The most widely used Chinese herbal formula comes with the boastful name, “Curing Pills.” In North America and Europe any herbal preparation with such a name would be viewed with the same humorous disdain as “”snake oil”  was during the 19th century in North America. (Though if the real “snake oil” might have been an echinacea root preparation, also popularly called “snakeroot,” used by the Sioux Indians and early settlers to treat cold, flu, infection, inflammation, and even venomous bites and stings, one would be justified in considering it a virtual “cure-all.”)  “Curing Pills”!  Such a name is bound to tickle any Western rationalist’s mind as incredulous.

Still, the name “Curing Pills” could only arise in a population that culturally had or has a deep respect for the healing power for herbs, something people in the West have lost or are in the process of regaining.

“Cures what?” you might ask. Or, when are you most likely to be desperate enough to reach for a box or bottle of something called “Curing Pills”?

How about when you’re on vacation in an area where change of diet, water, hygiene and other factors leads to a sudden and most inconvenient bad case of the “runs,” or other gastrointestinal upset?

How about if you’re trapped on a boat with seasickness, nausea and vomiting?

Or how about during those agonizing hangover hours after a night of over-indulging?

In any of these scenarios you might be inclined to reach for anything for relief, and in such contexts the name “Curing Pills” takes on useful significance.

Curing Pills, also known in Chinese as Kang Ning Wan, meaning “Healthy Peaceful Pills,” has a time-earned respect for treating most acute gastrointestinal diseases. Chinese people who over centuries have traveled through the widely diverse climates and cultures throughout China have learned to bring their “Kang Ning Wan” pills with them; thus they came to be known as “Curing Pills.”

The herbs in this energetically balanced formula have many properties, including antibiotic, antiviral, digestive, antispasmodic, and carminative. You can use them for treating food- and water-borne pathogens, food poisoning, dietary sensitivities, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, dizziness, motion sickness, alcohol and drug hangovers, fevers and even common cold and flu complaints.

Digestion and the stomach is considered the center, the place where health and disease emanates and is regulated. Curing Pills work to reestablish a “healthy and peaceful” GI tract. 

Considering their wide range of efficacious action Curing Pills are inexpensive. They are also light and easy to carry. I always keep a box of them in my luggage, making one less thing to think about when packing.

Consider them anytime you find yourself uncomfortable from overeating. To prevent or lessen the severity from a potential hangover, try taking them before imbibing and then the morning after.

If you are traveling to Central or South America or some parts of Asia or Africa where standards of hygiene are not always to be counted on, be sure have Curing Pills on hand to prevent what has come to be known as the dreaded “Montezuma’s Revenge.”

Many people are concerned about expiration dates and indeed for food items and other things such as pharmaceuticals expiration dates are important to consider. The consideration regarding packaged and sealed herbal products is not so strict however. I have found Curing Pills and other herbal products viable and effective long past the expiration date on the label.

A group of us are planning a month-long excursion to study herbal medicine and tour in China. While I expect Curing Pills will be widely available there, fortunately they are also available in the US. I will be gone for a month. I already have two boxes of Curing pills stashed in my luggage. Often when we come down with acute gastrointestinal distress we don’t have time and are certainly not in the mood to be looking for a place to buy Curing Pills.

So to paraphrase the old American Express Card ad in relation to herbal Curing Pills, “Don’t Leave Home Without Them!”


For those who may have questions regarding the quality of imported Chinese herbal products, Planetary Formulas manufactures Kang Ning Wan or Curing Pills in a product known as “Digestive Comfort.” It consists of Poria sclerotium, magnolia bark, Chinese giant hyssop leaf, Job's tears seed, bai-zhu Atractylodes rhizome, fragrant angelica root, kudzu root, leavened wheat, germinated rice, Trichosanthes root, chrysanthemum flower, Gastrodia tuber, and Chinese mint leaf and stem. Soon it will also be available in a convenient small tincture bottle.


The three fruits of Triphala.

My clinical experience using the Ayurvedic formula Triphala is extensive, based on literally thousands of cases over the course or 25 years. It is only within the last three years that I can proclaim it to be as near a specific for IBS, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease as one can find.

I discovered this use for it quite by accident working with a patient with the worst case of ulcerative colitis I have ever encountered. Because this was a condition of extreme diarrhea, I initially never thought to prescribe Triphala because of its known laxative properties; Triphala is also a specific treatment for laxative-dependent constipation, so it seems counterintuitive to employ it in the treatment of ulcerative colitis, which is basically an intractable type of diarrhea. Even though I had read that Triphala was good for both constipation and diarrhea, I didn’t want to exacerbate an already bad inflammatory condition.

To step back for a moment, I’ve written about Triphala extensively before, but to briefly recap, I use Triphala as a foundation formula appropriate for all diseases. It is detoxifying, astringent, and laxative. Literally millions of people in India and now throughout the world use it, and there have been no serious adverse effects to its regular use, whether daily, or weekly. Triphala perfectly balances the chemistry of the entire GI tract so that healthy flora will flourish. Triphala helps us to eliminate all that we don’t need while retaining what we do.

A patient came to me who had suffered for years with the worse case of ulcerative colitis I’ve ever encountered clinically. I shared his full story on a blog here. I was only able to occasionally relieve his symptoms with Chinese herbs, health supplements and a severely restricted diet avoid all sugar, refined foods, dairy and grains.  Even with periods of surcease, his condition would recur and we’d have to come up with a completely different game plan to help him recover.

But after just three days on two “00” sized capsules every waking hour during the day, he was symptom-free!

It seemed that indeed, the ancient recommendations for Triphala being good for both constipation and diarrhea were correct. 

I shared this story with a number of colleagues and students and they all reported the same results. They were curing the incurables, IBS and Crohn’s disease. The only difference was that they were able to achieve these positive results with a far more modest disease level and regime. They simply gave 3 “00” capsules three times daily and they got the same results as I did giving 2 capsules hourly.

Most recently, I gave it to a woman who had medically diagnosed Crohn’s disease as well as rheumatoid arthritis for which I prescribed other herbs. In this case I only prescribed 3 “00” sized capsules of Triphala three times daily. This was enough to completely stop her Crohn’s disease symptoms within three days.

Her rheumatoid arthritis symptoms were resolved by her embarking on a 10-day kitchari fast and the Chinese formula Du Huo Ji Sheng Tang (Du huo angelica and loranthes combination) in pill form. However it was the Triphala that completely stopped all symptoms of Crohn’s disease which had plagued her for years previous.  While I am reluctant to use the word “cure,” she continues symptom-free for more than six months and continues to take Triphala now at the modest dose of only 2 “00” sized capsules 2 or 3 times daily, she claims that she is cured of her Crohn’s disease. 

With the exception of the occasional day or even week off of all supplements which is a good idea generally, she has not stopped taking Triphala. Why should she? In India, Triphala is considered safe for all young and old and is even given to infants. It is a regular household item. As the saying there goes, “No mother? No worry, so long as you have Triphala.”

IBS, Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis are such terrible diseases affecting 10 to 15% of the population in the US, which is anywhere from 25 to 45 million people. If only all these sufferers and their gastroenterologists knew about this single safe and most effective formula, consider how many might benefit.

I have no way of knowing whether it will work for everyone, but I do know it is safe based on my own and my colleagues’ and my many students’ experience. A bottle of Triphala powder or capsules doesn’t cost much; if there is a chance it can heal these inflammatory bowel conditions, it is worth a try with little sacrifice.

Elderberry Juice for IBS?

Besides Triphala for IBS, I recently came across a single case of an individual who suffered from severe symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease and cured himself with elderberry juice. This is a heretofore unknown use of the famous elderberry previously only considered as a treatment for colds and flu. What I found interesting about this was that like Triphala, elderberry is a fruit that contains both laxative and astringent properties. Perhaps this once sacred herb of the ancient Celts is a northern European counterpart as an effective herb for IBS. Let us know about your experiences with Triphala and/or elderberries for IBS.




The famous Angostura bitters, first made in Venezuela in
the early 19th century. "Photo by Clément Bucco-Lechat -
Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

At this time of year – deep into summer heat and humidity – plus during the Spleen time ruling digestion, there’s a wonderful beverage you can make to help you now: Bitters! The bitter flavor is cooling and dispersing, but it stimulates the release of bile, aiding digestion and elimination. All of these functions are especially perfect for August and September. So roll up your sleeves, pick your herbs, and make some bitters.

But first, what is a bitters drink?

Bitters refers to an alcoholic beverage that’s flavored with herbal essences with a bitter or bittersweet flavor. Bitters were supposedly first compounded in Venezuela in 1824 by German physician, Dr. Johann Gottlieb Benjamin Siegert, as a cure for sea sickness and stomach maladies. Historically, monasteries throughout the world made them. Then many were marketed as patent medicines. Now they’re considered digestives or even cocktails.

There are dozens of brands of bitters available today stemming from the original monastery names. Most are alcoholic although it’s possible to find some non-alcoholic ones. Typical herbs include gentian, orange peel, cassia, and quinine (from cinchona bark), although other bitter herbs may be used, such as yarrow flowers, wormwood leaves, dandelion root, artichoke leaf and blessed thistle leaves.  

Bitters benefit digestion because the bitter flavor stimulates the release of bile, helping the breakdown of fat and stimulating peristalsis in the intestines. This in turn helps resolve indigestion, food stagnation, constipation, and poor appetite in those with heat and excess (a tiny bit may be taken by others if balanced with warming or Blood-tonifying herbs).

Following is a simple bitters formula, although you can personalize your bitters and make them to taste using various herbs and spices as desired. There are many recipes available of varying complexity.

To Make Bitters:

Herbs: dandelion, yarrow, chamomile, citrus peel, ginger (this combination is good for weak digestion, constipation, and poor appetite).

Amounts: Use 4 oz. dried whole, cut or powdered herbs, or 8 oz. fresh, to 1 pint alcohol (vodka works well for light bitters; rum or brandy for dark bitters)

  1. Make a standard tincture by first powdering herbs and placing in a glass jar. Pour alcohol over the herbs and cover tightly. Shake the jar daily for two weeks. Strain through cheesecloth, keeping liquid and tossing herbs.
  2. Pour liquid into a bottle or small decanter with lid.
  3. If desired, cut the bitters with water: measure amount of resulting bitters and add half that amount in water.

13. Pour final bitters mix into a dark bottle, label, and store in a cool dark place. Keeps several years.

To Make a Bittersweet Bitters:

Make a syrup and then add the above tincture to it until the desired taste is achieved, up to 25% of the final volume. Syrups could be made with wild cherry bark.

Syrup for Bittersweet Bitters:

Amounts: Use 1 quart water, 2 oz. herbs, and 1 cup honey. Yields about 1 pint syrup.

1) Make tea of desired herbs, either infusion or decoction as appropriate.

2) Slowly simmer tea until only half remains, about a pint.

3) Strain. While simmering on very low heat, add 1 cup honey. Stir until dissolved.

4) After cooling, pour into bitters, mix, bottle, and cap tightly.

Dose for Bitters: Typically bitters are taken anywhere from several drop doses up to 1 teaspoon, 30 minutes before eating. As well, a dash may be added to another drink for flavoring.

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 FDA’s recent report on "Pathogens and Filth in Spices" finding salmonella in imported spices, especially from India and Mexico, has raised questions of how to prevent or treat food poisoning generally. Ironically, many of the herbs such as coriander seed, which is supposed to be effective in the treatment of salmonella, are among those that have been shown to particularly carry the pathogen.

Quite simply, herbs are a dirty business fraught with the same sanitary dangers as any organic product harvested and stored on a large commercial scale. A New York Times article illustrates how contamination can occur: "Not so long ago, pepper farmers almost universally dried the seeds on bamboo mats or dirt floors and then gathered them for manual threshing. Dirt, dung and salmonella were simply part of the harvest, so much so that in 1987, the F.D.A. blocked shipments of black pepper from India. The ban was lifted two years later, after the Indian government began a testing program." Along with bacterial contamination other articles cite insect, human hair and rat feces.

You may wonder how salmonella found on the surface of herbs and spices specifically used to treat food poisoning, such as coriander, stands a chance at making a consumer ill. The problem is, salmonella is a particularly virulent strain of bacteria, and these spices are usually not taken in a sufficient therapeutic amount to offset the effects of the pathogens they carry.

Herbs and formulas to counteract food poisoning

(Note: Food poisoning can be a matter of serious concern. Any suggestions I might offer in such a brief article as this should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care.)

Homeopathic Nux Vomica 30 X taken hourly has been known to provide fast and effective relief for many who suffer from food poisoning and other gastric disturbances.

Chinese Curing Pills (Planetary Herbals reformulation in the product Digestive Comfort) is specifically intended for the treatment of all gastrointestinal diseases including food poisoning. It consists of the classic formula Bao He Wan which traditionally is carried by Chinese people for the sorts of gastrointestinal disorders than can be accrued as a result of traveling. This includes nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, and such named conditions as dysentery and food poisoning.

Ever wonder why those tasty slices of pickled ginger are served with sushi? What about the small clumps of shiso leaves (perilla) also served in Japanese cuisine? Traditionally, these were added to prevent food poisoning, and indeed both ginger and perilla leaf are excellent herbs to consider for treatment.

Another nearly universal ‘anti-poison’ herb is licorice. Licorice has properties similar to cortisone but with far less concern for any of the drug’s well-known side effects.

Another herb that can be considered is garlic, which is known to possess antibiotic properties.

A strong tea made from two heaping tablespoonsful of chamomile and several slices of fresh ginger steeped in a covered cup of boiling water is also an effective treatment.

Ayurveda typically recommends Triphala and chewing of fennel seeds as a treatment for diarrhea or dysentery. I might add that the three fruits found in Triphala, a formula that I first introduced into and widely sold by many companies as a treatment for gastrointestinal diseases, were often harvested off the ground as they fall from tall forested trees. There has been, to my knowledge, absolutely no implication of food poisoning even from these primitively harvested fruits such as the famous Vitamin C- and nutrient-dense Amla fruit (Myrobalan emblica). Planetary Formulas has specialized in the sale and distribution of Triphala ever since I first introduced it to the Western herb market over 25 years ago. In recent years, Triphala Gold has become available, which is harvested under the strict safe handling guidelines that provides extra insurance from any pathogenic transmission due to mishandling.

One of the standard ‘go to’ TCM formulas is called Shao Yao Tang, which regulates and harmonizes Qi and blood, clears Heat, and detoxifies. It contains the following:

  • Bai Shao Yao (radix Paeoniae lactiflorae)…15-20g* [regulate Blood and Ying]
  • Dang Gui (radix Angelicae sinensis)…6-9g** [regulate Blood and Ying]
  • Gan Cao (radix Glycyrrhizae uralensis)…4.5g** [moderates spasm]
  • Mu Xiang (radix Aucklandiae lappae)…4.5g** [move Qi]
  • Bing Lang (semen Arecae catechu)…4.5g** [move Qi]
  • Huang Lian (rhizoma Coptidis)…6-9g*** [clear Damp & Heat]
  • Huang Qin (radix Scutellariae)…9-12g*** [clear Damp & Heat]
  • Da Huang (radix and rhizoma Rhei)…6-9g*** [purge Heat]
  • Rou Gui (cortex Cinnamomi cassiae)…1.5-3g*** [move Blood, oppose cold bitter of other herbs]

Indications: Damp-heat in the intestines causing stagnation.  Quite often may be food poisoning or epidemic febrile disease that produces stagnation leading to diarrhea, pain, and tenesmus (always wanting to defecate but not producing significant amounts of stool).  This can cause difficulty with bowel movements, pus and blood in the stool, burning anus, Damp-Heat in the low Jiao causes scanty dark urine.  T- greasy yellow coat, P- rapid (soft or slippery).



When treating an acute condition, one should immediately resort to a bland diet with no refined foods, drinks or sugar. Any of the above-mentioned herbs should be taken regularly every waking half or full hour, tapering off as symptoms subside. This can be in the form of tea, capsules, pills, or tincture, but it is important to load up on these initially and then continue on a much reduced dose for three days after all symptoms have subsided.

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.


stomachacheIn Part I we learned about the many signs and symptoms of Food Stagnation. In this segment we’ll cover how to treat and prevent it.


Therapies for Food Stagnation


Diet Therapy

Foods to Eat: Adequate amounts of protein (but not too much!), lots of cooked vegetables and dark leafy greens, and small amounts of grains and fruits (room temperature or cooked and with spices).

Foods to Avoid: Fatty, greasy, fried foods, excessive protein, cold drinks with fatty foods, excessive intake of dampening foods (see Part I for specific foods to avoid!)


Emotional Therapy

 Appropriate expression and release of emotional issues that cause emotional eating


Lifestyle Therapies

 One of my Chinese teachers always taught this healthy digestive sequence: eat calmly, rest 15 minutes, walk 15 minutes and then rest (nap) 15 or more minutes. This ensures good digestion and prevents Food Stagnation.


Other Therapies

 Stretching or yogic postures that compress and release the abdomen such as forward bends; swimming, brisk walking, running/jogging, bicycling and other similar active forms of exercise/fun; stomach wash or fire wash, one of the Four Purifications. Here’s how to do it:


Fire Wash (Agnisara Dhauti)

Perform this exercise with all air held out of the body. Begin by taking a normal inhalation and exhalation, expelling all air. While holding the breath out, pull the diaphragm up and toward the backbone, and then release it suddenly. Repeat this in-and-out movement rapidly, as long as the breath can be held out without strain, about 30 pulls. Then inhale gently. This makes one round. Start with three rounds, gradually increasing to ten, beginning with 30 pulls per breath and working up to 60.

This technique strengthens the `navel lock' (frequently used in breathing exercises), creating heat at the navel center (manipura chakra) that purifies nerve channels, stimulates digestion, increases gastric fire, strengthens lungs, and alleviates indigestion, abdominal diseases and menstrual disorders.

Kitchen medicine

 For quick use around the home, I find fermented foods, acidophilus, spouted grains (rice and barley), and spices such as fennel, caraway, anise, dill and clove to be useful for Food Stagnation.


Herbal Therapy

 Food Stagnation-relieving herbs tend to be warm and sweet in energy. They assist the passage of food through the digestive tract and aid assimilation. I imagine that some herbs, such as the sprouted grains, act as little "brushes" to cleanse old food matter from the intestinal walls, while fermented foods help break it down through their enzymatic actions.

Generally, Food Stagnation-relieving herbs are combined with digestive-aiding herbs such as carminatives, and possibly laxatives. As well, there is often concurrent Damp Stagnation and Deficient Spleen Qi, so herbs to address these issues are often combined with food stagnation relieving herbs.

Food Stagnation Herbs

  • Hawthorn berries (Crataegus spp.; shan za) – used specifically for overeating of meat and greasy foods
  • Radish seeds (Semen Raphanus sativus; lai fu zi)
  • Barley sprouts (Hordeum vulgaris; mai ya)
  • Rice sprouts (Oryzae sativa; gu ya)
  • Asafoetida (Rerula asafetida)
  • Bitters drinks
  • Masa Fermentata (shen qu) – This is a fermented mixture of wheat flour, bran and various herbs including wormwood, apricot seed and cocklebur (Xanthium).

Food Stagnation Formulas


Chinese Formulas

Bao He Wan (Preserve Harmony Pill; Citrus and Crataegus Formula)

This formula is a specific for food stagnation in the upper abdomen with stomach discomfort, distention and fullness, abdominal bloating, foul belching, sour regurgitation, and possible nausea or diarrhea.

Hawthorn berries (shan zha)           9-15 g Crataegus pinnatifida

Medicated leaven (shen qu)            9-12 g Massa fermentata medicinalis

Radish seed (lai fu zi)                      6-9 g Raphanus sativus

Citrus peel (chen pi)                         6-9 g Citri reticulatae

Pinellia (ban xia)                              9-12 g Pinelliae ternatae

Poria (fu ling)                                 9-12 g Poria cocos

Forsythia (lian qiao)                         3-6 g Forsythia suspensa

Properties and Actions:

a) Digestive

b) Reduces Food Stagnation

c) Harmonizes the Stomach

Indications: It is used for food poisoning and overindulgence in rich foods, alcohol, meat or greasy foods. There may be symptoms of abdominal distention with fullness of the stomach, epigastrium and chest, occasional pain, belching, acid regurgitation, nausea and vomiting, aversion to food, diarrhea, or constipation.

Tongue: Yellow, greasy coated tongue

Pulse: Slippery pulse

Variations: For more severe abdominal distention, add green citrus (zhi shi) and magnolia bark (hou po).

For constipation add rhubarb (da huang) and betel nut (bing lang).

Curing Pills (Pill Curing; Healthy Quiet Pills; Kang Ning Wan)

Chinese Curing Pills are one of the most famous Chinese herbal remedies. It alleviates most any kind of stomach upset, treating a variety of stomach disorders such as food poisoning, overeating, hangover, gas, nausea, acid indigestion, abdominal fullness, abdominal bloating with pain, motion sickness, acid regurgitation, and even the stomach flu. This is an excellent remedy to keep on hand and take on travels.

Contains: Gastrodia, red atractylodes, chrysanthemum, pueraria, trichosanthis, saussurea, coix, poria, magnolia bark, red tangerine peel, agastache (Korean mint or patchouli), angelica root, mint, shen qu, fermented rice sprout

Po Chai Pills (Bao Ji Pian)

A similar remedy to Curing Pills, Po Chai is another Chinese household remedy for stomach discomfort, food poisoning, motion sickness, hangover, acute stomach disorders, and overeating.

There may be up to 14 herbs in each formulation but in general it contains: citrus peel, magnolia bark, chrysanthemum, mint, barley sprouts, poria, saussurea, red atractylodes, agastache, angelica, pueraria, tricosanthis

Other formulas may include laxatives or purgatives to move matter out of the lower warmer. These may include such herbs as rhubarb, Cannabis seeds, senna leaf, or aloe.

Ayurvedic Formulas

Triphala: In Ayurveda, Triphala is used to clear stagnation of the Middle and Lower warmers.

Hingashtak: This Ayurvedic formula includes asafoetida as a major component and clears stagnation in the Middle and Lower warmers.

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