English: Red sage roots

Chinese: 丹参

Parts used: Dried root and rhizome

TCM category: Herbs that invigorate the Blood

TCM nature: Cool

TCM taste(s): Bitter

Organ affinity: Heart Liver

Scientific name: Salvia miltiorrhiza

Other names: Chinese sage, Tan shen

Use of Dan Shen (red sage roots) in TCM

Please note that you should never self-prescribe TCM ingredients. A TCM ingredient is almost never eaten on its own but as part of a formula containing several ingredients that act together. Please consult a professional TCM practitioner, they will be best able to guide you.

Preparation: Remove impurities and smaller stems, wash, cut in thick slices and dry

Dosage: 3 - 12 grams

Main actions according to TCM*: Invigorates the Blood, breaks up Stasis and eases pain. Clears Heat and calms restlessness.

Primary conditions or symptoms for which Dan Shen may be prescribed by TCM doctors*: Irregular menstruation Amenorrhea Dysmenorrhea Chest pain Rheumatoid arthritis Hepatosplenomegaly Angina Restlessness Insomnia

Contraindications*: Do not use if there is no Blood Stasis. It should not be used in conjunction with Radix Veratri.

Common TCM formulas in which Dan Shen is used*

Dan Shen Yin

Source date: 1801 AD

Number of ingredients: 3 herbs

Formula key actions: Invigorates the Blood and removes Blood Stagnation . Promote Qi movement . Relieves pain .

Conditions targeted*: Angina pectorisHepatitis and others

Dan Shen is a king ingredient in Dan Shen Yin. Like the name indicates, it means it has more power than other ingredients in the formula.

In Dan Shen Yin, Dan Shen bitter and slightly cold. It can be used in a large dosage without injuring the Qi and Blood.

It serves as the key herb to invigorate the Blood, transform Blood Stagnation, and alleviate pain. 

Read more about Dan Shen Yin

Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Source date: 16th century

Number of ingredients: 14 herbs

Formula key actions: Nutritive tonic: Nourishes Yin, Blood and Vital Essence of the Heart and Kidney. Clears away pathogenic Heat, clears Deficient Heat. Sedative.

Conditions targeted*: Perimenopausal syndromeChronic urticaria and others

Dan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan, Dan Shen works together with Dong Quai (Dang Gui), another assistant in this formula, to tonify the Blood in order to nourish the Heart without causing Blood stagnation.

Read more about Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan

Sheng Tie Luo Yin

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 15 herbs

Formula key actions: Sedates the Heart . Clears Phlegm. Clears Fire. Calms the Mind.

Conditions targeted*: EpilepsyBi-Polar disorder and others

Dan Shen is a deputy ingredient in Sheng Tie Luo Yin. This means it helps the king ingredient(s) treat the main pattern or it serves to treat a coexisting pattern.

In Sheng Tie Luo Yin, Dan Shen is bitter and slightly cooling. It clears the Blood Heat and prevents Blood Stagnation

Read more about Sheng Tie Luo Yin

Qing Ying Tang

Source date: 1798 AD

Number of ingredients: 9 herbs

Formula key actions: Clears the Nutritive level Heat. Relieves Fire Toxin. Removes Heat. Nourishes Yin.

Conditions targeted*: Encephalitis BMeningitis and others

Dan Shen is an assistant ingredient in Qing Ying Tang. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Qing Ying Tang, Dan Shen invigorates Blood and prevents Blood Stagnation, which can happen for 2 reasons: First of all, this formula's ingredients are cold with cooling action, which can slow down Blood flow. Secondly, Body Fluids is injured if there are Heat in the Blood

Read more about Qing Ying Tang

Qi Ge San

Source date: 1732 AD

Number of ingredients: 8 herbs

Formula key actions: Regulates Qi and removes Stagnation. Moistens Dryness. Transforms Phlegm.

Conditions targeted*: EsophagitisEsophageal diverticulum and others

Dan Shen is an assistant ingredient in Qi Ge San. This means that it either serves to reinforces the effect of other ingredients or it moderates their toxicity.

In Qi Ge San, Dan Shen invigorates the Blood, eliminates Stagnation, and thereby assists the dispersion of clumping that has penetrated to the Blood aspect. 

Together, all the assistant herbs effectively facilitate the
downward-directing of turbid Phlegm and support the ascent of the clear Yang to unblock the Qi dynamic and eliminate Excess Pernicious Factors without causing further Dryness.

Read more about Qi Ge San

Key TCM concepts behind Dan Shen's properties

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Dan Shen belongs to the 'Herbs that invigorate the Blood' category. Like the name indicates these herbs tend to stimulate the Blood flow. In TCM they're used to help the circulation of Blood in cardiovascular conditions or menstrual irregularities as well as to treat acute pains caused by Blood Stagnation. They can also be used to treat Blood Stagnation when it causes certain tumors, cysts and hardened clots.

Furthermore Dan Shen is Cool in nature. This means that Dan Shen tends to help people who have too much 'Heat' in their body, although with less effect than a plant that would be Cold in nature. Balance between Yin and Yang is a key health concept in TCM. Those who have too much Heat in their body are said to either have a Yang Excess (because Yang is Hot in nature) or a Yin deficiency (Yin is Cold in Nature). Depending on your condition Dan Shen can help restore a harmonious balance between Yin and Yang.

Dan Shen also tastes Bitter. The so-called 'Five Phases' theory in Chinese Medicine states that the taste of TCM ingredients is a key determinant of their action in the body. Bitter ingredients like Dan Shen tends to have a cleansing action on the body by clearing Heat, drying Dampness and promoting elimination via urination or bowel movements.

The tastes of ingredients in TCM also determine what Organs and Meridians they target. As such Dan Shen is thought to target the Heart and the Liver. In addition to regulating Blood flow, in TCM the Heart is believed to be the store of the 'Mind' which basically refers to someone's vitality. The Liver on the other hand is often referred as the body's "general" because it is in charge of regulating the movements of Qi and the Body Fluids. It also takes a leading role in balancing our emotions.

Research on Dan Shen

60 eligible randomized controlled trials indicate that Danshen dripping pill is apparently more effective than isosorbide dinitrate in treating angina pectoris.1

Administration of Danshen Chuanxiongqin Injection before percutaneous coronary intervention could effectively inhibit the activation of platelets, improve post-operative myocardial blood perfusion, and lower the incidence of the myocardial damage.2

Salvia miltiorrhiza hydrophilic extract has a potential protective effect on the development of diabetic cardiovascular disease.3

Fufang Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) extract reduced systolic blood pressure and pulse rate, and was well tolerated in patients with hypertension.4

Sources:

1. Jia Y, Huang F, Zhang S, Leung SW. (2012). Is danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) dripping pill more effective than isosorbide dinitrate in treating angina pectoris? A systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Int J Cardiol. , 157(3):330-40. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2010.12.073. Epub 2011 Jan 19.

2. Wang R, Han QH, Jia YP. (2011). Effect of danshen chuanxiongqin injection on the myocardial damage of unstable angina patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. Zhongguo Zhong Xi Yi Jie He Za Zhi. , 31(7):899-902.

3. Qian S, Wang S, Fan P, Huo D, Dai L, Qian Q. (2012). Effect of Salvia miltiorrhiza hydrophilic extract on the endothelial biomarkers in diabetic patients with chronic artery disease. Phytother Res. , 26(10):1575-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.4611. Epub 2012 Feb 8.

4. Yang TY, Wei JC, Lee MY, Chen CM, Ueng KC. (2012). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of Fufang Danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza) as add-on antihypertensive therapy in Taiwanese patients with uncontrolled hypertension. Phytother Res. , 26(2):291-8. doi: 10.1002/ptr.3548. Epub 2011 Sep 2.