Dave Jeffries is a chef, wildcrafter, and student of the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine. He also does a garden work-study here at Wellspring Mountain.
Genus and Species: Polygonum cuspidatum (formerly Fallopia japonica)
Family: Polygonaceae (Buckwheat family)
Common Names: Japanese Knotweed, Hu Zhang, Tiger Cane, Itadori, Fleeceflower, Monkeyweed, “thuggish” (Newsweek), “thug” (The Guardian), “tarmac-smashing thug” (The Telegraph).
Taste: The young shoots are distinctly sour and tart, crunchy, juicy and mucilaginous, piercingly acidic– redolent of rhubarb, but there is a petrichor quality, and none of rhubarb’s sweetness. It resembles asparagus spears, only more fierce and exotic, its stem flecked with a sanguine red and its tip and nodes bloodstained.
The taste of Itadori is preferred over rhubarb in Japan, where both are native. It has become a spring darling among acclaimed chefs in the West. Tiger Cane (as this forager is trying to rebrand it!) has the distinction of being delicious either savory or sweet. Chef Ghaya Oliveira, of the vaunted restaurant, Daniel (NYC), concocts compotes, jams, and gelatos with P. cuspidatum and exults that it “tastes like rain”; chef/owner of Serpico restaurant in Philly and co-founder of the Momofuku empire (NYC), Peter Serpico, has featured it flash fried in tempura, served lightly sautéed, or pickled. (This juncture of invasivorism and fine dining is a trend, which hopefully trickles down to popular culture, not by P. cuspidatum becoming a cultivated crop, but as a naturalization process for both alienated human and alien plant, a way to find a home with nature as a native, directly in cyclical balance, not as a “thuggish” invader or marginalized outsider.)
The roots (harvested in autumn) are bitter and astringent, with an electric minerality, woody acridity, and lingering acids.
Degree of action: 1st, 2nd, 3rd
Tissue States: Irritation; alternating Constriction/Relaxation; peripheral, interred Stagnation (“facilitates the blood flow to areas difficult to reach”, according to Stephen Buhner)
Doctrine of Signatures/Phytographology:
P. cuspidatum can be difficult to notice, as it has learned to hide and feign nativity to survive, while its aspect is quite beautiful and pleasing in disturbed soil tissue; its roots penetrate deeply and are stubbornly vigorous— its overcrowded life underground is pressurized and magmatic in strong, fiery reserves; it is one of the most resolute plants once it has colonized soil tissue; knotweed spreads in all directions after its spring arrow pierces the surface and soon forms an impenetrable stand; it can sprout from and alternately lie dormant within every node—purportedly it is active for up to 20 years in a mere millimeter of root; it thrives along neglected riverfronts, preferring muddy, collagenous soil.
Once it has been deemed a “thug” it seems to exhibit these characteristics, appearing angrily recidivistic. It is dismissed as being “thuggish” because it colonizes abandoned, forgotten places, often in the heart(lessness) of a city. Labeled as such (in an infantile, ignorant manner), it is easy to justify violent eradication efforts, including toxic bombs and sprays, but it rebounds from poisons and genocide. It is often unnoticed until the property it is on is determined to have monetary or developmental value; at this point a precedent is set to dispense with it at any cost. It reemerges after years of dormancy, undaunted.
The entirety of the scattered P. cuspidatum in Europe (and in Canada and the U.S.) is all the expression of one female clone; The Telegraph (London) famously announced, “The largest female on earth could strangle Britain”!
The treatment of P. cuspidatum most resembles the treatment of marginalized women in the modern metropolis.
The bloody arrow of a knotweed shoot is an indicator of use for intense, deeply penetrating infections, specifically corresponding to the red bullseye that accompanies many Lyme disease onsets. Its affinity for mucky, abandoned, toxic waterways underlines this use, spirochete infections tending to sink into the crevices and interstices where they often lie dormant and too embedded to be eradicated with antibiotics. The same holds true for many autoimmune diseases, including HIV, and causative mysteries, such as cancer. Poisons are only somewhat effective, and recidivism is high, while knotweed offers the problem of its proliferation as a clue in how to use it as a cure. One can infer from reading the signature of P.cuspidatum that a vacancy and abandonment of self plays a role in unexplained modern maladies, as well as an inflation of self worth to the detriment of others. It breathes in the filth of the city, therefore its resilience strengthens respiration. The rhizomic magma has a direct correlation to the cardiovascular system. The nodes of the stalk and rhizome are like the joints and cartilage it reinvigorates. The roots are that of an active and connected brain. The mark of knotweed also suggests finding a balance of internal power to halt the recurrence of inflammation and the cycle of selfishness, which neglects the less dominant voices within. It signals us to heed the needs of our most vulnerable selfhoods, and to seek out maladies where they sleep in our nightmares. Dreams are journeys within our bodies, often a visit to the extremes of emotional topography, wherein we are sightless molecules being led by our bodily soul through a complexity that we necessarily relate to our waking state, thereby superimposing images of our conscious life on molecular meanderings, making metaphors of our microflora, tantamount to an actual wood or glade; plants have energetic effects in our dreams, and invasives are dream accumulators for those without daydreams of hope.
Key uses: Antibacterial, antiviral, antischistosomal, antispirochetal, antifungal, immunostimulant, immunomodulant, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiatherosclerotic, antihyperlipidemic, antimutagenic, anticarcinogenic, antineoplastic, vasodilator, inhibitor of platelet aggregation, eicosanoid synthesis suppressant, antithrombotic, tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TNF-alpha), oncogene inhibitor, antipyretic, cardioprotective, mildly analgesic, antiulcer (modulates stomach acid levels and protects against stress ulcers), hemostatic, and to treat Alzheimer’s and diabetes II.
History: Knotweed hails from the desolate slopes of Japanese volcanoes where it has had to tolerate toxic soils, extreme changeability, and pyroclast rains. The plant developed the ability to store its energy deep underground and spring forth through many feet of ash. Yet it is assimilated into the ecosystem in Japan, Korea, and N. China, where Aphalara itadori, a psyllid insect, enjoys its foliage, while various other plants and fungi seem to be inured or immune to its cocktail of allelopathy, defenses, and animate motility, hence it has never been known as a scourge in Asia.
Aside from being a rejuvenating spring food, it was traditionally used to treat arthritis, rheumatic pain, traumatic injury, dysmenorrhea, urinary disorders, hemorrhoids, wounds, burns, and skin inflammations.
According to Timothy Lee Scott, in TCM it is considered bitter and cold, with an affinity for the liver, gallbladder, and lungs. It is an invigorator of qi and blood, it clears heat and removes toxins, and helps resolve excess phlegm.
A single female P. cuspidatum, originally brought to Holland from Japan by Phillipe von Siebold in 1829, was soon marketed as an ornamental across Europe. It was en vogue among the Victorians, but fell from fashion with the era, and the plant was carelessly yanked and tossed from gardens. It is now along the waterways of much of the developed world, the ubiquitous woman of the forlorn lowlands, where other female nurture is absent. All of the Knotweed in the Western world is a clonal expression of an 175 year old female plant!
The Eclectics included nine Polygonum species in their materia medica, chiefly water pepper (P. hydropiper), but its actions and energetics differ from Knotweed, and they seemed to be unaware of its unique medicinal qualities.
It has been largely ignored by Western herbalists, especially those who use primarily European and Native American herbs, and many are not sure where or how to employ Asian invasives, seeming to prefer the expensive, scarce, overharvested Asian tonic herbs, or a species that is safe (and legal) to cultivate. The constant branding of a species as a “thug” can be persuasive. Questions of provenance and terroir emerge: since it is not recommended (even illegal in England) to propagate, and inhabits waste places, where does one find a source for P. cuspidatum that has not hyperaccumulated toxins/heavy metals? It presents another urban challenge that causes most to avert their eyes and attention. In the city, “wildness” is a response to imposed toxins and violent inflammation.
Stephen Harrod Buhner and his students have been the main proponents and dispensers of Knotweed, primarily to treat Lyme disease and other novel, non-specific, degenerative autoimmune diseases and other scourges of modern urbanity, though it is still used in TCM and Japanese folkloric medicine in its traditional context.
Much more attention has been focused on getting rid of P. cuspidatum. It is estimated that the U.K. spends up to L150 million per year, and that removing it entirely from the Britain could cost over L1.5 billion.
Recently, anecdotal reports from Lyme sufferers, media and social media hype around Resveratrol, and its growing popularity as an exotic edible has begun a process of redemption and assimilation for (Grand)Mother(Daughter) Tiger Cane and a tentative release from the white man’s cruel cages.
Clinical Uses: In its 1st and 2nd degrees of action, Itadori/Tiger Cane is a nutritive new addition to the early spring edibles of the Western world, as it has been traditionally enjoyed in Asia.
P. cuspidatum is a decidedly urban plant outside its native range, growing and spreading with volcanic vigor in the ash of eruptive “civilization”. The root should be used in cases of violent infection when modern medicine fails, or as a companion treatment. It can also be taken for short durations as an immunostimulant and immunomodulator and to rebalance the body, heart, mind, and spirit. It has not been proven to add years to life, but it may add life to years (Kurtis Frank).
Studies: For such a vilified weed, P. cuspidatum has been extensively researched, with many in vitro and animal studies showing marked success in many of its uses, both traditional and modern. Human studies have proved less conclusive; most of these have revolved around resveratrol, often in standardized or isolated extracts. The whole root extract seems the most promising, containing a barrage of potent compounds that act to triangulate infections and wage battle on multiple fronts (similarly, resveratrol isolated from pinot noir grapes has not had the same salubrious effects on the heart and age-related debilitation as the wine made from the the whole fruit pressing of V.vinifera). Plants contain polycultures of compounds that act synergistically within the plant and us; the isolation of certain compounds often means the loss of host actuators.
I have personally seen miraculous results when P. cuspidatum root tincture is used as the principal part of an herbal and dietary protocol against Lyme disease. I also know it to be an anomalous plant with undiscovered applications of great profundity. Stephen Buhner may be given to hyperbole, but knotweed does exhibit characteristics that suggest its use for similarly misunderstood, invasive pathogens, according to the doctrine of signatures. Plants do not offer themselves forth with such recurrent exuberance except to share in a relationship of healing and understanding. It is incumbent upon us to do a better job of listening.
“Antioxidant activity and phenolic compounds of 112 traditional Chinese medicinal plants associated with anticancer”
Cai, et al. (Life Sciences, 2004)
“Protective effect of polydatin against ischemia/reperfusion injury in rat heart”
Zhang, et al. (Pub Med, 2008)
“Protective, antioxidative and antiapoptotic effects of naphthoquinone from P. cuspidatum in PC12 cells”
Li YB, et al. (Planta Medicine, 2011)
“Antioxidant activity of extract from P. cuspidatum”
Hsu, Chan, et al. ((Biological Research, 2007)
“Invasive knotweed affects plants through allelopathy”
Murrell, et al. (American Journal of Botany, 2011)
Constituents: Resveratrol*, trans-resveratrol, emodin*, emodin monomethyl ether, polydatin (piceid), piceatannol*, physcion, astringin, oxalic acid, rheic acid, catechin, chrysophanol, itreosein, dimethylhyroxychromone, fallacinol, glucofragulin, isoquercitrin, manganese, methylcoumarin napthoquinone*, physide, piceid, plastoquinone, polydatoside, polygonin, protocatechuic acid, quercitrin, questin, questinol, reynoutriin, rheic acid, rubidium, rutin, and numerous minerals, flavonoids, polysaccharides, and tannins.
*Resveratrol is the potent polyphenol behind the “French Paradox” debate, found in the highest botanical concentrations in the root and rhizome of Japanese Knotweed. It is in a group of organic phenols called stilbenoids, and is the plant’s host phytoalexin, defending against microbial and fungal pathogens. Resveratrol is a vasodilator and inhibitor of platelet aggregation, credited for much of P. cuspidatum’s asserted actions against cancer, deep and evasive inflammations, autoimmune diseases, diabetes II, arthritis, and neurodegeneration.
*Piceatannol is a metabolite of resveratrol. It is known to inhibit JAK-1, a key member of the STAT pathway that is crucial in controlling cellular activities in response to extracellular cytokines, and is a COX-2 inducible enzyme involved in inflammation and carcinogenesis. It is known to suppress a wide variety of tumor cells, including leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, and prostate, colon and breast cancers.
*Emodin, an anthraquinone compound, has shown antiviral, antimicrobial, neuroprotective, histamine inhibiting and anticancer effects, and is being studied for its glutucorticoidal modulation. It can be laxative in large doses.
*Polydatin, the glucoside of resveratrol, has demonstrated protection against cognitive decline and other effects of aging, along with being cardioprotective.
*Naphthoquinone has proved to be an inhibitor of rhinoviral replication, reducing the occurrence and severity of the common cold.
Dosage: Dosing is variable depending on the usage and practitioner.
The shoots, as a spring vegetable, can be consumed without much concern, although they do contain oxalic acid, which can cause kidney damage in large quantities, and taken over time can induce the formation of kidney stones. Few would venture to eat a harmful amount of something so sour—it is self-limiting if one follows their instincts. A larger concern is the origin of the plant. Unscrupulous foragers often source Tiger Cane from toxic environments. One should ask specific questions of a restaurateur or self-harvest the shoots from clean soil.
As a medicine the dosages are specific to the ailment, and there is no authoritative protocol. Again, I would be very skeptical of specific plant provenance.
For Lyme disease: the dried root powder is used as a tablet or decoction. Tablets: 8-16 00 tablets should be taken 4x daily. Decoction: simmer 1 ounce of herb in a quart of water for 20 minutes, infuse until cool, and administer 4x per day for twice the length of a patent antibiotic regimen. It can also be taken as a strong tincture, from 10-30 drops 4x daily.
The TCM dosage is anywhere from 1-30 grams of the whole herb taken internally or as a decoction of like preparation, until the complaint is resolved.
The duration of treatment is longer at lower doses for prevention and neuroregeneration.
For eruptive skin conditions or arthritic pain a strong decoction applied topically is recommended.
Experimental doses of the whole root tincture– up to 1000 milligrams per day, is worthwhile in otherwise hopeless cases of HIV and cancer.
The toxic dose is high, reportedly more than 75 grams of the powdered root in a single ingestion. Gastrointestinal side effects can occur at a relatively mild dose, however, in which case usage should be lessened or discontinued. P. cuspidatum is contraindicated during pregnancy or while taking blood thinning medications.
One should establish a personal and professional definition of what safety means whenever ingesting a wild plant or using it in a culinary or clinical setting. Careful evaluation of the conditions in which this “wildness” found root will reveal it to be a clean medicine or a potential polytoxic accumulator.
DAVID JEFFRIES copyright 7/16