Cistanche deserticola Y. C. Ma (C. deserticola, "Rou Cong Rong" in Chinese) is an officinal plant that grows in arid or semi-arid areas. The dried fleshy stem of C. deserticola has been generally used as a tonic in China and Japan for many years. Modern pharmacology studies have since demonstrated that C. deserticola possesses broad medicinal functions, especially for use in hormone regulation, aperient, immunomodulatory, neuroprotective, antioxidative, anti-apoptotic, anti-nociceptive, anti-inflammatory, anti-fatigue activities and the promotion of bone formation. The phenylethanoid glycosides (PhGs) presented in C. deserticola have been identified as the major active components. This review summarizes the up-to-date and comprehensive information on C. deserticola covering the aspects of the botany, traditional uses, phytochemistry, and pharmacology.