It is already a perennial favourite of gardeners the country over. But the peony may soon be giving fresh hope to cancer patients.
Its beautiful blossoms could help ease the distressing side-effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and weight loss. Given in combination with three other plants, it also cuts tumour growth, research from the Yale University School of Medicine in the U.S. suggests.
Chemotherapy works by killing cells that are rapidly growing and dividing - a hallmark of cancers. But fast-growing cells in other parts of the body are also attacked, causing unpleasant side-effects that cannot always be controlled. The research centres on a centuries-old Chinese traditional medicine put into drug form.
Known as PHY906, the drug is made up of four plants: the peony, liquorice, extracts of date and extracts of the skullcap plant. When the drug was given to mice being treated for bowel cancer, their tumours shrunk more quickly and they did not lose any weight, the journal Science Translational Medicine reports.