Codonopsis Summary:

Codonopsis is considered "poor mans ginseng" for its low cost and similar action to the Chinese superstar herb. Although very similar, codonopsis is more specific to the blood. It has a cooling action in terms of the Traditional Chinese medicine in which is has become popularized. 

Interestingly, the Chinese medical evaluation of codonopsis suggests its action on the blood works through the liver. In modern medical science this has been backed up with evidence showing codonopsis can actually reduce and even reverse alcoholic and diabetic induced fatty liver disease. It also reduces cholesterol levels by limiting its production in the liver. 

The effects codonopsis has on the blood can also be traced back to the effects it has on the liver, especially as a preventative treatment for cardiovascular disease and metabolic disorders. 

The main uses for codonopsis include fatigue, coronary artery disease, anaemic conditions, fatty liver, high cholesterol, and as an adjuvant treatment for cancer. It is used mainly as a tonic herb, taken on a daily basis, with other herbs, for a long period of time. 


Botanical Name

Codonopsis pilosula
Codonopsis lanceolata
Codonopsis tangshen?


Former: Compositeae

Part Used


Herbal Actions:

  • Adaptogen
  • Hypotensive
  • Nootropic
  • Hypocholesterolemic
  • Cardiotonic
  • Nourishing Tonic


Liquid Extract (1:2)

4.5-8 mL/day

Recommended Source

+ Indications

  • Adjuvant therapy for cancer
  • Anemia
  • Anorexia
  • Cancer (Adjuvant treatment)
  • Chronic cough
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Fatty liver (alcoholic) [6]
  • High cholesterol
  • Loss of appetite
  • Psychoneurosis
  • Shortness of breath
  • To improve blood cell production and hemoglobin concentration

+ Contraindications

None noted.


Common Names:


Poor Mans Ginseng

Dang Shen (China)

Bell Bonnet Flower (Lanceolata)

Tojin (Japan)


Traditional Uses:

+ Traditional Chinese Medicine

Codonopsis is considered "poor mans ginseng" in parts of Asia where it is used as a substitute for ginseng. Although the actions are similar, Panax ginseng has differrent chemistry than codonopsis, and codonopsis does not contain triterpene saponins [1].

Codonopsis was traditionally used for chronic coughs, fatigue, tired limbs, to reinforce qi, diarrhea, vomiting, lack of appetite, tuburculosis, psychoneurosis, dyspepsia, and prolaps of the uterus, stomach, or anus. [1, 11-13].


Sweet [8]


Neutral [8]


Spleen, lung [8]


Harmonizes and tonifies Qi, raises Qi, harmonizes and tonifies spleen and stomach, generates fluids [8].


Use with caution during pregnancy [8].


3-15g (Standard is 8g) decocted 20 min [8].


Damp heat, ascending liver-yang [8].


Codonopsis is a popular qi tonic, used to invigorate spleen and lung infections by restoring qi. It promotes the production of body fluids, and is useful as a blood and immune system tonic. [9].


    Botanical Description:

    Codonopsis contains 42 species, several of which are used medicinally. [10]. 


    Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

    Still compiling research. 


    Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

    Codonopsis pilosa is the preferred species, however, Codonopsis tangshen is also common. The chemical marker that differentiates the two was shown to be  the compound codonopyrrolidum A [4]. 



    Despite similar uses as Panax ginseng, Codonopsis has a different chemical profile and doesn't contain triterpenoid saponins. 

    Essential oils, mucilage, polysaccharides, resin, saponins. 


    Pharmacology and Medical Research:

    + Fatty Liver Disease

    Codonopsis lanceolata was shown to normalise alcohol induced gene expression profile implicated in free fatty acid synthesis (LXR-alpha, and SREBP-1c). It was also found to reduce hepatic cholesterol through the down regulation of both HMGR and LDLR gene expression. Additionally, it was found to improve the phosphorylation of crucial hepatic proteins (AMPK-alpha, and ACC). [6]. This suggests codonopsis as a useful agent in alcoholic fatty liver, general liver tonic, and perhaps metabolic disease related fatty liver disorder.

    + Immune Stimulant

    Codonopsis has been shown to produce a mild stimulating effect on the lymphocytes in vitro [14]. It was also shown to increase phagocytic activity of the peritoneal macrophages and increase red blood cell production [15].



    Still compiling research.



    None reported



    Still compiling research



    Justin cooke

    The Sunlight Experiment

    Updated: April 2018

    Recent Blog Posts:


    1. Bone, K. (2003). A clinical guide to blending liquid herbs: Herbal formulations for the individual patient. Edinburgh [u.a., MO: Churchill Livingstone.
    2. Wang ZT, Du Q, Xu GJ, Wang RJ, Fu DZ, Ng TB. 1997. Investigations on the protective action of Condonopsis pilosula (Dangshen) extract on experimentally-induced gastric ulcer in rats. Gen Pharmacol. 28:469–473.
    3. Singh B, Song H, Liu XD, Hardy M, Liu GZ, Vinjamury SP, Martirosian CD. 2004. Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula) and Bai guo (Gingko biloba) enhance learning and memory. Alternate Ther Health Med. 10:52–56.
    4. Lin L.-C., Tsai T.-H., & Kuo C.-L. (2013). Chemical constituents comparison of Codonopsis tangshen Codonopsis pilosula var. modesta and Codonopsis pilosula. Natural Product Research, 27(19), 1812-1815. doi:10.1080/14786419.2013.778849
    5. Han, E. G., Sung, I. S., Moon, H. G., & Cho, S. Y. (1998). Effect of Codonopsis lanceolata water extract on the levels of lipid in rats fed high fat diet. Journal of the Korean Society of Food Science and Nutrition.
    6. Cho K, Kim SJ, Park SH, Kim S, & Park T. (2009). Protective effect of Codonopsis lanceolata root extract against alcoholic fatty liver in the rat. Journal Of Medicinal Food, 12(6), 1293-301. doi:10.1089/jmf.2009.0085
    7. Singh B, Song H, Liu XD, Hardy M, Liu GZ, Vinjamury SP, & Martirosian CD. (2004). Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula) and Bai guo (Gingko biloba) enhance learning and memory. Alternative Therapies In Health And Medicine, 10(4), 52-6.
    8. Hempen, C. H., & Fischer, T. (2009). A Materia Medica for Chinese Medicine: Plants, Minerals, and Animal Products. (Pg. 710-711). 
    9. Teeguarden, R. (2000). The ancient wisdom of the Chinese tonic herbs. New York, NY: Warner Books. (Pg. 157-158). 
    10. Jing-Yu He, Na Ma, & Shu Zhu. (2015). The genus Codonopsis (Campanulaceae) : a review of phytochemistry, bioactivity and quality control. Journal Of Natural Medicines / Japanese Society Of Pharmacognosy, 69(1), 1-21.
    11. Wang ZT, Ma GY, Tu PF, Xu GJ, Ng TB (1995) Chemotaxonomic study of Codonopsis (family Campanulaceae) and its related genera. Biochem Syst Ecol 23:809–812
    12. Lee KT, Choi J, Jung WT, Nam JH, Jung HJ, Park HJ (2002) Structure of a new echinocystic acid bisdesmoside isolated from Codonopsis lanceolata roots and the cytotoxic activity of prosapogenins. J Agric Food Chem 50:4190–4193
    13. Ichikawa M, Ohta S, Komoto N, Ushijima M, Kodera Y, Hayama M, Shirota O, Sekita S, Kuroyanagi M (2009) Simultaneous determination of seven saponins in the roots of Codonopsis lanceolata by liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. J Nat Med 63:52–57
    14. Shan, B. E., Yoshida, Y., Sugiura, T., & Yamashita, U. (1999). Stimulating activity of Chinese medicinal herbs on human lymphocytes in vitro. International journal of immunopharmacology, 21(3), 149-159.
    15. Chang, H. M., & But, P. P. H. (1987). Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Materia Medica: (Volume I).
    16. Hong, D. Y. (2015). A Monograph of Codonopsis and Allied Genera (Campanulaceae). Academic Press.