The well known and much used Chinese Herb Dang gui reveals much about how simple herbal concepts can be misunderstood. Dang gui, (tang kuei, tang kwei, Angelica sinensis) has been a fundamental herb in the Chinese Medical apothecary since before its first documentation in the Han Dynasty (300 BCE - 300 CE). Dang gui is a dense heavy brown onion shaped woody root that is classified as a "tonifier of Blood". Blood in this case being the Chinese Medical definition of Blood which includes the nourishment functions of the body besides just referring to the red liquid we generally think of.
Dang gui became the central herb in many formulas for tonifying and regulating blood, the main applications would be in trauma (blood loss), fatigue (lack of nourishment) and menstrual problems. It is this last category that seems to create problems in our modern day. Because of its prominence and use in formulas for dealing with menstrual problems, Dang gui is now sold outside of proper formulation, as "women’s ginseng," or for "female problems". Titles that may sell well but also mislead. Yes, Dang gui is used for women's problems, but only those problems that are defined as a "Blood deficiency". Therefore Dang gui is appropriate for the woman who has light or is missing a period, and needs to "tonify Blood." It would be inappropriate as the main herb for the woman who has severe sharp cramps and heavy bleeding, who by definition has a condition of "excess Blood function".
Regardless, Dang gui like many herbs was rarely used alone. It was mixed with other herbs to alter the effect. Often it was added to medicinal soups to help nourish a frail patient. The sinensis variation of Angelica is the herb that is used for this purpose. There are many types of Angelica, and others also have medicinal value. Angelica dahuricae (Bai zhi) is not a tonifying herb, but is considered warm and disperses energy out of the body rather than nourishing energy. Angelica pubescentis (Du huo) also disperses energy and is used for certain types of pain especially in the back and head.
It is important to look at Herbs as being a type of medicine, and with all medicines the important part of the equation is not how great a medicine is. The important part is whether the medicine is right for the patient.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066