Dong Quai, sometimes known as “Female Ginseng”, is a small, fragrant herbaceous perennial plant in the Apiaceae family native to mountainous regions of China. Dong Quai can grow up to 6 feet tall, and has large bipinnate leaves as well as large compound umbels of white and greenish-white flowers in the fall growing from a single stalk, that can be green to reddish in color. It can thrive in a variety of moist soils, from sandy to heavy clay, in sun or light shade. It’s harvested for it’s medicinal taproot, harvested in the fall; the taproot also makes transplanting difficult. Sow the seeds directly in the ground where you want the plant to be. It is a good attractant for pollinators such as butterflies and bees.
The roots of Dong Quai are a sweet, warming, tonic herb, and one of the best herbs for toning the female system. It acts as a blood tonic, emmenagogue, sedative, analgesic, and laxative. Useful for all gynecological issues and complaints, it especially helps regulates menses, treating dysmenorrhea and amenorrhea. It tones the blood and promotes circulation, helping with smaller capillaries and easing tinitis, blurry vision, and heart palpitations, as well as pain and injuries due to poor circulation and blood stagnation. It also works to relieve dry, constipated bowels, promoting regularity. It’s considered a rejuvenative, diaphoretic, and antispasmodic as well as a emmenagogue and tonic herb in Aryuvedic medicine, useful for treating PMS, menstrual cramps, menstrual irregularities, headaches, anemia, rheumatic pain, as well as colds and flus. The wild angelica, Angelica brewerii, is found growing in the California Sierras, and has been used interchangeable with Dong Quai with comparable results.
Dong Quai, which means ‘return to order’, has been used in Korea, China, and Japan for thousands of years for its restorative properties, often in combination with other herbs. The Chinese have used the herb during pregnancy, believing it provides for a more healthy pregnancy and an easier birth. However, western medicine recommends against the use of Dong Quai by pregnant or lactating women. One source mentioned Dong Quai as a way to combat alcoholism since it produces a disgust for liquor. It also has a high mineral content, making it a good additive to soup broths, especially for women at the end of their menstrual cycles. In China, it’s often used in medicinal chicken soups, as seen in this recipe for Dong Quai Chicken Soup.
Typically prepared as a decoction of anywhere from 3-15 grams of root per cup of water, taken three times daily. To promote menstruation, it combines well with saffron and safflower. It’s anti-arthritic properties are enhanced by myrrh. As a uterine tonic, take daily with fresh ginger root. Dong Quai can cause photo-sensitivity in some individuals, and pregnant women should consult an herbalist before taking this herb. Some good combinations and recipes are available at the Chinese Herbs Healing website.
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