Discovering Dong Quai: History, Health Benefits, Uses, and Side Effects

Published on April 29, 2023

By Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell

Lisa Stockwell has worked as a copywriter, writer, author, and editor for 35 years, specializing in the field of healthcare since 2009. She recognized the need for reliable health information while supporting friends through unique health challenges and refocused her career to bring clarity and compassion to healthcare communications. Lisa is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley and a lifelong Northern Californian.

The empress of herbs. Female ginseng. Sovereign herb for women. 

Dong Quai has earned some illustrious names over its two-thousand-year history in Chinese medicine, supporting women’s reproductive health and numerous other health conditions. 

Also known by its botanical name, Angelica sinensis, Dong Quai is a member of the Apiaceae plant family, which includes carrots and parsley. While it’s shown promising results in experiments and animal studies in China, there have been few studies to confirm its benefits, safety and efficacy in humans. 

However, with its exalted status in the East and anecdotal evidence of health benefits, it’s an herb worth knowing about — and maybe even trying for yourself. As more research into its medicinal properties continues, we may discover how this ancient herb can help us lead healthier lives.

What is Dong Quai?

Dong Quai (dang gui in Chinese) is native to China but is also found in Korea and Japan. It grows in damp fertile soil at elevations up to 10,000 feet. Above ground, the plant has purple stems, up to six feet tall, that hold disc-shaped umbels of tiny white flowers. Once mature, the plant’s root is harvested and dried as an herbal supplement. 

The history of Dong Quai dates back to the first century AD when it was described in Shennong Ben Cao Jing (the Classic of the Materia Medica), an ancient Chinese book on farming and medicinal plants). In this book, Dong Quai was listed as one of the 50 fundamental herbs for treating various illnesses. 

In traditional Chinese medicine, Dong Quai is classified as one of the “tonic herbs for blood deficiency” because of its potential to nourish the blood and promote healthy blood circulation. It is used most often in combination with other herbs to treat irregular menstruation, absence of menstruation, and menstrual cramps. It is also prescribed by Chinese herbalists to relieve symptoms of anemia, arthritis, and constipation.

The use of Dong Quai is not limited to Chinese medicine. It can be found in other traditional healing systems, such as Ayurveda and Unani-Tibb (an Arabic system). Additionally, it has been used in Western herbal remedies since the early 19th century. Today, its popularity continues to grow due to its many potential health benefits and ease of availability.

How Is Dong Quai Root Taken?

In both traditional Chinese medicine and Western herbology, Dong Quai is usually taken as a decoction (a type of tea) or tincture (an extract that is mixed with alcohol). In Chinese medicine, it can be used on its own or mixed with other herbs to create a custom herbal remedy tailored to individual needs. 

In the West, it can be taken orally in capsule form or applied topically as an oil or cream. In addition, there are several products containing Dong Quai extract available on the market for those who want to supplement their diet with this powerful herb.

Since no safety studies have confirmed appropriate dosages, it's important to follow the recommended dosage instructions on your supplement label and consult with a healthcare provider before starting a new supplement regimen.

Potential Benefits of Dong Quai Root

As noted, there is limited scientific evidence of the effectiveness of Dong Quai in treating specific health conditions. Most research is limited to animal studies, and many of those studies are done with Dong Quai in combination with other herbs.

However, research has shown that the root of the Dong Quai plant contains many active compounds, including polysaccharides, organic acids and their esters, and phthalides that are thought to be responsible for some of its therapeutic effects.REF#1343

Dong Quai May Help Support Women’s Reproductive Health

Most commonly, Dong Quai is regarded as a powerful medicinal herb for women’s health, helping relieve menstrual and menopausal symptoms, regulate hormones, and reduce symptoms associated with hormonal imbalances.* It may reduce PMS symptoms such as bloating, cramping, and depression and menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, irritability, insomnia, fatigue, joint pain, and muscle aches.*

Animal studies have indicated that the compounds in Dong Quai promote healthy blood circulation and provide both a stimulating and relaxing effect on the uterus, which may help support normal menstrual flow and relieve pain associated with menstruation.* While some literature suggests that Dong Quai may help regulate the female hormone system, no human studies have confirmed that effect. 

In one placebo-controlled experiment with a small group of women, a blend of Dong Quai and Matricaria chamomilla (Chamomile) was found to significantly reduce hot flashes in menopausal women.REF#1344

Other Health Conditions Dong Quai May Support

Research suggests that Dong Quai may promote a balanced inflammatory response and help relieve:

  • Joint discomfort *
  • Occasional digestive problems such as constipation or diarrhea*
  • Dry skin *
  • Stress related headaches .*

In one experiment, the antioxidant, ferulic acid, showed promise in supporting the health of joints.REF#1345

 In another, Dong Quai polysaccharides were identified as having protective effects.REF#1346 More research is required to determine if this root could be an effective treatment for this painful and debilitating condition.

There is ongoing research to determine if Dong Quai’s antioxidative properties make it a potential agent in the fight against cancer. Studies have shown it to help relieve the damage caused by oxidative stress following chemotherapy and radiation as well as relieve damage done by radiation for pulmonary fibrosis.REF#1347 A 2019 study experiment with mice suggested its polysaccharides may support the suppression of tumors.REF#1348

Until human studies can corroborate these benefits and define dosages, it’s premature to recommend Dong Quai for these purposes.

Common Side Effects, Risks, and Drug Interactions of Dong Quai

Although it is generally safe to use Dong Quai in the short term, it's important to note that it should be used with caution. It may cause some unwanted side effects such as bloat, nausea, diarrhea, sensitivity to light, and skin irritation. 

Because of its potential to affect blood flow and act like estrogen, if you have or have had any of the following conditions, you should not use Dong Quai until you’ve discussed it with your healthcare provider. 

  • Hormone-sensitive cancer (breast, ovary, uterus, prostate)
  • History of endometriosis or uterine fibroids
  • Blood clotting disorder
  • Surgery scheduled within two weeks

While Dong Quai supplements have potential benefits, they may interact with other medications or supplements or interfere with their effectiveness and should be used with caution. If you are taking medications or have a history of chronic illness, you should discuss the possible risks with your healthcare provider. Avoid using Dong Quai if you use:

  • Blood thinners (anticoagulants and antiplatelets): Dong quai may increase the risk of bleeding and bruising or interact with blood thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) and herbal supplements with blood-thinning effects
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen increase your risk of bleeding and shouldn’t be taken with Dong Quai.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should not use Dong Quai since its safety has not been established.

Other Herbal Options for Women’s Reproductive Health

While more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and uses for Dong Quai, the scientific studies suggest it may be a useful supplement for managing menstrual pain and cramps and regulating menstrual cycles.

If you are looking for herbal supplements with more research behind them, consider one of Gaia Herbs’ high-quality supplements. 

  • Vitex Berry: An herb extract to relieve symptoms of PMS and menopause and provide fertility support.*
  • Black Cohash: Support for menopause that helps maintain hormonal balance and deal with hot flashes.*
  • Women’s Balance: A blend of Vitex, Black Cohosh, St. John’s Wort, and Oats to balance hormones and help improve your physical and emotional health.*
  • Fertility Support: A blend of Chaste Tree, Ginger Root, and Cramp Bark that promotes healthy hormone levels and support a normal menstrual cycle.* 
  • Nighttime Comfort: An herbal blend of Black Cohosh, Mimosa, Passionflower, and St. John’s Wort that helps balance hormones so you can sleep well at night, naturally..

Knowing the best supplements to maintain good health and vitality at your stage of life can be hard. Gaia Herbs makes the job easier. Check out our Matchmaker Quiz to discover the right mix for your needs and goals.


  • 1. Shaoqing Zhu et al, "UHPLC-TQ-MS Coupled with Multivariate Statistical Analysis to Characterize Nucleosides, Nucleobases and Amino Acids in Angelicae Sinensis Radix Obtained by Different Drying Methods", Molecules, June 2017.
  • 2. C Kupfersztain et al.,, "The immediate effect of natural plant extract, Angelica sinensis and Matricaria chamomilla (Climex) for the treatment of hot flushes during menopause. A preliminary report", PubMed, 2003.
  • 3. M P Chen et al, "The chondroprotective effects of ferulic acid on hydrogen peroxide-stimulated chondrocytes: inhibition of hydrogen peroxide-induced pro-inflammatory cytokines and metalloproteinase gene expression at the mRNA level", Inflammation Research: the Official Journal of the European Histamine Research Society, August 2010.
  • 4. Yinxian Wen et al, "Angelica Sinensis polysaccharides stimulated UDP-sugar synthase genes through promoting gene expression of IGF-1 and IGF1R in chondrocytes: promoting anti-osteoarthritic activity", PubMed, September 2014.
  • 5. , "Angelica Sinensis", Science Direct.
  • 6. Peng Shang et al,, "Experimental study of anti-tumor effects of polysaccharides from Angelica sinensis", World Journal of Gastroenterology, September 2003.