Angelica root, commonly known as dong quai, is a revered herb with ancient ties to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
The root of this medicinal herb is used for a wide range of health conditions.
Traditionally, angelica was used to manage blood deficiency complications, reduce pain, support women’s issues, and aid the intestines.
This article will look at the health benefits of angelica root, its safety, and history.
Table of Contents
- What is Angelica Root?
- Health Benefits of Angelica Root:
- Angelica Root Safety:
- How Much Angelica Root Should I Take?
- Naming & Taxonomy:
- History & Traditional Use:
What is Angelica Root?
Angelica root is the highly-revered, therapeutic part of the Angelica plant. The herb is best known for its fragrant scent and spicy, warming energy.
The scientific name for angelica is Angelica sinensis. It’s a popular herb in TCM where it has been used for thousands of years.
The angelica plant has been used in traditional medicine to increase blood circulation, support gynecological issues, and regulate the immune system. Traditional accounts also mention that it was used as an expectorant (a way to clear mucus from the airway and lungs).
Modern accounts suggest that angelica root supports menopausal, menstruation, and other gynecological symptoms, relieves constipation, and manages blood and blood vessel issues.
Angelica root’s active constituents are thought be responsible for these health-boosting effects, including:
- Ferulic acid
- And polysaccharides
While Angelica’s root is the only medicinal part of the plant, the seed, flower, and fruit of other Angelica species are sometimes used for therapeutic purposes.
Health Benefits of Angelica Root:
Traditional medicine systems and contemporary herbalists have observed a variety of angelica root benefits. Below are the top research-backed benefits of angelica root.
1. May Support Gynecological Issues
Clinical trials and traditional evidence note that angelica may be a beneficial herbal remedy to help treat female hormonal issues.
Gynecology is the study of female biology and diseases that often affect the reproductive organs like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vagina, and vulva. These organs produce eggs, sex hormones, and support a fertilized egg until birth.
While multiple clinical human studies have observed angelica’s effect on menopausal symptoms and issues with menstruation, none have concluded that the herb alone has significant therapeutic effects.
However, multiple studies have found that taking angelica in combination with other herbs has significant benefits for gynecological complications.
In a study observing the formula Dang Gui Buxue Tang (5 parts astragalus root and 1 part angelica root), women with menopausal symptoms experienced fewer and less severe hot flashes.
A double blind trial involving women experiencing severe hot flashes and night sweats discovered that Dang Gui Buxue Tang reduced both the severity and frequency of symptoms.
Another clinical trial observing Dang Gui Buxue Tang concluded that the formula improved the quality of life for women managing menopausal symptoms.
A clinical study involving Si-Wu Tang, another traditional Chinese formula that includes angelica, discovered that the formula provided therapeutic effects against various menstrual disorders. The trial concluded that the herbs’ antioxidant effects may be responsible for these results.
The American Botanical Council suggests the use of dong quai for complex gynecological issues. These issues include uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, endometriosis, and infertility. The herb may “help broaden therapeutic options for women beyond hormone replacement therapies and hysterectomies.”
In the King’s American Dispensatory, Dr. Felter & Lloyd discuss Angelica archangelica and its ability to stimulate menstruation. They mention that it “promote[s] the menstrual discharge.”
Herbalist Rosemary Gladstar mentions in her book Herbal Recipes for Vibrant Health that dong quai is excellent for “strengthening and balancing the uterus.” She writes that it is “recommended for almost any gynecological imbalance…[especially] menstrual irregularities, dysmenorrhea, and delay or absent menses,” and explains that it has no hormonal action but regulates hormones through its effect on the liver and endocrine system.
The European Medicines Agency writes “in the Pharmacopoeia of the People’s Republic of China (1977), [Angelica sinensis root] was used to…regulate menstruation…and relieve pain in menstrual disorders such as irregular menstrual cycle, dysmenorrhea, amenorrhea, and other gynecological disorders.”
In the medical text Medicinal Herbs in Primary Care, Dr. Jean M. Bokelmann describes angelica as helpful for “treating abnormal menstruation and other women’s diseases.”
Summary:Both clinical research and traditional herbalists suggest that angelica root may work to support gynecological and menstrual issues.
2. May Support Vascular & Blood Issues
A few scientific animal trials and traditional evidence conclude that angelica root may support blood and vascular conditions.
Research shows that poor circulation and issues with the vascular system can lead to heart disease. Natural herbs like angelica root may support healthy blood flow and tone blood vessels decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease.
A review of dong quai noted that it inhibits the formation of plaque on artery walls. It achieves this effect by reducing triglyceride levels in the bloodstream. It also mentions that angelica root and one of its main active constituents, Z-Ligustilide, exhibit an anti-platelet aggregation effect. This can help to prevent blood clots.
An animal study found that Z-ligustilide and ferulic acid worked to increase blood flow and reduced incidences of cerebral infarction (disrupted blood flow to the brain).
The European Medicines Agency suggests that angelica root is traditionally used to “tonify blood in [the] heart and [support] liver blood deficiencies with symptoms such as anemia…and palpitations” and to “enrich blood [and] activate blood circulation.”
Rosemary Gladstar writes that angelica root is “nourishing for the blood and has a mild cleansing and stimulating action.”
Dr. Bokelmann’s text mentions that dong quai is used in multi-herb formulas for “replenishing the blood” and “may be beneficial for pulmonary hypertension due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, [and] portal hypertension.”
Summary:Research and traditional herbalism indicate that angelica root may work to promote blood flow and support vascular health. Human studies are needed for confirmation.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Angelica root is noted for its anti-inflammatory properties, although only a few animal and lab-based studies have been conducted.
The immune system triggers an inflammatory response when the body is exposed to external or internal trauma. While short-term inflammation is an essential part of the healing process, chronic inflammation indicates a persistent complication that could cause long-term health issues.
An animal study observing the effects of angelica on osteoarthritis discovered that the herb, specifically the phytochemical sodium ferulate (the sodium salt of ferulic acid), demonstrated anti-inflammatory activity in the joints. This activity may prevent the destruction of cartilage in those suffering from osteoarthritis.
Lab-based studies of dong quai suggest that the active constituents, ferulic acid and Z-ligustilide, are responsible for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Another lab-based study concluded that angelica root, and it’s isolated constituent ferulic acid, reduced inflammation.
A final lab-based study found that Angelica sinensis may “induce anti-inflammatory activities.” Researchers note that this effect may also protect against stress caused by free-radical molecules.
The European Medicines Agency writes that the “anti-platelet activity of ferulic acid may play an important role in diminishing inflammatory complaints.”
Summary:Lab-based research has found that angelica root may have anti-inflammatory effects, however, human clinical research is required in order to confirm this finding.
4. Other Benefits
Other purported angelica root health benefits include:
- May Prevent Cancer Growth: A lab-based study observing Danggui Buxue Tang discovered that the formula caused cell death in colorectal cancer cells.
- May have Antioxidant Effects: A lab-based study suggests that angelica protects certain cells from oxidative stress while also reducing inflammation. Researchers attributed this effect to the polysaccharide content in angelica root.
Summary:Angelica root has been tied to a wide variety of health benefits. Human clinical trials are needed to verify these findings.
Angelica Root Safety:
Safety Class: 1
Interaction Class: C (evidence from scientific studies and/or case reports conclude that the herb has clinically relevant interactions with pharmacological substances)
Angelica root (specifically Angelica sinensis) is known to interact with blood-thinning pharmaceutical medication, like warfarin, and may increase the risk of bleeding.
Angelica root is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA.
Although significant adverse reactions and side effects have been reported, “no significant adverse events are reported in the traditional Chinese medicine literature”, according to The Botanical Safety Handbook (2013).
Pregnancy & Lactation:
Use of angelica root during pregnancy and lactation is not recommended due to a lack of data.
The Botanical Safety Handbook advises against the use of dong quai during pregnancy and “both a stimulating and relaxing effect on the uterus have been reported for constituents of dong quai.”
The Botanical Safety Handbook also mentions that a few cases of high blood pressure and rashes have been reported during lactation.
How Much Angelica Root Should I Take?
Standard dosing for angelica root is as follows:
Decoction (tea): Add 1 cup of water to 1 teaspoon of cut root and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Drink 1 cup, 3x per/day.
Tincture (1:5): 2-5ml, 3x/day
Fluid Extract (1:1): 1.5-3.0ml, 3x/day
Dang Gui Buxue Tang Supplement: 1800mg, 2x/day
The British Herbal Pharmacopeia suggests using 2.5g of the dried root daily, and Commission E recommends 4.5g of dried root daily.
Angelica is not on the United Plant Saver’s “at-risk” list and is considered minimally impacted by human activities.
Naming & Taxonomy:
Angelica’s scientific name is Angelica sinensis. In TCM, the herb is known as “dong quai” and in Korean medicine, it has the name “dang gui”.
Angelica is also called “female ginseng” due to its affinity for supporting female gynecological afflictions. It’s seen as the female alternative to Panax ginseng root. The “angel” of Angelica spp. comes from the word “angel”, suggesting it has divine abilities.
Angelica sinensis is the most commonly type of angelica that’s grown throughout Eastern Asia, while Angelica archangelica is the cousin of “Chinese Angelica” and is more popularly known as “European angelica” or “Norwegian angelica”.
Angelica is in the Apiaceae family and is related to celery, fennel, parsley, and dill. Traditional accounts frequently mention the plant’s aromatic scent and the root’s bitter, spicy, and warm flavor.
Dong quai is native to Eastern Asia and is prominent in China, Japan, and Korea, although the species Angelica gigas is more prevalent in Korea. The herb has the characteristic “umbrella-shaped” cluster of flowers and can grow up to 8ft tall.
The plant has a thick, hollow stem and the yellowish-brown roots can weigh up to 3 lbs. They take 2 years to mature and are usually found in high, cool mountainous regions.
Although there are numerous species of Angelica, their chemical compositions, pharmacological properties, and clinical efficacies vary. Some species contain medicinal properties in their aerial parts and roots, while other species’ health-supporting effects are confined to the roots.
Common names of angelica root include: Dong Quai, Dang gui, Chinese Angelica, Female Ginseng, European angelica, and wild celery.
Other plants in the Angelica species include:
- Angelica archangelica
- Angelica acutiloba
- Angelica glauca
- Angelica gigas
- Angelica koreana
- Angelica dahurica
- Angelica pancicii
- Angelica pubescentis
- Angelica urumiensis
History & Traditional Use:
Angelica has been used in traditional Chinese and Korean medicine for millennia. The first account of usage was in Shen Nong Bencao Jing, the earliest Chinese medical text that dates back to the Han Dynasty ( A.D. 200–300) in China.
In this text, the root was suggested for “replenish[ing] and invigorat[ing] blood, stop[ping] pain, and moisten[ing] the intestines.” In China, the root was also used as a food supplement to target female gynecological issues for hundreds of years.
Angelica root is considered one of the most popular herbs to cultivate in China and is found in over 70 formulas. Two of the most famous and renowned formulas are called Danggui Buxue Tang (DBT), which consists of 5 parts astragalus root and 1 part angelica root, and Si-Wu Tang, which consists of white peony root, angelica root, prepared Rehmannia, and Szechuan lovage root.
Angelica is a highly versatile herb that has been used in TCM for thousands of years and is still used today by contemporary herbalists and TCM practitioners. While some human clinical trials exist, more scientific research must be conducted to validate dong quai’s health benefits.
Using angelica, by itself or in a formula, is recommended for it’s various health benefits.
If you are considering angelica for medicinal use, look for cultivated rhizome/root from trusted sources and avoid using the aerial parts of the plant internally.
Read more articles about other popular traditional Chinese herbs:
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