What is Dong Quai?
Known scientifically as Angelica sinensis, dong quai root has an extremely long history of use in parts of Asia including China, Japan and Korea. It has been used as a spice and a tomic but also in traditional medicine for its various therapeutic benefits.
These days, traditional practitioners of Chinese medicine still use the herb in their practice. It is often used in combination with various other herbs to treat various complaints including poor circulation and the symptoms of menstruation like pain and cramp.
There are precious few scientific studies into the effects of dong quai but it remains popular especially in china where it is sometimes referred to as ‘female ginseng’. It is considered to be especially useful for women who suffer from many of the unwanted symptoms of menstruation.
Plant Description and Habitat
Dong quai otherwise known as Chinese angelica thrives at very high altitudes in the cold and damp conditions offered by the mountains of Japan, China and Korea. Dong quai is an aromatic perennial related to celery.
The plant which has smooth, purple colored stems flowers in summer when it also produces winged fruits. It has thick brown branched roots which are used to make medicine. Once the plant has reached maturity after 3 years, its root gets harvested to produce medicines in the form of powders, capsules or tablets.
Medicinal Benefits of Dong Quai
Because there are so few studies into the health benefits of Dong quai, we have to largely rely on historical use and personal anecdotes. There is however some laboratory evidence that suggests it contains compounds that can help relieve pain and widen blood vessels. There is also evidence that dong quai can help women by relaxing the muscles in the uterus.
1) For the Menopause
Women going through the menopause are often faced with a range of unwanted symptoms such as hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings. Some women who use dong quai suggest that it is especially helpful in relieving hot flushes.
The relief of menopausal symptoms is also one of the traditional uses of the herb in Asia however studies have been inconclusive and sometimes conflicting. Researchers are uncertain whether the herb acts as estrogen or actually blocks the body’s estrogen supply. One study actually found that the herb had no benefits at all on menopausal symptoms. (1)
2) For Menstrual Pain
According to traditional use of the herb, dong quai has antispasmodic properties which help relieve the painful monthly cramps experienced by women the world over. There is some evidence that dong quai works as a vasodilator.
This means that it can widen the blood vessels allowing blood to flow more freely during a woman’s monthly cycle. It might also help to stimulate and replenish the blood after a woman’s period has finished.
It is traditionally used by Asian women who suffer from irregular periods and amenorrhea or the absence of menstruation.
Essentially dong quai may help stimulate menstruation and relieve some of the painful symptoms but there is little scientific evidence that it works.
3) For Female Fertility
A growing number of men and women are finding it difficult to have children,. Infertility is nowhere near as rare as it used to be and fertility treatment can be both painful and extremely expensive. While there is no research proving its efficacy, dong quai has traditionally been used in Asia as part of a healthy anti-fungal diet to treat infertility in women.
With a history of use for women dating back some 5,000 years, it is little wonder that many people refer to the herb as the female ginseng.
4) As a Blood Tonic
Dong quai contains numerous nutrients that can nourish the body and help tone the blood. It is a rich source of many important nutrients including folic acid, biotin, nicotinic acid and vitamin B12.
Dong quai might help replenish your blood supply following injury or surgery both in terms of volume and red blood count.
It is a very popular ingredient in the majority of Chinese blood boosting formulas. Because of its blood boosting abilities, dong quai may help relieve fatigue and give you a much needed boost of energy.
5) For Premature Ejaculation
According to one of its traditional uses, dong quai may help prolong intercourse by helping men who suffer from premature ejaculation. Premature ejaculation is extremely common and statistics estimate that it affects around 20% of the population of the U.S.
There is a good chance that its effectiveness in treating premature ejaculation is just a marketing ploy. I have read vague reports suggesting that ‘some men’ are helped by using a preparation including dong quai combined with other ingredients.
Unfortunately there is no concrete evidence regarding these claims nor is there much detail regarding how much dong quai was used in these preparations.
6) For the Skin
Chinese women known for their youthful complexion have long valued dong quai. The herb is a powerful natural antioxidant that can help preserve your youthful appearance and prevent many of the body’s signs of aging.
It is used to diminish the appearance of blemishes, wrinkles and other nasty marks on the skin. It can also be used to detoxify the skin and improve your overall complexion.
Because dong quai has such a beneficial effect on blood supply and circulation, it may also be useful in treating skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and hives.
7) For Heart health
Dong quai may also be good for the heart especially when used in combination with other herbs. A recent small scale study found that preparations made with a combination of dong quai, Asian ginseng and astralagus decreased chest pain in a group of people suffering from heart disease. (1)
Apart from the uses that we have detailed above, dong quai is also used for a number of other complaints including high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, allergies and constipation. It is also used by some people as an aphrodisiac which can increase both male and female libido.
How to Use Dong Quai
In China, dong quai is often delivered in the form of an injection but in the west, it is readily available in safer forms. You can find it at health stores or online in liquid extract, capsule powdered or dried form. The dried herb can be soaked in wine or boiled before being consumed.
Children should not take dong quai because of the lack of safety research. It is believed to be safe for healthy adults but the lack of research means there is no precise recommended dose. One study on menopausal women found no ill effects when dong quai was taken in 500 mg capsules 6 times a day.
Although dong quai is considered non-toxic, there are certain safety precautions that you should be aware of.
- In very high doses, dong quai may cause a person to be more sensitive to direct sunlight which can result in skin reactions like rash and inflammation. If you suffer a reaction, stop taking dong quai immediately and avoid exposure to direct sunlight.
- Pregnant women should not take dong quai. It might cause uterine contractions increasing the possibility of miscarriage.
- Nursing mothers should also avoid using the herb because of the lack of safety data.
- People with abdominal bloating or severe diarrhea should avoid using the herb.