Codonopsis pilosula is no stranger to most Chinese since this herb is a common ingredient in the everyday recipes of soups and steamed dishes. In China it is better known as Dang Shen, a major tonic for nourishing the vitality. As you may know, ginseng is another key Qi tonic. So here comes a question: what is the difference between them? Simply put Codonopsis has the similar but weaker efficacy compared to ginseng. But when it comes to the price, the former is much cheaper and totally affordable. For that reason Codonopsis is often under the title of “the poor’s ginseng” and widely used as its alternative.
Codonopsis information and what is Dang Shen?
Codonopsis is a genus in the family Campanulaceae. There are about 40 Codonopsis species worldwide, among which 39 species can be found in China. In addition, 21 of them and 4 varieties can be used medicinally. In TCM it mainly refers to the dry root of Codonopsis pilosula (Franch.) Nannf., Codonopsis pilosula Nannf. var. modesta (Nannf.) L. T. Shen, or Codonopsis tangshen Oliv. And because this plant is native to Shangdang in Shanxi, it is named after “Dang Shen”. Though this herb and ginseng are frequently mentioned together, they are not from the same family actually. As you can see, the former is from Campanulaceae and the latter from Araliaceae.
This is a perennial herb. The slightly curved cylindrical root is 1 to 1.7cm in diameter, with a swollen top on the root head, tumor-like stem scars in the majority, cream to grayish brown skin, and vertical and horizontal wrinkles. Stems are twining, long, and branched. Leaves are opposite, alternative or false verticillate, with 0.5 to 2.5cm petiole and ovate or widely ovate leaf blade. Flowers are solitary, and with slender pedicels, green calyx, and bell-shaped corolla. Capsule is conical, and with persistent calyx and small, oval, brown and shiny seeds. It blooms from August to September and fruits from September to October.
Main chemical constituents of Codonopsis include sterols, Codonopsine, codonopsis pilosula polysaccharides, Codonolactone, alkaloids, inorganic elements, amino acids, trace elements, and so on.
As mentioned above, Codonopsis is commonly used in TCM thanks to its tonic nature. As a matter of fact, nowadays more and more codonopsis health benefits are being discovered along with the scientific progress. And Modern research found that it contains a variety of sugars, phenols, volatile oil, baicalein glucosinolates, saponins and trace alkaloids, which can enhance immunity, dilate blood vessels, lower blood pressure, improve microcirculation, enhance hematopoietic function, and so on. In addition, it also improves the leukopenia induced by chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Modern pharmacological actions
1. It regulates gastrointestinal motility, fight against ulcer, and enhance immunity;
2. It affects both excitatory and inhibitory neural processes;
3. Saponins of Codonopsis excite the respiratory center;
4. It lowers the animal blood pressure temporarily but raises the blood pressure on rabbits that are in late hemorrhagic shock;
5. It significantly increases rabbits’ blood sugar. And rise of serum glucose level is related to the sugar contained;
6. It increases animal erythrocytes, hemoglobin, and reticulocytes;
7. It also delays aging, and fights anoxia and radiation.
Popular Codonopsis pilosula related herbal remedies
Based on the theory of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this herb is sweet and neutral in properties. And it goes to lung and spleen meridians. Its key functions are tonifying middle-Jiao and Qi and strengthening spleen and tonifying lung. Main Codonopsis uses and indications include deficiency in lung and spleen, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, reduced appetite, loose stools, deficient asthma and cough, and heat diabetes. Recommended dosage is from 9 to 30 grams.
Syndrome of Qi deficiency of spleen and lung
This herb is good at tonifying Qi of spleen and lung and used for symptoms induced by insufficiency of middle-warmer energy, such as fatigue due to weakness, appetite loss, and diarrhea. In this case, it usually combines with Fu Ling (Poria) and Bai Zhu (Atractylodes).
As for lung Qi deficiency induced symptoms like cough, low voice, and shortness of breath, it usually couples with Huang Qi (Astragalus Root) and Ge Jie (gecko) to replenish and restore lung qi for relieving a cough and stopping asthma.
This herb works like ginseng on benefiting spleen and lung. However, the efficacy is a little bit weaker. As a result, clinically codonopsis root commonly replaces the ginseng in ancient prescriptions for the treatment of the mild case of spleen-lung Qi deficiency,
Syndrome of deficiency of both Qi and blood
Codonopsis radix not only tonifies Qi but also enriches the blood, which make it an awesome medicine for failure of hematogenesis due to Qi deficiency or abnormality of body fluids metabolism because of blood deficiency. The typical symptoms include pale or sallow complexion, fatigue, dizziness, palpitations, and so on. In this case, it usually requires working with astragalus, atractylodes, Dang Gui (angelica), Shu Di (Rehmannia) and other herbs to enhance its function on tonifying Qi and blood.
Syndrome of injury of both Qi and body fluid
This herb also supplements Qi and promotes the production of body fluid. It is mainly used for the injury of Qi and body fluid by excessive heat, manifesting as shortness of breath and thirst. In the mild case, formulas usually are composed of dried codonopsis, Mai Men Dong (Ophiopogon Tuber) and Wu Wei Zi (Schisandra Fruit).
Potential Codonopsis side effects and contraindications
Codonopsis pilosula root has pretty low toxicity. However, it was reported that overdose (more than 60g per dose) could cause precordial discomfort and irregular pulse, which recovered automatically after stopping the medication. In addition, clinically there was ever one reported poisoning case, which saw mental disorders and aphasia. TCM wise, Dang Shen contradicts Li Lu (Veratrum). And it should not be used in excess and heat type of syndromes. Besides, care should be taken when used along.