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.


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, 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 a respected source for Ayurvedic health and wellness.

After writing about the various types of citrus and their uses I thought about using other fruits as medicine. My mind turned to quince, since our wild lemon tree looks very similar to it. However, quince is not in the same family as citrus, Rutaceae (the rue family), but in Rosaceae, shared with apples and pears. The raw fruit is hard and unpalatable, but when cooked the flesh turns a brownish pink and has a pleasant flavor. There are lots of recipes using it throughout the ages and its typical use is as a food. I knew the Chinese used quince medicinally but what about Western quince?

Western Quince

Native not only to rocky slopes and woodland margins in Southwest Asia, quince (Cydonia vulgaris) is also indigenous to Turkey and Iran (as far back as Persia and Anatolia). Later it spread to Greece and of course from there to Europe and America. There’s lots of lore around quince. Sacred to Aphrodite, it was this fruit that Paris awarded to her. It was also the golden quince for which Atalanta paused in her race.

However, Western quince is quite different than that which grows in the East. The immature fruit is green with a dense grey-white pubescence, most of which rubs off before maturity in late autumn when the fruit changes to a golden yellow color. It’s long been used in jams and jellies, of course, but also as medicine, too.

Listed in Grieve’s A Modern Herbal (from 1931), it is demulcent, astringent and antidiarrheal. The fruit may be made into syrup and taken for diarrhea. The seeds are very mucilaginous and taken internally treat diarrhea and inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract.

Topically, the seeds make a good compress, poultice, ointment, or lotion for burns, chaps, ulcers, cuts, and to soothe the eyes. It can also be used as a mouthwash or gargle for mouth and throat inflammations.

Some people use common quince (Cydonia oblonga) interchangeably with C. vulgaris for digestive disorders, diarrhea, coughs, and gastrointestinal inflammation.

Homeopathic Quince

Quince is also a homeopathic remedy. Called cydonia, it’s used to strengthen the stomach and male sexual organs. It’s particularly used for penis enlargement by removing any infection in the prostate that can lead to this condition. (I know, “What dose?” you immediately ask!) Normally it comes in a 30C potency.

Chinese Quince

The Chinese quince (Chaenomeles langenaria) is also known as “flowering quince.” It is more like a bush of canes and has red fruit. Also in the Rosaceae family, it’s called mu gua in Chinese and has a warm energy, sour flavor and enters the Liver and Spleen channels. It is considered an herb to dispel Wind-Damp conditions, particularly in the joints and extremities. The dried fruit is used to move the Blood through the channels, relax the muscles and tendons, transform Dampness and harmonize the Stomach. It is anti-rheumatic, anti-inflammatory, laxative, analgesic, and astringent.

Chinese quince is especially effective for the lower limbs, treating ligament pains, congestion of the blood and nerve channels, weakness in the lower back and extremities, severe cramping pains, abdominal pains, spasms of the calves, and swelling of the legs. It also unblocks food stagnation, similarly to hawthorn berries.

It is generally not given to those with heat and is taken in decoction using 3-12g.

Japanese quince (Cydonis japonica) is grown mainly as an ornamental for its red flowers.


Most of us love some form of citrus – oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, lemons, limes and more – yet did you know that some parts of these delicious fruits are actually quite medicinal? Interestingly, they share similar properties and yet each has a specific use as well. While the Chinese use certain fruit peels or the fruits themselves, western herbalists use citrus leaves and seed.

Even one fruit can be used in different ways, for instance the tangerine. Both the ripe and green tangerine peel are used as well as the red green tangerine peel, and red tangerine peel all have slightly different uses.



Ripe tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; Rutaceae; chen pi): In Chinese medicine the ripe tangerine peel is a major herb that is in many formulas. It has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, affects the Lungs, Spleen, and Stomach, and is a Qi-regulator, carminative, stimulant, expectorant, antitussive, anti-emetic, stomachic, and anti-asthmatic.

Specifically, aged tangerine peel aids digestion and clears damp coughs such as excessive phlegm and a stifling sensation in the chest. It is best for stagnation in the digestive organs (Spleen and Stomach), alleviating indigestion, gas, belching, watery diarrhea or loose stools, nausea, vomiting, abdominal swelling or fullness, bloating, lack of appetite, cough with profuse clear to white phlegm, and fatigue. Further, citrus peel is often included in tonifying formulas to prevent any herb's cloying nature from causing stagnation.

Contraindications: This herb is very drying. Do not use for those spitting up blood, or with dry coughs, spasmodic abdominal pain, heat or dryness. Long-term use can injure the body’s energy.

Red tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; ju hong): The red outer part of the tangerine peel is more drying and aromatic than the aged, but is less effective in harmonizing the Stomach (huazhou pomelo rind is stronger in action. Specifically, red tangerine peel alleviates vomiting, belching, and phlegm-damp coughs

Contraindications: none noted but follow the same contraindications as for the ripe peel (chen pi).

Green tangerine peel (Citrus reticulata; Rutaceae; qing pi): The unripe tangerine peel is also used medicinally. It has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor and yet affects the Gallbladder, Liver and Stomach. Green tangerine peel dredges the liver, strongly breaks up energy stagnation and reduces food stagnation with symptoms of pain in the chest, breast, abdomen, or flank, hernia pain, distention, pain, or a stifling sensation in the epigastrium, abdominal masses, and breast lumps.

Precaution: Use with caution in those with weakness and fatigue.

Huazhou pomelo rind (Citrus grandis; hua ju hong): This pomelo rind has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, and affects the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach. A very warming herb, it treats cough with profuse white to clear sputum as well as food stagnation with symptoms of pain, distention, or a stifling sensation in the epigastrium. It’s possible that the Mexican pomelo rind has similar properties.

Contraindications: do not use if there is weakness, heat, or a dry cough.

Grapefruit peel: Western herbalists have used grapefruit peel tea to treat colds and flu, lower fevers and dry mucus.

Lemon peel: in Italy, lemon peels are simmered and taken as a tea after meals to aid digestion, alleviating gas, indigestion, and abdominal fullness.


Unripe sour orange fruit (Citrus aurantium, C. sinensis; zhi shi; chih-shih): The immature bitter orange fruit is the only citrus part with a slightly cold energy (the others are all warming). It is also acrid and bitter in flavor and affects the Large Intestine, Spleen and Stomach. It is used similarly to the aged tangerine peel except it also unblocks the bowels treating abdominal pain, constipation and dysenteric diarrhea.

Its best use is for regulating energy and relieving stagnation in the chest and upper back, however it also breaks up energy stagnation, easing symptoms of abdominal or epigastric pain and distention, indigestion, and gas. As well, it transforms phlegm to relieve fullness in the chest and epigastrium. Lastly if combined with qi tonic herbs, it alleviates prolapse.

Caution: pregnancy or digestive weakness

Ripe sour orange fruit (Citrus aurantium; zhi ke): The ripe fruit is slightly cold in energy, acrid and bitter in flavor, and affects the Spleen, Stomach, and Large Intestine. It is carminative, antihistamine, stomachic, emmenagogue, and hypertensive. Although the same fruit as the unripe sour orange (zhi shi) above, the ripe fruit has a similar action but is gentler and so used for people who are deficient or weak. The mature fruit especially affects the upper body (chest, diaphragm and skin) and is best for liver energy stagnation, heat conditions, flank pain, a stifling sensation in the chest, and belching. Both the ripe and unripe fruits are often used together to move energy throughout the entire body.

Cautions: pregnancy and digestive weakness

Finger citron fruit (“Buddha’s hand”; Citri sarcodactylis; fo shou): Thie peel of this octopus-looking citrus has a warm energy, acrid and bitter flavor, and affects the Liver, Lungs, Stomach, and Spleen. It strongly promotes the movement of energy and slightly reduces chest and flank pain. It is best for clearing excessive white phlegm and stopping unrelenting coughs, although it also alleviates epigastric pain, fullness, and distention, and treats lack of appetite, belching, seasickness, and/or vomiting.

Caution: use caution with this fruit is there’s any heat and/or dryness

Citron (Citrus medica; C. wilsonii; xiang yuan): Citron fruit has a warm energy, acrid, slightly bitter, and sour flavor and affects the liver, spleen, and lungs. It is best for Liver, Spleen and Stomach problems and for flank pain. It transforms profuse sputum to stop cough, and regulates energy with symptoms of a stifling sensation in chest, abdominal, chest, and flank distention and pain. It also restores the appetite.

Caution: pregnancy

NOTE: Citron is different than lemon. While it is also a fragrant citrus fruit, it has a variety of shapes with a dry pulp and little juice. Traditionally, the oil was taken from the pulp (outermost layer of the rind) and used as an antibiotic. It is often used in cooking and candies.


Lemon leaves: Besides being used to season food and drinks, lemon leaf is a sedative and quite calming. It is used for insomnia, nervousness, and palpitations. It has also been used for worms, migraines, and asthma.

Dose: Infuse 7 leaves in 1 cup hot water for 15 minutes. Drink 1-2 cups per day.

Lime leaves, juice and rind: Used not only in Asia but also Jamaica, lime leaves are soothing and calming. In Jamaica they are given for anything from colds to hypertension, indigestion, constipation, and respiratory conditions, and chewed to prevent nausea, upset stomach and vomiting. Often the wild, or kaffir, lime is used. It looks somewhat different, having a rough and warty green exterior. The zest is used in Thai and creole cooking while in Indonesia the juice is used to promote gum health and the rind benefits the blood and aids digestion. 

Citrus seeds: Traditionally, citrus seeds have been used for hiccoughs or to dislodge something stuck in the throat.

Tangerine seeds (ju he): The Chinese use 3-9 g of the seeds for hernia, lumbago, mastitis, and pain and swelling of ascites.

Citrus oil: The oil from citrus seeds has traditionally been used for bronchitis in the West.

Eat your peels?

In India, a part of the peel is always eaten with its fruit to aid its digestion. Whereas the inner fruit is cold and creates mucus, the peel warms and eliminates mucus from the lungs and the digestive system. Be sure to only use organic peels!

Citrus peels as stimulants?

All citrus has synephrine and other alkaloids in it, which create an ephedra-like action. However, it was found in the bitter (or sour) orange fruit (Citrus aurantium) that these alkaloids work on a different set of receptors than those of ephedra and so is much more gentle in action and without causing elevated blood pressure, palpitations, and nervousness.

This tolerance is thought to be because the alkaloids don’t pass readily into the brain but perhaps specifically target fat cells to stimulate lipolysis and increase resting metabolic rate. This means citrus peel burns stored fats to release energy stores, which by the way, can also stimulate weight loss by burning fat. Additionally, it spares lean muscle mass during this process.[1] After all, orange and lemon zests have been used for centuries (thousands of years?) without negative side effects, so why not drink their teas in the afternoon for a gentle lift instead of coffee? It’ll also help your digestion!

Immature peel or mature?

The immature fruit (green) peel has a harsher and more powerful action than that of the mature form.

Dried peel or fresh?

The dried peel is stronger in action than the fresh. In fact, the longer the peel is aged, the better.


To prepare citrus peel tea, simmer 3-9 g (1-2 peel segments) covered in 1 cup water for only ten minutes.



My last two blog posts attempted to answer two questions:

1. Is it really necessary for all or even the majority of the 18 million people who are eliminating all wheat and gluten from their diet to do so?

2. Are the adverse reactions to certain foods including those containing gluten that people are claiming to have really due to an old condition scientifically recognized in the early 20th century and known as dysbiosis – bacterial gut imbalance?

The questions were spurred on by my personal feelings of “another condition that is supposed to be the cause of all or at least most of the ills and afflictions of mostly members of the middle-to-upper class who can afford to embark on another cure-all diet craze.” Given that all the focus is on gluten sensitivity, one good thing is that it likely is uncovering more of the large numbers of people who may have real celiac disease and genuine gluten intolerance. It also offers the possibility that people will reduce their caloric intake and find real treatments for their digestive problems using probiotics, enzymes, herbal bitters and traditional formulas such as the Ayurvedic Triphala.

All of these questions were raised after learning about an Australian study in 2013 involving 37 patients of all ages suffering from IBS who felt that their symptoms were solved by adopting a gluten-free diet. This study pointed to the fact that with no difference in adverse reactions to gluten among these patients, that the adverse reactions they claimed to be having when they thought they were having gluten may have been partially psychosomatic but definitely, with the possible exception of one or two, not caused by gluten.

Besides its much-touted implications regarding the legitimacy of all the claims substantiating what could only be described as a worldwide gluten sensitivity epidemic, this study focused on patients with diagnosed IBS who had all their symptoms controlled with a special elimination diet called FODMAP. Ironically, in a recent TV episode, Dr. Oz described it as “The New Gluten Sensitivity Diet” even though the problem may not actually involve foods with gluten.

Regarding wheat, the widespread rumor is that the increase of gluten intolerance is due to genetically modified wheat. The fact is that there is no genetically modified wheat on the market today.

The 2013 study’s lead researcher, Peter Gibson MD, also happens to be the inventor of the FODMAP Elimination diet. Dr. Gibson and Dr. Sue Shepherd published their book “The COMPLETE LOW-FODMAP DIET that same year.

The book is now in circulation along with many others on the FODMAP diet and while it absolves gluten, wheat and other glutinous grains as the sole culprit of any number of GI disorders, especially IBS, it is far more restrictive than merely eliminating gluten from one’s diet. FODMAP represents a number of naturally occurring sugars (i.e. carbohydrates) and is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols.” Its purpose is to restrict for a limited period a wide number of foods that contain forms of sugar that can be rapidly broken down and ferment in the gut causing any number of diverse reactions including gastrointestinal as well as neurological diseases.

By eliminating these foods for a minimum of two weeks, and then gradually introducing them again, one or two at a time, the hope is to identify which one is causing the reaction – and it may or may not involve either wheat or gluten.

At the least this supports my hotly contested claim in my previous blog that what people are reacting to is a curable condition of dysbiosis, bacterial imbalance in the Gi tract, which may include other suspect foods including fruits, broccoli, onions, garlic, mushrooms, chocolate, most beans, mushrooms, peas, alcoholic beverages and of course all dairy.  The point is that it is not necessarily gluten and wheat exclusively but a large number of other ‘healthy’ foods that should be avoided as ‘high FODMAP,’ since it is not possible to eliminate all carbohydrates from one’s diet completely. 

The bad news is that it requires the elimination of far more foods than just glutinous grains but the good news is that it is an elimination diet, especially designed for IBS patients, that is only intended to be strictly followed for a minimum of two weeks or slightly more. That the ultimate culprit(s) wreaking havoc with our health may be neither wheat nor gluten could be welcome news for the more than 18 million worldwide bread and pasta lovers and it certainly could slow down the fast growing 10 to 15 million-dollar ‘gluten-free’ industry.

After undergoing a systematic reintroduction of possible dietary offenders including wheat and other glutinous grains, and having discovered which foods may be causing a problem there is hope that with observing the restriction of those foods for anywhere from a few months to a year, they may actually cure themselves of their sensitivity and be eventually able to eat these foods again. This goes for many celiac suffers as well.

This seems much more reasonable to me and as an herbalist I can see how taking herbs such as Triphala and other gastrointestinal herbs and formulas over a long period may actually be able to hasten recovery.

Click the link below for a brief synopsis of the Low-FODMAP Diet as distributed by the Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Digestive Health Center Nutrition Services:

Gluten sensitivity and the TCM Spleen

The unique concept of the ‘Spleen’ in TCM encompasses far more than the standard Western physiological organ. The TCM Spleen is a Yin organ whose function is described as “transformation and transportation.” What is transformed is food, air and water and these are transported via the blood stream to all the cells of the body.  The Spleen represents the innate metabolic potential enabling deep level transformation of food and assimilation of energy. The Stomach, the Spleen’s Yang counterpart, is responsible for “ripening and rotting” or the initial stages of digestion.

Spleen Yang is similar to the Ayurvedic concept of “agni” in that it is metabolic fire that is responsible for digestion and blood circulation. Spleen Qi is responsible for the production of daily functional energy, the result of healthy digestion. Spleen function extends to the production of ATP by mitochondria in the cells – how cellular energy is produced. Knowing this gives greater depth of meaning and understanding of herbs classified as Spleen Qi and Yang tonics, such as ginseng, codonopsis and astragalus.

A fundamental precept of TCM theory is that the ‘Spleen abhors dampness.’ Consider the Spleen as a candle flame immersed in a slow-rising medium of fluid causing the flame, the spark of life to flicker and diminish.

Excess dampness is typical of individuals who suffer from hypo-thyroid, resulting in a somewhat more rounded or pear-shaped body. Obviously we might want to diminish all those factors that contribute to increasing dampness. Two of the most dampening foods that would be better limited for such individuals is dairy and wheat – and especially flour products.

According to TCM theory, Dampness is the result of partially metabolized food and excess fluids, with cold drinks being harmful to Spleen Yang and Agni as you might imagine. All these negative food factors together with metabolism diminishing with aging illustrate how Dampness is considered the most difficult condition to resolve in TCM.

When Dampness accumulates it thickens and forms Phlegm, another TCM evil. When Dampness and Phlegm reach higher toxic levels, they stagnate and become either cold or hot (inflammatory) identified as cold dampness or phlegm or hot dampness or phlegm. Such a distinction in TCM is important because it leads to herbs and formulas that treat cold or hot dampness or phlegm.

The most common symptoms associated with these Spleen imbalances precisely correlate with the symptoms individuals claim to result from gluten sensitivity.

Therefore any strategy intended to correct the symptoms of gluten sensitivity should include herbs that tonify Spleen Qi, remove Dampness and possibility dissolve Phlegm. Any formula that does this should improve digestion, increase energy and eliminate or lessen the symptoms caused by Dampness and Phlegm.

One formula that is ideal for this is called Six Major Herbs (Liu jun zi tang) or Six Gentlemen Tea pills.

Six Gentlemen Tea Pills consist of the following:

  • Codonopsis or ginseng – tonifies Spleen Qi
  • White atractylodes – Tonifies and warms Spleen Qi and Yang and drains Dampness
  • Poria mushroom – drains dampness and helps the Spleen
  • Honey-fried licorice – Tonifies Spleen Qi and harmonizes the formula
  • Ginger-fried pinellia root – dissolves Phlegm and removes Dampness
  • Tangerine peel (chen pi) – circulates Qi, helps digestion and dries Dampness

(The first four ingredients comprise Four Gentlemen (Si jun zi tang), the basic formula for tonifying Spleen Qi.)

Still another formula for tonifying the Spleen and aiding digestion is Six Gentlemen plus saussurea and cardamom. This formula more strongly targets weak digestion while the version with pinellia and citrus peel targets Dampness and Qi congestion.

I and a number of my colleagues have successfully treated mal-digestive disorders which included individuals who complained of IBS and gluten sensitivity.

Dr. Alan Tillotson of Chrysalis clinic in Delaware has treated hundreds of patients with these disorders.  Beside employing a diet appropriate for each patient, not unlike the different aspects of what is now called the FODMAP diet, he uses a specially made, 20% concentrated form of neem oil along with ajwan seed based on a formula he received from his Nepalese Ayurvedic doctor-teacher, the late Dr. Manas. This is used to destroy the harmful bacteria from the gut. In addition he gives other herbs such as Chinese Spleen tonics to strengthen digestive Qi.

I had a patient who was grain intolerant and morbidly obese. All she craved was sugar and the only foods she could tolerate were meat and vegetables. That’s the point where we started – recommending that she eat only meat and vegetables but absolutely no sugar. In addition, after a week or two on the diet when her sugar cravings subsided somewhat, I suggested she introduce a teaspoon of whole grains once daily. If there was no problem, she could gradually increase the amount as tolerance allowed. After a month, this woman was able to eat a healthy serving of whole grains, (brown rice, whole wheat, barley etc.) presoaked for a day or two before cooking, without any problem.

Another patient a man in his mid-30s with severe ulcerative colitis who had a lifelong history of vegetarian diet, thought that perhaps he had contracted parasites while practicing yoga in India. An important aspect of this case was that as virile as the man appeared to be he was always complaining of feeling deathly cold. I began by telling him that he needed to include animal protein as a mainstay in his diet. Fortunately, he didn’t turn tail with this suggestion as many vegetarians and vegans would. However he was extremely slow and tentative in changing his diet in this way. Consider that as a general rule, vegetarians and vegans are most likely to be the ones over-consuming sugar-forming carbs.

As this individual was making the dietary change, I prescribed a number of herbs including adding more ginger to his diet, and various Chinese formulas that so long as he took these, he was significantly improved. Because our relationship extended over the course of a few years and he would periodically stray, he would often wind up on the doorstep of my clinic with severe, debilitating diarrhea and bleeding.

Once he came and it was the end of the week and he was in extreme dire straits again. I decided to put to the test that the traditional Ayurvedic formula triphala, which I was the first to make popular in the West in the Planetary Herbals line, and is most often used as a laxative but the ancient texts say is effective for both constipation and diarrhea.  I recommended that he take this ancient time-honored formula chronically, 2 or 3 ‘00’ sized capsules of the powder every two waking hours. Over the course of three days until the next time he returned, he said the triphala had done the job and his bowels had returned to normal again.

For more details on this young man’s case, as well as more information about Triphala, click here.

Ayurveda, Traditional Chinese and Traditional Western herbal medicine all essentially believe that health is absolutely dependent upon healthy digestion and by implication, a healthy gut with balanced intestinal bacteria to maintain healthy digestion which forms the basis of the immune system for the entire body.  While triphala is used as a gentle food-like herbal mainstay in India, in China, 13th-century herbalist Li Dong Yuan founded the much revered Spleen-Stomach School which held that disease was caused by injury of the digestive system incurred through intemperate eating and drinking, overwork, and the seven emotions (stress). His most famous formula, which combines warm Qi tonic herbs with bitter clearing herbs is Ginseng and Astragalus Combination (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang). Because I frequently use this formula for practically all chronic metabolic disease, it is available in the Planetary line as Ginseng Elixir.

It consists of:

  • Asian Ginseng Root – Tonifies Qi
  • Astragalus Root – Tonifies and boost Qi
  • Licorice Root – tonifies qi and harmonizes the other formula ingredients
  • Bupleurum Root – Clears heat and inflammation, regulates and boosts Qi
  • Chinese Cimicifuga Rhizome – clears heat and boosts Qi
  • White Atractylodes Rhizome – Dries Dampness, warms and tonifies Spleen Qi
  • Dang Gui Root – Moves and tonifies Blood
  • Jujube Fruit – tonifies Spleen Qi

This formula may be good to use for symptoms of gluten sensitivity, especially when there is low energy and chronic autoimmune symptoms.  It can be taken together with Six Gentlemen teapills described above.

The point here is that if you are experiencing symptoms, whether it be from eating grains with gluten or any other food allergy or sensitivity, consider that there may be more fundamental digestive imbalances that should be addressed. While food is ultimately your best medicine, when it comes to digestive imbalances, herbs can be considered a natural extension of food. There are many factors that can imbalance our digestive process; poor food combining is certainly one. If we eat foods that don’t mix very well in our gut or digest at different rates such as fruit juice, fruits and grains, grains and heavy protein, and so forth, for all GI systems these can be a challenge and for some the result is bloating and gas. Furthermore, excess intake of ice cold foods and drinks wreak havoc on a healthy GI tract.

It may come as a surprise for some to realize that raw foods can be a challenge for sensitive stomachs.

I once had a student in England who presented himself as a hippie with dreadlocks and was a follower of the raw food diet. (Keep in mind anything I say here reflects the individual I describe and while exemplifying sound nutritional principles may not be true for everyone). Following the Ayurvedic principle of three basic constitutions, someone with a more fiery (called “pitta”) constitution may be able to survive on a vegan or raw food diet. This young man in his late 20s, however was all vata, or “air.” He specifically felt that he was gluten intolerant though he was not tested for celiac disease. Eventually as I told him to at least cook his vegetables and eat more first-class protein derived from animal sources and include certain warming spices such as mustard seed, dried ginger, cardamom, cumin, coriander, turmeric and one of the most effective digestive herbs of all, asafoetida (“Hing” in Hindi), he found that he was digesting his food better and he was longer gluten-sensitive.

Besides triphala, the Ayurvedic tradition, considering digestion as the key to health, has a particularly large number of herbs and formula combinations intended to correct any number of different digestive imbalances. Of course most of us enjoy curry, which is a combination of various spices including cumin, coriander, turmeric as the three core herbs. Various individuals and companies make their own unique blend, using other herbs such as ginger, asafoetida, mustard seed, dill, fenugreek, black pepper, long pepper, ajwan to name only a few. The intention is not only for flavor but to enhance digestive and prevent and treat many of the conditions that many attribute to gluten sensitivity.

India has a large number of formulas used for various digestive complaints. These include, Avipattikar (Planetary Herbs’ newest formula called Avi-Pro Reflux Rescue) one of the most effective formulas for heartburn and acid reflux; Hingashtak (called “flatulence pills’ in India) based on hing and other spices specifically used to prevent gas and bloat, and lavangadi churna for acidic stomach. Traditionally a lacto-vegetarian culture, India realized long ago the particular digestive challenges that are the result of a diet consisting of mostly grains, beans, pulses and vegetables. As a result, various digestive spice blends known  as ‘curry’ are important for supporting healthy digestion and assimilation. 

Herbs are special foods, especially when it comes to digestion. I once had a patient who had severe digestive discomfort from many things that she would eat. This was long before the present gluten-sensitivity and food-allergy epoch but I bet that if she were here today, she’d easily fit into that niche. I tried all kinds of specific herbal dietary approaches with her – though I remember I wasn’t much into bitters in those days so she never was given this. What did work was probably in effect similar to an herbal bitter. The basic principle was to give her a formula with a small amount of many herbs – perhaps as many as 10 or 15 Western herbs. I can’t think of all the herbs that were in her tea but it included wild yam, berberis, cramp bark, wild cherry, gentian, sarsaparilla, blessed thistle, a half portion of rhubarb root, ginger, hawthorn, fennel seed, chamomile, elecampane. In fact I never could precisely remember all the ingredients in her formula so it was slightly different each time she came. This was essentially a combination, similar to a bitters formulation but without the alcohol. All she needed to do was drink a half-cup of this tea before and/or after meals and she never experienced any digestive complaint.

One of my first teachers, the late Norma Meyers’, favorite treatment for digestive problems including bloat and gas was to take a pinch of every spice in the spice cabinet, mix it in some warm water. This would alleviate most digestive disturbances within 15 to 30 minutes if not sooner.

In the Western herbal tradition, the mainstay for all digestive complaints falls under the category of “bitters.” Each country in Europe including Russia promotes their favorite national bitters formulation, which is used to aid digestion and considered a virtual heal-all for most diseases. Bitters may well be the shining example of traditional Western herbal medicine. Bitters such as the Italian Fernet Branca, or the famous Swedish Bitters, consists of a number of herbs, mostly bitter, typically containing bitter gentian root and various other bitter herbs and spices extracted in alcohol. These are taken as a virtual panacea for most diseases but especially for problems with digestion, many of which such as gas, bloating, heavy-headed feelings and low energy, are on the list of common complaints of those who believe they are gluten-sensitive/intolerant.

Recently one of my students who was convinced they were experiencing adverse reactions to wheat, wrote, “For a while, the reactions only happened when combining wheat with dairy/fats; now it seems no matter what I have it with, wheat is still an issue - the reactions happens when I've had even a minimum of a small slice of homemade sourdough bread with just jam on it, for example.  The form: flour, sprouted grain, fermented/sourdough, pasta, cake, etc, no longer matters."

I suggested she experiment and either trick herself by not knowing if wheat was being consumed or take it with bitters. Two days later she reported: "Last night I didn't feel like dealing with rice/mung noodles or making zucchini "noodles" so went for it with some fancy organic Italian pasta -- took bitters (my own formula included elecampane, one of my new favorite herbs) before dinner, then had the pasta/bolognese with parmesan grated on top, then more bitters about 20-30 minutes after eating. Guess what -- NO awful reaction like I've been having!!! I even treated myself to a few small bites of a local boulangerie's fabulous baguette today, with cheese. Still no reaction. So I don't know what's up with the NCGS stuff.”

The point here is not to prove the non-existence of NCGS by a single anecdotal case but I suspect that the majority of the 17 million who claim to have gluten sensitivity and do not have celiac disease fall into a similar situation where whether they were psychologically influenced by the anti-gluten “group think,” or may be suffering from a bout of poor food combining and mal digestion, are really not sensitive to gluten at all. Most of us don’t register our minor digestive problems until they rise to an acute state. It is healthy digestion, not gluten-free, that is the key to good health.



The holidays are fast approaching and before you know it, you might need to start cooking up a storm. But what if you’re tired of the same old recipes or you want to try something new? Look no further. I’ve got several ideas here to spice up your holiday eating as well as expand your culinary herbal horizons. And at the very end I’ve included several after-dinner digestive aids to prevent that awful sluggishness most of us feel after over-eating holiday meals.


Traditional Meal

Many of us love the traditional meals we serve at holiday time so I won’t mess with those plans. However, here are some ways you can sneak spices into your dishes so they are more interesting and healthy ones, too.

Creamed onions: Add cardamom, one of the best spices to help digestion and eliminate the dampening nature of dairy.

Winter squash: Cut in half and baked with a drizzling of ghee and generous sprinkle of cinnamon, this delish dish not only makes your kitchen (and house) smell divine, but the cinnamon also helps balance blood sugar and warms your inner metabolic and Kidney Yang fires.

Stuffing: By adding sage, thyme, bay and rosemary to your stuffing mix, you’ll aid digestion and help protect everyone from the nasty colds and flu so common at this time of year.

Pumpkin pie: Spices are sure to be in your pies, but know that together cloves, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and cardamom all help digestion, eliminate dampness, warm the metabolism and balance blood sugar.


Add a Little Adventure to Your Meal

Side Dishes

Try these two vegetable dishes to expand your flavors and increase your meal’s health benefits.

Brussels sprouts with lemon and garlic: The garlic in this dish helps treat and prevent colds and flu. As well, lemon juice helps clear some Liver Heat that increases from all the tasty wine you might drink.

String beans with lycii berries (gou ji zi) and walnuts: This preparation is not only unusual in taste but also color and texture. Traditionally, Chinese long beans are used but I’ve made it with regular string beans just fine. Blanch the walnuts and soak the lycii berries before adding. Include the lycii juice, too. Lycii not only nourishes the body’s essence, it also helps eyesight and supports the Liver and Kidney energy. Walnuts tonify Kidney Yang and so treat low back pain, lowered metabolism, edema in the legs and mild constipation in those who are tired and cold.


Main Dishes

Calendula Quiche: Calendula flowers are anti-fungal and move circulation. They are used for skin complains, red and irritated eyes and liver cleansing. They add a beautiful visual touch to your meal as well.

  • 1 pie crust
  • ¼-1/3 lb. cheese (Monterey Jack, Cheddar and Swiss cheese
  • are good choices.)
  • 1 cup onions
  • calendula petals from 8-10 calendulas
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup milk

Grate the cheese and put in piecrust. Sauté onions and mix with calendula petals. Pour over cheese. Beat together eggs and milk. Pour over top of pie mixture. Bake 35-40 minutes at 375 degrees. Let cool. Cut into 6-8 pie wedges. Top each with a calendula flower.


Basil Pesto: Used as an appetizer or part of the main meal, basil helps digestion, treats colds, is anti-inflammatory and supports heart health. Garlic cures everything except what it causes: bad breath!

  • 3 packed cups fresh basil leaves
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • ¾ cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½-¾ cup olive oil
  • ½ packed cup parsley

Puree everything together in a blender or food processor. Pour into a container and cover with 2 tablespoons oil to keep it from darkening.



Flowered Salad will surprise everyone and provide a spicy-sweet flavor, interesting texture and gentle fragrance to your meal. As well, colored flowers are striking against the green leaves in a flower salad. Flowers have been eaten for thousands of years – why not bring them back again?

Wash and dry edible flowers such as chives, nasturtiums, violets, borage, pansies, wild radish, Johnny-jump-ups, and rose and calendula petals. Add to salad greens right before serving. Lightly sprinkle on your favorite dressing (see below) and toss.


And Don’t Forget the Dressing!

Make one (or all!) of these vinegar dressings ahead of time and enliven your salads even more.

Spiced vinegar: Add 2-4 garlic cloves, 4-6 ginger slices and 1-2 whole cayenne peppers to apple cider vinegar.

Italian vinegar: Use a whole stem each of rosemary, oregano and thyme and 4-6 leaves of basil apple cider vinegar.

Dandelion vinegar: Use a handful of dandelion leaves and flowers in apple cider vinegar.



Try some new drinks this year! How about mulled cider, chai, or cinnamon milk? You might even make some herbal beers or wines, although those recipes aren’t included here.

Chai is a delicious spicy tea is regularly drunk in India. Chai helps relieve indigestion, gas and colds with strong chills and a low fever. It also makes a great winter brew to warm the body and metabolism, especially if you easily feel cold. Orange and tangerine peels are great digestive aids, alleviating gas, nausea and vomiting and clearing white to clear-colored mucus. Lemon peel is a traditional after-dinner tea in Italy to help digestion, while grapefruit peel lowers fevers and treats colds and flu.

  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger or ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 7 peppercorns
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves
  • 15 cardamom seeds
  • 1 peel from a whole orange (dry or fresh), tangerine, lemon or grapefruit
  • 1 pint water
  • ½ cup milk

Combine all the ingredients except milk in a pot. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add milk and simmer covered another 10 minutes. Strain and sweeten with honey, if desired. You may brew this with black tea or other herbal teas such as rooibos.  You can also make it more or less spicy by adjusting the amount of milk used.


Ginger Ale Fizz tastes very much like old-fashioned ginger ale but is much healthier and is a great digestive aid and cold/flu preventer.

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root, or ½ teaspoon ginger powder
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup carbonated water
  • 2 teaspoons sugar (raw or brown sugar is preferable) or honey

Bring ginger and water to a boil. Turn down heat to low and simmer covered for no more than 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes. Strain. Add carbonated water. Stir in sugar or honey. Let cool.


Cinnamon Milk is just one of many herbal milks you can make. Often used in India, cinnamon milk especially helps to firm loose or runny bowels, warms the body and aids digestion. This is a great drink for children or to help sleep after a long busy holiday.

  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon honey

Heat milk in a pan to scalding. Add powdered cinnamon and honey and stir well.



Cinnamon Halvah

Halvah is a wonderful candy made from sesame seeds and honey. Sesame seeds are high in calcium, a mineral that strengthens bones, teeth and nerves while honey is warming and helps clear white mucus. When cinnamon is added, it warms you up on a blustery day and aids digestion, too.

  • 1 cup sesame seeds
  • 4 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • ½ cup honey

Lightly toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet, stirring constantly until the seeds start popping and turn brown. Cool. Grind sesame seeds in a nut and seed or coffee grinder, blender or food processor until they form a paste. Mix with cinnamon powder and honey. Spread mixture thinly on a sheet of aluminum foil and wrap up to cover. Refrigerate several hours. Cut into bite-sized pieces and eat.


Candied flowers have traditionally been eaten for centuries. They are a beautiful and delicate treat. Many different types of flowers may be used, but try violets, rose petals, borage, honeysuckle, or jasmine for starters.

  • A handful or two of flowers
  • 2/3 cup unrefined granulated cane sugar
  • ½ cup water

Gently rinse flowers in water and set to dry on a towel. Boil sugar and water 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until light syrup forms. Using a fork or tongs, dip each flower into the syrup and gently shake off the excess. Set flowers on a cookie sheet covered with waxed paper. With a toothpick, straighten out any folded or bent petals. Let dry in a warm place out of the sun. Store in a tin until ready to eat.


After-Dinner Digestive Aids

How do you prevent the awful stomach bloating or food stagnation that arises after over-eating a delicious meal? Here are three choices that not only help digestion, but also taste fabulous, too.

Fennel Candy is a regular after-dinner treat to aid digestion.

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unrefined sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon water

In a pan mix together the fennel seeds, sugar and water. Heat gently on the stove until the sugar dissolves and coats the seeds. Pour into a bowl. Add 2 more teaspoons fennel seeds and 2 teaspoons sugar. Mix together well and let cool.


Candied Ginger is typically eaten in China to aid digestion.

  • ¼ pound fresh ginger root (about 1 cup sliced ginger)
  • ½ cup sugar (raw sugar is best)
  • 1 cup water

Peel off outer skin of ginger. Slice ginger into paper-thin rounds. Bring the water and ginger to a boil and simmer 10 minutes covered. Remove and set aside the ginger slices. Add ½ cup sugar to the ginger water and stir until dissolved. Return pan to the heat and cover. Simmer 2-3 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking until a syrupy consistency is reached, about 5-10 minutes. Add ginger to the syrup and stir well to coat the ginger. Remove the ginger slices from the liquid and place into a bowl. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons extra sugar over them and roll in the sugar to coat the slices. Then place ginger pieces on waxed paper spaced apart. Let dry overnight. Store carefully in a sealed jar in the refrigerator.

Hawthorn berries not only help heart function, but also help the digestion of meat and fats. In China hawthorn is made into thin wafers and eaten as candy after meals for just his purpose. Place a bowl of fresh or dried hawthorn berries on the table and let people eat as desired, or make into a paste that can be licked off spoons by grinding the berries and mixing with honey.

SHARE YOUR FAVORITE HERBAL HOLIDAY RECIPES IN THE COMMENTS SECTION and I’ll post them for everyone to use over the December holidays!

overexerciseA close member of my family recently went on a weight loss diet and happily dropped 25 pounds within two or three months. Suddenly encouragement changed to despair as she found that try as hard as she must, sticking close to her diet, she could hardly lose even another 5 poundss over the following two months. Discouraged, she fell off the wagon and gained back 10 pounds of what she originally lost.

So what happened? One thing is that she was going to the gym regularly, getting healthier and the fat she accumulated was being replaced by muscle, which is denser and heavier. If she had stayed on the diet longer, eventually she would have begun to lose weight again at even an even faster rate because her muscle growth due to exercise would have increased the body’s fat-burning ability.

A common mistake for many who go on a diet to lose weight is in believing that somehow if they exercise more, they burn more calories and therefore will lose weight faster. In fact, one has to burn at least 500 calories a day for a week, which comes to 3,500 calories to lose one pound of fat.

So what is the value of exercise in weight-loss dieting, given the fact that the amount of exercise one is able to do will always be limited by how fat we are?

Exercise is vitally important in losing weight, not so much for burning calories as it is for revving up Yang metabolism. This literally turns your body into a fat-burning machine.

However, the transition from fat to muscle may seem to be a no-man’s-land in terms of actually shedding of pounds.

full_bellyWe are at the end of the Spleen/Stomach "time of year" – actually the Spleen/Spleen time – meaning that digestive and metabolic issues can be especially strained now. Every organ system "rules" about two and a half months of the year during which its energy should flourish. In addition, the last half-month of each season is also a Spleen time regardless of the organ system, thus Spleen/Spleen now. This will shift into Lung time about mid-September. Until then, digestive issues are up for many.

It’s amazing to me how people come into my clinic at the same time of year with similar health issues that match whatever organ "season" we are in. It’s no different now, as from about mid-August to mid-September, people frequently complain of diarrhea, low appetite, poor muscle strength or tone, loose stools or diarrhea, tiredness, inability to focus or concentrate, low vitality, bloating, gas, a need to clear the throat after eating, post nasal drip, runny nose, an inability to lose weight now, or obsession or brooding. These are all signs of Deficient Spleen Qi, Deficient Spleen Yang and/or Spleen Dampness.

When the Spleen is weak, other problems arise as well; as Ayurveda states, digestion is "the key to health." When Spleen Qi is deficient, the body not only doesn’t build sufficient Blood or Qi but also doesn’t supply them adequately to the organs or tissues.

Digestive issues can have great impact on our lives. I have a patient in his 20s, who after eating at a fast food restaurant just once, got colitis with diarrhea that lasted for over five years. He couldn’t date, work, or socialize because he didn’t dare leave his house for frequent need of the bathroom. Another patient could only eat eight foods because of her Crohn’s disease. Still another man in his 20s was up every night from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux), which greatly impacted his schoolwork. A different patient had gluten sensitivity, which limited his food intake tremendously. Many other patients can’t lose weight no matter what they try, even eating low-caloric diets of fruits and salads. I successfully treated all of these conditions with diet and herbs that focused mainly on strengthening the Spleen along with any other presenting patterns.

I’ve even seen people dash to the emergency room thinking they were having a heart attack while in actuality, they were experiencing acute Food Stagnation. I’ve talked with emergency room nurses about this and they say when an obvious heart problem isn’t present, most doctors start with a digestive medication to see if this alleviates the symptoms, which it often does.

In general, the Spleen is responsible for assimilation and transportation of nutrients throughout the body (metabolism). As this occurs on all levels, Spleen Qi not only controls food and fluid metabolism but also cell respiration and other similar metabolic functions. The Spleen rules the muscles, flesh and limbs, keeps the Organs in place and the Blood in vessels, opens to the mouth and manifests in the lips. The Spleen hates to be Damp, as this interferes with its ability to transform and transport food and fluids.

A weak Spleen causes poor digestion, low appetite, gas, bloatedness, acid regurgitation, loose stools or diarrhea, undigested food in the stools, malnutrition, weakness in arms and legs, fatigue, poor muscle development, edema of abdomen, hips and thighs, blood spots under the skin, easy bruising, lack of sensation of taste, prolapsed organs, frequent bleeding, abdominal distension, obsession, worry, and anemia. The tongue has scallops, trembles, may be swollen and has a thicker coat if there’s Dampness or Food Stagnation. The pulse is weak or minute.

These are the typical Spleen patterns found:




Stuffiness of chest or epigastrium

Loose stools with offensive odor

Feeling of heaviness

Low-grade fever constant throughout the day


Stuffiness of epigastrium and lower abdomen with some pain 

Lack of appetite 

No appetite 

No thirst or desire to drink 

Thirst without desire to drink, or desire to drink only in small sips 

Lack of sensation of taste, or flat sweetish taste in mouth 

Abdominal pain 

Skin eruptions containing fluid 

Feeling of heaviness 

Watery stools 

Scanty and dark-colored urine 






Burning sensation of anus 



Tongue: thick, greasy white coat

Tongue: sticky, greasy, yellow coat

Pulse: Slippery and Slow 

Pulse: Slippery and Fast 














cold limbs

Bearing down sensation


No appetite

Lack of appetite 

Prolapse of stomach, vagina, urinary bladder, uterus, anus 

Easily bruised


Fatigue and lethargy 


Frequency and urgency of urination or urinary incontinence 

Subcutaneous hemorrhaging 

Loose stools

Loose stools


Bloody nose 

Poor digestion 

Undigested food in the stools 

Extreme chronic diarrhea 

Blood in the urine or stools 

Slight abdominal pain and distension relieved by pressure 

Abdominal pain and distension relieved by pressure and warmth 


Blood spots under the skin 

Gas and bloatedness 

Gas and bloatedness 

Other signs of Deficient Spleen Qi  

Excessive menses 

Sallow complexion

Sallow or bright-white complexion


Sallow complexion


Weakness of the limbs

Weakness of the four limbs


Uterine bleeding




Shortness of breath

Tongue: pale or normal-colored with thin white moss; possible swollen sides

Tongue: pale, swollen, wet

Tongue: pale

Tongue: pale

Pulse: Empty

Pulse: Weak, Slow

and Deep

Pulse: Weak

Pulse: Fine


Stay tuned for Sept. 21 when I'll describe food and herbs for treating Spleen imbalances.


In my last blog post we explored patterns of disharmony for the Spleen, which are so prevalent at this time of year. Here, I'll discuss remedies for those patterns.

campfire_potSPLEEN DIET

There are many great treatments and herbs for strengthening the Spleen, but it all starts with what we eat since the Spleen and Stomach Organs are directly in charge of breaking down and metabolizing food and drink. This metabolic kitchen is like a pot of soup bubbling about 98-99 degrees on the stove. In TCM the pot of soup is the Spleen, the burner under the pot is the Stomach, and the pilot light of the stove is the Kidneys. Foods that digest easily in this soup pot are thoroughly cooked and warm in temperature.

When added to the soup pot, raw foods, cold foods eaten directly out of the refrigerator or freezer and cold energied-foods all stop the soup from bubbling and slow the digestive process until they warm up to match the body’s temperature. If digestion is strong, this occurs fairly quickly, but over time the body has to turn up the burner under the pot to counteract the coolness obstructing digestion.

When the metabolic Stomach burner suddenly "turns up" symptoms may arise such as forehead headaches (like the ice cream "brain freeze"), gum infections, bleeding gums, increased appetite, dry lips, mouth sores and/or bad breath. If the intake of cold foods continues, it also dampens the pilot light in the Kidneys, making it difficult to stay lit. This is similar to putting wet wood on a fire – it creates smoke (Stomach Heat) and burns low, providing little heat (Deficient Spleen Qi).

Eventually, the burner can’t be turned up any further. Digestion becomes sluggish until ultimately, food is not fully broken down and passes through the stools undigested, like wet wood dampening the fire so in time it goes out altogether (Deficient Kidney Yang).

When digestion gets this Cold, other symptoms manifest such as gas, bloating, sleepiness after eating, anemia, fatigue, weakness, lowered immunity, poor appetite, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual bleeding), loose stools or diarrhea, frequent copious urination, lowered sex drive, achy lower back and knees and a variety of other complaints. Although these symptoms can occur at any time of year, they are generally aggravated in late summer (due to the excessive intake of cooling summer foods), or winter (the coldest season and Kidney time of year).

On the other hand, excessive amounts of hot foods, either from a high temperature or heating energy, such as greasy or oily foods or the excessive intake of hot spices (chili), cause the soup pot to suddenly boil and splatter. This causes too much Heat in the body, leading to headaches, hypertension, irritability, restlessness, difficulty falling asleep, hyperacidity, hyperactivity, and thirst, among numerous other diseases. Thus, you need the correct energied fuel to maintain healthy digestion and stoked fires.




Protein (all proteins, especially beef)

Insufficient protein and nutrition

Cooked foods

Excessive intake of raw foods, including salads

Warm/room temperature drinks

Refrigerated foods and drinks

Root vegetables

Iced drinks

Winter squash

Frozen yogurt, ice cream, popsicles

Rice, quinoa, barley, amaranth, buckwheat, millet; peanuts; tofu

Excessive intake of flour products (breads, pasta, chips, cookies, crackers, pastries, etc.)

Spices (garlic, cumin, ginger, black pepper, etc.)

Excessive hot, spicy foods (such as hot salsa)


Excessive intake of vegetable juices


Excessive intake of potatoes

Peach, apple, mango, papaya, loquat; cook fruit with spices

Excessive intake of fruit and fruit juices

Beets, cabbage, carrot, yam, sweet potato, potato, string beans, peas, winter squash, lotus root

Excessive intake of supplements

Small amounts of whole sugar, especially malt



Along with eating Spleen-strengthening foods and eliminating Spleen-weakening foods, be sure to add spices to your meals. Note, I said spices and NOT spicy (like chilis) as the latter causes Stomach Heat. Spices are generally carminatives that aid digestion as well as flavor food. Examples are: ginger, cardamom, cloves, anise, fennel, garlic, cumin, and coriander. As well, be sure to drink all fluids at room temperature, or even better, warm, and eat mostly cooked foods at room temperature or preferably, warm.


One of the very best therapies to strengthen the Spleen is to do moxibustion. This therapy is a method of burning herbs, usually dried and aged mugwort, on or above the skin to stimulate Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warm areas of Coldness. As well, doing moxa on certain points can strengthen digestion and improve Spleen and Stomach energy. Here’s where to do moxa for this above the skin:

  • Over the midline of the abdomen between the navel and public bone
  • On a point located one hand-width below the knee cap and one inch out from the tibia (shin bone) – this point is called Stomach 36, or "three mile" meaning that if you’re too exhausted to walk further, when you stimulate this point you can walk another three miles. As well, this point stimulates gastric secretions and improves digestion, as tiny cameras in the stomach have shown when this point was stimulated.
  • One hand-width up from the wrist in the center between the tendons. This point is called Pericardium 6.

To use the moxa stick, either hold it still and move when heat tolerance is reached, returning after a few seconds and repeating the process, or move stick in circular fashion until warm. Continue until the area or point is warm and red, about 10-15 minutes. Put the stick out in raw rice, or place in a jar and screw the lid on tight.


Qi tonics are generally sweet in flavor and warm in energy. Qi tonics may slightly stagnate the Qi, which is why Qi-building formulas usually include herbs that regulate or move the Qi along with herbs that dispel Dampness. I wish I could give you western Spleen Qi tonics, but they don’t really exist in western herbalism. You could use adaptogens, but they are not strong Qi tonics.

Do not use Qi tonics during the acute stages of colds/flu/fever as they can push the pathogen deeper into the body, like locking a thief in the house. As Qi tonics can also cause colic in breast-feeding infants, use caution if nursing.

The very best way to take herbs for the Spleen is to cook with them. Add Spleen Qi tonic herbs to grains, soups, breakfast cereals and stews. Use the tea as stocks or in sauces. Be sure to remove the fibrous parts and pits from the dates but eat the rest of the herbs with the foods.


Spleen Qi tonics: Astragalus (huang qi), ginseng (ren shen), codonopsis (dang shen), Chinese wild yam (shan yao), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao), jujube dates (da zao)

Combine with:

  • Damp-dispelling herbs like elecampane/pinellia, fu ling
  • Qi movers such as citrus, saussurea
  • Aromatic Damp-dispelling herbs like agastache, cloves, cardamom
  • Spleen Yang tonics like dried ginger or psoralae



The most common Spleen tonic formulas include:

Spleen Qi Tonics:

Four Gentlemen (Si Jun Zi Tang): (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), poria (fu ling), white atractylodes (bai zhu), licorice (gan cao). This is the classic formula to tonify the Spleen. It treats fatigue, poor appetite, watery diarrhea, poor muscle strength and tone, and sluggish digestion.

Six Gentlemen (Liu Jun Zi Tang): add citrus and pinellia to above four herbs. This formula also clears accumulation of Phelgm and Dampness with such symptoms as acid regurgitation, chest fullness, cough with thin white sputum, and vomiting.

Ginseng and Astragalus Combination (Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang): astragalus (huang qi), licorice (gan cao), ginseng (ren shen) or codonopsis (dang shen), atractylodes (bai zhu), Angelica sinensis (dang gui), cimicifuga (sheng ma), bupleurum (chai hu), citrus (chen pi), jujube dates (da zao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang). This formula treats low energy, shortness of breath, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, low appetite, loose stools, irritability, intolerance of cold and prolapse of organs. It is said to be the best way to strengthen the Kidneys through the Spleen.

Spleen Dampness:

Wei Ling Tang: alisma (ze xie), poria (fu ling), polyporus (zhu ling), cinnamon twig (gui zhi), white atactrylodes (bai zhu), black atractylodes (cang zhu), magnolia bark (hou po), citrus peel (chen pi), licorice (gan cao), fresh ginger (sheng jiang), jujube date (da zao). This formula clears Spleen Dampness with symptoms of abdominal fullness, sensation of heaviness in the head and body, edema of the face and eyes, poor appetite, and watery diarrhea. As well, you could add herbs like cardamom or cloves to your normal Qi-building formula.

Spleen Yang Tonics:

Ginseng and Ginger Combination (Li Zhong Wan): ginseng (ren shen), white atracylodes (bai zhu), dry ginger (gan jiang), baked licorice (zhi gan cao). This formula warms the Spleen and Stomach treating symptoms of lack of appetite, no thirst, abdominal fulless that likes pressure, vomiting, and loose stools or diarrhea.

Food Stagnation:

See my blog posted in June, 2013.


Page 1 of 3
© 2017. East West School of Planetary Herbology. All Rights Reserved.   Disclaimer