When many people think about Chinese herbal medicine, they may think about odd looking roots, barks, seeds and plants, or jars full of odd embalmed animals and animal parts. Maybe you envision a scene from the movie Gremlins or an old martial arts film. In reality, many Chinese medicinals in the Pharmacopeia come right from your kitchen!
As I stated in last month's post, Food as Medicine, what you eat can either improve your health or increase and exacerbate various imbalances in your body. Different foods will affect the body in different ways, with each food having its own energetics. Some foods are more warming, like ginger and cinnamon, while others are more cooling, like mint and cucumbers. Some build Blood, like beef and beets, some help get rid of Phlegm, like radish and mustard leaf. Some are more moistening, like figs and barley, while others are more drying (water removing), like artichoke and alfalfa.
Here is a short list of Chinese medicinals that you can find in your own kitchen and what effect they have:
Ginger: Raw ginger (Sheng Jiang) is warming, especially for the Stomach and Spleen, and helps with nausea and vomiting. Raw ginger is often used when treating colds as it encourages sweating. Dried ginger (Gan Jiang) is hot and is a better option if you are cold all of the time. It also helps nausea and vomiting but if you tend to run warm, stick to the raw variety.
Mint: Mint (Bo He) is cooling, even when consumed as warm tea. It helps with red eyes, headache and sore throat due to illness. It can also help move your Liver Qi, so if you are feeling emotionally stuck, mint may help.
Turmeric: Turmeric (Yu Jin) has been touted in recent years for its anti-inflammatory properties, but has been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years to invigorate the blood and break up blood stasis, as well as move Liver Qi. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) "when there is pain there is no free flow and when there is free flow there is no pain." Using Turmeric for pain makes sense, no matter who you ask.
Watermelon: Watermelon (Xi Gua) is cooling and great for generating fluids for rehydration due to over heating in the summer. It also promotes urination (which will help get rid of heat).
Goji Berries: Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi) are a superfood that is high in anti-oxidants. In Chinese medicine, they are used to supplement Liver Blood to benefit the eyes and vision, as well as support Kidney Yin, for symptoms such as sore lower back and legs or low-grade abdominal pain.
Asparagus: Asparagus (Tian Men Dong) is another Yin supplement that benefits the Kidneys, but is also targeted to upper body Yin, for dry mouth, since it helps generate fluids.
This is just a small sample of the many different types of foods and spices that can benefit your health. To truly make a significant difference and to target your particular health challenges it is best to see a licensed practitioner who can prescribe the best diet and herbal formula for you. Not all symptoms are caused by the same imbalance, so it is important to get the proper diagnosis before proceeding with using food as medicine. Food is powerful!
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