Using Food As Medicine -Top TCM Herbs for Everyday Use

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) uses herbal medicine to rebalance the body and bring the body back to a state of health. Herbal medicine is highly customized as no two people are the same – even if they’ve been diagnosed with the same disease, the root imbalance or dis-ease with vary from individual to individual. Therefore, care and customization is key when working with an individual. Having said that, there are some amazing gems that are sourced from food, that can be included into the everyday diet, to can help prevent disease and create a state of vibrant health…one meal at a time!

It’s important to pay attention to your body and what will help to balance you out. For example, if you’re hot, you want to cool down, if your cool you want to warm, if you’re dry you need to moisten. It’s logical. Unfortunately sometimes we just hear something is ‘good for us’ but don’t stop to check in to how we actually feel. So as you read through the herbs listed below, check in to see what you resonate with and then work on adding some of the beneficial herbs to your diet. If you have a lot of energy, you probably don’t need a Qi/energy tonic but you might do well with a gentle calming remedy to improve your sleep.

It’s all about balance and that balance will shift over time, throughout the seasons and throughout a lifetime. So take time periodically to check in to how you’re feeling and adjust your food, lifestyle and supplements to reflect that.

Used regularly or in daily doses for the appropriate constitution, these herbs can have a profound effect. These are all great to have around the house and add into teas, soups or foods on a regular basis.

Note: It’s always wise do check with your local tom practitioner for a customized diagnosis so you can focus on the foods that will best suit your body

Job's Tears (Yi Yi Ren)

Other names: adlai, adlay, Chinese pearl barley, coix seed

Job’s tears are the seeds of a tropical plant originally from Malaysia and East Asia. It is a gluten free grain and often marketed as “pearl barley,” although it is not actually part of the barley family.

Medicinally, Job’s tears are used for many things according to TCM. Its primary use is focused on something called 'dampness'. Think heavy limbs or body, sticky mucus or sinus congestion or a heavy or foggy head (like there's a wet towel wrapped around it) . You may also experience achy puffy joints that feel worse when it's going to rain and many damp people are prone to chronic candida or yeast infections. You may also experience cloudy urine or have a puffy swollen tongue (like your tongue feels too big for your mouth!)

Job’s tears will promote urination and has a diuretic effect. It's used for edema and urinary difficulties, chronic arthritis that tends to be swollen or feel worse in damp weather. It helps to increase joint range of movement. They are cooling in nature and clear heat associated with sores with pus, as well as lung and intestinal abscesses.

Job’s tears also have a mild effect in treating diarrhea with digestive weakness. Some studies suggest Job’s tears can slow the growth of cancer cells.

This herb can be taken long term and eaten regularly in your diet. You can cook them up similarly to the way you'd cook rice or another grain (2 cups water with one cup grain). You can add it into soups, make a porridge or make a drink by soaking 1/4 cup of grain in water over night or simmering it for 30 minutes or until your liquid has reduced to half. You can add the juice of 1/2 a lemon or lime to make it more effective. This is a particularly helpful drink on those hot humid summer days or rainy days for those who feel the damp.

Job’s tears can be found at Asian grocery stores, online through herb suppliers, or through your local TCM practitioner

Huang Qi (Astralagus)

Huang Qi is a commonly used Chinese herb with strong actions of building energy and raising energy from deep levels to the surface. It promotes our protective energy (eg: our immune system), and helps protect us from things such as the common cold as well as many other viruses and bacteria. Huang Qi is an immune system builder that has been used for thousands of years. It works to boost the immune system by activing macrophages and b cells. It also has anti-aging properties and is considered the ultimate Qi (vital energy) tonic in TCM. It has a strong upward moving energy in the body so great for anyone who suffers from prolapse of any sort (hemerrhoids, prolapsed uterus, etc) but not great for those who suffers from anxiety, or gets frequent pounding headaches that feel worse when you lie down.

You can buy this at a well-stocked heath food store, online or a Chinese Herbal store or through your TCM practitioner.

You can add to soups or broths or make it into a tea. (note: It looks a lot like a tongue depressor and can be broken into pieces to make it easier to make a tea from it. You can also wrap the smaller pieces in cheese cloth when cooking with it so it’s easy to fish out when you’re done.

Chen Pi

This herb is actually the peel of an bitter orange or a tangerine. You can easily come across this herb in many Asian dishes (ever tried orange beef?) and it's delicious! In herbal medicine, it is wonderful to help regulate your digestive system and is particularly helpful for the spleen and stomach system in TCM. Using this herb can help alleviate symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, belching, abdominal fullness, and distention as well as stomach discomfort or pain. The peel is bitter in flavor which makes it wonderful for stimulating digestion and great for those who have a sluggish appetite.

Studies have also shown to be effective in treating fatty liver, having an anti-obesity effect and helpful in treating vascular disease. It touts antioxidant, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and cytotoxic activities to boot!

It's not suggested to use as a herb supplement for a prolonged period of time but as a food supplement you can use it on occasion if your digestion is feeling sluggish or you've got some digestive upset.

It makes a wonderful herbal tea in combination with mint or ginger and an delicious addition to stir-fry's, stews or savoury meals.

Be sure to buy organic peels and soak them in water for a few hours and wash thoroughly before using. You can also dry your own easily and keep on hand for when you need.

Gou Qi Zi/ Goji Berries

Deemed a super food over the past years, goji berries do indeed pack a nutritional punch. They are also a commonly used TCM herb.

According to TCM theory, goji berries build the blood and the Yin components in the body. Blood is something that many menstruating women need to nourish on a regular basis or women who have just given birth. If you are depleted in this nourishing and moistening substance, you may experience symptoms such as dry eyes, blurred vision or light floaters in your eyes. You may also be prone to hang nails, ridged or brittle nails as well as scanty menstrual flow or headaches after your cycle.