Bai Shao (Hang) Single Herb Extract, 100g
Traditional Growing Location: Zhejiang Province, China (cultivated in near wild conditions according to biodynamic principles)
Traditional Preparation: Dry-fried over low heat
lassification: Herbs that Contain the Yang by Nourishing Yin/Qi and Cooling Deficiency Heat ()
Excipient: Organic, soluble quinoa powder
While Baishao was once wild-crafted on the mountains of central and SE China, virtually 100% of today’s high-volume supply is grown in agricultural centers that have specialized in the cultivation of medicinal peony roots for centuries. During the last millenium, four such centers have developed on the Chinese mainland, producing different sub-varieties of the Paeonia lactiflora species:
Bo Baishao from Bozhou in today’s Anhui Province (E central China)
Heze Baishao from Heze in today’s Shandong Province (E central China)
Hang Baishao from Hangzhou in today’s Zhejiang Province (SE China)
Chuan Baishao from Zhongjiang in today’s Sichuan Province (SW China)
Most ancient records identify Bozhou, the location of China’s largest herb market and ancestral home of the 3rd century shaman physician Hua Tuo, as the most prolific producer of ornamental peony. In 1821, the Qing dynasty poet Liu Kai described his view of the flower capped countryside surrounding the city, reminding Western readers of the tulip fields in Holland: “Peonies bloom outside the city walls for miles, as far as the eye can see—every farmhouse grows them in front and in back.” Since the production of ornamental peony shifted from Bozhou to nearby Heze during the last century, Bozhou has become the most prolific producer of medicinal peony. At last count, approximately 30,000 acres in the city’s vicinity were cultivated for the purpose of producing Baishao. More recently, government development grants have turned the city of Zhongjiang in SW China into another major producer in the Baishao agro-business.
Most of the Baishao available on the international market today thus originates from Bozhou. The Bo Baishao variety of peony does not require the labor intensive trimming of side roots after the first year, and can be harvested after only two years in the ground. Roots are large and exhibit a gleaming white sheen—attractive visual features in the eyes of Asian customers—and fertilizer-based mass production has kept wholesale prices low. While these qualities have made Bo Baishao the most competitive product on the present market, classical scholar physicians have long agreed that the medicinal properties of peony roots grown in this region are of inferior quality. The 11th century herb scholar Chen Cheng, still quoted in Li Shizhen’s authoritative Bencao gangmu (Compendium of the Materia Medica) 500 years later, states clearly that “[Shaoyao] is most abundantly cultivated in Zhenyang of the Huainan region (today’s Bozhou); while the roots there grow particularly large, their fragrance [particular to medicinal Baishao] is of poor quality, and thus unsuitable for medicinal purposes.”
Traditionally, the most valued type of medicinal Baishao has been Hang Baishao, which originates from the mountains surrounding the city of Hangzhou in today’s Zhejiang province. The 18th century clinician and paozhi expert Huang Gongxiu summarized the opinion of his trade when he wrote: “The best kind of Baishao grows in Hangzhou.” His well-known colleague Zhang Xichun elaborated 150 years later: “Baishao is cultivated in the South and the best kind is produced in Hangzhou. Its color is white, bearing a trace of red that is particularly obvious on the outer skin. Because both the white and the red intermingle, the root’s ability to regulate both qi and blood is outstanding.” Hang Baishao does indeed exhibit a reddish sheen in comparison to other types of Baishao. When subjected to laboratory testing, Hang Baishao tests significantly higher in certain active ingredients in comparison to species cultivated elsewhere.
Because of the high demand for genuine medicinal Hang Baishao, the early 1970s saw a period of severe overproduction (100,000 tons). This circumstance caused many of the local fields to lay fallow for almost a decade. In addition, the production of Hang Baishao requires the trimming of small roots after one year, in order to direct the plant’s energy away from the flower toward the subterranean parts of the plant. Hang Baishao, moreover, takes a cultivation time of 3-4 years before it can be harvested—significantly longer in comparison to other varietals. Without the application of artificial fertilizers, the root can even stay in the ground for 6-8 years for the purpose of gathering additional potency. This significant difference in labor and cultivation time, however, has so far not been rewarded by the market place. Prices for Hang Baishao have remained low, and local peasants thus do not consider it a profitable crop anymore. As a result, the cultivation of genuine Hang Baishao has descended into a state of severe atrophy. Only about 20-30 acres are being planted every year, producing a total of 50 tons per annum.
Classical Pearls has made a special effort to partner with a small family farm in a remote valley near Hangzhou, one of the few places where Hang Baishao roots are still cultivated according to traditional principles: fields are fertilized in autumn with a mixture of animal dung and ashes from mountain weeds, then irrigated with local spring water. The roots are harvested after 6 years in the soil, then sun-dried.
Based on Japanese pharmacological research, the skin is deliberately left on in all Baishao roots utilized by Classical Pearls. Since Baishao tends to be cooling in its unprocessed state, a variety of processing methods are employed to moderate this quality: dry-fried to moderate its cooling effect on the middle burner (Baishao single herb extract, Golden Pearls); fried with aged clay for enhancing its regulating effect on the Spleen/Stomach (Earth Pearls, Metal Pearls); fried with vinegar for enhanced anti-pain effect and strenghtening its regulating effect on the liver (Ease Pearls, Cinnamon Pearls, Bamboo Pearls, Mama Pearls, Moon Pearls).