I had the good fortune to try a new herb this week, dried Codonopsis root. It has an affect similar to the herb ginseng, but it is less hot and less strong. It’s considered better than ginseng for women and during hot weather, too, when you don’t want quite so hot and strong an effect (Imbalancing with herbs can be a bad idea. Hot + hot = too hot)
History of Dried Codonopsis Root:
You may not have heard of this herbal medicine – I never had before I attended herbal medicine school in Boulder. The official name is Codonopsis pilosula or Dang Shen in Chinese herbal medicine.* (Beware, there seem to be multiple herbs with a similar-sounding Chinese name.) This herb grows in northeastern China, and is part of the Traditional Chinese medicine (called TCM).
Herbal Properties of Dried Codonopsis Root:
It is supposed to have these properties: It’s warming, slightly stimulating, increases energy similar (but weaker) than coffee, and “helps the body adapt to stress.”* This is called an adaptogenic herb. It’s taken for weak digestion, vomiting, diarrhea, breathing issues (asthma, mucus), general fatigue, and more. It has a shorter affect on the body than ginseng.
Chinese nursing moms take it to increase milk supply, as well as help their own health be stronger. This may be true, as lab tests showed that it increased red blood cells.
How to Prepare:
Because it is a root herb (i.e. hard) it is prepared through a decoction method, which means slow simmering instead of a tea method (called infusions). This root is not as hard as others; it can be squished a little. It feels spongy, and looks brown.
Seven to twenty grams of the root herb is added to 2 cups of water in a pot. Then the mixture is brought just below a simmer, and kept there for 40 minutes. After that, strain out the solids, and drink the liquid. The dose is half a cup per day.
When simmering, Codonopsis smells like warm bark and sweet, similar to another herb called Astragalus root.
Taste Test: What is Codonopsis Like?
The first taste is very sweet with a mild lemon flavor or sourness to the end note. It’s sweetness reminds me of Eastern spices like cinnamon.
Bodily Affects of Codonopsis:
After having some, I didn’t feel like my energy was being pushed, like I would with coffee and caffeine. (On coffee, I sometimes feel like my heart is outside my chest, in front of it, pounding there.) I just woke up a bit more, and got my work done in a gentle way. Before that I was falling asleep, probably because I also needed some more food just before lunchtime.
I stopped drinking it by 1:30pm in the afternoon. Some adaptogens can cause insomnia later in the evening, especially if taken too close to bedtime, or even afternoon, sometimes. I was able to fall asleep, and stay asleep, with no problems.
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* Andrew Chevallier, Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, DK Press, 2000