For centuries dong quai, otherwise known as Chinese angelica, has been used by women in Asia to regulate their menstrual cycle, alleviate cramps, reduce complaints of menopause and maintain reproductive health. It is now growing in popularity in the Western world as well.
Dong quai contains natural chemicals called coumarins, which dilate blood vessels. This is thought to increase the blood flow to the uterus, reduce swelling and control muscle spasms. The herb also contains phytoestrogens, so it may combat symptoms of PMS, soothe menstrual cramps, reduce hot flashes and decrease vaginal dryness that often accompanies menopause. Rich in vitamin B12, dong quai also lowers blood pressure, builds red blood cells and inhibits platelet clumping, thereby offering some protection against heart disease.
There is much debate over the efficacy of dong quai, and a recent study concluded that the herb was only on par with a placebo in terms of being an effective remedy for uncomfortable menopause. However, in Asian medicine dong quai is often used in conjunction with other herbs, so perhaps this study should be re-approached before dismissing the therapeutic value of the herb altogether.