SALVIA ROOT (Salvia miltiorrhiza)

Latin: Salvia miltiorrhiza
Chinese: Dan shen
English: Asian red sage

WHAT IT DOES: Salvia root is bitter in taste, and slightly cold in action.  It promotes blood circulation while reducing general of blood vessel inflammation. It has anti-arteriosclerotic properties.


SAFETY ISSUES: Should not be used while taking anticoagulant medications such as Wayfarin unless under the direction of a qualified health care practitioner.  Bleeding may result (Izzat et al., 1998).  Do not use internally in tincture form. In very rare cases Salvia may thin the blood too much and cause increased bruising, in which case the dosage should be lowered or stopped.

• Crude herb: three to 15 grams per day
• Concentrated 4:1 dried decoction: one to four grams per day.

TCM doctors use salvia root to invigorate and move the blood.  In animal experiments it has been shown to increase coronary blood flow, lower blood pressure slightly, improve microcirculation, and mitigate injury and accelerate recovery from ischemic attack (stroke).  It has anti-arteriosclerotic properties. Human experiments illustrate numerous circulation benefits, including dilation of the coronary arteries and increased capillary action.  Because it has a strong cooling action, salvia has a distinct advantage in certain medical conditions over warming herbs such as prickly ash bark.  It is especially useful in coronary artery disease, where there is almost always a combination of inflammation and blockage.  It is the most commonly used “moving blood” herb in our clinic.  A popular salvia-based formula in China called Tanshinone IIA is used frequently to treat various cardiovascular problems. Recent research is suggesting it contains compounds tha may have benefit in preventing or treating Alzheimers disease.

Research Highlights

• In one experiment, 81 percent of patients with coronary artery disease (CAD) who were given a salvia-based formula reported benefits, while 57 percent experienced normalization of EEG (reported in Dharmananda, 1994).

•A controlled trial of patients who had developed adhesive intestinal obstruction (a common after surgery complication) was done by giving them an injection of salvia root extract before closing the abdominal cavity.  The patients were then given an oral blood-moving formula, and were followed for two to nine years.  They demonstrated a 100% effectiveness rate, with no adhesions developing, while more than one quarter of the control group patients (given antibiotics) experienced continued problems (Wang et al., 1994).

• A series of four animal experiments done in Italy showed that salvia root extract reduced alcohol absorption from the gastrointestinal tract, reduce alcohol craving, reduced blood alcohol levels, and even affected the animal’s ability to discriminate between alcohol and water.  Researchers concluded that the use of salvia-like medicines “may constitute a novel strategy for controlling excessive alcohol consumption in human alcoholics” (Colombo et al., 1999).

• Salvia root has been shown to inhibit fibrosis (formation of scar tissue) in animal wound-healing models (Liu M et al., 1998), while similar protective effects were found against chemically-induced liver fibrosis in rats.  In fact, histological examination showed that salvia could actually reverse the fibrosis (Wasser et al., 1998).  These studies demonstrate that salvia root shows promise in prevention and treatment of cirrhosis of the liver.

• Salvia root has also been cited for benefit in the prevention of memory and learning deficits caused by aging in animal models (Nomura et al., 1997).

• Restenosis (arterial blockage) occurring after angioplasty is a major surgical problem.  In a study of air-injured carotid arteries in rats, the salvia-treated group experienced less thickening of the arteries.  These results indicate that salvia root may be used to prevent arterial restenosis after angioplasty (Zhou et al., 1996).

• There is even evidence that salvia root may protect against structural damage to the optic nerve in cases of ocular stress and induced intra-ocular hypertension.  In a glaucoma study on rabbits, researchers concluded that the protective effect of salvia root was due to improved micro-circulation in the retinal ganglion cells and the optic nerve (Zhu et al., 1993).