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Dang Gui

Botanical name: Angelica sinensis
Common name: Angelica root (Chinese)
Literal name translation: state of return

Family: Apiaceae, parsley family
Part used in Chinese medicine:  root

Major Chinese medicine actions:
Nourishes the blood, regulates the menses, mildly
invigorates and harmonizes the blood

Dang Gui

Dang Gui

Dang Gui
Photo Credits: (top to bottom)
Photo 1: Angelica sinensis; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 2: Angelica sinensis; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute
Photo 3: Angelica sinensis; 06/2008; author C. Micleu; permission Jade Institute

Comments:
There is a well-known legend about Dang Gui that illustrates the high value placed on the herb by Chinese culture. The story goes that soon after a young Chinese couple were married, the husband was forced to leave their home and village to prove his courage by going into the mountains, facing danger and wild animals, to collect medicinal herbs. He told his wife to wait for him for 3 years and if he had not returned, that he would probably be lost or dead, and she should re-marry.

He did not come back in 3 years, so she re-married, and then he returned shortly after. Both he and the woman who had been his wife, were heartbroken. She weakened and became chronically sick with grief and sadness, and lost her will to live. The young man left her some of the herbs he had found on the mountainside. She ate them thinking she would commit suicide, but instead she grew stronger and healthy. The wonderful herb that restored her health was named Dang (meaning "should") Gui (meaning "return").

Growing and Propagation

Dang Gui is a large herbaceous perennial, growing 3-4 feet tall. The plants prefer a cool, moist environment with sandy soil rich in organic matter, and are traditionally grown in high mountain regions. They can be difficult to grow from seed, but when propagated and kept well watered, with some special care they can be cultivated in the average garden. Transplanting should be done while the plant is quite small as older plants resent disturbance. Plants will flower within 2-3 years and are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9.

The plants do well being side-dressed with composted manure a few times a year and flower buds are regularly pinched off in order to direct the energy of the plant back to its roots. Angelica will often die after flowering unless the flowers are removed before setting seed. Plants should be kept well watered until the last two months before harvest. At this time they are not watered at all in order to prevent the roots from becoming soft or decomposed.

Harvesting and Preparation

Roots are harvested in the fall after the 2nd or 3rd year of growth. For medicinal use, the thick, long main root is used with the best quality being firm, with a yellowish brown soft outer bark and a yellow-white cross section. When harvesting, extreme care is taken when handling the roots to avoid bruising, and to keep them dry as moisture easily causes them to decompose or blacken. The dirt is shaken off the roots, but not washed off with water, and if dried in the sun, they are turned frequently so as to prevent hardening of the outer bark.

For alcohol processed Dang Gui, the sliced root is sprinkled with one part rice wine to 10 parts herb, then covered with a damp cloth and slowly heated under a light fire.

Standard Medicinal Species:
Angelica sinensis

Acceptable Alternate Species:
Angelica acutiloba

 

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