Dang Gui and Blood Deficiency

March 13th, 2008 § 6 comments

One of the first herbs I used was dang gui. Still, I have a hard time understanding this herb so here is my attempt at gaining clarity. Any comments about indications for or experience with this herb would be much appreciated!

Its botanical name is Angelica sinensis (a common species name, meaning “of China”). Dang gui is one of them many members of the volatile oil containing Apiaceae (parsley) family. It is one of the most popular Chinese herbs in the US. Foster and Chongxi state that dang gui is the most used herb in China, for “it is used more frequently and in larger amounts that ginseng and licorice, often considered the most widely used Chinese herbs”.

Its flavor is sweet with an earthy bitterness. The taste can be strong for some, but I have witnessed that those who need it crave it and love its distinctive smell. I have a entirely non-technical and strange way to associate herbs with colors; to me dang qui conjures a dusty lavender taupe color. Every time I smell it I think of chalk and afternoon recess in 5th grade and I feel as if I am smelling it with my jaw. Don’t ask me why! Weird, I know, but it happens every time so I feel it is worth noting although they are very individual. I digress…

Dang gui has quite the reputation as a woman’s herb, mostly because it is warming and tonifying to the blood, and can regulate menstruation. It has emmenagogue, mild laxitive and analgesic properties. Also, it Harmonizes vital chi, nourishes the blood and returns them both to proper order, like for headaches due to blood deficiency or traumatic injury. Of course, men and non-menstruating women can use this herb for Blood Deficiency; in fact my dog will walk over to where I keep my powdered Chinese herbs and whine until I give her some. She has skin problems, and is dry and flaky half the time. Within my references, these are some indications for dang qui:

  • building blood, anemia
  • menstrual complaints of all kinds: dysmenorrhea, irregularity, amenorrhea
  • menopausal complaints
  • fibroids (most likely does not contain phytoestrogens)
  • some vaginal infections
  • abdominal pain
  • circulatory problems such as angina, thromboses, coronary heart problems
  • “Damp Wind” conditions with joint and muscle pain and inflammation
  • tinnitus
  • palpitations
  • injury, arthritis, rheumatism
  • constipation
  • dry skin and skin eruptions
  • promoting circulation (it moistens the intestines)
  • sores and abscesses
  • blurred vision and headaches due to Deficient Blood

As mentioned, dang gui is a well known emmenagogue, so it generally not to be taken during the heaviest days of menstruation if you are a heavy bleeder, nor during the first trimester. However, it can be quite helpful during scanty menses and amenorrhea. This leads me to think that dang gui would be of good use for pain towards the end of the period, not necessarily for pain at the start of the period (possibly due to Stagnant Blood). Michael Tierra precautions to avoid use if there is abdominal bloating and congestion (damp Spleen), as well as in Deficient Yin with heat symptoms (since dang gui is heating itself).

We see in the above list many of the tell-tale signs of Deficient Blood. In Chinese medicine, the blood nourishes and moistens the cells and organs, which warms the body. “Deficient Blood arises when there isn’t enough Blood in the body to preform its nourishing and moistening functions” (Tierra, 148). Let’s not forget that patterns of imbalance do not manifest on their own but relates to other organs and functions in our body. For instance, Blood is related to the Heart (directs the blood), the Liver (which stores it and works to renew it while we sleep) and the Spleen (holds blood in the vessels, and builds it through digestion). Bleeding, over-exertion, yin deficency or spleen chi deficiency (resulting in poor digestion and lack of assimilated nutrients) can lead to Blood Deficiency.

Here are some patterns of Blood Deficiency. Does anyone else see a relation to the Kidneys, adrenal glands, and Shen? Can you see how dang gui would help?

  • dizziness
  • blurry vision
  • numbness
  • restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, sometimes irritability
  • scanty menses
  • tendency towards thinness
  • dark spots in visual field
  • dry skin, hair, eyes
  • lack of luster, pale face and lips
  • tiredness or overwhelmed
  • easily startled
  • poor memory (Tierra, 148)

References:

Lesley Tierra, “Healing With the Herbs of Life”

Michael Tierra, “Planetary Herbology”

Simon Mills, “The Essential Book of Herbal Medicine”

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§ 6 Responses to Dang Gui and Blood Deficiency"

  • Susan says:

    So how do you decide or differentiate in a given case whether to treat the blood deficiency first, or the spleen, liver, and kidney deficiencies first. Or do you treat them all together? I’m seeing this pattern coming together in a lot of peri-menopausal women. Thanks for your comments.

  • admin says:

    Susan, great question! I wish I knew the answer. That is a lot of organ systems that need treating…can’t imagine that you’d treat them all separately, yet at the same time. Dong gui enters the heart, spleen and liver meridians/organ systems, according to Michael Tierra. It is a tonic and nutritive herb, so I could see it being chosen to cover many bases since it works indirectly to strengthen the body thus strengthening the blood. That being said, spleen chi weakness, yin deficiency as well as bleeding and over-exertion can all CAUSE blood deficiency, so perhaps it is important to threat these first.

    What do you think? What has worked or seemed right to try?

  • Susan says:

    Thanks for the reply, Dandelion! I haven’t really figured this out, except to say that the kidney yin deficiency (which seems rampant in our hurried culture) seems to be the most “essential” to me, and so I have treated it first. Once the kidneys are in better shape, everything else seems to work a wee bit better, but then also the other deficiencies or complaints come to the fore. Deficient blood also seems to be very basic, and so maybe treating both kidneys and blood at first? Like I said, I haven’t figured it all out yet. And every person is a bit different too, adding to the challenge. Your notes about dang gui just seemed to really relate to this for me. Thanks again.

  • s.l. says:

    Thanks for doing this one. I’ve been looking for more info. As you may remember I was taking it for awhile, though at the Medicine Tree they seemed hesitant to let me self-medicate with it. Why do you think?

  • admin says:

    Suzie, if I remember correctly, Dang Gui wasn’t a bad choice for you, but I think Chaste Tree was a slightly better one. How did Dang Gui work for you? I am trying to figure out when to use it and when to use other “women’s” herbs instead…

  • Hi ladies, I just came across your great blog through a link on my own collaborative blog ;) Great to see you here and nice work!

    Of course, as an acupuncturist/herbalist, I came straight over to your CM posts. I know this is an old thread but I thought I would add my experience to your conversation.

    When all 3 of the root yin organs are depleted, it is possible to nourish blood and yin at the same time. That is the beauty of an herb like Dang Gui. It is deeply nourishing without being too warm and causing dryness. Look to classic formulas such as Si Wu Tang. The bai shao will keep it cool and it is a nice simple formula that can be added as a blood tonic to more complex Kidney yin formulas.

    Dang gui can also MOVE the blood but if you use just the body vs. the body and the “tails” it will be less moving and more nourishing.

    It is also a great herb to cook with. I notice you are referencing the Tierra’s here and I know they have a great roasted chicken and dang gui recipe somewhere…….?

    I am going to put my hands on a fantastic picture of dang gui bundled all the way up to the ceiling in an herb shop I visited in China. I’ll try to scan it over for you.

    Can’t wait to read the rest of your blog ;) Thanks

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