Common name: Dong quai
Other names: Tang kuei, Chinese angelica, dang-gui
Latin name: Angelica sinensis
Affinities: Circulatory system, reproductive system
Actions: Blood tonic, circulatory stimulant, female reproductive tonic
Specific indications: Cold extremities, constipation, joint pain, anemia, pre-menstrual symptoms, menopausal symptoms
Diseases: Migraine(3), neuralgia(2), Raynaud’s disease(3), arthralgia(3), dysmenorrhea(3), menorrhagia(3), anemia(2)
Parts used: Root
Energetics: Warming, moistening
Characteristics: Dong quai is an aromatic member of the parsley family and grows well in cool, shaded, mountain woods in Southern and Western China (Kuhn and Winston, 2000).
History: Dong quai has been used in China for thousands of years as a tonic for the female reproductive system, but also the blood, heart, and liver (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). Its use for curing period pains can be dated to around the time of the Han dynasty (25-220AD) (Goh et al., 2001) as dong quai features in the classic Chinese medical text, the Shennong Bencaojing or the ‘Classic of Herbal Medicine’ (compiled around 200-250AD). Folklore of the Bai minority in Southern China recounts the origins of dong quai as a gift from a falcon to a diligent young man. It was written that ‘he broke off a root and ate it, whereupon his appearance became robust and his whole being invigorated’. In the Chinese pharmacopoeia, it is indicated for a wide range of gynaecological conditions including pre-menstrual symptoms, dysmenorrhea, menorrhagia, and menopausal symptoms.
Current applications: Dong quai is used as a female reproductive tonic and with herbs such as black cohosh and chaste tree for menopausal symptoms such as formication, muscle pain, and depression (Kuhn and Winston, 2000). It has been used with licorice, motherwort, and chaste tree for pre-menopausal anxiety, dysmenorrhea, and amenorrhea. It is used to treat Buerger’s disease and constrictive aortitis. It is used with dan shen for angina, peripheral vascular insufficiency, and stroke. It may be of use alongside milk thistle, turmeric, and schisandra berry to treat liver disease. Dong gui is used together with astragalus in TCM as a classic tonic pair for the Qi and the blood, it is thought this ‘blood-enriching’ compound improves the circulation and oxygen utilisation of tissues (Yim et al., 2000).
Science: It has been shown ex vivo that dong quai extracts have anti-inflammatory activity (Chao et al., 2010). It has also been demonstrated using in vivo models that dong quai extracts have a hematopoietic activity, dong quai appears to stimulate the increase of red blood cells, thus confirming its ‘blood tonic’ classification to some extent (Liu et al., 2010). The authors found the extract significantly accelerated the recovery of the haemoglobin level of blood-loss mice to its original value. It also appears to have anti-oxidant activity on neuronal cell lines (Lei et al., 2014). In this study, the authors also found dong quai increased the number of micro blood vessels and improved blood flow after cerebral ischemia (blocked blood supply to the brain) using an in vivo model.
Safety: Avoid during pregnancy. It is not generally advised for people with fast pulses, fevers, or chronic diarrhoea. Avoid highly concentrated extracts, in the traditional form, it is a safe herb.
Dosage: Tincture: 5-60 drops, 2-3 times daily.
Form: It is best used in the traditional form, the decoction, or in a tincture. Processed standardised extracts may contain overly high levels of phytoestrogens (Goh et al., 2001).
Research on models
Anti-inflammatory activity: In one study, an ethyl acetate fraction from dong quai was found to significantly inhibit NF-κB luciferase activity and TNF-α, IL-6, macrophage inflammatory protein-2 (MIP-2) and NO secretions from LPS/IFN-γ-stimulated RAW 264.7 cells (Chao et al., 2010). Therefore, demonstrating anti-inflammatory potential of dong quai.
Haematopoietic activity: One in vivo study observed found that polysaccharide from dong quai was responsible for a hematopoietic effect (Liu et al., 2010). The authors found the extract significantly accelerated the recovery of hemoglobin level of the blood-loss mice to its original value. The authors of the study concluded that dong quai has potential for treatment of anemia.
Neuroprotective/ anti-oxidant activity: In one study, dong quai polysaccharides protected PC12 neuronal cells from H2O2-induced cytotoxicity and reduced apoptosis and intracellular reactive oxygen species levels (Lei et al., 2014). The authors also found using a rat model of local cerebral ischemia that the polysaccharides enhanced the antioxidant activity in cerebral cortical neurons, increased the number of micro vessels, and improved blood flow after ischemia.
Chao, Wen-Wan, et al. “Inhibitory effects of Angelica sinensis ethyl acetate extract and major compounds on NF-κB trans-activation activity and LPS-induced inflammation.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 129.2 (2010): 244-249.
Goh, S. Y., and K. C. Loh. “Gynaecomastia and the herbal tonic” Dong Quai”.” Singapore medical journal 42.3 (2001): 115-116.
Kuhn, Merrily A., and David Winston. Herbal therapy and supplements: a scientific and traditional approach. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2000.
Lei, Tao, et al. “Polysaccharides from Angelica sinensis alleviate neuronal cell injury caused by oxidative stress.” Neural regeneration research 9.3 (2014): 260.
Liu, Pei-Jou, et al. “Hematopoietic effect of water-soluble polysaccharides from Angelica sinensis on mice with acute blood loss.” Experimental Hematology 38.6 (2010): 437-445.
Yim, Tze Kin, et al. “Myocardial protection against ischaemia‐reperfusion injury by a Polygonum multiflorum extract supplemented ‘Dang‐Gui decoction for enriching blood’, a compound formulation, ex vivo.” Phytotherapy Research 14.3 (2000): 195-199.