Codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosa)


Codonopsis Summary

Codonopsis is a common herb in traditional Chinese medicine — where it's better known as Dang Shen. It's used as a nourishing tonic for reinforcing qi.

It's used for many of the same conditions as ginseng despite having a vastly different chemical makeup. Many refer to it as "poor man's ginseng" due to the similarity in effects and much lower cost.

Codonopsis has a particularly impressive effect on the blood, which is likely the mechanism behind the traditional uses for poor "Qi".

These conditions could be thought of in conventional terms as dysfunctional red and white blood cell production.

It's been shown to increase lymphocytes (white blood cells), as well as both hemoglobin (concentration) and red blood cell count.


+ Indications

  • 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

Herbal Actions:

  • Adaptogen
  • Hypotensive
  • Nootropic
  • Hypocholesterolemic
  • Cardiotonic
  • Nutritive

How Is Codonopsis Used?

Codonopsis can be used for many of the same conditions Panax ginseng is used for. It's often used as an adaptogen during convalescence, especially when there is a need to stimulate blood cell production. This actions is useful during chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer patients experiencing leukopenia.


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].


Technical Details: Codonopsis

Weekly Dose

Part Used

  • Root

Family Name

  • Campanulaceae


  • Southeast Asia

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Constituents of Interest

  • Saponins
  • Sesquiterpenes
  • Perlolyrin (Alkaloid)
  • Polysaccharides

Common Names

  • Codonopsis
  • Dang Shen (China)
  • Tojin (Japan)
  • Poor Mans Ginseng
  • Bell Bonnet Flower


  • CYP3A4


  • Neutral


  • Adverse reactions not expected.


  • Sweet

Duration of Use

  • May be used long term

Botanical Information

Codonopsis is a member of the Campanulaceae family of plants. This family contains roughly 2400 species, distributed into 84 different genera. South Africa is particularly rich in members from this family. Codonopsis, however, is native to Southeast Asia, and the Eastern edges of Russia.

Codonopsis can be found growing in grass, thickets, or the edges of woods.


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].


Pharmacology & 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].


Clinical Applications Of Codonopsis:

Codonopsis is useful as a cheaper alternative to ginseng fr many of the same conditions. This may include fatigue, poor appetite, shortness of breath, chronic cough, coronary heart disease, and as a supportive therapy for cancer treatment.

It's even more effective than Panax ginseng for stimulating white blood cell production and hemoglobin production.



None reported.



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

Essential oils, mucilage, polysaccharides, resin, saponins.



Justin Cooke, BHSc

The Sunlight Experiment

(Updated November 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.