Dong quai is a Chinese herb derived from the root of Angelica sinensis or Angelica plymorpha maxim. A staple of eastern medicinal practice for thousands of years, dong quai has been used in the treatment of female disorders such as menstrual cramps, premenstrual syndrome, and to relieve symptoms associated with menopause.
Angelica sinensis is also an important flavoring agent used in liqueurs such as Chartreuse and Benedictine, and with juniper berries is used in flavoring gin.
Modern herbalists commonly recommend dong quai as a uterine tonic to treat irregular menstrual flow and weakness during menstrual periods. As an antispasmodic it is considered a remedy for menstrual cramps and nervousness. It is also said to purify the blood and act as a mild laxative.
Researchers have identified several coumarin derivatives that are known to act as antispasmodics and vasodilators. Dong quai’s key ingredients include Ligustilide, butylene phthalide and butyl phthalide found in the aromatic oil. Ferulic acid and various polysaccharides are found in the non-aromatic fractions. Research suggests that both ferulic acid and ligustilide are responsible for preventing spasms, relaxing blood vessels and reducing blood clotting in peripheral vessels.
Dong quai also contains compounds that act to stimulate the central nervous system, supporting its use as a mild energizer. Certain people may experience a form of dermatitis caused by compounds that promote photosensitivity. Pregnant women, and women with excessive menstrual flow should avoid using this herb altogether.