Peony

Peony has been used since ancient times for its appealing scent, beautiful blooms, and medicinal benefits. Find out more about its myriad of uses.

Quick Facts
General Information
  • Common name(s)European peony, common peony, paeony
  • TCM nameBai shao yao
  • Scientific namePaeonia spp.
  • Plant typeShrub
  • Native regionWestern Europe, Eastern or Central Europe
  • Main producer(s)China, Japan
  • Main Economic UseMedicinal
Peony

Peony has one of the longest histories of any flowering herb, and has been used since ancient times both as an ornamental and medicinal plant. Traditionally, it has been used to manage arthritis, help depression, treat asthma, and more.

Medicinal and Nutritional Information

Quick Facts (Medicinal and Nutritional Information)
  • Medicinal actionAnti-inflammatory, Hepatoprotective
  • Key constituentsPaeoniflorin, paeonol
  • Ways to useCapsules, Cold infusions, Liquid extracts
  • Medicinal rating(2) Minorly useful plant
  • Safety rankingSafe

Health Benefits of Peony

Using its traditional medicinal applications as a guide, peony is being thoroughly researched. Its various medicinal properties hint at the following medicinal uses:

  • Protecting the liver from damage. Peony root has hepatoprotective effects, which can lower levels of bilirubin when there are toxic substances in the liver.
  • Managing arthritis. By reducing the amount of cytokines, peony can reduce inflammation.
  • Relieving symptoms of depression. Peony can inhibit certain neurotransmitters related to stress.
  • Treating asthma. Peony root can relax the airways, improving breathing.

How It Works

Peony contains several unique phytocompounds, namely paeonol, paeoniflorin, and catechin. Paeoniflorin is the most active compound of peony's anti-inflammatory glycosides.

Peony root has hepatoprotective effects, related to its ability to lower levels of bilirubin and other indicators when the liver is facing toxicity. In addition, its glycosides can modulate the immune system and reduce inflammation by reducing the amount of cytokines present. 

Peony can affect the brain, improving cognition and mood with its neuroprotective effects. Paeoniflorin is thought to be the main compound responsible, though others likely play a role as well. It is likely that peony inhibits monoamine oxidase (MAO) - an enzyme that inactivates certain neurotransmitters - in addition to reducing oxidative stress.

PEONY CAN AFFECT THE BRAIN, IMPROVING COGNITION AND MOOD WITH ITS NEUROPROTECTIVE EFFECTS.

How to Consume Peony

Main preparations: Cold infusions, capsules

Peony is most commonly consumed as an herbal infusion, although supplements are also available. Medicinal preparations are made from peony root. Although peony has been found to be generally safe for the liver, it is important to consult a physician or psychiatrist before taking it for depression.

Culinary Information

Although unknown to most home cooks, who tend to see it mostly as an ornamental plant, many chefs around the globe regard peony as a valued enhancer for the flavor of syrups, jams, ice cream, and tea.

Other Uses

As an Ornamental

Peony's main use is as an ornamental flower. Blooms can be used to form a bouquet at weddings, and are sometimes worn as a hair accessory.

For Cosmetics

Peony is widely used in the cosmetics and beauty industry, where it is usually added to bathroom products such as shampoos and shower gels for cleansing and moisturizing the skin.

Buying

Quick Facts (Buying)
  • Where to buySpecialized health stores, Online herb stores

French peony is now available year round. Although it is not usually commonly available from local supermarkets, it is available to be ordered online and is grown in many nurseries.

Peonies are most often purchased as entire plants, which are available in many flower shops. However, they can also be dried, ready to be infused as tea or used in recipes. In this form, they can be purchased from specialized stores or many online retailers.

Peony supplements are mainly found in natural health stores and online retailers. Capsules and tablets are made primarily from powdered peony roots.

THERE IS A WIDE VARIETY OF PEONY SUPPLEMENT CHOICES AVAILABLE THROUGH ONLINE RETAILERS.

Plant Biology

Classification

Peony, or Paeonia officinalis, is a member of the Paeoniaceae family, which contains flowering plants and includes 25 - 40 species. The only genus in this family is Paeonia. All of the species found in this family are native to southern Europe, western North America, or Asia, and are distinguishable by their deeply-lobed leaves and fragrant flowers. Peony has satin, ruffled petals and full double blossoms.

Varieties and Subspecies of Peony

Over the last 4,000 years, many different varieties and subspecies of the peony family have been cultivated throughout the world. However, only a few of these subspecies are produced commercially because many are difficult to cultivate. Paeonia officinalis is divided into five subspecies: banatica, huthii, italica, microcarpa, and officinalis. The development of different cultivars has broadened the scope of peony blossom colors, which can range from crimson to white. Examples include the magenta 'Rubra Plena' and the white 'Alba Plena' with pink tinges.

Growing

Quick Facts (Growing)
  • Life cyclePerennial
  • Harvested partsFlowers, Roots, Leaves
  • Light requirementsFull sun
  • SoilMedium (loam)
  • Soil pH6.1 – 6.5 (Slightly acidic)
  • Growing habitatTemperate climates
  • USDA Plant Hardiness Zones2a (From −45.6 °C (−50 °F) to −42.8 °C (−45 °F)), 2b (From −42.8 °C (−45 °F) to −40 °C (−40 °F)), 3a (From −40 °C (−40 °F) to −37.2 °C (−35 °F)), 3b (From −37.2 °C (−35 °F) to −34.4 °C (−30 °F)), 4a (From −34.4 °C (−30 °F) to −31.7 °C (−25 °F)), 4b (From −31.7 °C (−25 °F) to −28.9 °C (−20 °F)), 5a (From −28.9 °C (−20 °F) to −26.1 °C (−15 °F)), 5b (From −26.1 °C (−15 °F) to −23.3 °C (−10 °F)), 6a (From −23.3 °C (−10 °F) to −20.6 °C (−5 °F)), 6b (From −20.6 °C (−5 °F) to −17.8 °C (0 °F)), 7a (From −17.8 °C (0 °F) to −15 °C (5 °F)), 7b (From −15 °C (5 °F) to −12.2 °C (10 °F)), 8a (From −12.2 °C (10 °F) to −9.4 °C (15 °F)), 8b (From −9.4 °C (15 °F) to −6.7 °C (20 °F))
  • Plant spacing average3 m (9.84 ft)
  • Propagation techniquesDivisions
  • Potential insect pestsBeetles

Peony can be a difficult plant to grow successfully. To not overcrowd the plant, it is important to plant buds at least two feet (60 cm) apart. Plants should also receive as much sun exposure as possible. Fertilizers should be applied with adequate dosages of potassium and phosphorus, and there should be no excess of nitrogen. Peony should not be planted more than two inches (5 cm) below the soil, and care should be taken to prevent diseases and pests, since it is commonly very sensitive to these.

Additional Information

Quick Facts (Additional Information)
  • Other usesCosmetics

Historical Information

Researchers believe peony was first cultivated in China over 4,000 years ago. In ancient times, it was used as a well-respected medicinal herb, and it is said that the Paean, the physician of the Greek gods of myth, was responsible for naming it. Peony is mentioned several times throughout ancient Greek and Roman medical treatises, as well as during the Middle Ages. It was during this period that peony was introduced to the Alps by Benedictine monks, and from there it found its way into the gardens of northern Europe. It became popular enough to be integrated as a part of standard Christian symbolism, representing wealth, feminine beauty, and healing power.

Economic Data

Though peony has been historically grown for its medicinal value, recently, it has started to be grown for its ornamental value as well. China and Japan are the biggest producers of peony. In Alaska, it has recently been cultivated as a cash crop due to its late summer growing season, with 101,000 roots of peony being planted and over 25,000 being sold by Alaska in 2012 alone. Europe, Asia, and North America all produce commercial cuttings of peony.

Bibliography

  • Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, p. 242
  • Germplasm Resources Information, Taxon: Paeonia officinalis L.
  • Phytotherapy Research, The beneficial effect of total glucosides of paeony on psoriatic arthritis links to circulating Tregs and Th1 cell function, 2014
  • Royal Horticultural Society, Paeonia officinalis 'Rubra Plena' (d) AGM
  • Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine, Preliminary phytochemical, acute oral toxicity and antihepatotoxic study of roots of Paeonia officinalis Linn, 2013
  • Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, An update of the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group classification for the orders and families of flowering plants: APG III, 2003
  • Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, Cardiovascular and airway relaxant activities of peony root extract, 2008
  • Pharmaceutical Biology, Anti-depressant-like effect of peony: a mini-review, 2012
  • British Broadcasting Corporation, Peony