Dong quai, also known as “female ginseng”, is an indigenous Chinese herb used to ease menstrual cramps, balance hormones, increase sex drive, and more. The yellow or brown root of the flowering herb is harvested and has been used as part of Chinese medicine for thousands of years.
While dong quai is aptly nicknamed “female ginseng” for its useful benefits for the female body, this herb is actually beneficial for both male and female bodies. Regardless of how you identify, you’ll find that dong quai has all of the benefits for your body.
Here is the ultimate guide on dong quai, including the herb’s benefits, uses, and history.
What is Dong Quai?
Dong quai is an indigenous Chinese herb that grows in high-altitude mountains in China, Korea, and Japan at temperatures of around 23°F. The roots of the herb are harvested in the fall for medicinal purposes. Its real name is “angelica sinensis”, and the plant can be either biennial or perennial.
Interestingly, dong quai is part of the wild celery family, which makes sense due to its uniquely strong celery and licorice scent. This family is known as the Umbelliferae (Apiaceae) family, which also includes the members of parsley, carrots, and coriander. The taste is said to be warming, spicy, and fairly bittersweet.
Dong quai can reach up to 7 feet tall and features small green-white flowers, though only the root is used for medicinal purposes. The stems are purple and the roots are a distinctive yellow-brown color. The root is harvested, dried, and then cut to be combined with other herbs depending on the form of medicine.
The History of Dong Quai
Dong quai has been used for medicinal purposes in Asia for around 2,000 years. It wasn’t until 1899 when dong quai was introduced into Western medicine. It was sold as a product called Eumonol in either liquid or tablet form, which was primarily sold for treating menstrual cramps and pains.
Nowadays, dong quai is sold as a food supplement in America, even though it is classified as a medicine in Japan, Korea, and China.
Dong quai was never really consumed on its own. Instead, it has been used in tonics, spices, and medicines for the last 2,000 years in China, Korea, and Japan. Nowadays, it is also combined with other herbs in medicine forms like powders and tablets.
Dong Quai Uses
The root of dong quai is typically harvested, dried, and then cut to be combined with other herbs depending on the form of medicine. Dong quai roots are also simmered, slow-cooked, or steamed to be consumed as a soup due to their unique flavor and warming properties. It can also be found in herbal teas that are designed to aid menstrual pains.
Whilst primarily an Asian medicinal remedy, dong quai is also used in Native American, Kampo, and Ayurvedic medicine for treating high blood sugar and anemia.
Dong Quai Benefits
Dong quai is also known as “dang quei”, which is the herb’s Chinese name that means “state of return”. This is an apt name considering the herb’s restorative properties.
The most popular benefit of this herb is to soothe menstrual pains and to help those who are starting their menopause stage. However, there is an abundance of other benefits that have been suggested by scientific studies that make dong quai one of the most beneficial herbs for medicine.
While none of the benefits have been proven by scientific studies, research has given an apt amount of evidence to show that dong quai is a brilliant herbal remedy for a bunch of health issues.
Dong quai is most famous for its hormone-balancing properties. Whether your estrogen levels are too high or too low, dong quai has been found to balance estrogen which helps to regulate periods.
Eases menstrual symptoms
As well as regulating periods, dong quai can be used to soothe and aid premenstrual and postmenstrual symptoms. This includes alleviating the pain of cramping, nausea, mood swings, back pain, and the general discomfort of menstruation.
You know that feeling of fatigue and drowsiness after your period? Yup, dong quai can help to alleviate that, too. While it doesn’t have any caffeine properties, dong quai is said to replenish the blood to help those feel rejuvenated after their periods.
However, due to the blood-thinning properties of dong quai, it is not recommended to consume this herb when you are on your period (more on this in the next section of this guide!).
Eases menopause symptoms
Similarly to how dong quai is used to aid premenstrual and postmenstrual symptoms, this herb is ideal for helping those to enter their menopause! Menopause is a highly uncomfortable and unpredictable time during a woman’s life that cannot be avoided or treated. Dong quai is one of the few herbal remedies to help alleviate any pain from extreme period cramping, exhaustion, hot flushes, and more.
Works as an aphrodisiac
Research has shown that dong quai can increase libido levels in both men and women, making it a useful aphrodisiac. This benefit alongside the estrogen-boosting properties means that dong quai is a great herbal remedy for increasing the chance of fertility – almost entirely because the act of conception is more likely to happen after consuming it! Saves a lot of money from going to fertility clinics, that’s for sure.
This is why dong quai supposedly means “the husband returns back to his wife” in Chinese.
Boosts fertility in women
The balance of estrogen levels and regulation of periods means that women who consume dong quai are more likely to find a boost in fertility. This is often a preferred version of fertility clinics and painful procedures due to the costs.
Boosts fertility in men
As well as the aphrodisiac and estrogen-balancing properties, dong quai is also said to boost fertility levels in men. Dong quai contains an antioxidant called ferulic acid, which is said to improve sperm quality.
Helps premature ejaculation
As if it doesn’t get any better, dong quai is said to treat premature ejaculation, which both improves the chances of fertility and the length of intercourse.
Reduces mood swings
It is said that dong quai is great for reducing mood swings, which is why it is so popular for alleviating PMS mental health. The serotonin and dopamine releases in our brain have a direct relationship with some of the components of dong quai, which helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Mood swings from the menstrual cycle can lead to symptoms of depression, or worsening symptoms of depression if the individual already has the mental illness. Dong quai is said to treat and fight the symptoms of depression in both men and women, as the components of the herb help to level serotonin and dopamine hormones.
Acts as a blood tonic
Dong quai is high in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B 12, biton, folic acid, and nicotinic acid. This means that dong quai acts as a blood tonic that purifies and thins the blood, which is ideal for preventing blood clots. This is great for women on contraception like contraceptive pills, as the pill can often increase the risk of blood clots.
This also means that dong quai can be used to treat areas of injury or wounds, as it works to increase the volume of blood and replenishes the red blood cells. For this reason, dong quai is found in virtually every herbal blood-building products.
Boosts blood circulation
Dong quai has a high iron content, which means it can be used to boost blood circulation. This works to increase energy levels and can fasten the healing process from injury or surgery.
Prevents anemia and iron deficiency
The iron and cobalt contents of dong quai are said to prevent anemia and iron deficiencies. This is achieved by the cobalt that increases the blood’s hemoglobin content, which is an iron-containing protein that helps to carry oxygen to cells.
For those who struggle with the symptoms of anemia, including headaches, fatigue, muscle weakness, and cognitive disorders, dong quai is said to be a powerful herbal remedy.
Beneficial for heart health
Not only is dong quai said to lower blood pressure, but research has also suggested that the herb contains antispasmodic properties that help to treat abnormal heart rhythms. Dong quai also helps to reduce excess platelet build-up, which can often be found in the arteries and blood vessels that causes strokes, heart attacks, and atherosclerosis.
Lowers blood sugar levels
Regular consumption of dong quai is suggested by studies to lower blood sugar levels and helps insulin resistance, which is ideal for improving fatty liver. High blood sugar levels are also said to increase urination, thirst, and weight loss – which dong quai helps to treat.
These studies were tested on rats who were deliberately put on a high-fat diet. Dong quai should be consumed regularly and amongst other methods of lowering blood sugar levels, including eating a high-fiber and low-carb diet and drinking lots of water.
It’s no secret that skincare is one of the leading industries in Asia, and the natural skin-improving qualities of dong quai is why the herb is found so often in skincare products.
Dong quai contains anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties that help to treat alopecia, eczema, vitiligo, rosacea, hives, and other skin afflictions. Dong quai is also high in antioxidants, which helps to keep the skin looking young and healthy for longer. The improvement of blood circulation also helps to create a brightened complexion due to the increased oxygen in the cells!
One symptom of menopause is osteoporosis, which is where the bones start to lose tissue and become brittle. Dong quai is proven to improve bone density in both men and women.
High in antioxidants
Dong quai is notorious for its high capacity of antioxidants, which help to support a healthy immune system and eliminates free radicals from damaging organ systems to create chronic diseases. While dong quai alone won’t work to treat or combat chronic diseases like heart disease or cancer, research has suggested that consumption of the herb will help to reduce the likelihood of developing such diseases.
Dong Quai Warnings
As with any herbal remedy, there are some warnings and side effects of the consumption of dong quai.
Don’t mix with blood thinners
While the blood-thinning properties are ideal for promoting blood circulation, dong quai contains coumarin which is a key ingredient in blood-thinning medication like Warfarin. If you take medication like Warfarin, you should not consume dong quai as it will increase your risk of bleeding.
It is also said to not mix dong quai with other natural blood-thinners such as garlic, ginger, or ginkgo, as this can also increase the chance of bleeding.
Don’t consume if you are pregnant
Due to the blood-thinning properties of dong quai, pregnant women should avoid taking dong quai as this can increase the risk of miscarriages. As dong quai is shown to increase libido and fertility, it should be taken with caution.
Those who are on oral contraceptive pills, breastfeeding, or on hormone replacement therapy should also avoid consuming dong quai.
If you are allergic to celery, dill, or coriander, you should avoid consuming dong quai as it belongs to the same family.
Can interfere with medication
As well as with oral contraceptive pills, hormone replacement therapy, and blood-thinners, dong quai can interfere with ibuprofen and naproxen among other medications. It is therefore not recommended to consume dong quai when you are on other medications, but it is worth checking with a doctor just in case.
There have been some uncommon side effects of consuming dong quai, which includes:
- Difficulty breathing
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach ache
- Excessive sweating
- Drop in blood pressure and blood sugar levels
While most of these side effects do not occur when consuming dong quai, it is important to let your doctor know of these symptoms if they occur. You should also stop consuming dong quai immediately – this won’t affect your health in the same way as discontinuing other medications like antidepressants.