Sage is a common culinary herb, but you may not be familiar with the bright red version that the alternative medicine known as danshen comes from.

Red sage, or danshen, is a traditional Chinese medicine made from the dried root of the red sage plant. It has a long history of use in China and other Asian countries.

This herbal remedy has many potential health benefits, thanks to its polyphenol content.

This article reviews what red sage is, its benefits, its downsides, and how to take it.

Danshen, or red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza), is an herbal medicine made from the dried roots of red sage plants, which are flowering plants related to the culinary herb sage.

Red sage has been used for centuries to help treat a wide range of medical concerns, from high cholesterol to type 2 diabetes. There’s some evidence that its benefits aren’t just based on generational wisdom (1).

Researchers have identified just over 200 unique polyphenols, or plant compounds, present in red sage — such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents like diterpenoids and phenolic acids (1).

Because of its rich polyphenol content, researchers are interested in the effects of red sage on several different health conditions.


Red sage, or danshen, is an herbal medicine made from the roots of the red sage plant. It has a long history of use in traditional Chinese medicine.

Heart health

The primary use of red sage in traditional Chinese medicine is for heart problems.

It’s believed to be effective mostly because of the action of two unique compounds found in the herbal medicine: tanshinone IIA and salvianolate. Both of these compounds exhibit properties that promote heart health, such as antioxidant effects, anti-inflammatory effects, anticoagulation (blood clotting) effects, vasodilating (opening blood vessels) effects, and more (2).

Several animal studies have noted powerful effects from red sage that aided in post-heart attack and post-stroke recovery (3, 4, 5, 6).

Additionally, some evidence indicates that danshen may be useful in combination with more conventional heart medications and therapies used in Western countries (2).

However, more research in humans is needed. If you have heart disease or other heart-related medical conditions, you should speak with a healthcare professional before taking red sage.

Diabetes management

A growing body of research suggests that red sage may be helpful for managing diabetes.

One review suggests that the same actions that make danshen useful for heart disease make it useful for diabetes. It is able to improve blood circulation and vascularization, plus reduce inflammation.

These actions are helpful for long-term blood sugar management and prevention of some of the secondary concerns associated with diabetes, like diabetic retinopathy (eye disease) (7, 8).

However, more research is needed from well designed preclinical experiments and clinical trials on its anti-diabetes effects and safety.

Liver health

The powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of red sage polyphenols may also make it useful for liver health, according to several animal studies.

Mice studies have shown that red sage helps protect the liver from alcohol-related damage, as well as from damage caused by an acetaminophen (Tylenol) overdose (9, 10, 11).

Additionally, red sage may offer some protection against cirrhosis, a late stage form of chronic liver disease characterized by the death of liver tissue (12).

However, it’s important to remember that most of this research has been conducted in animals, so the effects may not be identical in humans.


Because of the polyphenols it contains, red sage may help promote heart health, make it easier to manage diabetes, and protect the liver from damage.

Some potential side effects of red sage use include digestive distress and reduced appetite. There are even some reports of loss of muscle control after taking red sage (13).

Additionally, the herb may also interact with conventional medications.

Red sage contains a class of compounds called tanshinones, which may cause the effects of warfarin and other blood thinning medications to become stronger. Red sage may also interfere with the heart medication digoxin (14, 15).

What’s more, there isn’t a large body of scientific research on red sage root, so there may be side effects or drug interactions that have not been documented yet.

Out of an abundance of caution, certain groups should avoid using red sage, including people who are:

  • under the age of 18
  • pregnant or breastfeeding
  • taking blood thinners or digoxin

Even if you don’t fall in one of these groups, it’s advisable to speak with a healthcare professional before taking red sage.


Red sage has some side effects and may interact with blood thinners or heart medications. Speak with your doctor or other healthcare professional before taking it.

You can find danshen in the following forms:

  • capsules
  • tincture (liquid extract)
  • tea
  • powder

It’s probably easiest to buy it online, although you may be able to find it in specialty health stores or Asian markets.

However, it shouldn’t be mistaken with the sage you have in your spice drawer. Red sage, made from roots of the red sage plant, is very different from the sage leaf used in cooking.

There is no widely agreed upon safe dose of danshen, so check with your doctor to see how much you should take before adding it to your routine. They can help you determine a safe and effective dose based on your needs.

Additionally, it’s important to choose a high quality brand. When possible, purchase supplements that have undergone third-party testing for purity by organizations like United States Pharmacopeia (USP) or NSF International.

Useful supplement shopping guides

Check out these two articles to help make supplement shopping easier:

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Red sage comes in tea, powder, tincture, or capsule form. Be sure to speak with your doctor or another healthcare professional before taking.

Red sage is full of powerful antioxidants that grant it a host of potential benefits.

However, more research in humans is needed to fully understand these effects, and red sage may not be safe for everyone to take.

Use caution when taking herbal medicines like red sage, and speak with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.

Just one thing

Try this today: It can be difficult to find evidence-based information about some herbal medicines. If you’re interested in alternative therapies but want to choose the ones with the most research to support their use, check out this article on nine powerful medicinal herbs and the science behind them.

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