Thanks to its outstanding performance on nourishing blood for regulating menstruation, dong quai is frequently used in various gynecological diseases, such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), fibroids, endometriosis, and menopause. That is also the main reason why this herb is long honored as “female ginseng” or “gynecological panacea”. In China this amazing herb is better known as Dang Gui. The reason for that name is twofold: women miss their husbands at a distance and hope they would return home soon, plus this herb can get the blood back on the track once they run sluggish or form stasis. However, as one of the most common herbs in TCM, what dong quai can do is far more than that.
What is dong quai?
It has a few different common names, such as Radix Angelicae Sinensis, Chinese angelica root, dongquai, don quai, angelica herb, tong-kui, tang kuei, and so on. Actually medicinally it refers to dry root of Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels, an herb in the family Apiaceae. The medicinal roots are dug at the end of autumn. Next remove the fibrous roots and dirt, tie them into small bundles after the moisture slightly evaporates, put them on the shelf, and then slowly smoke dry them.
The plant is a perennial herb. Stems are with purple. Basal leaves and leaves on lower stem are ovate, biternate to triternate or pinnatisect, with ovate or ovate-lanceolate lobes, 3 shallowly lobed, and with veins and edges covered with white hairs. Petiole comes with large sheath. Leaves on upper stem are pinnately divided. The inflorescence is compound umbel, with 9 to 13 parachute panel, 2 to 4 small bracts, 12 to 36 pedicels covered with dense pubescence, and white flowers. Cremocarp is oval and with winged lateral ridges. It blooms and fruits from July to September. It grows mainly in cold and rainy mountains. In China, the main cultivation areas are Gansu, Yunnan, and Sichuan provinces.
Main chemical constituents of dong quai root are essential oil and non-volatile components. Neutral oil ingredients in essential oil include Butylidene phthalide, β-Pinene, α-pinene, Camphene, p-Cymene, β-Phellandrene, Myrcene, Allo-ocimene, 6-n-butyl-cycloheptadiene-1,4, 2-Methyl-dodecane-5-one, Acetophenone, β-Bisabolene, Isoacroraene, Acoradiene, Chamigrene, α-Cedrene, Ligustilide, n-Butyl-tetrahydrophthalide, n-Butyl-phthalide, n-Buty- lidene phthalide, Dodecanol, Bergapten, and more. And it still contains other ingredients, such as Stigmasterol, Sitosterol, Stigma- sterol-D-glucoside, Tetradecanol-1, Scopletin, and so on. In addition, it also contains Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, vitamin A, vitamin B12, vitamin E, 17 kinds of amino acids, and other 20 kinds of inorganic elements like sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, etc.
Dong quai benefits
As mentioned previously, dong quai herb is one of the most well-known Chinese herbs. It is so popular that there is an old saying that goes “nine out of ten herbal formulas contain dong quai.” As a matter of fact, there are tons of related herbal cuisine recipes and effective remedies in folk. So what is the reason why this herb becomes one of the super stars in the large family of Chinese medicine? Actually the answer is so obvious – its high medicinal value is the main contributor. So, what is dong quai good for and what exact health benefits it can bring with? Here are the details.
Modern pharmacological actions
1. Its volatile oil can fight against the excitatory effects on the uterus by adrenaline – pituitrin or histamine;
2. Its water or alcohol soluble non-volatile substances have excitatory function on isolated uterus. They can strengthen the uterine contractions. When given a large or multiple doses, they can even lead to tonic contraction. Besides, the role of alcohol-soluble substances is stronger than that of the water-soluble substances;
3. The perfusion experiment, in which isolated toad hearts were infused with its decoction, showed that the volatile oil contained can inhibit significantly the contraction amplitude and frequency;
4. Angelica extract has a significant role on expanding the coronary artery of guinea pig and thus increase the coronary blood flow;
5. Intravenous injection to anesthetized dogs showed no significant change in heart rate. But it results in the decline of coronary resistance and total peripheral resistance, the significant increase of coronary blood flow, the significantly decreased myocardial oxygen consumption, and increasing trend of cardiac output and cardiac index;
6. Angelica neutral oil has an apparent protective effect on experimental myocardial ischemia;
7. Angelica and its sodium ferulate have significant antithrombotic effect;
8. Oral administration to mice with angelica water extract could significantly promote the production of hemoglobin and red blood cells.
Popular dong quai related Chinese herbal formulas
From the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), dong quai is considered sweet, acrid, and warm in properties. And it covers three meridians, including liver, heart, and spleen. Its key functions are to enrich the blood and invigorate the circulation of blood, regulate the menstrual function to ease pain, and loose the bowel to relieve constipation. Main dong quai uses and indications are sallow complexion due to blood deficiency, dizziness and palpitations, irregular menstruation, amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, asthenia cold abdominalgia, constipation due to intestinal dryness, pain in rheumatoid arthritis, injuries from falls, fractures, contusions and strains, sore and ulcer, and so on. Recommended dosage is from 6 to 12 grams.
Dang Gui Bu Xue Tang
This formula comes from Lan Shi Mi Cang (Secrets from the Orchid Chamber). This is mainly formulated for asthenia of Qi and blood. Other major herbal ingredients are Huang Qi (Astragals Root) and Ran Shen (Ginseng Root).
Dang Gui Cheng Qi Tang
This prescription comes from Su Wen Bing Ji Qi Yi Bao Ming Ji (Collection for Preserving Life of Pathogenesis in Plain Questions). It is basically designed for Yang manic psychosis, manifested as running and cursing everyone no matter close or distant. Other three herbs are Da Huang (Rhubarb), Gan Cao (Licorice Root), and Mang Xiao (Mirabilite).
Dang Gui Di Huang Yin
This formula is from Jing Yue Quan Shu (Jingyue’s Complete Works). It is primarily used for deficiency of the kidney, manifested as pains in waist and knee and lower extremity weakness. Other major herbs include Shu Di Huang (Rehmannia), Shan Yao (Chinese Yam), Du Zhong (Eucommia Bark), and so on.
Si Wu Tang (Dang Gui Four Combination)
This prescription is from Tai Ping Hui Min He Ji Ju Fang (Formulas of the Peaceful Benevolent Dispensary). It mainly treats sallow complexion due to blood deficiency, heart palpitations, and insomnia. Other three herbs are Rehmannia, Bai Shao (White Peony Root), and Chuan Xiong (Ligusticum).
Dang Gui Jian Zhong Tang
This formula comes from Qian Jin Yi Fang (Supplement to Golden Prescriptions). It cures mainly postpartum deficiency and emaciation, endless dull bely pain, short of breath, or abdominal spasm and pain radiating to waist and back, and loss of appetite. Other prime herbs are Gui Zhi (Cinnamon Twig), Peony Root, Gan Cao (Licorice Root), and so on.
Dang Gui Shao Yao San (Dang Gui and Peony Formula)
It is from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). And it principally targets abdominal sharp pain during pregnancy. Other chief herbs are peony, Fu Ling (Poria), Bai Zhu (Atractylodes), Ze Xie (Water Plantain Root), and Ligusticum.
Actually, the list could be much longer, such as dang gui liu huang tang, dang gui si ni tang, dang gui xiao yao san, and more. Here just a few of them are chosen for your reference only.
Dong quai recipes
Besides, this herb is widely used in dietary therapy. People have come up with many recipes that are both tasty and healthy. And the followings are the most popular.
Dang Gui Black Chicken Soup Recipe
Health benefits: Drink the soup and eat the well-cooked chicken. This recipe nourishes and cools blood and expels wind, which is suitable for who want to get rid of chloasma, malar rashand, and various spots.
Ingredients: Black chicken 1, Angelica root 10g, Rehmannia 10g, Cortex Moutan 10g, Safflower 10g, Pangolin Scales 10g, and a little of ginger and salt.
Directions: 1. Clean the black chicken and cut it into pieces. 2. Wrap Angelica, Rehmannia, Cortex Moutan, Safflower, and Pangolin Scales with gauze. 3. Put both of them into a pot, and then add ginger, salt, and appropriate water. 4. Stew them until the chicken is well cooked.
Dang Gui Duck Recipe
Health benefits: This recipe is a kind of blood tonics. Because it is classified as cool complements, it won’t cause dryness-heat to the diners. For that reason it is pretty popular throughout Taiwan.
Ingredients: mule duck 1, rice wine 1 bottle, ginger 5 slices, water 4000 cc, Cinnamon Twig 3g, Illicium verum fruit 3, Angelica 6g, Ligusticum 6g, Rehmannia 1 slice, and chicken powder 1 tsp.
Directions: 1. Chop mule duck into small pieces, put them into boiled water for 2 to 3 minutes in order to remove impurities and bloody water, use cold water to clean the residue, and then set them aside. 2. Take a deep pan, pour in 4000 cc of water, and add in all herbal ingredients, rice wine and ginger. Cover the lid and simmer for about half an hour until the concoction of herbs are fully cooked. 3. Put the duck pieces into the concoction, simmer them for about 1 hour, and finally add in the chicken seasoning powder. Period!
Dang Gui Yang Rou Tang
Health benefits: build body and enhance the ability to keep out of the cold. It is especially true to lying-in woman who suffers from qi-blood deficiency, cold limbs, and dizziness.
Ingredients: mutton 500g, jujube 5, Angelica head 25g, Astragalus 50g, Codonopsis 25g, ginger 3 slices, 8 bowls of water, and a little bit salt.
Directions: 1. Blanch the mutton for 3 minutes and set them aside. 2. Wash red dates and remove the pit. 3. Slice angelica head, put them into a pot together with all the ingredients, boil them up and then simmer for 3 hours, and finally season them with salt.
Potential dong quai side effects and contraindications
All ancient medical books documented that this herb is nontoxic. Modern experiments also showed that it has very low toxicity. For example, the maximum lethal dose of dong quai root liquid extract in mice is 30-90g/kg (po) and dried leaves 100g/kg (po). Dong Quai’s LD50 is 100g/kg (iv), which can lead the acute poisoning mice to immobility, respiratory depression, convulsions, and death finally. Angelica injection’s LD50 is 80g/kg (iv) and ferulate’s LD50 is 1.71g/kg (iv). In addition, a small number of patients may have fatigue, drowsiness feeling if taking overdose of Angelica tincture and sedatives; individual patients may have skin irritation and stomach discomfort, but all the symptoms are so minor that stopping medication is not necessary at all. TCM wise, dong quai should be used with care in the cases of damp obstruction in middle burner and loose stool.