Identification: A perennial plant related to celery. It can grow as tall as 8 feet. It has large, hollow stems that are ridged like celery and are often purple in color and branched near the top . Light green or yellow flowers bloom in the summer, small yellow fruits appear in the fall, and the seeds ripen in October or November. The oblong fruit is composed of two yellow winged seeds. The small flowers are arranged in flat groups.
Habitat: Damp mountain ravines, meadows, river banks, and coastal areas. Northern and western areas of China.
Family: Umbelliferae (Parsley family)
Other Names: Angelica, Chinese Angelica, Danggui, Tang-Kuei
Flowers: May to August.
Parts Used: Root (only the hips of the root up to the head is used). It is typically harvested after the plant is three years old. Look for moist specimens with a brown outer layer and a white cross section. Avoid dry roots and those with greenish-brown cross sections.
History: In China, it has been used for several thousand years to treat many kinds of female problems. In traditional Chinese medicine, dong quai is often referred to as the “female ginseng”. It is often included in prescriptions for abnormal menstruation, suppressed menstrual flow, painful or difficult menstruation, and uterine bleeding. A traditional use of dong quai was for hot flashes associated with perimenopause.
Constituents: Dong Quai’s key ingredients include Ligustilide, butylene phthalide, and butyl phthalide found in the aromatic oil. Ferulic acid and various polysaccharides are found in the non-aromatic fractions. Research suggests that both ferulic acid and ligustilide are responsible for preventing spasms, relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood clotting in peripheral vessels.
Properties: Analgesic, antibiotic, antispasmodic, estrogenic, laxative, sedative, tonic.
Main Uses: Often referred to as the “female ginseng”, Dong Quai has been used for thousands of years to treat menstrual problems such as PMS and relieve menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes. Chinese doctors also use it, for men and women alike, to treat high blood pressure, poor circulation, and anemia (loss of red blood cells).
Contrary to some theories, Dong Quai is not, in itself, a replacement for estrogen, not does it have any hormone-like effects on the body. Its ability to relieve menstrual difficulties is thought to stem from its power to calm spasms in the internal organs. Chinese researchers have also found that Dong Quai stimulates production of the red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout the body, thus increasing energy and combating fatigue. Some scientists even claim that the herb contains an immune-boosting compound that could help prevent arthritis and cancer, although its effectiveness for such problems remains unproven. Dong Quai should not be confused with its European cousin, Angelica archangelica, which is used primarily to relieve digestive problems.
Specifically, Dong Quai may help to:
*Relieve PMS and menstrual irregularities – Dong Quai’s reputation as a female tonic rests largely with its ability to reduce the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome) and regulate the menstrual cycle. Countless women have used it to treat amenorrhea (irregular or absent periods) and menorrhagia (heavy bleeding or prolonged periods).
*Reduce the pain of endometriosis – Dong Quai works well in combination with Chasteberry to restore the hormonal imbalances that can cause the often severe pain of this disorder. When taken together, the herbs can also relax the uterine muscle.
*Relieve menopausal symptoms – In combination with herbs such as Black Cohosh and Chasteberry, Dong Quai appears to be useful for controlling hot flashes and reducing vaginal dryness.
*Nourish body fluids, counter fatigue, and lower blood pressure – As a rich source of vitamin B12, Dong Quai may play a role in stimulating red blood cell production. It may therefore indirectly boost energy and oxygen throughout the body. When used in conjunction with other herbs, Dong Quai also mildly dilates blood vessels, facilitating the heart’s pumping ability and possibly lowering blood pressure as a result. Chinese doctors have long prescribed the herb for high blood pressure and circulatory problems.
Caution! All members of this genus contain furocoumarins, which increase skin sensitivity to sunlight and may cause dermatitis. Not recommended for pregnant or nursing women.
Preparation & Dosages:
Infusion: Use 1 teaspoonful of crushed root per cup of boiling water. Steep for 10 to 20 minutes.
Tincture: [1:5, 70% alcohol] a5 to 20 drops.
Capsules: #0, 1 to 3 a day.