Three Potential Benefits of Rou Cong Rong (Cistanche Herb)

The following article is provided only as an educational resource - it is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, and the herbs and/or formulas within are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any diseases. This information is intended for only licensed healthcare practitioners.

In the world of traditional herbal remedies, few plants hold the same esteemed status as the Cistanche herb. Known as ròu cōng róng (肉苁蓉) or the "ginseng of the deserts" in Chinese medicine, this resilient plant has been an important herb used in holistic health practices for centuries.

What are the suggested benefits of Cistanche Herb?

Three primary benefits people may experience with Cistanche include increased testosterone and sexual health, brain health and cognitive function, and immune system support. 

Additionally, the herb may assist in promoting mental-emotional health, healthy aging, bone health, and cardiovascular health. 

Let’s get to know the origins of the Cistanche herb and explore both its traditional uses and some modern research that backs them up.

An Overview of Cistanche Herb

Cistanche tubulosa, the scientific name for the Cistanche herb, is a perennial shrub native to the deserts of China, Mongolia, and Russia. It's often referred to as "desert ginseng" due to its remarkable adaptability and resilience in harsh conditions, much like the renowned ginseng root.

Cistanche (rou cong rong)

The Cistanche herb has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for thousands of years. Its first known mention can be traced back to the Classic of Herbal Medicine (Shennong Bencaojing), a revered text on medicinal plants written between 200 and 250 AD. This ancient text lauds Cistanche as a powerful tonic capable of improving various physical and emotional conditions.

In contemporary times, the Cistanche herb has gained popularity worldwide, with its many suggested health benefits being the subject of extensive scientific research.

The Significance of Cistanche in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Cistanche is one of the most widely used kidney tonic herbs in Chinese medicine. So, what is a “kidney tonic herb”? 

In TCM, the kidney, like each organ, is not simply regarded as an anatomical organ but more as an energy system responsible for many vital functions in the body.  kidney system Chinese medicine

In TCM, the kidney represents a complex system associated with growth, reproduction, fluid balance, bone health, hearing, and more. 

A kidney tonic herb, then, is one that has a special affinity for the kidney system. However, herbs are rarely limited to a single role; because of the many natural properties a single herb can contain, it carries numerous potential therapeutic effects on the body. 

In the case of Cistanche, its traditional herbal properties (sweet, salty, and warm) combined with its TCM functions (supplementing kidney yang, boosting essence and blood, moistening the intestines, and freeing stools) and affinity for the kidney and large intestine can result in a whole array of health benefits.

Examining Scientific Studies Supporting Cistanche Benefits

Studies on Cistanche show promising initial results for many health conditions, including Parkinson’s disease, brain function, immunity, and hormone balancing. These studies highlight three main reported biological functions of the herb’s active ingredients: “improvement of brain function, immune-boosting effect, and nourishing aphrodisiac effect.” 

Further studies have demonstrated Cistanche herb’s potential pharmacological effects, including “anti-inflammatory, hepatoprotective, anti-neurodegenerative disease, and anti-osteoporotic.”

How can a single herb have so many potential health benefits? 

We can better grasp the remarkable abilities of the Cistanche herb by becoming familiar with its active compounds.  Cistanche compounds

Here are just a few natural compounds found in Cistanche:

Phenylethanoid Glycosides (PhGs) have been studied for their potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, anticancer, antidiabetic, neuroprotective, and hepatoprotective activities. PhGs are the main active components in Cistanche and include:

Echinacoside is a natural phenol compound with potential properties including anti-fatigue, anti-aging, and neuroprotective effects. It is suggested that these properties contribute to the reported aphrodisiac effects of the Cistanche herb.
Acteoside is suggested to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It has been purported to improve sexual ability, perhaps by improving overall health and energy levels.
Cistanosides are unique glycosides found in Cistanche that may boast immune enhancements along with several other biological effects.

Polysaccharides: The polysaccharides from Cistanche herb are suggested to possess antioxidant, antitumor, immunomodulatory, antiviral, and neuroprotective activities.

The Top 3 Potential Benefits of Cistanche Herb

Now that we have a holistic understanding of both eastern medicine perspectives and western scientific studies with regard to Cistanche, let’s explore three primary areas where Cistanche can support healthy outcomes.

Benefit #1: Testosterone Increase and Sexual Health

Traditionally, Cistanche has been used as a remedy for fertility and sexual health issues. It's considered an aphrodisiac and is often used to improve libido and sexual performance in both men and women. By strengthening the kidney and yang, Cistanche herb promotes sexual vitality and performance.

Cistanche Herb and Testosterone

Research has shown that Cistanche herb could have a positive impact on testosterone levels in animal models. The active compounds in this plant may interact with certain receptors in the testicles and hypothalamus, leading to increased testosterone production. This hormonal boost could also lead to improved energy levels and overall well-being.

Cistanche Herb and Sexual Health

In accordance with its traditional use, a growing body of research suggests the herb may indeed play an essential role in enhancing sexual health and reproductive function.

Studies show the Cistanche herb not only increases testosterone levels, but has also been shown to increase sperm activity and count in animal models, positively impacting male fertility.

Further animal-model studies point to the cognitive-enhancing impacts of the Cistanche herb. Its compounds have been shown to possess neuroprotective effects, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety. These benefits could indirectly boost sexual function and desire by reducing mental barriers related to sexual activity.

Benefit #2: Brain Health and Cognitive Function

The role of Cistanche in brain function has been a subject of increasing interest, with its many traditional uses supported by initial pharmacological studies.
 Cistanche for brain health

The Neuroprotective Properties of Cistanche Herb

“Neuroprotective” is a term denoted to substances that serve to protect nerve cells against damage, degeneration, or impairment of function. Cistanche has earned this designation, containing herbal properties that link it to enhanced learning capabilities, memory retention and much more.

In an extensive review published by Frontiers in Pharmacology, researchers detail studies into the botanical properties of what it calls “one of the most valuable herbal drugs in traditional Chinese medicine.” 

A 2021 article published by the journal Aging using animal-models discusses the neuroprotective properties of Cistanche and its potential benefits, including supporting the treatment of neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease.

These studies and others indicate that by increasing cerebral blood flow, reducing oxidative stress, and promoting neuronal growth, Cistanche may contribute to brain health and cognitive function.

Benefit #3: Immune System Support

Some data also suggest that Cistanche may be an immunomodulator. 

An immunomodulator is a substance that increases or decreases (modulates) your immune response to help your body respond to illness.

As we mentioned previously, Cistanche polysaccharides have been identified as potential immune boosters. Recent research analysis outlines the potentially immune-boosting compounds in Cistanche may:

  • stimulate lymphocyte proliferation and natural killer cell activity;
  • enhance the immune system's resilience with both anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidant activities;
  • stimulate macrophage activity, and
  • enhance cytokine production.

Additional Potential Benefits of Cistanche

As we mentioned, an herb isn’t limited to a single role in the body. While these three primary benefits are wide-ranging in themselves, Cistanche is also suggested to provide additional benefits, including mental-emotional support, healthy aging benefits, as well as bone & circulatory support

Mental-emotional health

Recent animal model research suggests that Cistanche tubulosa extract exhibits antidepressant-like effects, primarily by restoring gut microbiota homeostasis.

Healthy Aging

Cistanche is rich in antioxidants, which can help neutralize free radicals. Cistanche's antioxidants may play a positive role in supporting healthy aging and improving overall vitality.

Cistanche for healthy aging

Bone Health

Cistanche herb has shown initial animal-model results in promoting bone health by enhancing calcium absorption and reducing bone loss due to aging. This would not only strengthen the bones but may also reduce the risk of conditions like osteoporosis.

Cardiovascular Health

Compelling animal-model research indicates Cistanche extract may enhance myocardial adenosine triphosphate (ATP) generation capacity, leading to improved heart contractile function. This can facilitate a regular heartbeat and help prevent breathing difficulties.

Where can you buy Cistanche (Rou Cong Rong)?

For practitioners, Treasure of the East offers Rou Cong Rong granules, which offer superior absorption to teapills or tablets. We also offer two popular formulas containing Cistanche:

For consumers, while it's possible to find Cistanche online and in health food stores, we highly recommend going through a qualified practitioner of Chinese herbal medicine. Please read "Where to Buy Chinese Herbs Safely" for more information.

How long does it take to see results from taking Cistanche?

Results can vary depending on the individual and their specific condition. Some may experience improvements within a few days, while others notice changes within a few weeks of consistent use.

For the best results with Cistanche or any TCM herbal formula, we always recommend consulting with a qualified practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine.

Safety and Precautions Dosage and Side Effects of Cistanche Herb

While the Cistanche herb may offer numerous health benefits, it should be consumed responsibly.

In high doses, cistanche can be toxic, so moderation is key. Pregnant or nursing women should refrain from taking Cistanche due to insufficient studies on its safety during these periods.

The recommended dosage of Cistanche herb varies and is typically part of a balanced TCM formula. Since TCM herbs are rarely intended for individual use and are instead used in a formula containing complementary herbs, we strongly recommend consulting with a qualified TCM practitioner before using Cistanche.


Cistanche, the "desert ginseng," is a truly exceptional medicinal herb. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this plant’s rich history and its wide array of potential health benefits. 

Practitioners, did you know...? Treasure of the East’s full-spectrum extracts contain the same active chemical constituents as raw herbs! Register for a professional account today, or read on to discover all the benefits of including full-spectrum granules in your herbal pharmacy.