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Herbs, The Original Medicine: Dang Gui
by Michel Czehatowski, L.Ac.

One of the up and coming herbs in the American herb market is the Chinese herb called Dang Gui or Tang-Kuei (Chinese: 当归). It is being marketed by various herb companies and they are selling a lot of it. It is no wonder - Dang Gui is an important and valuable herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia.
Dang Gui (Radix Angelica Sinensis) is a perennial plant that grows widely in China in the high mountains and plateau areas where it is cool and damp. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Dang Gui belongs to the category of Replenishing and Tonifying Herbs. However, it is in the subgroup called Blood Tonifying Herbs (as opposed to ginseng which is in the same category but is in the subgroup of Qi Tonifying herbs).

Blood Tonifying herbs, as you may guess, mainly tonify Blood and treat Blood Deficiency symptoms. You may wonder how someone can have a Blood Deficiency unless perhaps they've cut themselves and bled a lot. In TCM the idea of blood is not exactly the same as it is in our modern concept. Blood is seen as circulating in both the channels (meridians) and the blood vessels with the function of nourishing the body and promoting the functional activities of the various tissues and organs. While this is basically the modern thought, TCM differs in that it finds several disharmonies of the blood that manifest in particular symptoms. The disharmonies are: Deficient Blood, Blood Stagnation, and Heat in the Blood. Deficient Blood gives such symptoms as pale and lusterless face, dizziness, dry skin, palpitations, insomnia, and fatigue. Blood Deficency can be caused by acute bleeding, chronic hemorrhage, or a weakness of the organs responsible for the production of blood. Blood Stagnation is other seen as a sharp, fixed pain. Heat in the Blood is associated with hemorrhagic problems.

TCM gives Dang Gui three traditional actions. They are:
1). Tonify Blood and Regulate Menstruation. Dang Gui treats irregular menses, dysmenorrhea, and amenorrhea due to Blood Deficiency.
2). Circulate Blood and Detoxify. It treats internal injuries, numbness of the extemities, joint pain and arthralgia.
3). Lubricate the intestines. This treats constipation due to Deficiency of Blood. It is used for chronic constipation of the aged and debilitated.

From the traditional standpoint alone you can see why Dang Gui is an important herb. Modern research into the effects of Dang Gui has also given us this additional information:
1). An injection of its water extract causes uterine contractions.
2). It overcomes the symptoms induced by Vitamin E deficiency.
3). It produces a tranquilizing effect on the cerebral nerves; and
4). It contains a large amount of B12 and Folic acid, so it could treat pernicious anemia.

Another reason why Dang Gui is important is that it enters the channels of the Heart, Liver, and Spleen. In TCM these organs all have a special relationship with the Blood. The Heart circulates the Blood throughout the body, the Liver stores the Blood when the body is inactive, e.g., at night when we sleep, and the Spleen helps to keep the Blood in the vessels which prevents things like ecchymosis or hemorrhage of some sort. All three organs are important when treating problems of the blood and are especially important in women's reproductive system problems. The Liver itself is the most important of the three in regard to the menstrual cycle. An imbalance in the normal functioning of these organs is often responsible for problems such as dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, functional uterine bleeding, or pre-menstrual sysdrome (PMS). Dang Gui is used in many formulas to treat these problems. The basic formula to tonify Blood and regulate menstruation is Decoction of Four Substances. Dang Gui is the chief ingredient in this formula. The other herbs are Rehmannia (treated), Paeonia Alba, and Ligustici Wallichii. This formula also forms the basis of many other traditional herbal prescriptions.

While many companies are marketing pill forms of Dang Gui, they generally don't state which part or parts of the root is used. Why is this important? The root of Dang Gui is divided into three parts: the Head, the Body, and the Tail. Each part has a different emphasis. The Head and Body promote Blood tonification, while the Tail emphasizes circulating Blood. This is important to know if you are going to treat a specific problem or even if you just want to use it as a general Blood tonic. Besides taking Dang Gui in pill form you may cook it as a tea or add it to soups or stews when you cook. The common dose for useage is from 9 to 15 grams (1/3 to 1/2 ounce). Make sure it cooks at a medium boil for at least 30 minutes. You may want to cook it a little by iteself first before adding vegetables. It makes a particularly nourishing meal! Vegetarians should take note of the herb because it does supply B12 which is hard to find in the plant kingdom.

While Dang Gui is an excellant herb and has no contraindications, I would still caution pregnant women against using it or any herbs for that matter unless supervised by a physician. The medical useage of herbs must be based on the examination of each individual patient.


Dang gui can be purchased in whole roots, palm-sliced, or in extract powder.

*This article was originally written April 11, 1985.
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