You may have heard of a medicinal plant used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) called dong quai that is sometimes referred to as “The Female Ginseng.” While the nickname evokes imagery of what could be considered a cure-all for female reproductive health support, the potential health benefits of this unique medicinal plant are not really that far off base. Read on to learn more about the amazing benefits and uses of dong quai!
What is Dong Quai?
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis), also called angelica root, is a fragrant, perennial plant that is a member of the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) family, commonly known as the celery, carrot, or parsley family. It typically grows at high altitudes in cold, damp regions of Asia and can reach heights of up to 7 feet. The plant grows without any shade or within semi-shaded areas in moist, sandy, loamy, or clay soils. It has purple stems and clustered greenish-white flowers that are hermaphroditic (having both male and female organs) and is commonly pollinated by insects. The plant takes 3 years to reach maturity, and its thick, yellowish-brown roots, known as Dang Gui, are most commonly harvested and used for medicinal purposes to help support various aspects of female and male reproductive health during the natural aging process. (1, 2)
Components of Dong Quai
Dong quai contains essential vitamins and minerals to help support optimal health, including vitamin E, iron, cobalt, niacin, magnesium, potassium, and vitamins A, C, and B12. The plant also contains numerous phytochemicals, including coumarins, phytosterols, polysaccharides, and flavonoids. (3) Dang Gui is also comprised of essential oils and water-soluble compounds, such as lipid compounds, phenolic compounds, carbohydrates, organic acids, and other constituents. The most active ingredients are polysaccharides, Z-Ligustilide, and ferulic acid. (4) Together, these compounds may all help contribute to the potential health benefits of the plant.
Understanding Dong Quai & Its History
Dong quai has been used for thousands of years as a spice, tonic, and medicine throughout China, Korea, and Japan. It is rarely taken on its own. Dong quai is still used in TCM today, where it is usually combined with other herbs and used in tablets, powders, and other medicinal forms. It is believed to have a sweet, warm, bitter, and pungent flavor. (5)
Throughout history, dong quai has been used “to treat ailments of the female reproductive system and as a tonic herb to treat fatigue, mild anemia, high blood pressure and poor circulation in both men and women.” (6)
How Dong Quai is Used in TCM
Dong quai is considered a blood tonic and is used to support health during conditions of blood deficiency. (7) In TCM, it is combined with rehmannia rhizome and donkey-hide gelatin to support healthy blood flow.
To support healthy-looking skin, dong quai can be combined with rehmannia root and white peony root. To support regular bowel movement, dong quai can be added to hemp seed, fleeceflower root, cistanche.
When used with astragalus root and pilose asiabell root, dong quai may help replenish qi (vital energy) and temporarily relieve symptoms related to seasonal health challenges. For temporary headache relief, dong quai is used with Sichuan lovage rhizome and white peony root. To support a restful sleep, TCM practitioners use dong quai with sour jujube seed and longan aril.
TCM practitioners have also long prescribed dong quai for women's reproductive health. Chinese herbalists prepare dong quai in combination with other herbs, including astragalus as a fatigue tonic, mugwort, bai shao (white peony), chai hu (bupleurum root), and rou gui (cinnamon bark) in medicinal formulas for women.” (8) When combined with herbs like rehmannia rhizome, peony root, and Sichuan lovage rhizome, dong quai helps support regular menstruation and temporarily relieves menstrual pain and postpartum abdominal pain. It can also be paired with peony root bark and red peony root to clear heat in the blood, such as during menopausal hot flashes. Another herb commonly combined with dong quai is black cohosh. “This herb is used to reduce symptoms associated with menstruation and menopause.” (9)
Potential Health Benefits of Dong Quai
Some Ways to Take Dong Quai
According to an article published in Healthline in 2016, written by David Heitz and Rachel Nall, and medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, dong quai may be taken in many different forms, some of which are as follows. (10)
- Bulk or raw form, including all of the plant’s essential parts
- Granular form, which can be mixed with boiling water
- Pill form, to be mixed with other herbs or taken solely as a dong quai supplement
- Injection form, typically found in China and Japan
- Dried form, to be boiled and strained as tea or soup
As one of the most popular Chinese herbs, dong quai is mainly believed to help nourish the blood and balance energy. We’ve outlined additional potential benefits below. (11)
Top Dong Quai Potential Health Benefits
- Promotes healthy blood circulation
- Supports regular menstruation
- Provides temporary relief from symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Temporarily relieves symptoms of menopause
- Supports the natural aging process
- Supports digestive health
- Supports cognitive function
- Promotes cardiovascular health
- Supports a healthy immune system
- Supports against the loss of skin pigmentation
- Supports female and male sexual health (12)
According to TCM, different parts of dong quai may have various effects on human health. However, more commonly, parts of the dried dong quai root, for instance, may be taken in dietary supplements and have some of the additionally outlined potential health benefits.
Potential Effects of Dong Quai Root
- Quan dong quai (whole root): enrich the blood and promote blood flow
- Dong quai tou (root head): promote blood flow
- Dong quai shen (main root body, no head or tails): enrich the blood without promoting blood flow
- Dong quai wei (extended roots): promote blood flow and slow blood clots
- Dong quai xu (finer hair-like roots): promote blood flow and relieve pain (12)
One study found that an injection of dong quai root oil promoted blood flow and lowered blood pressure temporarily in animal test subjects, promoting healthy blood circulation. (13)
Another study found that dong quai root extract contains bioactive components that have “anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, immunomodulatory, anti-cardiovascular, neuroprotective, [and] anti-oxidative” properties, helping to protect cell health and function. (14)
We’ve further outlined some of the potential health benefits of various parts of the dong quai plant below. It’s important to note, however, that there’s still little scientific evidence about the direct benefits of dong quai.
Dong Quai for Reproductive System Health Support
Dong quai is also believed to have an adaptogenic effect on the female hormones, helping the body adjust to stress and maintain resilience. “Dang Gui, the dried root of Angelica sinensis (Radix angelica sinensis), is a commonly used Chinese medicinal herb to enrich blood, promote blood circulation, and treat blood deficiency pattern and menstrual disorders such as dysmenorrhea and irregular menstrual cycle.” (15)
It is believed that women may find the most benefits from dong quai after having a baby or during and after menstruation to temporarily relieve symptoms related to premenstrual syndrome (PMS), cramps, irregular periods, menopause, and other issues related to aging. It is also considered a helpful supplement for regulating blood flow by stimulating and opening blood vessels for circulatory support and relaxing the muscles of the uterus. Thus, dong quai is called “The Female Ginseng.”
Herbalists have been known to prescribe dong quai to women who need to “enrich” their blood. Enriching, or nourishing, your blood means to promote its quality through detoxification and other means. “Dong quai has a tonic effect on all female reproductive organs and increases blood flow to the uterus. It acts to increase vaginal secretions and to nourish vaginal tissue.” (16)
Women who take dong quai supplements have found that is helps regulate the menstrual cycle and relaxes uterine muscles. “A 2004 study showed that 39 percent of the women who took a concentrated dose of dong quai twice daily reported an improvement in their abdominal pain (such that they didn’t need painkillers) and a normalizing of their menstrual cycle.” (17)
In addition, one study suggested a possible positive effect of dong quai extract on breast cellular health, but further research needs to be done. (18) However, unlike previously believed by some, dong quai does not appear to have any hormone-like actions in the body. Therefore, dong quai should not be regarded as a replacement for natural estrogen. (19)
An additional note of interest is that dong quai may also have some potential health benefits for the male reproductive system, as well. (20) “Some men apply dong quai to the skin of the penis as part of a multi-ingredient preparation for treating premature ejaculation.” (21)
“Dong quai has been taken by mouth in the following forms: a decoction (a teaspoon or tablespoon of cut root simmered in one cup of hot water); dried leaf (taken in an infusion); dried root (taken directly by mouth or in an infusion); a fluid extract; a leaf liquid extract; a leaf tincture; dong quai tea (root steeped in hot water); candied dong quai stems; whole root or root slices (boiled or soaked in wine); or a root tincture.” (22)
While there are no standard dosages recommended for taking dong quai supplements, there are a few common dosages for adults over age 18, according to the Mayo Clinic. (There is no dosage information available for teen under 18 years old or children). Note that it is always important to first consult with your healthcare provider before introducing an herbal supplement into your diet.
Dong quai may be taken orally three times a day as 520 mg per dose (for people weighing under 100 lbs), 1,040 mg per dose (for people 100-175 lbs), and 1,560 mg per dose for people over 175 pounds. For healthy-looking skin, 10-15 drops of diluted dong quai essential oil have been applied topically. Dong quai has also been used in acupuncture.
Should You Try Dong Quai?
Dong quai and other members of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae botanical family are believed to increase skin sensitivity to sunlight. Taking more than 500 mg per day of dong quai may cause abdominal bloating and affect menstrual flow and timing. People with imbalanced blood sugar levels, anemia, cancer, eye disorders, heart problems, liver disease, lung problems, and stomach problems should not take dong quai. Also avoid dong quai if you are taking birth control, St. John's wort, certain medications, or undergoing hormone replacement therapy. (23)
“Dong quai, used in China for pain and trauma or ‘female problems,’ can also interfere with warfarin [or other blood-thinning medications], in high doses. It may ... raise blood glucose levels. People who are diabetic, have heart problems, or are taking anticoagulants should not take dong quai.” (24)
DO NOT use dong quai during pregnancy or breastfeeding. It may cause the uterus to contract and raise the risk of miscarriage. Children under 18 should also avoid dong quai supplementation. (25)
Should you decide to incorporate dong quai into your health routine, you’ll find a number of options at Natural Healthy Concepts. We’d love to help you choose which dong quai supplement is right for you! Start your shopping experience at NaturalHealthyConcepts.com. (26)