Dong Quai

This section is compiled by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
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Thanks to the University of North Carolina School of Pharmacy

Christy Walker, Amy Bigus, and Deanna Massengill

Common Names

  • "Empress of the Herbs"
  • "Sovereign herb for women"
  • "The Female Ginseng"

General description

  • biennial and perennial plants
  • hollow fluted purple stems rising 3 to 7 feet tall
  • greenish-white flowers bloom from May to August
  • leaves resemble those of carrots, celery or parsley
  • root is harvested for medicinal effects when 1 year old

Chemical Composition

  • Composed of various coumarins and flavonoids which are responsible for medicinal actions

Essential oil contains:

  • n-butylphthalide
  • linoleic acid
  • cadinene
  • palmitic acid
  • carvacrol
  • safrole
  • n-dodecanal
  • sequiterpene
  • isosafrol
  • n-tetradecanol

History and Folk Use

  • Regarded as a "female" remedy
  • dysmenorrhea
  • anemia
  • amenorrhea
  • arthritis
  • metrorrhagia
  • migraine headache
  • menopausal symptoms
  • assure healthy pregnancy and easy delivery
  • abdominal pain
  • injuries


  • Relates to high coumarin content.

Phytoestrogen activity

  • contains highly active phytoestrogens (lower in activity than animal estrogens)
  • used in conditions of high and low estrogens
  • demonstrate an alterative effect by competing with estrogen for binding sites
  • exert some estrogenic activity when estrogens are low
  • reduce overall estrogenic activity by occupying estrogen receptor sites when estrogen levels are high
  • basis of use in amenorrhea & menopause
  • Japanese angelica (thought to be very similar to Chinese angelica) has uterine tonic activity: causes an initial increase in uterine contraction followed by relaxation

Cardiovascular effects

  • not used historically for these purposes
  • significant hypotensive action due to vasodilator activity
  • dihydropyranocoumarins and dihydrofuranocoumarins possess coronary vasodilatory, spasmolytic, and cyclic-AMP-phosphodiesterase inhibitory properties
  • result of calcium channel antagonism
  • also may have negative inotropic & antiarrhythmic action

Smooth muscle relaxing activity

  • Calcium channel blocking compounds are capable of relaxing smooth muscle of visceral organs like the intestines and the uterus (essential oil)
  • The water extract produces an initial contraction and then a prolonged relaxation

Analgesic activity

  • Pain relieving and mild tranquilizing effects
  • Analgesic action was found to be 1.7 times that of aspirin
  • Analgesic activity combined with smooth muscle relaxing activity support use in uterine cramps, trauma, headaches & arthritis

Anti-allergy and Immuno-modulating activity

  • Used in prevention and treatment of allergic symptoms
  • Inhibits production of IgE in a selective manner
  • Coumarin compounds demonstrate immune-enhancing activity in healthy and cancer patients
  • Coumarins stimulate macrophages & phagocytosis – offers protection against metastasis and growth of tumor cells
  • May possess mitogenic activity to B-lymphocytes, interferon-producing activity, anti-tumor activity, & complement-activiating activity to support historical anti-cancer effects and use as adjunct to current cancer therapy

Antibacterial activity

  • Possess activity against both gram negative and gram positive bacteria
  • Other herbs, however, have much greater antimicrobial activity

Clinical Applications

  • treatment of disorders of menstruation
  • menopause (especially hot flashes)
  • atopic conditions
  • smooth muscle spasms
  • (uterine cramps, migraines, abdominal spasm)
  • possibly as an immunostimulatory adjunct in cancer therapy
  • The whole root is used:
  • the head staunches bleeding
  • the body preserves the internal organs and nourished the blood
  • the tail moves the blood
  • As a whole, the root "harmonizes" the blood.
  • Eliminate discomforts of PMS
  • Help women resume normal menstruation after going off "the pill"
  • May prevent anemia due to richness in vitamins & minerals (A, B12, & E)

Drug and Disease Interactions

  • Should not be used during pregnancy or mestruation
  • Should not be taken with blood thinning agents


  • Standard dose for dried root or rhizosome:
  • 1-2 gram orally or by infusion TID
  • Tincture (1:5)
  • 3-5 mL TID
  • Fluid extract (1:1)
  • 0.5-2.0 mL


  • Extremely low toxicity
  • Contains many photoreactive substances that may induce photosensitivity


  • 1 oz Dong Quai
  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 1 pint water
  • 1 clove garlic, diced
  • 2 slices of licorice root
  • Seasonings to taste

Soak the beans overnight. Discard water. Combine beans & Dong Quai and cook for 2 hours, skimming surface foam periodically. In last 15 minutes of cooking, remove Dong Quai, which is bitter and add licorice slices. Makes 4 servings.


  • Murray MT. The Healing Power of Herbs. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, pp. 43-49.
  • Pizzorno JE and MT Murray. "Angelica species," A Textbook of Natural Medicine. Bothell, WA: Bastyr University Publications, Vol. 1, 1996.

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