Codonopsis (dang shen)

What is codonopsis? What is it used for?

Codonopsis is a fast-growing vine that blooms during the summer and fall.

The chief chemical components of codonopsis include saccharides such as fructose and inulin. It also contains glycosides (such as syringin and tangshenoside I), alkaloids (such as choline and perlolyrine), and 17 kinds of amino acids and micro-elements.

Codonopsis is known as the "poor man's ginseng." In ancient China, codonopsis was used along with ginseng to create a tonic that helped replenish one's qi. In more modern times, it is often used to strengthen the immune system, invigorate the spleen, and treat a variety of disorders, including high blood pressure, lack of appetite, diabetes, memory loss and insomnia. Some researchers theorize that codonopsis may benefit patients undergoing AIDS treatment or chemotherapy, as it reduces the side-effects of toxic drugs by increasing red and white blood cell counts.

How much codonopsis should I take?

Most practitioners recommend a codonopsis decoction between 3-9 grams depending on the condition being treated. Other conditions may require dosages as high as 30 grams per day.

What forms of codonopsis are available?

Codonopsis is available in liquid tonic; powder; capsule; and tablet forms.

What can happen if I take too much codonopsis? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

There is anecdotal research suggesting that codonopsis (when taken with other herbs and botanicals such as licorice and bupleurum) may interact with levels of interferon, especially in patients with liver problems. Patients with liver problems should consult with a qualified health practitioner before taking codonopsis supplements.


  • Chen S, Zhou Z, Sun S, et al. The effect of codonopsis pilosula (Franch.) Nannf. on gastric acid, serum gastrin and plasma somatostatin concentration in dogs. Zhongguo Zhong Yao Za Zhi May 1998;23(5):299-301, 320.
  • Grey-Wilson C. A survey of the genus codonopsis. Plantsman 1990;12(2):65-99.
  • Chinese Materia Medica (Zhong Hua Ben Cao). Shanghai Science & Technology Publishing House, 1996, pp.1825-1836.
  • Wang, Xu. Two new species of codonopsis from China. Acta Phytotax Sin 1993;31(2):184-7.
  • Wang ZT, et al. Immunomodulatory effect of a polysaccharide-enriched preparation of codonopsis pilosula roots. Gen Pharmacol Dec 1996;27(8):1347-50.