Botanical Name: Angelica sinensis.
Other Common Names: Chinese angelica, female ginseng, dang gui (Chinese), toki (Japanese), tanggwi (Korean), Chinesische Engelwurz (German), kinesisk angelikarot (Swedish).
When Chinese angelica is used as a medicinal herb it is mostly known by its Chinese name “dong quai”.
Habitat: It is found growing wild in China, Korea and Japan. In China it has been cultivable for more than 1500 years, mostly in the southern and western parts of the country.
Description: Dong quai is a member of the Umbelliferae family and is a fragrant perennial plant which can grow up to 2 meters tall, and produces white flowers in early summer.
Dong quai is typically found growing in damp mountain ravines, meadows, river banks, and near the sea.
It is considered in traditional Chinese medicine to have a warm nature and a sweet, acrid, and bitter taste. The main traditional use of dong quai is to regulate the female reproductive organs.
The root is one ingredient of “four things soup”, a traditionally used woman’s tonic in China.
Plant Parts Used: Root. Powdered /dried root/root slices, fluid extracts, tinctures, decoctions and dried leaf preparations are available to be taken by mouth. Topical preparations can also be used.
The key components of dong quai are n-butylidenephalide, ligustilide, n-butylphthalide, ferulic acid, nicotinic acid and succinic acid.
There are also significant amounts of vitamin A, carotenoids, vitamins B12, Vitamin E, ascorbic acid, folinic acid, biotin, various phytosterols, calcium and magnesium.
Dong Quai Therapeutic Uses, Benefits and Claims
Chinese herbalists have used dong quai for thousands of years to strengthen heart, lung and liver meridians and today it is widely used by Chinese families as a tonic and spice.
Dong quai is often called “female ginseng” and it is as highly regarded as Panax ginseng.
It is a very popular herb in China and the only other herb in Chinese herbal medicine that is more used is Chinese licorice (Glycyrrhiza uralensis).
Dong quai has also been used traditionally for recovery from childbirth and related ailments, fatigue and low vitality.
The herb is thought to contain natural hormones (oestrogens) and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes.
Dong quai, often in combination with other herbs, is believed to be of benefit for verity of women’s health issues such as menopause and problematic periods.
Dong quai may reduce spasms in the smooth muscles around the arteries which could help improve blood flow to the veins.
Animal testing indicates that dong quai reduces the formation of plaque in the blood vessel walls and the herb could therefore be relevant as a preventive agent against atherosclerosis, angina pectoris, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and hypertension.
These effects are believed to be due to the substances coumarins and ferulic acid found in the root.
Preliminary results from research conducted on animals suggests that dong quai may have strong tumor inhibitory and immune-enhancing effects.
The polysaccharides found in the root might be able to increase the ability of the natural killer cells and other immune cells to destroy tumors.
Researchers continue to study the potential of the herb as a treatment for cancer and HIV (AIDS).
There are indications that dong quai may also have an anti-allergic effect. Studies show that the herb could inhibit allergy-related antibodies (IgE) production
It can hold back the development of fungi, viruses and bacteria. Pulverized roots for example been used successfully to treat shingles (herpes zoster).
The herb has antibacterial effect and may be helpful to suppress the growth of various bacteria like hemolytic streptococcus, Bacillus typhi, Bacillus dysentricae and Bacillus choleraei.
There is some research on the use of dong quai for nerve pain.
Dosage and Administration
Capsules and tablets: 500-600 mg up to six times daily.
Tincture (1:5) to treat menstrual cramps: 5-20 drops up to three times daily.
Tea in the form of extraction or decoction to treat anemia and for poor blood circulation: one cup 2 or 3 times daily.
Potential Side Effects of Dong Quai
Dong quai has been associated with stomach upsets, nausea and vomiting with prolonged use.
People with a known allergy to the Umbelliferae family (e.g. anise, caraway, celery, dill) should avoid it as it can cause skin rashes.
It contains a group of compounds called psoralens which can increase sensitivity in the sun.
Dong quai contains osthole and ferulic acid which may inhibit platelet aggregation and thus should not be taken with anticoagulants and drugs that increase the risk of bleeding.
Pregnant and breast-feeding women should not take this herb.
Murray, Michael T.: The Healing Power of Herbs. The Enlightened Person’s Guide to the Wonders of Medicinal Plants.Rocklin, Prima Health 1995 (2.ed).
McCaleb, Robert, Evelyn Leigh & Krissta Morien: The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbs. Roseville, Prima Health 2000.
Dong quai – University of Maryland Medical Center.
Foster, Steven and Yue Chongxi: Herbal Emissaries. Bringing Chinese Herbs to the West. Rochester, Healing Arts Press 1992.