Angelica gigas, commonly known as dong quai, is a root that has been used to cure a variety of feminine health issues in traditional Chinese and East Asian herbal medicine for almost a millennium.
In recent years, this supposed ‘‘ginseng for women’’ has been gaining in popularity worldwide.
However, as with many other such ‘miracle roots’, there is little actual proof of effectiveness among the general population and the beneficial properties of dong quai are mostly a product of word-of-mouth.
As a vital part of the medicinal traditions in Korea, China and Japan, dong quai has been among the foremost herbal remedies for ailments and conditions related to the feminine physiology.(1)
Also known as dang quai, this root belongs to roughly the same group of plants as carrots, parsley, celery and the highly poisonous Hemlock.
Angelica gigas or Korean angelica is the type of dong quai native to Korea. There are two other variants of this herb, namely ‘angelica sinensis’ or Chinese angelica and ‘angelica acutiloba’. All three variants are native to East Asia, where they have been actively cultivated for many years.
It is thought to be a supposed estrogen booster and hormone balancer. Most of its properties are geared towards providing a cure for typically feminine health problems such as menstrual cramps, anemia and high blood-pressure.
Dong quai is also believed to have urinary function improving as well as anti-spasmodic properties.
There have not been enough studies conducted on the root and its curing properties to determine how this herb works, completely. However, from its chemical composition, we can determine how it functions and what it actually does to benefit the users.
Angelica gigas and all of its variants increase estrogen in the body, aiding in a variety of feminine health problems such as the symptoms of menopause and menstrual cramps. This aspect of the root also makes it a popular stress relieving agent as well as a popular cure for high blood pressure and other stress-related health problems.
Another quality that makes the usage of dong quai so popular is its supposed blood cleansing and replenishing properties. It has traditionally been known to aid in the production of haemoglobin, which leads to a reduced risk of heart failure or other heart diseases. The anti-inflammatory properties of dong quai also make it popular for people afflicted by inflammation.(2)
Traditionally, it had been used in East Asia, especially in China, as the feminine equivalent of the more masculine oriented ginseng. Women have used it in ancient times to treat period-related issues as well as a tonic for decreased vitality.
Dong quai has also been used as a treatment for a variety of menopausal symptoms as well as for curing the absence of normal menstruation.(3)
Since ancient times, Chinese women have used it as a cure for pain or spasms in the uterine muscles and hot flashes, an effect of the monthly menstrual cycle. The supposed muscle relaxant properties of this herb has also made it a popular remedy for muscle stress and discomfort, in all regions of the body, which in turn, is believed to result in normalizing abnormal heart rhythms and lung function.
Its reputation as a blood enhancer had led to its wide used in Chinese and traditional eastern medicine to treat heart diseases as well. It is supposed to expand blood vessels and aid in the production of hemoglobin, the most vital part of our blood.
Additionally, it has been used by men as a natural, herbal cure for premature ejaculation, although dong quai’s effectiveness in that area is similarly, unproven. Also unproven is its reputation for increasing libido in women although ginseng is widely reputed to doing so in men.
As with most herbal remedies, dong quai has a host of health benefits as well as adverse effects that warrant its usage with caution and after proper medical consultation. As mentioned earlier, there have not been sufficient studies conducted on the root. Therefore, individual results may vary from person to person.
As with a large number of traditional herbal remedies, ‘female ginseng’ is widely believed to carry a host of benefits, some of which are as follows:
Balances hormones- Angelica gigas and its variants have been extensively used by women in the Far East to treat health issues related to irregular hormonal activity. Dong quai’s ability to regulate estrogens levels within the body has made it quite popular among women in other parts of the world as well. (3)
Regulates menstrual activity- Dong quai is known to have a positive effect on the feminine menstrual cycle, leading to it being called ‘female ginseng’. It is believed to alleviate muscular cramps, mood swings and discomfort associated with the menstrual cycle and menstruation in general.
Improves blood circulation- Dong quai contains a large amount of iron, which helps improve blood circulation throughout the body. This in turn, can help relieve muscle pain and promote healthy oxygen flow to the muscles. Iron also provides an increase in energy which is a direct result of improved blood circulation.
Acts as a detoxifying agent- The root contains several chemical compounds such as folic acid and vitamin B12, which aid in the detoxification of the body.
The properties of dong quai and the effect they have on the human body also present a variety of side-effects, some of which are given below:
Affects uterine function during pregnancy – the herb can prove to be harmful in varying degrees if used during pregnancy, due to its effects on the muscles of the uterus. Consumption is not recommended for pregnant women.
Harmful if taken alongside blood-thinning medication- Due to its blood replenishing properties which increase the amount of blood in the body, it is strictly not recommended for people already using medication like warfarin.
May adversely affect libido- The estrogen boosting properties of dong quai, although sometimes believed to increase libido in females, can actually lower it, causing problems in normal sexual function as well. (6)
Dong quai, most commonly available in dried root form, is usually infused in hot water and taken as a tea, three times a day. This is the traditional method of intake however; it is also available in the form of medicinal pills and tablets.
Summary: Dong quai may contribute positively to overall health and lower the effects of irregular menstrual activity as well as improve general health. However, further research is needed to concretely determine its effectiveness.