Codonopsis pilosula is used to boost immune system health, promote mental sharpness and memory and as an "adaptogen," similar to the way ginseng is used in traditional Chinese medicine. In fact, you’ll often see codonopsis referred to as “poor man’s ginseng.” This ginseng substitute, also called dangshen, has other potential benefits. Always consult a doctor before trying a new supplement, especially if you have a health condition.
As with other adaptogens, codonopsis is used to reduce stress and improve your tolerance to stress. An adaptogen is a substance that purportedly helps your body cope better with both physical and mental stress, according to University of Maryland Medical Center. Adaptogens such as ginseng and codonopsis are commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, but according to UMMC, there is no scientific evidence that so-called adaptogens actually work.
Some evidence suggests that codonopsis may reduce inflammation. A study published in the June 2009 “Archives of Pharmacal Research” found that this herb has anti-inflammatory benefits thanks to its saponin content. The study found that codonopsis improves the inflammatory response of some immune system cells and suppresses nitric oxide and tumor necrosis factor. Although study results indicate codonopsis should be considered a promising herbal medicine with strong anti-inflammatory action, more research is needed, notes lead study author S.E. Byeon.
Codonopsis, in combination with Gingko biloba, enhances learning and memory better than using Gingko biloba alone, according to a July-August 2004 study published in “Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine.” Both gingko and the combination of gingko and codonopsis work better than a placebo, notes lead study author B. Singh. Subjects took 75 milligrams of codonopsis and 40 milligrams of gingko extract during a Southern California University of Health Sciences study. Although promising, this was a small study with just 60 participants, so more research is needed to verify results.
Codonopsis is among the traditional Chinese medicinal herbs that may be useful for treating diabetes and reducing diabetic complications, according to a July 2011 study published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology.” TCM herbs are of interest because they may be useful for treating complex chronic diseases such as diabetes with fewer side effects, less cost and better patient tolerance than pharmaceuticals, notes lead study author K. He. Codonopsis has significant blood glucose lowering action, according to He. This study was done on rats, however, so more research is needed to see whether benefits translate to human use.
This herb may help protect against alcoholic fatty liver, according to a December 2009 study published in the “Journal of Medicinal Food.” That’s important because alcohol intake is the leading cause of fatty liver throughout the world, notes lead study author K. Cho. Cho’s study was done on rats, however, so more research is needed to see if humans also would experience a protective effect.
Forms and Considerations
Codonopsis comes in tea, tincture and tablet form. It’s often found in herbal tonics labeled “ginseng.” Such tonics are cheaper for manufacturers to produce than formulations that contain actual ginseng, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re less effective for you, according to “Prescription for Herbal Healing” by herbalist Phyllis Balch. In fact, codonopsis is sometimes more effective than ginseng in such formulations, according to Balch.