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.