and some of the caffeine. Then, finally, some folks on the West Coast decided to market the VERY respected but then little-known Chinese tonic, Hu Shu Woo, by a name that Hippies Everywhere would recognize...Fo Ti. As it still is called today in many markets.

Meanwhile, anyone with ANY background in Ayurveda will recognize the "Hydrocotyle asiatica etc." by one name...Brahmi.

All of this to (A) let you know what you are growing and (B) remind everyone that today's "Wonder Herb" is going to be grumbled about cynically by some other Old Pro tweny years from now, when no one else remembers what the f--k the dissing is about. Hasn't anyone learned from watching the drug and kid's cereal industries how little that is hustled this year will survive the test of even a decade?

Kombucha, anyone?

Michael Moore