Michael Tierra

Michael Tierra

Could you ever imagine yourself as being ‘sugar deprived?’  Do you find yourself unable to sleep soundly throughout the night, getting up frequently to urinate, feeling exhausted the next day with frequent memory lapses – or what about instead of feeling a boost of energy from a reasonable aerobic workout, you find yourself dragging through the rest of the day?

You could be glucose (i.e., sugar) deprived and suffering from that denied hit of fast energy necessary to power your nervous system, heart, and muscles. This can affect not only your quality of life, but also your health.

Both the heart and the brain require a substantial amount of glucose (sugar) to function well. A constant pumping action of the heart means that it needs a steady supply of energy. Many runners who suddenly die of cardiac arrest at a comparatively young age could be because they ran out of fuel to keep their hearts working.

The primary metabolic substrate for the heart is fatty acids. However, up to 30% of myocardial ATP is generated by glucose and lactate, with smaller contributions from ketones and amino acids. Although glucose is not the primary metabolic substrate in the heart at rest, there are many circumstances in which it assumes greater importance such as during ischemia, increased workload, and pressure overload hypertrophy. The brain is so rich in nerve cells that it is the most energy-demanding organ, using half of all the sugar energy in the body.

Many know the wisdom of having at least a piece of fruit before beginning a strenuous workout. The same is also true when undergoing long hours of intense thought. The greatest demands for fuel mainly come from our muscles and nervous system, especially the brain. We know that glucose is one of the few substances that readily passes the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and like the heart, the brain works throughout the night, including during sleep. We need energy in the form of a steady supply of glucose to the brain to sleep soundly.  When it runs out of fuel (i.e., glucose), the result is insomnia, disturbed sleep, being unable to get back to sleep, and not feeling rested when awakening in the morning.

The liver is in charge of processing sugar into glucose through a process called glycogenesis, in which glucose is formed through the breakdown of glycogen (the stored form of sugar). Glycogenesis is what prevents us from experiencing hypoglycemia when we run out of fuel during the day. It is possible to run out of stored fuel (glucose) when we are asleep or if the liver is underfunctioning. Thus, a liver imbalance is one of the most common causes of insomnia and sleep disturbances.

Whole Sugar and Insomnia

Of course, by sugar or glucose, I’m not speaking of refined sugar which robs our body of nutrients and which is unfortunately present in practically everything and is added to foods to get us to want more. Refined sugar is a pro-inflammatory substance that many believe to be toxic and one of the primary causes of alcoholism and addictions generally. (Anyone who finds it difficult to control a sugar habit should consider using honey or sucanat, a commercially available brand of clean, evaporated sugar cane juice.  These sugars have real nutritional value when consumed in moderation.)

Refined white sugar is bad, but there are beneficial uses for whole, unrefined sources of sugar such as honey and pure unrefined evaporated sugar cane such as Indian jaggery which in Central and Latin America is called panela. This sugar has all the vitamins, minerals and enzymes from the whole sugar cane plant.

Honey is a well-known remedy for insomnia. Composed of equal parts glucose and fructose, it is the glucose that feeds our brain for the first have of the night and the fructose after it is converted to glucose in the liver that continues to supply fuel to our brain for the second half. It is recommended to try taking two tablespoons full of raw honey before retiring, alone or with tea or warm milk. Honey contains the amino acid tryptophan, which helps sleep and this, in turn, converts to serotonin, the happiness neurotransmitter which helps us to awaken refreshed.

Powdered herbs mixed with honey is one of the simplest and most efficient ways to take herbs and are used in traditional cultures throughout the world. I often recommend this way to take herbs. Unfortunately, the antisugar phobia applied to all sugar including honey and whole evaporated cane juice keep people from using herbs mixed with honey, called an 'electuary,' or in syrups.

Asian Fruits Before Bedtime

Certain ‘power fruits’, namely longan, goji berries and/or jujube dates can be taken before retiring are also extremely useful for insomnia and taken during the day, counteract sudden mood shifts and depression which often is accompanied by a drop of energy. I recommend you purchase a pound of these three dried power fruits.

Longan Berries

My favorite is longan berries (Dimocarpus longus pericarp; Chinese: Long yan ru). These are closely related to litchi fruit which probably has similar properties. They are commonly called ‘dragon eyes’ because of the dark pit in the center of the translucent fruit.

Longan berries have a long history of use for nourishing the blood, calming the spirit and helping to overcome insomnia. This is because they are high in readily available glucose which feeds the heart and quickly passes the blood-brain barrier to fuel the brain. I like to keep a bag of these handy and soak about 10 and taken them before retiring as an alternative to honey.

Goji Berries

Another Asian fruit that is fast growing in popularity in the West is goji berries (Lycium chinensis). Like longan berries, this fruit is a blood tonic, and is especially good for the eyes because besides its natural sugar content is loaded with beta carotene. They work almost as well longan berries as a treatment for insomnia. However, goji berries are also a fruit I give to my diabetes patients to snack on throughout the day. They not only tonify Qi and Blood but also help regulate fluctuations in blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes.

Jujube Dates

Finally the last super fruit that helps satisfy the body’s need for bioavailable glucose is jujube date (Zizyphus spinose; Chinese: da zao). These are commonly used in Chinese herbal formulas. They are eaten as a fruit and are popular throughout China as a confection. Jujube dates especially nourish and tonify Qi but they are also a treatment for insomnia and depression.

One of the simplest and most effective antidepressant formulas commonly used clinically is called ‘Gan Mai Da Zao taken either as a tea or convenient pills (‘wan’ in Chinese products). It consists of only three simple botanicals: licorice, sprouted wheat, and jujube dates. Simple but safer and far more effective than many pharmaceutical antidepressants, this formula is taken three times daily to relieve anxiety, depression, insomnia, hot flashes in menopause, and manic depression. Many companies sell this formula. My current favorite is Active Herb which markets it under the apt name of “MooDelight.”

Dried Longan, Red dates, and Goji Berry Drink

Combine the following:

  • 15 dried longans
  • 30 dried red dates
  • a handful of goji berries
  • boil in 2 cups of water

Add honey to taste and have a cup twice daily, especially before retiring.

Oh, and one more perk many experience from taking longan berries or honey before retiring at night is less or no calls to the bathroom to disturb your sleep.

What's that sound? Why won't it go away?

Tinnitus, commonly known as "ringing in the ears" and the perception of sound where no external source of sound is present, is a surprisingly common affliction. You may not know that complementary medicine offers treatment options for this condition, including herbs. Furthermore, Traditional Chinese Medicine recognizes four different types of tinnitus with four different herbal formulas matched to each specific type. 

This month, I am pleased to feature a blog post by East West grad and teacher Holly Hutton, who outlines several herbal treatment options for tinnitus, along with diet and lifestyle suggestions. 

Go to Holly's post, "Tinnitus-Ringing in the Ear, Treatment Options From Many Traditions" for a clear elucidation of the complementary approach to this common condition.

Arthritis, joint and back pain is so prevalent throughout the world that there really is no point to describe how many sufferers there are. It is safe to say that if you are around the age of 55 or older you probably have some form of arthritis somewhere in your body.

From a Western medical perspective there are two broad forms of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Osteoarthritis is joint pain primarily caused by a gradual loss of protective cartilage. This can be caused by physical injury, mechanical stress or metabolic abnormality that can gradually break down the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones from rubbing against each other. This is the most common type of arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis is the most severe type of inflammatory joint disease. It is an auto-immune condition where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, which in turn damages the joints and surrounding soft tissue. This is a chronic form of arthritis that leads to stiff, deformed joints of the hands, arms, legs and feet. It is the slowest and most difficult to treat.

Western medical treatment involves the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin, ibuprofen and steroid-based drugs such as corticosteroids and immune-suppressive drugs. All of these have long-term adverse side effects and some have short-term adverse effects such as stomach irritation, gastritis and ulcers.

Arthritis and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)

TCM classifies both types of arthritis as “Bi syndrome” disease. Bi means for “blockage.” Thus in TCM all such pains are considered to be caused by some sort of blockage. What is blocked or what causes blockage in arthritis, and for that matter back pain, which is considered in the same category, gets us into some strange concepts and terms (from a Western physiological point of view).

The most common type of arthritic pain is caused and aggravated by coldness and dampness. No wonder that individuals with this type of arthritis complain that their symptoms are worse in cold, damp weather, but also by wind. Heat, a fourth TCM cause, occurs as resistance from the continued effects of Cold-Damp-Wind causing blockage.

Western rheumatology hypothesizes that one of the major reasons why cold and damp weather aggravates most people’s arthritic pains is because of changes in air pressure. Specifically, it is the change of barometric pressure which is the weight of the atmosphere that surrounds us. This pressure occurs when barometric pressure drops before bad weather sets in and cause the joints and cartilage of our joints to expand. This theory is given by Dr. David Borenstein, MD, FACP, FACR, a rheumatologist and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University Medical Center and past president of the American College of Rheumatology. Still, many people claim that weather does not affect their arthritic pains.

The virtue of the Chinese description of “Bi Syndrome caused by Cold-Damp-Wind” is that it leads the herbalist to select the most appropriate herbs which are classified in TCM as treating Coldness, Dampness, Wind or Heat.  

Cold pattern arthritis (Cold Bi) is characterized by severe joint or muscle pain in a fixed location. It is relieved by the application of warmth.

Damp pattern arthritis (Damp Bi) exhibits symptoms of pain, soreness, swelling of the muscles and joints, and a feeling of heaviness and numbness in the limbs.

Unlike Cold Bi, Wind pattern arthritis (Wind Bi) is characterized by pains that move from place to place, or joint to joint. It is described as being aggravated and caused by exposure to wind.

Heat pattern arthritis (Hot Bi) is characterized by severe pain and joints that feel hot, and look red and swollen. This type of arthritis is relieved by applying cold to the affected areas.

Underlying physiological imbalances that predispose an individual to develop arthritic and lower back pains are described in TCM as coming from deficiencies of the Kidneys and Liver.

In TCM, the Kidneys include the adrenals so that any type of stress or fatigue, be it climatic, physical or emotional will cause the Kidney-adrenals to hyperfunction and react to regain homeostasis. The Liver’s job is to moderate the adrenal hormones caused by stress by breaking them down as necessary. The Liver also neutralizes toxins which cause internal stress.

This TCM Kidney-Liver organic function may be deficient due to congenital conditions or may gradually weaken with lifestyle abuse and age. Thus to achieve any enduring benefit from treatments, one would wisely add herbs to supplement and strengthen this vital internal TCM function.   

Traditional diagnostic methods based on symptomology, tongue, and pulse are employed to determine the most effective treatment approach. However, in the case of arthritis and lower back pain, there is one formula which is in a unique small class out of the possible thousands of TCM formulas that I consider to be the “best bet” or "use first, refine later" group of formulas. It is Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (Du Huo Angelica and Loranthes Mistletoe (Taxillus) Decoction).  

How effective is it for these conditions? I would estimate that it will relieve joint pains at least 80% of the time.

It consists of the following:

  1. Angelica pubescentis (du huo) - 4.5 g. Traditionally this herb is used to disperse Wind-Cold-Dampness especially from the Lower Warmer (from the lower back down through the legs and knees). I would venture that these properties would also be found in Western Angelica archangelica root.
  1. Herba Asarum (wild ginger, xi xin) 1-3 g. This herb releases Exterior Wind-Cold, warms the Lungs, transforms Phlegm, and scours Wind-Dampness from the sinews and bones to stop pain. Chinese wild ginger, as well as North American Wild ginger in my opinion specifically, can be used to treat colds and induce diaphoresis. However, its unique property is that it also promotes internal circulation and dispels Wind, Cold and Damp to relieve pain. It is used because of its special effect to open both externally via sweating, but more important internally between the tissues and organs of the body. It is currently removed from commercial formulations because it contains Aristolochic acid which is thought to cause kidney damage. (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/aristolochic_acids_508.pdf). To my mind, I think we should be aware of this potential danger but based on the lower dosage, and widespread use over millennia, I would use it for a short time especially in patients with severe arthritic pains that may not be relieved if this herb is left out of the formula. An acceptable, though not as powerful, substitute for this herb would simply be fresh ginger root.
  1. Saposhnikovia root (fang feng) 3-10 g. This is another root from the Apiaceae family, which includes Angelica archangelica, osha, and lovage.  It also expels Wind-Cold and Dampness and alleviates pain. It is especially effective for dispelling Wind.
  1. Radix Gentianae Macrophyllae (qin jiao) 9-10 g. This herb is a species of Chinese gentian root. Gentian root is bitter and in Western herbal practice is almost completely relegated to use as a bitter digestive herb. However, it seems to be neglected as an herb that is detoxifying and anti-inflammatory.  It is used in this formula because it expels Wind-Dampness and relaxes the ligaments. It may be that the Western gentians could be used similarly.
  1. Herba Taxilli (sang ji sheng, Chinese mulberry mistletoe) 4.5 to 30 g. This is a particularly useful herb for arthritic pain symptoms. It also expels Wind-Dampness, strengthens the ligaments and bones, tonifies the Liver and Kidney Yin, and nourishes the Blood. European mistletoe is commonly used today as a nervine, hypotensive, and as an anticancer herb. It was important to the Druids for many conditions including arthritis.
  1. Radix Dipsacus (xu duan, teasel root) 4.5 to 30 g. This specifically tonifies the Liver and Kidneys, and strengthens the lower back and bones. It is used for the weakness of the legs and knees and to mend bones. It also helps to prevent miscarriage. Western teasel root (D. fullonum or "Fuller's teasel) found growing both in Europe as well as North America is widely promoted because of its ability to relieve joint pains associated with Lyme disease for which it is indeed effective. However, In Scottish herbal medicine, it is also used to treat arthritis.  (http://www.herbalmedicine.org.uk/index.php?page=tim-entwistle)
  1. Eucommia bark (du zhong) 3-10 g. This is the bark of a species related to the rubber tree. It tonifies the Kidneys and Liver and strengthens the ligaments and bones. It also downregulates high blood pressure.
  1. Achyranthes bidentatae (niu xi)3-10 g. This herb invigorates Blood circulation to relieve pain and strengthen the bones and ligaments. It also benefits the joints and nourishes Liver and Kidney Yin.
  1. Cinnamon bark (rou gui or Chinese cinnamon) 1-6 g. This is Cinnamomum cassia distinct from "true cinnamon" known as Cinnamomum verum. It is this latter species that is widely used as a condiment in the West. It may share some of the properties of C. cassia which is a very hot herb used to Warm the Kidneys, strengthen Yang, strengthen Ming Men Fire, disperse deep Cold, warm and unblock the channels and vessels (blood circulation), and to open the lower back and alleviate pain.
  1. Angelica sinensis (dang gui) 9-10 g. This is another herb in the Apiaceae family and is used to promote blood circulation, disperse Cold and relieve pain.
  1. Chuan xiong ligusticum (Chinese lovage) 4.5 – 9 g. An Apiaceae family plant that is one of a number of herbs in this formula that promotes Blood circulation regulate the flow of energy, expel Wind-Cold and alleviate pain. It is reasonable to assume that Western lovage root and the various ligusticum species including North American osha could be used as a substitute.
  1. Unprocessed Rehmannia glutinosa (sheng di huang) 3-10 g. This is the premier TCM herb used to nourish Yin (fluids) and Blood. It tonifies TCM Kidneys and Liver, which are considered to contain the root of deficiency for lower back and arthritic pains. Unprocessed Rehmannia is more strongly antiinflammatory than the processed form which is considered to be more tonic.
  1. Rice wine-soaked Rehmannia glutinosa (shu di huang) 3-10 g. This herb has stronger Liver and Kidney tonic properties.
  1. Paeonia alba (bai shao, white peony root) 3-10 g. This herb nourishes Blood and relieves spasm and pain. It is one of a group of tonic herbs along with dang gui, Rehmannia, white peony root, ginseng or Codonopsis and honey-fried licorice that serve as tonics to treat underlying deficiencies associated with lower back and arthritic joint pains.
  1. Ginseng (Panax ginseng) or Codonopsis (dang shen) 9-30 g. (Use the greater amount for the latter.) These tonify Qi and generates body fluids. They are the supreme Qi or energy tonics used in TCM. The principle of this formula used to treat lower back and joint pains is called 'root and branch' therapy which combines herbs that tonify the underlying deficiency (root) so that the herbs that dispel Wind-Cold -Dampness which are Blood-moving and pain-relieving treat the primary (branch) symptoms. This important TCM formulation principle is unfortunately pretty much absent from Western drug treatments for these conditions which use strong antiinflammatory drugs to only relieve inflammation and pain but do nothing to treat underlying causes. (It is also absent from sensational commercial marketing of herbs such as turmeric root only for its anti-inflammatory properties.)
  1. Poria mushroom (fu ling) 4.5 – 12 g. This is used to promote urination, relieve dampness, strengthen the Spleen and harmonize the Middle Warmer (digestive organs). Traditional medicines generally agree that disease begins in the GI tract from dietary habits causing weak digestion. Thus, digestion, which might be considered 'the root of the root' of most diseases, are treated by herbs including Poria, ginseng or Codonopsis, and honey-fried licorice root.
  1. Honey-fried Glycyrrhizae praeparata (zhi gan cao) 3-6 g. This herb contributes to the Qi and digestive tonic properties but also harmonizes and relieves any of the harsh effects of the other herbs in the formula.

Modern Formulations of Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang

Active Herb’s version of this formula is called Jointsjoy.

Another version, Solitary Hermit, is manufactured and sold as part of the Plum Flower herb line.

A Planetary Herbal formulation based on this formula and widely used in my clinical practice is simply called Lower Back support.

Any of these three products can be used with more than relative efficacy to relieve and cure musculoskeletal pains of all kinds.


Gluten or dairy intolerant? You may not need to give up wheat and dairy, says Dr. John Douillard, DC, in his book Eat Wheat (Morgan James Publishing, 2017). Backed by years of clinical experience helping people who previously were unable to digest wheat and dairy, Dr. Douillard employs traditional thousands-of-years-old Ayurvedic principles backed by more than 600 scientific studies to develop the methods described in his book for gut health.

His conclusion? Most who claim to experience varied and myriad symptoms of discomfort as a result of eating dairy, wheat and other glutinous grains is the result of a toxic condition that has weakened their digestion.

Based on my own clinical experience, I agree that, with the exception of the less than 0.5 to 1% who actually have lactose intolerance and celiac disease (the latter being a serious conditions that can be medically diagnosed through simple clinical tests) should absolutely avoid consuming these foods. However, the rash of symptoms attributed to eating dairy and wheat ranging from simple bloating, heavy dull feeling and lethargy after eating, to a wide range of metabolic to mental and emotional conditions may do better if they view these as symptoms that may benefit from treatment rather than a primary handicap.

Thus I appreciate that this is not just another theoretical book but one that lists numerous cases of his patients who were suffering from various degrees of gluten and dairy sensitivities and intolerances and who, after undergoing recommended detoxification cleanses, reported that not only were they able to eat these foods again, but with better digestion and a more lasting improvement of health and well-being overall.

All systems of natural healing believe that the foundation to health is a healthy gut, meaning the ability to break down and assimilate vital nutrients and efficiently eliminate metabolic wastes. I agree with Douillard’s thesis that the underlying causes of gluten sensitivity-intolerance is a toxic, weak digestive system. In fact the symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity-intolerance are common to all traditional healing systems. The Western herbal tradition addresses this with the use of digestive bitters such as Angostura bitters commonly sold in liquor stores throughout the world and originally designed to relieve digestive problems by stimulating hydrochloric acid and biliary secretions. Then there is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with dietary and herbal treatment its most common diagnoses: Spleen Qi Deficiency, Liver-Spleen Qi Stagnation and diseases caused by Phlegm. Finally Dr. Douillard’s specialty, Ayurvedic medicine, has a wide range of treatment and herbs for specific digestive problems and the elimination of deep-seated toxins called ‘ama’ which is related to the TCM concept of invisible Phlegm, or the lymphatic system which according to Douillard is lodged in the fat cells.

In fact, Douillard describes how the most  recent research has discovered a direct connection of the lymphatic system between the GI tract and the brain.  This explains the Chinese description of schizophrenia and psychosis as “invisible Phlegm masking the brain” and the relationship between gluten sensitivity-intolerance and the brain in Dr. Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain. However, merely eliminating gluten not only deprives us of the pleasure derived from these foods but also a wide range of associated vital nutrients they contain, including fiber, iron, zinc, folate, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, calcium, Vitamin B12, and phosphorus.

With approximately 21% of the population currently adopting a gluten-free diet and a $9 billion gluten-free food industry (in 2014) to support it, there has been little interest in finding a deeper cause or cure. In fact, Douillard exemplifies how the condition he calls "toxicity impaired digestion" (TID) is best treated with traditional medicine, diet and herbs. 

His approach is to eliminate all processed and refined food from the diet, engage in periodic cleanses which he describes and are freely available on his website www.Lifespa.com, and adopt a seasonal approach to foods based on regional availability which is described in his book and his previous book, The Four Seasons Diet, also based on traditional Ayurvedic dietetics.

On a recent vacation in Kauai, my wife, Lesley and I underwent Douillard’s four-day cleanse based on taking increasing spoonfuls of ghee first thing each morning and eat no other fat throughout the rest of the day; and the traditional Ayurvedic healing food kichari, consisting of split yellow mung beans and white rice, with traditional healing spices of turmeric, coriander and cumin prepared without ghee, three times each day. In addition warm water is sipped every 10 or 15 minutes and certain Ayurvedic herbs such as triphala for eliminating metabolic waste were taken.

The fast was remarkably easy to follow and adhere to and there was little hunger for other foods. You can download the details of Dr. Douillard’s short cleanse or even embark on his 28-day cleanse. There are three levels of foods to use besides the basic kichari and ghee, which is the foundation. One is to add vegetables and fruit to the regime and another, especially for those with low blood sugar, to add white meat such as chicken.

The most unusual and a key component of the diet was the morning intake of ghee – pure butter fat. Ghee is considered one of the most healing foods in Ayurvedic and Tibetan medicine. Like all fat, it satisfies hunger but uniquely it cleanses and heals the walls of the intestines, stimulates the production of new bile for the liver and gall bladder, strongly strengthens the immune system, and encourages eliimination of old “ama” -- difficult to discharge, toxin-laden fat from the body – literally consuming good fat to eliminate bad.

We both felt significant benefit from this short cleanse and it did seem to ‘reset’ our digestive systems. We look forward to repeating the cleanse.

For many, reintroducing grains and dairy back into the diet may have to be a gradual process, beginning with yogurt, cheese or ‘scalded’ organic whole milk; with glutinous grains such as wheat, and occasional small servings of whole grains.

Douillard's point, in short, is that sensitivity-intolerance to these foods is not the cause but a symptom of deeper digestive imbalance, which if left untreated can be a precursor to more serious diseases later in life.  

Dr. John Douillard is the author of six books, numerous articles on natural health and fitness and the creator of Lifespa.com a respected source for Ayurvedic health and wellness.

In my previous blog on treating H. pylori-induced stomach inflammation with herbs, I touch briefly on a fundamental difference between conventional and complementary medicine: namely, that conventional medicine prefers to identify an isolated pathogen or discrete named diagnosis which it aims to treat singularly; whereas complementary or traditional medicine relies on signs and symptoms, within the unique individual and their personal conformation, and how these elements fit into a time-tested model of healing.

Being an herbalist means learning to think like a herbalist, which apart from a special knowledge of the therapeutic properties of plants also means to not overly focus on the symptoms of a disease but also the particular unique physiological ‘terrain’ from which the disease and its symptoms arise. With Chinese medicine, this means treating ‘root (cause) and branch (symptom) based on principles of yin and yang. In Ayurveda, it means differentiating the individual’s underlying prakriti (doshic or humoral imbalance) from the vikruti (doshic disease imbalance).

There are several layers of healing. One is to disguise the symptom, another is to deal with the microbiological cause of the symptoms. Still another is to treat the “cause of the cause” which is the imbalances in the body that predispose one to develop such things as infections (like H. pylori overgrowth). Still another cause beyond these physical ones are the psycho-spiritual reasons one develops a disease.

Relief or “cure” can be achieved at any of these levels. The first treatment principle should be to relieve the symptoms, which is the most superficial level of healing; second, treat the “cause of the cause” being the most physiologically beneficial level overall: and then attention must be paid to the third, psycho-spiritual level, which is the most profound.

Only masking the symptoms, which is the usual approach in Western medicine such as when antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs such as cortisone are given, is fraught with possibly damaging side effects. This is why many people seek the herbalist or acupuncturist for the second and third levels of healing. Every healer has some facility to work on each of these levels but the herbalist and acupuncturist uniquely specialize on second “cause-of-cause” level.

The third, psycho-spiritual level may either be all encompassing or may provide other levels of relief beyond the physical.

Addressing all three of these levels, with respect to the individual patient’s particular physiology, history of illness and mental or emotional disposition, is the definition of “wholistic” healing to which most herbalists and traditional practitioners aspire. It is an approach which, in my opinion, is most likely to bring about the sort of transformation that leads to deep and lasting healing.

Recently, a colleague sent me the following question:

A friend in Canada tested positive for H. pylori bacteria. Of course, the Western doctor he goes to wanted to start heavy antibiotic treatment. Plus, he said he would need to be on some 'pill' for the rest of his life! He is refusing until he can seek out alternative answers to this. He is 70 yrs. old, does not have a hiatal hernia, just a bit of indigestion at times.

What is Helicobacter pylori?

Helicobacter pylori is a common bacterium that many have with or without any noticeable symptoms. Recently a study found that Otzi, the 5,300-year-old ice-mummy, was also infected with H. pylori. Today it is estimated that it is present in about half the population.

H. pylori is known to produce an enzyme, urease, that allows the bacteria to live in harsh acidic environments such as the stomach. Urease reacts with urea to form ammonia which can neutralize enough of the stomach acid to allow organisms to survive in tissues for years. It is highly contagious and is transmitted through saliva, fecal contamination in food or water, and poor hygienic practices in general. As stated, the good news is that most people do not exhibit any symptoms. However, if enough of the stomach acid is neutralized, it can be a factor behind many acute gastrointestinal problems such as gastritis and GI tract ulcers.

The Herbal Approach to GI Inflammation

I’ve been involved with the study and practice of herbal medicine since 1968. In all of that time, I focused on treating the patient more than the disease. This is because my model, traditional herbalism, does not focus on treating specific pathogens associated with a disease, but the whole disease complex itself.

In other words, a Western herbalist may treat gastrointestinal symptoms caused by H. pylori with herbs not specifically targeted to eradicating the bacterium, but with herbs that reliably treat ulcers, abdominal and acid reflux. An Ayurvedic herbalist might treat these conditions as a humoral imbalance of excess pitta. A traditional Chinese herbalist would treat it based on Eight Principles and pattern analysis. In all three models, there is no particular advantage in testing and discovering that the inflammation is caused by H. pylori.

Today, many complementary health practitioners seeking to impress their patients too often resort to describing their diseases based on a Western medical model. The problem is that herbs are more food-like than drugs, exerting a broader function on restoring homeostasis and health. Still, many herbs do have specific tropisms or indications. For the patient described above, look to herbs that treat symptoms of ulcers, acid reflux, belching, bloating, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain as symptoms of gastritis. All of these conditions are effectively treated with dietary and herbal treatment.

So while I’ve not treated H. pylori as a discrete entity, I have had a lot of experience successfully treating all the conditions previously mentioned. Because people have responded positively, I can only assume that the diet and herbs I prescribe regularly such as Triphala inhibit the growth of H. pylori.

Herbs for Gastritis, Acid Reflux, and GI Tract Ulcers

Bitters, triphala, goldenseal, and coptis are among the many botanical remedies taken singly or in a formula for treating gastritis, acid reflux, and gi tract ulcers. These herbs treat a broad range of gastric imbalances but have also substantiated research that they are effective for H. pylori. 

Berberine is a constituent of herbs such as goldenseal, coptis, barberry, Oregon grape and the Ayurvedic herb guduchi (Tinospora cordifolia).  All of these have been shown to have broad-spectrum antibiotic and antipathogenic properties. Studies in vitro have demonstrated that berberine can inhibit H pylori. While these may not be robust enough to eradicate the organism entirely (if that is even possible), when used in a compound herbal formulation for gastritis, or in bitters, along with probiotic foods and a balanced diet, they will certainly contribute to a multilayered comprehensive gut healing regime.

Triphala, an ancient Ayurvedic healing compound consisting of three fruits, Terminalia belerica, T. emblica, commonly known as “amla” and T. Chebula or black myrobalan (Chinese: he zi), also has broad spectrum antipathogenic properties.  Chebula or black myrobalan has been cited as effective against all harmful bacteria and specifically effective for inhibiting urease active of H. pylori.

The remaining two fruits in Triphala are also effective against H. pylori, especially amla (T. emblica). Amla fruit is one of the greatest antioxidants in the plant kingdom and is highly regarded both for its nutritional and for its medicinal benefits. It is claimed as one of the two or three highest known sources of natural tannins and Vitamin C which is impervious to both age and heating. Research confirms what native people of India have known for millennia, that Amla is good for the health of the whole body, especially the liver and GI tract. It is an effective treatment for gastritis, Crohn's, iBS, stomach and duodenal ulcers and to inhibit the growth of H. pylori in the stomach.

Tinospora cordifolia, called “guduchi” and “the body’s protector” is bitter, pungent and astringent with a post-digestive ‘sweet’ effect meaning that it is an antipathogenic herb with tonic-nutritive properties. It is one of the most powerful antipathogenic herbs of special benefit for inflammatory gastric disorders.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice root (DGL) is a well-established anti-ulceration and mucosal healing agent. DGL can coat and soothe the intestinal lining and promote the healing of inflamed tissue and ulcers. Research suggests that flavonoids in licorice have impressive antimicrobial activity against H. pylori. The flavonoids have been shown to have antimicrobial activity against strains of H. pylori that were resistant to clarithromycin and amoxicillin, two of the primary antibiotics used in triple therapy. Some forms of licorice can elevate blood pressure but because DGL has low glycyrrhizin levels it is safe to take if you have high blood pressure.

Sulforaphane is a naturally occurring chemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts. Some studies have demonstrated that it can inhibit H. pylori. Eating cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli sprouts, will ensure that you get plenty of sulforaphane, but it is also available in capsule form from several supplement manufacturers, including a product called Broccomax.

Some studies have suggested that Vitamin C may inhibit and even kill H. pylori but more research is needed to determine the optimal dosing and program duration. Even if Vitamin C does not eradicate H. pylori, it is still worth taking a controlled dose because studies clearly show that Vitamin C levels in the stomach lining can be reduced when H. pylori is present, largely as a result of the inflammatory and oxidative stress caused by the infection. Vitamin C is also an excellent nutrient for assisting with gut healing.

Vitamin U – also known as MSM – is found in raw cabbage. In fact, Vitamin U is not a vitamin at all. Cabbage juice has been studied extensively in Russia and other Eastern European countries for the healing of damaged and eroded intestinal mucosa. It appears to enhance the healing of damaged tissue and may assist in healing ulcers.

When I consider what the most useful single herb I know with these same antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal – in fact, every ‘anti’ property we would need to fight off harmful  pathogens—is, it is Isatis tinctoria, an herb commonly known in old English as “woad,” meaning “weed.” As an ancient East - West cruciferous family medicinal herb, it happens to have all of the same antipathogenic sulfur compounds found in cruciferous vegetables and of course biologic MSM sulfur. Both the leaf and the root of Isatis are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine called da qing ye and ban lan gen respectively. These are classified as bitter and cold, which from an herbalist’s perspective means they are broadly antipathogenic and reserved for short-term use to treat the most stubborn pathogens such as viruses but are equally effective for bacteria and funguses as well.

Acupressure applied to Gall Bladder 20.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there are 361 charted acupuncture points on the body. Acupuncturists generally recognize any active point on the body that is particularly sensitive as an acupuncture point, so understood in this way, the number of actual points are limitless.

Within the medical tradition of Indian Ayurvedic medicine, there is a comparable number of points on the body that can be treated called marmas. Like Chinese acupuncture the science of marmani developed in India about 5,000 years ago in Vedic times. Ayurvedic texts describe 117 major marma points. Located at anatomical sites where veins, arteries, tendons, bones or joints intersect, they are similar to the more numerous Chinese acupoints as today they are also stimulated by palpation for both diagnosis and healing. Interestingly, about 75 of the 117 principal marma points exactly correspond to principle acupoints used in Chinese medicine.

Many of the points on the Chinese Gall Bladder meridian, especially on the head and shoulders, treat the condition known in Traditional Chinese Medicine as “Wind.” There are broadly two types of wind: “External Wind,” which includes inflammations on the surface layers of the body including allergic reactions affecting the skin, eyes, ears and nasal sinuses as well as viral and bacterial conditions such as colds, flu, headaches and other common afflictions. “Internal Wind” is completely different and includes more chronic diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s. In both cases, the description “Wind” denotes diseases that represent some fundamental instability.

While not exactly corresponding in location, the Chinese acupoint called feng chi or “Wind Palace,” also less poetically known as Gall Bladder 20 (GB 20), seems closely related in action to the Ayurvedic point Krikatika Marma. These points are located within an inch of each other at the occipital base of the skull can be stimulated to treat allergies, itchy eyes and all kinds of headaches. With effective 4- to 5-second stimulation, one can experience a feeling of immediate clearing in the head which caused one of my acupoint students to dub the point/s a “brain cooler.”

Locating GB20 and Krikatika Marma

Feng Chi (GB20) is in a natural groove located behind the ear at the base of the posterior mastoid (ear) bone where the muscles of the neck attach to the skull. Krikatika marma is on both sides of the central axis leading into the skull at the juncture of the 2nd cervical vertebra.

Fortunately both these points are easy to find and easy to massage even on oneself. To locate GB 20, simply interlock the fingers of both hands palms facing inward and cradle the occiput on the back of the skull. Both your thumbs should naturally fall to the grove connecting the neck and the skull on your neck.  Krikatika marma is one inch towards the center on either side of the cervical spine.

These both connect to the brain and are very powerful. Until you become more familiar with their effect you should stimulate them deeply but probably not more than 4 to 5 seconds each.

  • Both points benefit the head, neck, eyes and ears
  • Relieve local pains such as headaches
  • Relieves tension and both physical and emotional stress
  • Treats respiratory conditions such as colds, flu and asthma

They can be used to immediately relieve allergy symptoms especially of the eyes, ears and nasal passages. Neck pain and stiffness with a decrease in range of motion, stress-related emotional disturbance, middle ear infections, tinnitus, Meniere’s syndrome, and asthma.

I sometimes think of GB 20 as a “lobelia” point because like the herb Lobelia inflata, it has such powerful antispasmodic (Wind-relieving) properties. Similarly, stimulating Krikatika affects the upper lobes of the lung, stimulating bronchodilation and the relief of asthma.

GB 20 and Krikatika marma offer instant relief of Meniere's disease which is a disorder of the inner ear that causes episodes of spinning vertigo, feeling of fullness in the ear and fluctuating hearing loss which is progressive, ultimately leading to permanent loss of hearing and ringing in the ear (tinnitus).

Meniere's disease affects only one ear and can occur at any age but usually starts between the ages of 20 and 50. It's considered a chronic condition, but various treatments can help relieve symptoms and minimize the long-term impact on your life. There is no known cure for Meniere’s disease and there are a variety of Western drugs usually with varying degrees of undesirable side effects, ranging from anti-nausea drugs and valium to steroids and even surgical intervention to cut off neurological response. Certainly for this disease alone, GB 20 and krikatika marma, with no side effects, are worth trying.

GB 20 and Krikatika marma are also useful for those who may experience brain fog and eyestrain from study or working with a computer for long hours. It seems quite natural that one might raise their finger-clasped hands above and behind their head occasionally not only to stretch and take in more oxygen but also to drop down as they take a deep inhale and maintaining a brief inhaled breath allow their thumbs to stimulate these two acupoints points for the price of one. One can easily extend the benefit of these points by massaging back and forth between these two points.

Note: this can be a very powerful experiential treatment.  Start out cautiously massaging no more the 4 or 5 seconds on each side and wait an hour or so before repeating.

Itchy, Severely Inflamed Eye

One of the common problems associated with aging is dry eyes. This can be complicated with an increased allergic sensitivity to airborne allergens. One randomized, placebo-controlled study showed that stimulation of GB 20 in dry-eye patients was significantly improved after 4-weeks of treatment.

I recently had a patient with a severe eye inflammation exhibiting symptoms of severe itchiness, redness, and swelling which caused him to go to his ophthalmologist for a remedy.

The ophthalmologist diagnosed it as inflammation caused by allergy and prescribed some exorbitantly expensive cortisone-based eye drops for relief. It was at this point that my patient sought alternative treatment. Because he would be traveling and it would not be convenient to make an herbal eyewash, I showed him how to massage GB 20.

This point worked like a charm, making it unfortunate that he had already spent nearly $200 for a tiny container of no more than a tablespoon of cortisone eyedrops which he never used. (Believe it or not, it was a cheaper brand from the original prescription which with even Medicare would have cost over $600!)

The first treatment priority was to allay the itching. Each time he felt an urge to rub his eyes he would massage GB 20 for 4 to 5 seconds as described. The itching completely stopped, lasting at first for an hour and after a few times, each time longer until the itching was completely gone.


  1. Shin MS, Kim JI, Lee MS, et al. Acupuncture for treating dry eye: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Acta Ophthalmol. 2010 Dec;88(8):e328-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-3768.2010.02027.x. Epub 2010 Nov 10
  2. MS, Kim JI, Lee MS, et al. Acupuncture for treating dry eye: a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Acta Ophthalmol. 2010 Dec;88(8):e328-33. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-3768.2010.02027.x. Epub 2010 Nov 10.
  3. Takayama S, Seki T, Nakazawa T, et al. N. Short-term effects of acupuncture on open-angle glaucoma in retrobulbar circulation: additional therapy to standard medication. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011:157090. Epub 2011 Mar 7. PubMed PMID: 21437193
Michael Tierra with a view of the Huangshan mountain range.

The East West Herb Course and TCMZone organized a special training for our advanced and graduate East West Course students to receive advanced clinical training at Shanghai University of Traditional Medicine (SHUTCM). Based on the enthusiastic and grateful responses to all of us during and after the trip, everyone felt that this experience provided a quantum leap in their education and understanding of herbal healing especially from the TCM perspective, which is a core part of the curriculum of our course.

With a relationship dating back to 2008, herbal medicine supplier and continuing education provider TCMZone, LLC, has been collaborating with Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine to create a specialized clinical training. Along with Lesley and myself, TCMZone collaborated with Longhua hospital and Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine to design the ideal advanced training program for our advanced students and graduates.

"The gang of seven"

The program allowed for maximum of preferences and individual flexibility. Some of us (“the gang of seven,” consisting of me and Lesley, Susan Kramer and her 87-years-young mother, Madeline, East West graduates and instructors Joshua Farahnik and Holly Hutton, along with her husband Paul Claeyssens, an archaeologist) were able to extend their trip for additional sightseeing a week before and after the scheduled tour and training. Kristi Shapla, also a graduate and instructor explored other parts of China with her husband, Roman.

The actual TCMZone scheduled tour began with two days of sightseeing trips in Beijing, followed by a nine-day Shanghai training with clinical rounds in the morning and special lectures in the afternoon. During the clinical rounds, students were divided into four- or five-person groups led by interpreters and following a senior doctor to observe clinical treatment with Chinese herbal medicine in different inpatient/outpatient departments. Lectures on advanced herbal medicine, on topics such as autoimmune diseases, rheumatology, gastroenterology, gynecology, cardiovascular diseases, Shen or neurological disorders, and oncology were scheduled each afternoon. These were taught by senior doctors and professors.  Combined with observing the professors in in- and out-patient settings (the latter seeing on average 30 to 50 patients each morning at the hospital), this made for a memorable and profoundly enrichening experience.

What was immediately apparent was that only in China is traditional medicine and modern Western medicine so completely integrated. Each of the doctors and professors we saw had degrees in both fields.

This is something I had heard but seeing and experiencing both systems being used virtually side by side is a completely different thing. As with any change, there are both positive and negatives but in this case, since both approaches have so much to offer, it is mostly a positive for health care.

The fact is that in China today the most successful TCM doctors have a dual degree in traditional as well as Western medicine. Those who are critical of such a merger feel that the wholistic body-mind-spirit aspect of TCM has been edited so that it had already become “Maoist Communist Traditional Chinese Medicine” because it veered to a more ‘sanitized’ approach without its deep rooted spiritual underpinnings.

Undoubtedly this is true to an extent but most fail to recognize how individual spiritual beliefs that accumulate around a core of pragmatic truth can eventually cloud that essential universal truth which is the source of its power.

Even in the West today, we see how people tend to make up for their deficiencies of skill and understanding by resorting quasi, unprovable methods such as flower essence therapy, kinesiology, aroma therapy and other methods that are more properly the domain of shamanism than a reliable mainstream system of healing.     

TCM views the emotions as an expression of body-mind rooted in organic imbalances which at least in theory, can be treated with herbs, acupuncture and other physiological methods. So if a particular emotional imbalance presents itself in a consultation, herbs are added to the formula to balance the corresponding organ imbalance, such as herbs for the liver when there are symptoms of anger and depression, herbs for the Heart when there are psychotic and delusional symptoms, for the Kidney-adrenals when there are pronounced symptoms of fear and paranoia – and so forth.

As a whole, the TCM department alone sees about 8,000 patients a week.

As we observed new patients in an outpatient setting, it took only 10 to 15 minutes, especially on a follow up consultation for a TCM doctor to assess the patient and send down via computer his or her formula to the huge herbal pharmacy on the ground floor. This could result in a patient receiving a shopping cart full of his or hers individually packaged herbal formula when the herbs we intended to be brewed as a tea – or perhaps they would be giving their formula as a granulated dried extract. Herbal pills and patents medicines were also available if the condition was milder or warranted that delivery system.

We did not see the tendency found among western herbalists and less experienced TCM practitioners for extended hour or longer intake sessions to delve too deeply into minute dietary, emotional or lifestyle considerations. Certainly the doctor might give suggestions and point out such changes but it was not something that either the doctor or the patient felt needed to occupy a lot of time. However, it was somewhat amusing to some of us to find that there was at least one specially designated space in the hospital called “emotions treatment room.”     

We were able to ask questions and observe pulses and tongues as well. Patient compliance was expected and reportedly excellent. After examining each patient either on a first-time or follow-up basis, the doctors entered the information on a computer and the formula was sent to the hospital pharmacy where it was put together as teas, concentrated granules, pills and even individually bagged prepared liquids. The patient then went to the large dispensary on the first floor of the hospital and we could see how some of them received large plastic bags with numerous individual bags of their formula. Unlike practice in the US, when acupuncture was prescribed it was usually three days a week with rounds of 12 or more treatments.

Because both western and traditional methods were combined (usually administered by different physicians), it did not mean that the more natural traditional methods were less favored. Younger people, who have less time due to work, generally sought quicker symptomatic relief from Western medicine. While there were many younger patients who visited the traditional doctors, the majority were older patients above the age of 55 (retirement age in China).

So many of contraindications we in the West have been taught, such as the combination of Blood-moving herbs such as dang shen (Salvia milthiorrhiza) for angina and cardiovascular disease with blood-thinning pharmaceuticals, was not a concern shared by our far more experienced colleagues. This would also be true for the use of immune-tonic herbs with autoimmune diseases.

In fact, as in the case of treating cancer and other serious and otherwise incurable diseases, natural methods such as herbal medicine and western therapies and pharmaceuticals were prescribed together. The strategy of traditional Chinese medicine oncologists was to relieve pain, side effects of Western interventionist therapies and most importantly prevent recurrence. The most common type of herbal formula prescribed by TCM oncologists was called “fu zheng” or “make normal” formulas. (By the way, Planetary Herbals carries a fu zheng-styled formula created by Roy Upton called “Reishi Mushroom Supreme.” As a cancer specialist, I prescribe this formula to every cancer patient to be continued throughout treatment and recovery for up to two years after one has been declared cancer-free.)

All our concerns about whether patients were getting good results were appeased as many of them in the various departments we visited (oncology, rheumatology, dermatology, respiratory, gynecology, gastrointestinal, trauma, mental and neurological) would return to us happily exclaiming how much benefit they were receiving from the herbal formulas they were given.

To describe all that we learned from our herbal study tour in China, would be too long. We are still assimilating and sorting through our notes and photographs.

Some have criticized the ‘disease’-oriented approach used in China as well as by prominent TCM proponents in the West such as Giovanni Maciocia as opposed to the strict pattern approach as not traditional. Both have their roots in tradition and both involve pattern differentiation which is the heart and soul of TCM. It is mostly a matter of orientation but if practiced properly, both will lead to a similar treatment approach; however, the disease approach has several advantages, including that it connects with modern scientific medicine.

Many thanks to TCMZone and its manager, Jennifer Knapp, and president Dr. Dan Wen, for making such a fabulous experience available to advanced and graduate students of the East West Course. While students and graduates from our school number into the thousands and among their number some of the most accomplished and leading herbalists in the country, it was particularly gratifying to see how the level of the 22 who were able to go on this ‘journey of a lifetime’ were able to attend courses in advanced herbal medicine and earn the respect of the extraordinary professors and mentors in China. For more photographs from the tour, see our Facebook page.

Upon completion, we each received a beautiful certificate in Advanced Herbal Training signed by Dr. Dan Wen and Professor Yan Xiao-Tian, Director of International Education College of SHUTCM who said,  "We are glad to see TCMZone's continuing education program has grown so successfully. The large group recently led by TCMZone from the USA represents a growing interest from practitioners for this kind of clinical training in TCM hospitals in China."

I know that there are hundreds of other students who might want to go to China to study. I heartily recommend it, as you will never see anything like that level of herbal practice anywhere in the US. Our school is organizing a similar tour next year, dates to be announced! It can be tailored to include not only herbal medicine, but acupuncture, body work, and Qi Gong. Space is always limited so if you have any intention to go on next year’s trip, be sure to contact Jennifer Knapp at TCMZone to get yourself on the list.   http://tcmzone.com 888-788-8086.

by Beverly Jennings, RH (AHG), MT, East West School of Planetary Herbology Graduate

East West students were fortunate to have the opportunity to spend an entire day with renowned herbalist Ron Teeguarden (pictured above) and his son Lucky at East West’s yearly seminar at the Quaker Center in Ben Lomond, CA. Ron Teeguarden, who is widely recognized as the father of tonic herbalism, is author of the classic, Chinese Tonic Herbs, a book that introduced the art of tonic herbalism to the American public. His second book, Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs, is recognized as a major work on the subject of Chinese tonic herbs and the Asian arts of longevity and radiant health.

Ron thoroughly believes in the power of tonic herbalism for radiant health and longevity, and spent the day sharing this precious art with a mesmerized audience of herbalists, acupuncturists, teachers and students alike.  Expressing much gratitude to all of the ancient Chinese masters who had passed on this information to their students, he very lovingly introduced us to special herbs and substances, one by one.

Shen Nong, author of the Pharmacopeia of the Divine Farmer, was the master who first introduced the Superior Class of herbs consisting of 120 herbs, such as Ginseng Root, Rhubarb, etc. 2,500 years ago.  He divided herbs into three classes: Inferior, General and Superior herbs.

Ron Teeguarden’s powerful message to us is that glowing health means "health beyond danger" and that Chinese tonic herbalism is an approach to achieving and maintaining glowing health.

By incorporating tonic herbs into our lives within a time frame of approximately six months to two years, we can increase jing (life essence), qi (energy) and shen (spirit). He emphatically remarked that herbs can definitely increase jing (life essence). Throwing a mix of tonic herbs into tall glass teapots with candles burning beneath them, he introduced us to many of these herbs throughout the day.

We were given tastes of tonic teas, Himalayan goji berries, powerful Chinese tonic tinctures, tastes and fragrant smells of Vietnamese cinnamon. He very generously introduced us to snow lotus – a very rare herb grown very high up in the mountains of Tibet and we munched out on snacks of cordyceps grown on rice that you can snack on like popcorn. We tasted Dragon Herbs' schizandra goji tinctures, Hermit’s Mix of pine nuts, walnuts, longan berries and plump goji berries. This is a powerful anti-aging tonic providing all three treasures of jing, qi and shen. We learned that jing tonics of deer antler can increase your will power. We all received a copy of Ron Teeguarden’s 30 Tips For Getting Healthy Now and For Living a Long, Healthy, Productive and Happy Life! (and during those 8 hours of lecturing, he taught us exactly how to achieve that!).

Ron also offered a Power Point presentation of herbs grown in pristine areas in China, high up in the mountains, near the Shaolin Temple, where the water is pure and the soil fertile.  We saw pictures of his manufacturing facility in China. He is very proud of the fact that his company Dragon Herbs is a Di Tao facility, which means that they will sell nothing but the highest quality, most effective tonic herbal products in the world. His company has built its reputation on Di Tao!

He taught us the secrets of how to discern buying excellent ginseng roots versus low-grade versions and what to look for. Since a large group of students from the East West School are traveling to China in May, this was perfect timing, to prepare everyone.

Ron emphasized that if we, as herbalists, acupuncturists, teachers, CEOs, etc. are giving out so much healing energy, it is imperative that we replenish it, and he recommends incorporating tonic herbs daily, as he taught us!

We sincerely want to thank Ron and Lucky for passing on this precious knowledge.  We also want to thank Michael and Lesley Tierra, for inviting him to present at this year’s seminar to all of the East West School of Planetary Herbology staff, students, herbalists, acupuncturists and all who attended. 

Christopher Hobbs

Christopher Hobbs needs no introduction to the herb world. If you have even the faintest spark of interest in herbs, you should know of him. I can’t even begin to count his many achievements, the number of books he’s written on herbal healing, yet he remains one of the humblest, most likable people I know and I’m proud to say, one of my closest and dearest friends. It seems like we have shadowed, competed, shared and walked this wondrous way of herbs with each other for decades. He is one of only a few colleagues I turn to when I have a question about a plant, founding the American Herbalists Guild, sharing our love of Mahler, art music, jazz, or life. I count the two or three years that I spent working with him side by side in my clinic, on patients together, as one of the happiest of my clinical  career – and I could hardly feel more honored than to have served as a vehicle for his becoming a California State licensed acupuncturist.

So, this is not the first time that I found myself searching the Internet on a subject that one of his brilliant articles popped up on my screen. I am grateful that he so graciously has allowed me to feature his especially wonderful article on the quintessential European herb, Gentian lutea, and the quintessential traditional European formulation – bitters.

The English, and subsequently the Americans, are not fond of bitter foods or herbs. In fact, bitter has often been spoken of disparagingly in the English language for example in the statement, “a bitter pill to swallow,” meaning, in a wider sense, that a person found something very difficult to accept. Such events as paying taxes or being forced, as a child, to eat some food we found particularly revolting fall into this category.

It is no wonder then, that the druggist was often called upon to disguise drugs or herbal preparations that tasted bitter. For this purpose, a person trained in pharmacy would have many tricks, sugar coating, encapsulation, or the addition of sickeningly sweet syrups to bitter liquids to make an elixir. For what adult, or especially child, would take their medicine for long if it was very bitter?

Many Europeans would. For instance, in modern Germany, it is estimated that over 40 million doses of bitters are consumed every day, and not just because people think that it’s good for them; they actually enjoy them.

In the European tradition, exposure to a bitter flavor is said to give the digestive system strength and tone, much in the same way that cold water is applied in Russia. It is said that Russian people cut a hole in the ice and dip their babies in the icy water for a second or two, in order to give the baby vigor. Those who survive should indeed be the hearty ones. Referring to this effect, it was Parkinson who quoted Galen as saying, “if our stomackes could brooke (tolerate) this and other bitter medicines, and were not so nice and daintie to refuse whatsoever is not pleasing to the palate, it would worke admirable effects in the curing of many desperate and inveterate diseases inwardly…”

One could speculate that people in the English-speaking countries have become so accustomed to the flavor of salt and sweet that the bitter flavor (as well as its benefits) has been completely forgotten. This may be a pity, for modern scientific research shows that some of the bitter herbs used in soft drinks, liquors, tonic waters, and even candies may have marked healing properties. For instance, modern German research shows that bitter tonic herbal formulas (called bitters) may activate digestive substances, such as bile and hydrochloric acid, enabling us to digest our food more efficiently and effortlessly. Bitters have been shown to stimulate and heighten nervous system function, as well as the immune system, helping people recover more quickly from various chronic illnesses. Bitters are often prescribed by physicians and natural health practitioners alike in many parts of Europe for mild to moderate digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome, colic, gas, and constipation. Rudolf Weiss, a respected German herbalist, physician, and author of Herbal Medicine, says of bitters, “…pharmacological studies provide the explanation for something which has been known for a long time and which any careful observer is able to confirm for himself: that bitter plant principles have marked general stimulant effects that are far from limited to the stomach….generally [benefitting] physical and mental exhaustion.”

Gentiana lutea flower

Probably the best-known and studied pure bitter herb in the world is called gentian. Gentian is one of any number of species from the genus Gentiana in the family Gentianaceae. Some works list 40 or 50 different species; all of them seem to contain the bitter principle and sweet, aromatic taste that has made these herbs so popular. Although several ancient kinds of gentian will be mentioned below, the author has used several species that grow wild in the mountains of California completely unknown to Europeans, the Chinese, or Indians, in making home digestive tonics. These species seem to be even more bitter than the famous official species, Gentiana lutea L. In fact, it was the well-known English physician-botanist John Lindley who said in his Flora Medica (1838), “There is scarcely a plant of this natural order in which the bitter principle does not exist in considerable intensity.” Lindley considered all species of gentian as potentially useful in medicine.

Just how long have the benefits of bitter herbs been known? In Traditional Chinese Medicine, an intact system of medicine that is more than 5,000 years old, gentian was called lung tan, meaning dragon’s gall because of its exceedingly bitter taste. Bretschneider, physician to the Russian Legation at Peking in the late 19th century, wrote in his Botanicon Sinicum that gentian was first recorded from around the time of Christ in the Shen nung Pen ts’ao king, one of China’s oldest and most revered works on materia medica. Traditionally, the Chinese did not usually differentiate individual species of a genus, and thus lung tan could have been any number of Gentiana species, although the most important species used today is Gentiana scabra, known as Lung-tan. Since the days of the Pen King, and probably before the beginning of recorded history, this herb has been used in China to help ease a variety of ailments.

Read more at Chris’ website

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