Dong Quai (also spelled tang kuei or dang gui) is an herb that comes from a flowering plant in the celery family. It is native to China, Japan, and Korea, and comes in a rainbow of colors much like violets. There are a few varieties, however, that are native to Europe (known as angelica archangelica). It is the root of these “angelic” plants that is medicinally active. In Chinese medicine, it is often boiled or soaked in wine and taken orally. The root itself is removed before consumption. It is said that the plant received its name (angelica sinensis) after an angel visited a monk and showed him the medicinal uses of the plant.
Nearly all variations grow at high altitudes, and all are fragrant perennials with umbrella-shaped clusters of blossoms. They are most comfortable in cold damp mountainous regions. The plant takes at least three years to mature, and are then harvested to make supplements, powders, and medicinal tonics for various ailments. Once harvested, the plant in any form, be it original or supplemental, should be kept in a cool, dry place to preserve the chemical makeup of the herb. Though the root is the most commonly used part, the stalk and leaves are sometimes used in the flavoring of drinks and confections, especially in European countries.
The angelica plant contains no hormones or steroids, but has some natural chemicals, such as coumarin (anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic qualities) and ferulic acid (pain reliever and muscle relaxer). The plant is also said to have antihistamine and antiserotonin within its chemical makeup, making it excellent for allergies.
It is actually used in a great variety of ways including, but not limited to, menopause, painful or irregular pms, weakness after childbirth, chronic sinus congestion, fibroid tumors, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and anemia (it increases red blood cell count). It is also believed to relieve constipation and aide in recovery from liver disease, but tests have not been made on humans. However, it has been proven to reduce pain, and promote urinary health, healthy sleep cycles, and fight infection. A surprising effect was found when given to patients who had suffered a stroke, as well. The damage to the brain was greatly decreased, and the patient was able to function a little more normally than without the herb’s benefits.
Dong quai has also been found to be a powerful aide to other herbs, such as Asian ginseng (panax ginseng). When combined, these two very potent herbs decrease chest pain and increase tolerance for exercise in heart disease patients. Another example of a fabulous team would be dong quai and black cohosh (actaea racemosa). This little concoction is most used in treating severe premenstrual syndrome, easing uterine pain and sometimes even calming a woman’s overall mood.
In China and Japan, dong quai is used in controlled settings such as hospitals and clinics. It is also available in the United States commercially, but not in the same forms that the Chinese and Japanese use. Many supplement companies use dong quai in pill form, and some may even mix it into herbal teas, but remember, again, they do this in a highly controlled manner to avoid causing harm to their clientele. Home remedies using dong quai should be carefully monitored by a physician or pharmacist, and should NEVER be taken by injection. As a natural blood thinner, one could do serious harm to their body by overdosing. Because of the strength and nature of the herb, it should never be given to children at any time, as it could do permanent damage to their growing bodies. Keeping this in mind, pregnant women should not take the herb throughout their pregnancy or while breast-feeding. It is also not recommended that one drink the essential oil or extract of the herb, because it contains a small amount of substances that are known to cause cancer. The supplemental form, however, contains only trace amounts of the oil, and should be fine if directions are followed.
Dong quai has also been known to interact with certain medications, including hormone therapy medications and contraceptives, and with certain other herbs that thin the blood, such as ginkgo biloba, panax ginseng (used sparingly and in a controlled setting), turmeric, licorice, ginger, garlic, and feverfew. Dong quai may also cause sun sensitivity when used with certain medications or st. john’s wort.
If you feel that you must use this herb, please take all the above-mentioned precautions into account before you begin a regimen, as with all medications, herbs, and diets. One should always consult their physician or pharmacist before changing their daily health routine.