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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

DONG QUAI For Me Argentina

Danggui is the root of Angelica sinensis (Oliv.) Diels (Family Apiaceae). It is a blood tonic (purifies blood, promotes blood formation and circulation, and regulates menstrual flow), and it also moisturizes and lubricates the intestines. The most common traditional uses for danggui include menstrual disorders, (irregular menses, metrorrhagia, amenorrhea, cramps, pain, etc.), anemia, weakness due to loss of blood, insomnia, headache, constipation, boils and ulcers, and traumatic injuries. Modern uses include high blood pressure, rheumatism, arthritic pain, muscle pain, neuralgia, and shingles.

Chinese angelica is known in English under numerous names, including danggui, dong quai, tang kwei, tang kuei, dang qui, etc. Only two of these are the officially "correct" names, danggui and tang kuei. The former is based on the official Chinese pinyin transliteration system and is closest to the actual pronunciation in Chinese (Mandarin). The latter, tang kuei, is based on the older Wade-Giles transliteration system which is less accurate and is now only used in Taiwanese and other free-world publications which represent only a minor proportion of all Chinese publications.

With its first recorded use dating back two thousand years, danggui is perhaps the most widely used tonic in the world, especially among Chinese women. It is eaten in soups and popular dishes such as "danggui duck" and "danggui chicken". While growing up in a household of mostly women, I often ate these dishes. Although danggui is primarily for women, it can be consumed by men as well.

Since its recent introduction to the American health food market, danggui has increasingly gained popularity among American women for their menstrual problems. As it has a very strong and distinct odor, it is difficult for dishonest manufacturers and marketers to cut it too much with cheap and inert fillers. Consequently, unlike other expensive herbs (e.g., ginseng and aloe vera), danggui products can be identified by their unique fragrance. As a general rule, the stronger the odor, the better the product (at least for now, or until the shysters find a cheap synthetic odor to pass off as danggui).

Like other tonics, danggui acts very subtly in our body. It would be extremely difficult to prove its effectiveness one way or the other by modern clinical trials. But with over two thousand years of safe and beneficial use, who needs them? The only people who want clinical trials are the drug industry and associated government bureaucrats who stand to lose big financially if American women don't need drugs to take care of problems associated with menstruation.

Incidentally, you may have heard something about the Canadian government requiring a cautionary pregnancy label for danggui products. I have no idea where they obtained the data on which they based their decision, but I suspect it was based on misinformation as well as prejudice against herbal products. First, in laboratory studies, danggui has been shown to have both stimulatory and inhibitory effects on the uterus and other smooth muscles of animals. That should tell you that one can't treat a tonic herb like danggui as if it were a single synthetic chemical. Second, there is no record in the traditional Chinese literature warning against its use in pregnancy. On the contrary, it is well known for its "fetus-calming" properties and is sometimes prescribed along with other herbs to prevent abortion and to treat other pregnancy-associated conditions. My personal opinion is that some bureaucrat had confused lovage with the real danggui because the former is also known in China as "European danggui". Unlike danggui, lovage is not recommended for use during pregnancy.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including danggui, on pages 21-23. For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

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