By Steven Horne and Paula Perretty
Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is a member of the parsley family and closely related to the Western herb, angelica (A. archangelica). Both dong quai and angelica have a very feminine energy and have long been used to help women find balance in their health and emotions. In fact, dong quai means, “state of return” in Chinese, referring to the use of the herb to help women return to their natural physical and emotional state. It counteracts the accumulation of toxins and emotions in the liver system.
In Chinese medicine, dong quai is often considered the female “ginseng.” However, just as ginseng is not an herb for men only, dong quai is not an herb for women only.
In Chinese medicine dong quai is primarily used as a blood tonic. It helps build (or nourish) the blood and improves circulation. Dong Quai contains iron and is also reported to contain B 12, a vitamin needed for the assimilation of iron. Since women lose blood each month through their menstrual cycle, dong quai is used in Chinese medicine to rebuild this lost blood. It is typically combined with peony and other herbs for this purpose. Both Monthly Maintenance
and Chinese Blood Build
contain dong quai and other blood building herbs and are helpful formulas for anemia, PMS and menstrual pain and cramping.
Dong quai also contains coumarins. These compounds dilate blood vessels and improve blood flow. They also help relieve muscle cramps and inflammation. Women who experience pain associated with their periods may have muscle cramps or blood stagnation, or both. Muscle cramps tend to produce sharp pains, and respond favorably to antispasmodic herbs like lobelia or wild yam. A dull, congested, painful feeling is due to blood stagnation and responds better to blood moving herbs like ginger and dong quai.
, and its cousin angelica, dong quai has beneficial effects on digestion. It stimulates digestive secretions and can be helpful for gas and bloating. It also has a mild laxative effect. This is why it is included in Chinese Anti-Gas Formula
and LBS II
, a laxative blend.
There is conflicting information about dong quai containing phytoestrogens. Some sources say it does, others say none have been discovered. Dong quai does appear to help balance estrogen levels. Some of the female health problems dong quai has been used for relieving hot flashes and other symptoms of menopause, post partum weakness, irregular menstruation, uterine fibroids, fibrocystic breast disease and PMS. For these conditions, dong quai is almost always used in conjunction with other herbs. Dong quai is found in Female Comfort
and FCS II
(general female tonics), 5-W
(for the last five weeks of pregnancy), Flash Ease
(for hot flashes and menopausal symptoms), Breast Enhance
(for aiding breast development) and Monthly Maintenance
In addition to the female health problems mentioned above, dong quai has also been used for chronic sinus congestion, allergies, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and headaches. So, it isn’t just a “female” herb.
Dong quai is found in many of NSP’s Chinese herbal formulas under another name, dang gui. It is in Blood Build
(a great formula for women who are weak or anemic due to heavy menstrual bleeding), Liver Balance
(for liver congestion), IF-C
(for inflammation), Lung Support
(for lung weakness), Mood Elevator
(for depression and sagging energy), Nervous Fatigue Formula
(for “burn-out” from stress), Spleen Activator
(for weak digestion) and Trigger Immune
(for general weakness). One can readily see that dong quai has benefits way beyond just being a “female” herb.
Although dong quai is a very safe herb, it is not recommended for use during pregnancy (except during the last five weeks) and should not be taken during periods by women with heavy menstrual bleeding. It should be used with caution by people taking blood thinners or with clotting disorders. These cautions don’t necessarily apply to formulas containing dong quai as the amounts are usually small enough to not be of concern.