The Many Uses of Dang Gui

Radix Angelica Sinensis, or Dang Gui root, is one of the most interesting and widely used Chinese herb. Dang Gui has three main functions: to tonify or strengthen the blood, promote circulation and stop bleeding. It is particularly famous for its effectiveness in treating traumatic injuries, women’s health problems, arthritic conditions, and pain. It has been used continually in Classical Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine since the second century.

Dang Gui root is divided into three parts: the head, body and tail. Each part has a unique use. The “head” of the root, or Tou in Mandarin is said to have the greatest tonifying effect. This part of the root has stop bleeding or hemostatic properties and can direct the flow of blood upwards. The body, or main part of the root, has primarily blood building or tonifying properties. The “tail” or Dang Gui Wei, is used to invigorate blood and direct flow to the extremities. Pain due to injury, phlebitis, and varicose veins are often treated with the tail of Dang Gui, as are patients recovering from surgery. The hemostatic property of Dang Gui Tou is increased by burning the herb and using it in its carbonized form. The burnt form of Dang Gui is particularly helpful for heavy menstrual bleeding.

The name in pinyin means “State of Return” or “Ought to Return.” Depending upon how Dang Gui is combined with other herbs and the form of the root administered, it has a plethora of uses. For example, because Dang Gui has both an inhibitory and stimulating effect on the uterus, it can relieve menstrual cramping while regulating the menstrual cycle. While building the blood, it also moves or invigorates blood stagnation. It is commonly used for women who have painful, heavy, irregular or no periods. It is frequently used for the treatment of anemia with subsequent symptoms such as headaches, insomnia, palpitations and fatigue. PMS symptoms such as irritability, mood swings, insomnia, and premenstrual cramping can also be treated with Dang Gui. Menopausal complaints such as hot flashes, dry mouth, headache, fatigue and back pain among others are also treated with Dang Gui. Postpartum disorders such as abdominal pain, retained tissue, insufficient lactation and joint pain are also treated with Dang Gui. In these and all other cases, Dang Gui is combined with other herbs to create a formula that is tailor made for each patient’s unique health condition.

Dang Gui is also a primary herb for traumatic injury. It is commonly used for bruising, swelling, fractures and tendon injuries. In these cases, it is combined with other blood moving or blood activating herbs such as Hong Hua (Fl. Carthami or Safflower), Chuan Xiong (RX Ligustici Chuan Xiong).

There have been many studies on the pharmacological effects of Dang Gui. It has been found to promote the generation of hepatocytes and has a protective function on the liver, as well as decrease vascular permeability to reduce inflammation and increase phagocytosis of macrophages.

Dang Gui is truly a remarkable herb. I am always grateful to have it in my arsenal of herbs to help with many of my patient’s health problems.

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More Gifts From the Sea

My patients are often fascinated by the herbs in my office. Some herbs just look like a bunch of barks and twigs, or as some patients comment, “they look like you raked your backyard & put stuff in a bag!” Other herbs are quite unique in appearance. In Gifts From the Sea, I wrote about using abalone shells as an herb. Another Gift From the Sea is cuttlefish bone or cuttle bone.

What is cuttlefish bone? Cuttlefish are members of the Mollusca or Sepiidae family within the larger family of cephalopods, which also includes squid, and octopi. Despite their name, cuttlefish are not fish but mollusks. They possess a unique internal shell or cuttlebone. It is composed primarily of aragonite but also contains calcium, calcium carbonate, sodium chorlide and magnesium chloride. More common than the medicinal use of the bone, is the veterinary use. They are commonly used as a calcium-rich dietary supplement for parrots and can be seen on the side of cages for parrots to peck on. Patients are surprised to learn that the bone their parrot is pecking is an herb in their formula!

Called Hai Piao Xiao in Mandarin, or Endoconcha Sepiae in pharmaceutical latin, it is considered to be salty in taste, have an astringent property and be warm in nature. As with almost all other Chinese herbs, Hai Piao Xiao is not used alone but is combined with other herbs into a formula, boiled or decocted, and taken as a tea.

Hai Pia Xiao is used primarily to neutralize stomach acid and relieve abdominal pain. It is helpful in resolving symptoms such as a bitter taste in the mouth, stomach pain due to stress, acid reflux, belching, and nausea. Studies of patients with peptic ulcers showed that Hai Piao Xiao along with several other herbs was markedly effective. It is also helpful for healing bone fractures due to it’s high calcium content.

The next time you pass a pet store and see cuttlefish bone being sold, think of it’s medicinal uses!

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Gifts from the Sea

Recently while kayaking in the ocean on the Mendocino coast of California, we landed at a beach in a small cove. The beach was littered with abalone shells, large and small, whole and fragmented. Though we frequently see abalone shells on the beaches of California, the number was unusual high. Our instructor told us many of the abalone were starving due to lack of food since the kelp forests in the area had been decreasing in the last few years, creating an abundance of shells along the shore. This led me to contemplating my daily use of abalone as an herb for a variety of my patient’s ailments.

Only the abalone shell is used in Classical Traditional Chinese Medicine (CTCM). Abalone shell, Shi Jue Ming in Mandarin meaning “stone sense brightness”, or Concha Haliotidis in pharmaceutical Latin, is a commonly used Chinese herb. Mentioned in the classic text Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Materia Medica, Abalone’s medicinal properties have been known, recorded and studied since the second century. In the classification of properties, abalone is considered a cold herb with a salty taste, entering the Liver meridian or channel. To maximize the extraction of active medicinal components, Shi Jue Ming is crushed and often (though not always) precooked. Modern research studies have confirmed the chemical composition of abalone shell to include calcium carbonate, magnesium, iron, silica, phosphate, and 17 amino acids.

When I order Shi Jue Ming for my office, I buy it from an herbal wholesaler by the pound, specifying whether I want it crushed, precooked or calcined, or raw. Like most other herbs that I order, it comes in one pound bags. The abalone I order is farmed, not wild.

How is abalone used medicinally? Like most herbs in Classical Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shi Jue Ming is rarely, if ever used alone, but rather is combined with other herbs into a formula and boiled or decocted into a tea. The boiling process takes about 30-40 minutes. The liquid is strained and taken warm on a daily basis.

Abalone, similar to all other Chinese herbs, has specific therapeutic properties or actions for which it is prescribed. In CTCM, Shi Jue Ming is considered a heavy herb with a sinking nature. As such, it has the ability to anchor or sink rising Yang energy of the Liver.
There are three primary medicinal usages for Shi Jue Ming:

1) High blood pressure & related symptoms
2) Visual problems
3) Digestive disorders, especially stomach pain & acid reflux
4) Menopausal complaints

Patients with high blood pressure often have a variety of other symptoms such as vertigo, tinnitus, headaches, migraines, insomnia, irritability &/or short temperedness, and a red, flushed face. These are all symptoms of Liver Yang rising. Liver Fire or Liver Yang rising occurs when the Liver and Kidney energy becomes imbalanced with the moistening element of the body unable to control the heat or fire element. Patients experiencing Liver Yang rising will often say they feel an uncontrollable sense of heat rising up to their face with an accompanying sense of rage, anger or irritability, followed by a headache and thirst. During menopause women often experience this feelings of heat in the face or the top of the head, uncontrolled sweating, dry mouth, irritability and other “hot flash” related symptoms. In cases such as these, She Jue Ming is combined with other herbs to effectively reduce or eliminate the feeling of heat rising.

Some of the other herbs used with Shi Jue Ming are Ju Hua, commonly known as Chrysanthemum flower, Gou Teng, (Uncariae, similar to Cat’s Claw used in Peruvian folk medicine for digestive and other problems), and Tian Ma, the root of the orchid plant or Gastrodiae. Abalone may also be combined with other shells such as, Mu Li or oyster shell (to be discussed in part 2 of Gifts from the Sea).

In terms of eye disorders, problems such as red, swollen painful eyes, dry eyes, photophobia, pterygium, blurred vision, and night blindness, among others are treated with abalone. Again, as with almost all other Chinese herbs, the crushed abalone is combined with other herbs that treat vision, boiled and taken as a tea. Some of the other herbs that might be combined with Shi Jue Ming to treat eye disease are Gou Qi Zi, commonly known as Go Ji berries, Ju Hua or Chrysanthemum flowers (mentioned above), Bai Ji Li (Fructose Tribuli or puncture vine), and Jue Ming Zi (Cassiae seed).

She Jue Ming is also used to treat what is called in CTCM as Stomach Fire. Gastric reflux, acid reflux, stomach pain, and heartburn may be considered Stomach Fire. Other herbal gifts of the sea such as Mu Li or oyster shell, and Hai Piao Xiao or Cuttlefish bone (Endoconcha Sepiae) are often combined with abalone to treat Stomach Fire.

The next time you are at the beach and see an abalone shell on the shore, I hope you will have a deeper appreciation of the special gift of the sea that the little creature has given humankind.

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