DANG GUI ROOT (Angelica sinensis)

Latin: Angelica sinensis
Chinese: Dang gui
English: Dong quai, Tang kuei

WHAT IT DOES: Dang gui root is sweet, pungent and bitter in taste, and warming in action.  It nourishes the female essence, tonifies blood, helps form healthy new blood, and catalyzes circulation (moves the blood).

RATING: Gold/Silver, due to minor limitations in usage

SAFETY ISSUES: Do not use during pregnancy without consulting a qualified medical practitioner.  Do not use with heavy menstrual bleeding.  Do not use if taking blood-thinning medications such as Coumadin.  (Lo et al., 1995).  There are concerns about adulteration of this herb with related species, so try to purchase only from reliable and knowledgeable dealers.

• Dried root: two to four grams two to three times per day
• 4:1 dried decoction: one to two grams two times per day
• 1:5 tincture: 30-60 drops in water or juice two to three times per day

The first thing you may notice when you encounter dang gui root is its strong but pleasant musky odor.  According to Chinese theory, this odor indicates that the herb will not only nourish, but will also disperse the blood through the body, penetrating the tissues and making the skin glow, the hair luxuriant, and the mind serene (qualities seen in young women in their prime).  Similar effects are reported for shatavari , the Ayurvedic wild asparagus root, which also has a strong musky odor.  Dang gui root is among the most important of Chinese blood tonics, perhaps sharing the stage only with shou wu root.  Dang gui root is indicated when there are signs of blood deficiency such as pale tongue, hormonal problems and circulatory issues, and is used to treat dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, female infertility, anemia, tinnitus, hair loss, blurred vision, mental fogginess and heart palpitations.

Dang gui is a blood-moving and blood-nourishing herb that can be used for a wide variety of complaints.  For example, at our clinic we were able to slow progression of severe lung fibrosis in one elderly patient for about two years.

Though dang gui is not estrogenic, it has a similar effect, binding to estrogen receptors in women (Fackelmann, 1998).  Western analysis might therefore say it would be useful for treating hot flashes and menopausal symptoms.  However, TCM analysis points out that the root’s warming action would sometimes make it a poor choice unless combined with other appropriate cooling herbs.  That is, the action against menopause needs to be balanced with the overall needs of the patient. At our clinic we only use it in menopausal patients with blood deficiency. Tang Kuei (dang gui) effective for menopausal symptoms in combination with other herbs.

Research highlights

• Pharmacological studies done on dang gui’s reputed blood-forming properties show that its polysaccharides could “could obviously promote the proliferation and differentiation” of various blood components, including blood growth factors (Wang et al., 1998).

• Dang gui root in animal models could also correct experimental atrial fibrillation induced by drugs (Chang and But, 1987).

• Combining astragalus root with dang gui root is a very potent method of improving blood parameters.  A 1993 study showed the abiltiy of this combination to improve all measured blood indexes (Xue et al., 1993).

• In an amazing study, Chinese patients with ABO- and Rh- incompatible blood types were given tablets of a blood-moving formula containing dang gui root, leonorus (yi mu cao / Leonorus heterophyllus), white peony root, banksia rose (Rosa banksia), and cnidium rhizome (Chuan xiong / Ligusticum wallichii).  The preventative treatment significantly lowered the mortality rate in cases of Rh-type incompatibility (Bian et al., 1998).  This study has not been replicated.

• In one study, the blood moving qualities of both dang gui root and cnidium rhizome proved strong enough to prevent the formation of abnormal fibrous tissue in animal models of pulmonary fibrosis (Dai et al., 1996).