Flowers of Codonopsis, Dang Shen (Chinese) - Codonopsis Pilosula (Campanulaceae)

Medicinal Use of Codonopsis, Dang Shen (Chinese) – Codonopsis Pilosula (Campanulaceae)

Codonopsis has a central place in Chinese herbal medicine as a gentle tonic that increases energy levels, improves physical and mental well-being, and helps the body adapt to stress. Codonopsis is an adaptogen similar in action to ginseng (Panax ginseng) but with a milder and shorter-lasting effect. It is given to those who find ginseng too strong a tonic, and is used interchangeably with ginseng in Chinese herbal formulas.

Habitat & Cultivation

Codonopsis is native to northeastern China and grows throughout much of the region, especially in the Shanxi and Szechuan provinces. It is propagated from seed in spring or autumn. The root is harvested in autumn once the aerial parts have died down.

Key Constituents

  • Sterols
  • Alkaloids
  • Terpenes
  • Polysaccharides
  • Alkanes

Key Actions

  • Adaptogen
  • Tonic
  • Anti-anemic


Blood remedy: Laboratory experiments have demonstrated that codonopsis increases hemoglobin and red blood cell levels, and lowers blood pressure.

Stamina: Other research has confirmed the ability of codonopsis to help increase endurance to stress and to maintain alertness.

Traditional & Current Uses

Tonic herb: In Chinese herbal medicine, codonopsis is considered to tone the qi, lungs, and spleen. It improves vitality and helps to balance metabolic function. It is a gentle tonic remedy that helps to revive the system as a whole.

Primary uses Codonopsis is taken in particular for tired limbs, general fatigue, and for digestive problems such as appetite loss, vomiting, and diarrhea. It is thought to nourish the yin of the stomach without making it too “wet,” and at the same time to tone the spleen without making it too “dry.” It is beneficial in any chronic illness where “spleen qi deficiency” is a contributory factor.

False fire: Perhaps most interestingly, codonopsis is given as a tonic to people who are stressed and have “false fire” symptoms, including tense neck muscles, headaches, irritability, and high blood pressure. Such symptoms can be aggravated by stronger adaptogens such as ginseng (Panax ginseng), while codonopsis is also more effective in helping to reduce adrenaline levels and associated stress.

Breastfeeding tonic: The herb is taken regularly by nursing mothers in China to increase milk production and as a tonic to “build strong blood.”

Respiratory problems: Codonopsis clears excessive mucus from the lungs, and is useful for respiratory problems including shortness of breath and asthma.