| What is it?
The roots are the parts used in herbal medicine; both the tuberous tap-root as well as its long branches. In our clinic we obtain these in pre-cut slices which have a distinct, penetrating and pleasant aroma with an unusual sweet and warming taste.
Dong Quai is a long lived herb that chiefly grows in Western and North-Western China where it prefers cool, moist and high ground to flourish. Dong Quai grows tall to over a meter and has the graceful spreading leaves that characterise members of the Umbelliferae family.
How has it been used?
Dong Quai has been called the female ‘Ginseng’ of the Orient and is said to be the most popular women’s herb in the Far East. It is often referred to as 'the Empress of Herbs'.
As such it has been very widely used for a range of common women’s conditions including; amenorrhoea (absent periods), cramps and dysmenorrhoea (painful periods), menopausal symptoms, infertility, osteoporosis and anaemia.
Dong Quai has also frequently been used to help in the treatment of asthma, high blood pressure, rheumatic pains, dry constipation, insomnia and fatigue.
In traditional Chinese medicine they will give people direct infusions of Dong Quai (along with Astragalus) who have lost a lot of blood and are critically ill (herbs are widely used in intensive care in China). Dong Quai is a herb that is seen as exceptionally nourishing to a weakened and depleted state, even in extremis.
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Science on Dong Quai
~ Since 1920 research has been conducted by different Oriental scientists and doctors on the effects of Dong Quai on the uterus. It has been found to cause a contractile affect when first administered but then to bring about a strong and prolonged relaxation of the organ. In cases of painful menstruation Dong Quai has been shown to help contractions become more rhythmic and orderly although there is no oestrogenic activity in the herb (Chang HM, But PP, Pharmacology and applications of Chinese materia medica, vol 1. World Scientific, Singapore, 1987, pp489-505)
~ A study in the prominent Japanese medical journal Yakuga Zassh showed that Dong Quai was 1.7 times stronger than aspirin at relieving pain. Many clinical studies have been performed in Taiwan, China and Japan using Dong Quai for conditions involving chronic pain with high rates of success.
~ A combination of Dong Quai, Corydalis and Paeony showed a 93% success rate for treating dysmenorrhea (painful periods) in an uncontrolled clinical trial (Liu MA, Qi CH, Yang JC, Beijing J Trad Chin Med 1988;5:30-31)
~ Infertility resulting from tubal occlusion was treated for up to 9 months with uterine irrigation using Dong Quai extract in an uncontrolled trial. Nearly 80% of patients regained tubal patency and 53% became pregnant (Fu YF, Xia Y, Shi YP et al. Jiangsu J Trad Chin Med 1988;9(1):15-15)
Safety of Dong Quai
Dong Quai is not recommended to take during pregnancy due to its potent blood moving properties. It is also not generally advised for people with fast pulses, fevers, or chronic diarrhoea.
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I have only used Dong Quai for females and I have found that, for the right woman, it can be a tremendously potent tonic and healing herb. We are all instinctively aware of how when we are unwell our 'energy' becomes blocked, stuck, congested or weak -- once a person feels how Dong Quai can shift this stuck energy they begin to grasp what a great ally this herb can be. How it can be a catalyst for change.
The best way for me as a man to begin to understand Dong Quai's great traditional reputation has been to take a little of it in a receptive state of mind myself. I find it to be a warming, penetrating and deeply nourishing herb -- you can feel how your whole body senses its presence and how it quite literally 'moves the blood'.
Such a tool can be tremendously helpful in a chronic health problem where the person is just not getting better by themselves and needs Nature to take that first step.
By the way I highly encourage anyone studying herbal medicine or just wanting to learn more about this great plant ally to do the same i.e. take a little Dong Quai in a tincture or a tea and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, feel for yourself what happens - it is a remarkable power-house of a herb and I am certain you will feel something! If it is the right herb for you I think you will like both the taste and feel of it, if not then... well try for yourself and see.
I also think that there is a wide range of the best dose for Dong Quai. For example for anaemia or great weakness I might prefer to use it in rather high doses, perhaps as a tea with up to 10 grams in a day, just for a short time i.e. a course that runs for days rather than weeks.
For problems that are more related to 'stuck energy' e.g. period problems, bowel disturbances, rheumatic pains etc, I find a smaller and more frequent dose to be better, Here as little as 1 or 2 mls a day may be ample to see it having a strong effect though I estimate the average amount I might use would be around 3 or 4 mls in a day.
As alluded to above I have found that Dong Quai is, like many herbs, wonderful for some but not suited to others. Partly this is its constitutional nature (it much better suits the cooler temperaments), partly I think it a case of the body knowing what is right for it and when it needs it. Given what a potent herb Dong Quai is I will often pulse test a person with Dong Quai to be sure that they will respond positively to it. I also set some store (though not exclusively so) on how people find the smell. Not many women sit in the middle on this, they usually either like it or they hate it, and there is usually a strong correlation to whether it weakens or strengthens their pulse from a few drops accordingly. On this subject I can report that, unlike some, there never seems to be any 'middle ground' or neutral reactions with this herb - it's a a love-it or hate-it kind of thing, which I think is very interesting...
Dong Quai combines perfectly with Licorice root as an energy tonic and with Withania as a blood tonic though there are many herbal formulae for women that may work much better with a little Dong Quai in them as a kind of energy 'catalyst'; again -- so long as it is the right herb for them...
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Dong Quai is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Dong Quai can particularly offer its benefits when a nourishing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Traditional notes on Dong Quai in Chinese medicine
| In China, Dong quai root is known as the "empress of herbs" and also called dang gui, which means "proper order," in reference to Dong quai's benefits.
It is one of the most widely consumed herbs in China. During that country's Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, wild supplies of dong quai were exhausted, and people began to cultivate it which has continued to this day.
Laboratory studies with Dong Quai have shown that it can:
~ relax or co-ordinate uterine contractions according to uterine tone
~ stimulate blood cell production in the bone marrow
~ counteract the immune suppressive effects of hydrocortisone
~ assist regular heart rhythm and contraction in experimental models.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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