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.
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.
Goji berries are high in antioxidants which protect your body from damaging free radicals as well as lyceum barabarum polysaccharides, affectionately known as the youth hormone which adds to it's reputation as a longevity tonic. They have also been linked to anti-cancer activity in both animal and human studies and inhibit the growth of cancer cells as well as having a positive effect on blood sugar levels not to mention having a positive effect on cholesterol levels and boosting the immune system.
One controlled study in which 34 healthy men and women consumed 4 ounces (120 ml) of concentrated goji berry juice for 14 days reported increased energy, better exercise performance, improved quality of sleep and reduced stress and fatigue compared to before they began consuming the juice. They also reported feeling happier and more content.
Sound good? Easily found in most health food stores, your local Asian grocery stores, this herb/food makes an easy and delicious addition to your regular diet.
Add to cooked oatmeal or granolas, make as tea and sip on throughout the day (and be sure to eat the berries after!) or use in anything you might normally use raisins or cranberries in.
Hawthorn is a common herb in Traditional Chinese medicine. While modern research efforts have identified its effectiveness in treating cardiac weakness, hawthorn is traditionally used as a digestive aid to combat indigestion and heartburn. Hawthorn helps to stimulate the production of enzymes that help to digest food, and in particular, fat. It also helps reduce the feeling of fullness and heartburn after a big rich fatty meal!
Shan Zha as it’s known in TCM can be easily made into a tea and drunk after meals. It's sweet and sour in taste and is considered one of the strongest food stagnation herbs around. It’s particularly useful if you have issues digesting meats and fats.
It is also known to be a heart tonic and for its cardiovascular relaxing benefits. It has a well-documented ability to help patients with Class I and Class II heart failure. Several new studies show that hawthorn has a calming effect on the brain and have an analgesic effect on the nerves making it wonderful for those with increased stress, nervousness, sleep disorder and possibly pain control. It has also been shown to be effective in helping to lower LDL cholesterol.
Hawthorn can be made into a tea, jellies, jams and juices. And they have been know to be made into wafer like cadies that you can serve after dinner to help digest those heavy fatty meals al!
Long Yan Rou
This is a fleshy meaty part of the longan fruit with is actually part of the litchi family. It is sweet and warm in property and works on the heart and spleen systems in TCM. It is known to build and tonify the blood and is a favourite to help nourish and replenish women after they give birth and through their postpartum time.
Not only is it nourishing but also wonderfully soothing and calming so it’s really helpful for those suffering from anxiety or insomnia that comes from a depleted state.
Avoid if you're someone who has a lot of phlegm, digestive weakness (chronic loose bowels) or nasal congestion, as this is a very sweet and nourishing herb that could make those symptoms worse if consumed over a long period of time.
Logan fruit makes a wonderful tea, can be added into a nourishing soup. It's actually one of the herbs I recommend adding into a chicken bone broth soup along with lots of ginger, Chinese yam and Astragalus to my postpartum patients to help them recover after giving birth. Having some of that soup daily for the week or two after birth can help a women replenish her energy and blood while acting like a soothing tonic mentally and emotionally.
Found in most TCM herbal stores, online or some specialty Asian markets.
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