The name of the herb that is mostly popular in Eastern herbal medicine for treating gynecological ailments, fatigue, mild anemia and high blood pressure, is translated as “return to order” and speaks of the plant’s properties to act as general tonic. Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) is also known as “female ginseng”, Chinese angelica and tang kuei (Korean).
The plant belongs to the Apiaceae family and is native to China, Korea and Japan where it favors cold damp climate of mountainous regions. One can easily recognize this fragrant perennial herb by smooth hollow purplish (up to 2 meters) stems and umbrella-shaped clusters of white flowers. It produces clusters of greenish-white flowers followed by winged fruits. The roots are large, yellowish-brown with multiple branches.
Dong quai tolerates a wide number of light conditions and can be grown in sun or shade, although it prefers fertile soil. The roots of the plant are ready for harvesting from 3 year-old plants, while the seeds are sown in spring. The roots are usually sliced and dried for storage and further processing.
The dong quai root is the source of most medicinal formulas prepared of this plant. In Chinese medicine it is believed that parts of the root vary in their actions and potential effects. The head of the root is known to produce anticoagulant activity, the bulk has tonic properties, and the tip of the root is useful for blood stagnation.
Chinese herbalists extract healing substances out of the plant by boiling or soaking it in wine. The root is then removed and the liquid is taken orally as a remedy for various health conditions. In traditional herbal medicine dong quai is released in tablet, liquid extract, and raw root forms. It is also found in capsules, tea, and other herbal preparations.
Angelica sinensis is rich in vitamin content – E, A and B12, the latter one being mostly found in animals and seldom in plants. Vasodilatory effects of the plant are explained by coumarin derivatives in it. This makes dong quai a valuable antispasmodic and blood pressure regulating herb.
Essential oil of dong quai is rich in ligustilide and ferulic acid is also found in the root. These two substances both inhibit and stimulate contractions advancing spasms prevention. They also prevent blood clotting and relax vessels. Polysaccharides in don quai act in producing interferon and leukocytes and thus enable immune stimulating effects.
The plant chemical content is also represented by phytoestrogens. These chemicals have estrogenic properties and are believed to relieve a number of symptoms connected to menstrual disorders and menopausal symptoms in women.
In herbal medicine the major use of dong quai is to treat and relieve menstrual and menopausal symptoms in women. The active compounds in the herb act strengthening reproductive organs, and help with endometriosis and internal bleeding or bruising. They also stimulate central nervous system and thus advance in relieving PMS, weakness, hot flashes and headaches associated with menstrual disorders.
Moreover, hormone-like actions of the plant balance woman’s hormones and cycles and help restore menstrual regularity. Dong quai is also suggested for the patients with circulatory conditions. The herbs is able to reduce the viscosity of blood, treat hypertension and high blood pressure and lower the stress on heart by soothing the arteries and the vascular system in general.
Blood-purifying properties of dong quai make it a useful herb for dealing with liver conditions. Although, more research is needed to be done for this property. Containing high amounts of iron, the herbal preparations of dong quai are often used for prevent iron deficiency and anemia. Patients that suffer from stress, migraine headaches, and insomnia may consider using dong quai for its properties to stimulate nervous system and produce mild sedative effects. Constipation is also treated with the help of this herb.
Before deciding on dong quai and choosing it for your health condition, you should mind some side effects that may occur. Due to the effects of coumarin that acts as anticoagulant and prevents the action of Vitamin K (the blood-clotting vitamin), dong quai should not be taken together with the blood thinning medicines. Dong quai also increases skin’s sensitivity to sun and should be used by fair-skinned people with additional precautions to prevent burning. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid it too due to the hormonal-like actions.