CODONOPSIS (Campanulaceae Family): "Poor Man's Ginseng"

By Steph Zabel,
Herbalist, Ethnobotanist and Educator

Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula) is a sweet, nourishing root that comes to us from China where it is known as Dang Shen. You may also hear it called “Poor Man’s Ginseng” as it is often used as a substitute for the rarer, more expensive true ginseng, to which it has similar properties.

This plant is native to East Asia where it can be found growing wild, but it is also commonly cultivated for medicinal use. Once the roots are three years old, they are harvested. In Asia they are not only used for their healing properties, but also as a food; the tasty roots are used as in ingredient in soups and other dishes.

Codonopsis is becoming increasingly popular in western herbalism, where it is considered to be an adaptogenic herb. An adaptogen is a plant that helps an individual be more resistant to stress and also supports the adrenal and immune systems. In Traditional Chinese medicine it is known as a yin tonic, because it supports and nourishes the yin energy of the body through its sweet, cooling and moistening properties.

 Photo by Doronenko via WikiCommons

Photo by Doronenko via WikiCommons

As mentioned above this nourishing root is often used as a replacement for ginseng as a chi tonic — it gently increases one’s innate energy. It can be particularly healing for the spleen, blood, lungs, stomach and pancreas. Traditionally used for low energy, poor appetite, and debility after illness, codonopsis helps increase resistance to stress and builds strength in the body. It is often used in herbal blends for anyone who is low-energy and depleted, such as in cases of long-term disease, substantial blood loss, or after childbirth.

It is a wonderful remedy for anemic people to help them build up and nourish their blood. Research has shown that it increases hemoglobin and red blood cell levels, and lowers the blood pressure. If someone is showing signs of paleness, dizziness, fatigue and constant low-energy, think of supplementing with codonopsis root.

 Photo by Badagnani via WikiCommons

Photo by Badagnani via WikiCommons

In Asia it is traditionally used for asthma, shortness of breath and deficiency in the lungs.  As an immune tonic it is also excellent for people who tend to come down with every cold that goes around, and especially for issues that settle in the lungs. Codonopsis is an expectorant herb that can help to expel excess mucous, while also having the amazing ability to also soothe irritated mucous membranes.

Finally, codonopsis can be a wonderful herb for children, who may naturally be drawn to its sweet and grounding taste.  As a nourishing tonic herb, it is safe for people of all ages and constitutions to use.

HOW TO USE:

Add a few pieces of the root into the pot while cooking rice, or into soups/broths. The dried or fresh root can also be nibbled on its own.

To make a decoction, add 1 tbsp. of the dried root to 2 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Let simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, then strain and drink.

 Photo by Steph Zabel

Photo by Steph Zabel

RECIPE: Sweet Root & Berry Tea

This is a perfectly nourishing, grounding and earthy-sweet tea. I hope this simple trio of berries and roots will warm your heart and spirit over the winter months.

Blend together:

3 Tblsp. codonopsis root
4 Tblsp. hawthorn berries (link to hawthorn article)
1 Tblsp. burdock root (link to burdock article)

Once blended, this will make enough for 3-4 servings.

To make a single serving, place 2 heaping tablespoons of this mixture in 1.5 cups of water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain and drink.

REFERENCES:

Living Naturally
ITM Online

NIH.gov

Steph Zabel, MSc, is an herbalist and educator who helps urban dwellers connect with the plant world.  She teaches herbal classes, is available for individual wellness consultations, and is also the founder of HERBSTALK, Boston’s community herbal conference.  Learn more about her work at: www.flowerfolkherbs.com and www.herbstalk.org.


This blog series — Herbs and Botanicals— is for general health information only. This Web site is not to be used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any health condition or problem. Users of this Web site should not rely on information provided on this Web site for their own health problems. Any questions regarding your own health should be addressed to your own physician or other healthcare provider.