In summer we often graze through the garden, feast on fruit, or skip meals altogether because we’re too involved with various activities to stop. Who doesn't want to race outdoors first thing to enjoy the sunshine, cool morning weather, or a luscious garden? However, not eating, or eating insufficient amounts of food for your body’s needs, can cause lots of health problems down the road.
I was reminded of this recently when I saw a teen in my clinic with chronic kidney infections. The doctors had already given repeated rounds of antibiotics, but while the infections would go away, they kept returning. When I examined her tongue, I noticed that her kidney/adrenal region was extremely depleted (the far rear region was deeply indented), especially for someone her age. I also noted that she was quite thin.
So I asked her – did she skip breakfast? I was not surprised to hear her answer – that not only did she skip breakfast but often lunch, too. The reason for her recurring kidney infections clicked – she had depleted her body’s resources. She hadn’t given her body enough food to support its needs, causing the recurring kidney infections. In other words, this teen was not putting enough fuel in her body, so she was running on fumes.
What happens if we skip breakfast, lunch or just graze throughout the day? The body has to obtain energy from some place and if it’s not coming in through food, then it scrounges for it within. That means the body dips into its own reserves to access the energy it needs. Those who carry more weight have fat reserves to obtain the stored sugar there. This glycogen is converted to glucose and then there’s power to run all the needed functions. Bodies that have little fat have to find energy from elsewhere. Translated into Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this means the bodily essence is consumed, compromising its Qi, Blood, Yin, and Yang. At first this translates to mild symptoms most people ignore. But eventually, the more the body’s essence reserves are depleted, the more severe symptoms occur down the road.
The body’s essence can be likened to a combined trust fund and savings account. The “trust fund” is the inherited constitutional strength you receive from parents and grandparents. The “savings account” is derived from the food and drink you consume after birth.
Some folks receive a strong “trust fund” and can do anything or eat nothing and still have plenty of energy and health. Others who inherit weaker constitutional strength more easily develop illness or degenerative conditions, often earlier in life. Likewise with diet – some eat healthily during childhood and so have more “savings” to draw upon, while others who were fed poorly have less to use.
While symptoms start out with tiredness, poor appetite, poor muscle strength, anemia, dizziness, blurry vision, frequent urination, scanty menses, depression, anxiety, or insomnia, eventually low reserves lead to hypo-functioning of various organ systems and then burnout, like running the engine without enough oil. In time this can cause hormonal problems, low libido, premature aging, bad or loose teeth, weak knees and legs, hair loss, impotence, habitual miscarriage or infertility, brittle or softening of bones (collapsing joints, spine, hips, and so forth), poor memory or concentration, and senility. Not a very pretty list!
Since there’s nothing you can do about your inherited constitution or how you were fed when young, guarding your “savings account” is crucial to maintaining good health and preventing illness through the rest of your life. That means what you eat and drink has a huge impact on your well-being and what you can do. Eating three meals a day, consuming sufficient protein for your body’s needs, and limiting intake of health-robbing foods such as sugar and caffeine can make all the difference not only in your health, but also your quality of life.
When we’re young, we think these things won’t happen to us and we merrily go on our way continuing our current habits. But clinically I often see the other side where young women – and even men – in their twenties already experience hot flashes or infertility, and older women who can no longer enjoy hiking let alone gardening because of painful joint collapse.
It’s easy to forget to eat balanced meals during summer. And yet, while you may feel lighter, freer, lose weight, and/or have more time on your hands, just snacking on easily obtainable food exhausts your body over time. In fact, slipping out of the house without breakfast at any time of year is one of the most common depleting habits today. I see plenty of adults who skip breakfast and/or lunch so they can continue working through the day and they come in to my clinic with health problems.
Herbs can help supplement your essence, although they won’t replace eating sufficient healthy food and meals. The best herbs to use are Blood, Qi, Yin, and Yang tonics combined, adaptogens, rejuvenatives, restoratives, or herbs that support hormones like rhodiola, maral root and shilajit.
But the best treatment of all? EAT – three meals daily, especially breakfast!
I always love to make gifts when I can and especially love to receive handmade ones, too, as do many people I know. If you do as well, or are wondering what to give someone, here are a couple of holiday herbal treats you can easily make that are not only tasty but also healthy – fruit leather and trail mix. Now before you turn up your nose at these seemingly prosaic ideas, read on for they are not made with “normal” ingredients and are extremely nutritious and medicinal.
HERBAL TRAIL MIX
What could be easier than stirring together three items and pouring into a bag? All that’s left is the wrapping! This herbal blend can be eaten anywhere, anytime, even as an afternoon office snack or a dessert. As well, you can add the mix to cereals, soups or cookies. Together this mix replenishes energy and nourishes blood. It is especially good for teachers, students, sales folks, or those who study and/or talk a lot.
Mix together in desired ratio. For an especially tasty mix, first blanch the walnuts for five minutes in boiling water, strain, cool and dry. Then add to mix.
Goji (Lycii) berries
This small, red, sweet berry tonifies Blood, treating anemia, dizziness, poor eyesight, night blindness, blurred vision, sore back, knees and legs, impotence, seminal and nocturnal emission, tuberculosis and peri/menopausal complaints. Very high in beta-carotene, lycii promotes regeneration of liver cells, inhibits fat deposits in liver cells, lowers cholesterol, prevents atherosclerosis, and enhances immunity.
Longan Berries (Euphoria longan)
These delicious berries quickly tonify Heart Blood like no other herb I know, alleviating palpitations, anxiety, forgetfulness, and insomnia, particularly due to overwork or from excessive thinking, studying, reading, or talking (all of which use a lot of Heart Blood and blood sugar in the brain). These berries are high in glucose and sucrose, which quickly replenish blood sugar.
The Chinese use walnuts to strengthen the Kidneys for alleviating low back and knee pain and frequent urination. They also warm the Lungs, treating chronic cough or wheezing (the type that occurs when it’s harder to inhale than exhale, there’s dribbling of urine upon sneezing, or there are accompanying symptoms of low back ache, frequent urination and/or night-time urination).
Walnuts also act as a mild laxative, particularly in the elderly, anemic or those who feel cold. Constipation that doesn’t respond to normal herbal laxatives in people who are tired, anemic, cold, have clear, frequent urination, low back pain, low sex drive, lowered metabolism and/or edema of the legs usually respond to walnuts since they lubricate the intestines and provide enough heat and energy to move the stools.
While fruit leathers can be made from all sorts of fruit, this one is made with a fruit that is also quite medicinal and good for you: jujube dates (Zizyphus sativa, da zao). These plump red dates (or shriveled if they’re dried) are high in vitamins A, B2, C, calcium, phosphorous, and iron, and are great for quick energy.
They tonify both energy and Blood, treating poor digestion, weakness, low energy, nervous exhaustion, insomnia, clear watery diarrhea, and poor appetite, digestion and memory. Nourishing to the Spirit, they calm and stabilize emotions when feeling irritable, sad or crying for no reason. They are added like licorice to sweeten and harmonize other herbs in a formula. After cooking the dates in a tea or soup, eat them for their full medicinal value (remove pits first). They help weight gain and help malnourished children thrive.
Cook dates with water, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. Cool. Remove pits from dates. Puree mix. Cook down again if needed to thick pudding consistency. Spread over parchment paper on oven or dehydrator trays about ¼- ½” thick. Slowly dry in oven at 140 degrees for about 12 hours or in food dehydrator for about 8 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it’s smooth and no longer sticky.
For sweeter fruit leather, add honey to taste. If desired, use a strained herbal tea for the water, such as astragalus, to give more energy and boost immunity.
Goji berries and walnuts are easy to find as most health food stores carry them now. As well, many health food stores carry jujube dates and longan berries. If not, you can usually find them quickly by going to your local acupuncturist or they may be ordered from the following places:
There is one kitchen spice most of us could use more of in our lives: cardamom.
While there are different types of cardamom (see end for details), just the plain old spice you have in your kitchen cabinet will do. It is a powerful digestive aid that comes in quite handy, for maintenance or acute distress. But it’s best as a preventative, too.
Cardamom is a very ancient spice. It is the seed of the perennial tropical vine in the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is in the category of herbs called, “aromatic dispel dampness.” This means its aroma plus drying nature help to eliminate dampness in the digestive tract.
Symptoms of dampness include anywhere from a feeling of heaviness or edema to loose stools, diarrhea, poor appetite, nausea, vomiting, acid reflux, abdominal distention, chest fullness or an oppressive sensation in the chest, and lethargy.
Further, when dampness congeals over time it forms phlegm, which in turn creates tumors, cysts, soft lumps, nodules, cancer, numbness, tremors and paralysis.
As well, cardamom alleviates food stagnation, or food that is poorly digested and so congests and collects in the body. This condition may be either acute or chronic. The acute type is similar to the after-effects of over-eating at a holiday meal and can even cause pain in the heart region; the chronic type occurs when digestion becomes impaired and the body can no longer fully digest or absorb nutrients.
When food overwhelms the stomach, it results in such symptoms as sour regurgitation, reflux or vomiting, belching and/or hiccupping, and foul breath, or it passes on to the intestines causing foul gas, loose stool, or foul-smelling diarrhea. The partially digested food then lingers in the body, congesting the organs and channels and slowing the circulation of Qi, Blood and fluids.
Acute food stagnation in the upper part of the body can cause palpitations or stuffiness around the heart and in the epigastric region. Many folks go to emergency care thinking they are having a heart attack, but what they are really experiencing is acute food congestion in the stomach.
In the middle part of the body, acute food stagnation can cause lack of appetite, fullness and distention of the epigastrium relieved by vomiting; insomnia with a full feeling in the stomach region, unrelieved hiccupping, epigastric spasms, nausea, foul breath, sour regurgitation, belching, abdominal fullness, bloating, and poor distribution and/or assimilation of nutrients.
Still wonder if you have dampness? Stick out your tongue in front of a mirror. If it’s swollen and/or has teeth indentations on the sides (called scallops), then you have dampness. If you have a white or yellow coat, that’s also dampness. The thicker and greasier the coat, the more the dampness has turned to food stagnation or phlegm.
So, are you inspired to find a solution?
This is the reason I’ve outlined so many symptoms here: cardamom can treat them all and this is one spice to have on hand. It will save you many a discomforting hour and perhaps even a trip to some sort of emergency care.
And yet, cardamom is a great herb to include on a daily basis. Most people include a long list of dampening foods in their diets: iced drinks, cold foods directly from the refrigerator, smoothies, dairy, soy, soy milk, rice milk, oatmeal, cucumbers, flour products (muffins, bagels, bread, pasta, chips, crackers, pastries), excess raw foods, salads, yogurt, ice cream, potatoes, fruit juices, excess fruit in general, specifically bananas, citrus and persimmons – I could go on and on.
TCM uses true cardamom, or sha ren (Amomum villosum, A. xanthiodes, Elettaria villosa, Cardamomum villosum)) for the above symptoms as well as morning sickness and a restless fetus. It is also frequently added to formulas with cloying herbs to aid in their digestion.
Ayurveda also widely uses cardamom. It is given to eliminate mucus and for colds, coughs, bronchitis, hoarseness, asthma, and a loss of the ability to taste.
For those who want all the specifics, here they are:
Cardamom Fruit, Round (Amomum cardamomum, Elettaria cardamomum)
Bai dou kou (Chinese) Family: Zingiberaceae
Also named: cardamom cluster, Amomi Fructus rotundus
Energy and flavors: warm, acrid
Organs and channels affected: Spleen, Stomach, Lung
Chemical constituents: d-camphor, d-borneol
Properties and actions: carminative, stomachic, antiemetic, expectorant; aromatically transforms Dampness, directs Qi downward
Contraindications: Deficient Blood or Yin
Dosage: 3-6g in decoction (added in the last five minutes); 2-5g as a powder; 20-60 drops tincture (1:10 @40%ABV), TID
Cardamom Seed, True (Amomum villosum, A. xanthiodes, Elettaria villosa, Cardamomum villosum)
Sha ren (Chinese) Family: Zingiberaceae
Also named: grains-of-paradise fruit, Amomi Fructus
Energy and flavors: warm, acrid
Organs and channels affected: Spleen, Stomach, Lungs
Chemical constituents: 2-8% volatile oil comprising limonene, terpinene, dipentene, camphor, borneol
Properties and actions: antiemetic, carminative, antidiarrheal, aromatic, stimulant, stomachic, antiemetic; aromatically transforms Dampness, regulates Qi
Contraindications: Deficient Yin with Heat signs.
Dosage: 3-6g; Because of its essential oil content, Cardamom is added in the last five minutes of a decoction; 2-5g as a powder; 30-90 drops tincture (1:10 @40%ABV), TID
It’s that season when many pin a bouquet of mistletoe in their doorway for that magical ritual of kissing underneath its bounty. While there’s wonderful lore behind this annual tradition, mistletoe is also a very useful medicinal herb.
Dating back to 16th century England, kissing under the mistletoe was probably an custom adopted by the Christians from other earlier rituals that honored this plant, although it was rarely alluded to until the 18th century. Customarily, a man and a woman who meet under the hanging mistletoe were obliged to kiss – and still are today.
Shakespeare called it “the baleful mistletoe” because in a Scandinavian legend, Balder, the god of peace, was slain with an arrow made of mistletoe. He was restored to life at the request of the other gods and goddesses and after mistletoe was given to Freya, the goddess of love, beauty and fertility, who proclaimed that everyone passing under it should receive a kiss so the branch would become an emblem of love, and not of hate.
This ritual probably sourced from the Celtic Druids who held that mistletoe possessed life-bestowing properties, protected against evil, was an antidote for poisons, cured illnesses, and enhanced fertility, especially since it could blossom even in the winter. They especially esteemed mistletoe growing in oak trees because it was much rarer, and they would harvest it in ritual with a golden sickle at a particular phase of the moon at the beginning of the year (the winter solstice) if they had visions directing them to seek it.
Greek legends also associated mistletoe with peace as any enemy stepping under mistletoe was required to lay down their arms and declare a truce until the next day. The “golden bough” of Aeneas, ancestor of the romans, written about in the Aenid by Virgil is thought to be mistletoe.
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant that grows on the branches of trees and forms pendant bushes. It actually sends forth a thread-like root that pierces the bark and roots in the growing wood of its host tree, using its sap and so forth as its own food.
Mistletoe fruit – the red berries – are highly toxic and should not be eaten!
There are more than 30 species of mistletoe and not all are safe.
Phoradendron flavescens, the mistletoe typically used in the U.S. during the holidays, contains a toxic protein, phoratoxin, which slows the heartbeat, weakens the heart muscle, and can cause contact dermatitis. It should only be used as a decoration (or by an experienced practitioner, if even then).
Viscum album (Loranthaceae family), the European mistletoe, however, has many wonderful uses. It is mainly employed as a nervine, antispasmodic and narcotic. It has been traditionally used for the “falling sickness,” or epilepsy, and other convulsive nervous disorders, including St. Vitus’ Dance, delirium, and hysteria, although it may also be used for sciatica, neuralgia, and nervous debility. It is also used to lower blood pressure and for this must be taken awhile to see results and is best combined with other herbs such as eucommia (Eucommia ulmoides, du zhong). For hypertension it treats the accompanying symptoms of headache and tinnitus. All of these symptoms translate in Chinese medicine as Liver Wind and Liver Yang Rising.
Mistletoe has also been used for gout, rheumatism, tachyarrhythmia (it slows the heart down), angina, palpitations, and menorrhagia. As well, it is given homeopathically for epilepsy, sciatica, convulsions, tearing pains, asthma, and a feeling of suffocating when lying on the left side.
These uses of mistletoe match how the Chinese use it – to dispel Wind-Dampness as well as for hypertension – so it seems that the EuropeanViscum album could possibly be used similarly to the Chinese Taxillus chinensis (see below).
Today many use mistletoe for cancer, which originated with Rudolph Steiner who likened the parasitical aspect of mistletoe to cancer. There is no conclusive evidence at this point that mistletoe reduces cancer, however.
Western Mistletoe Contraindications: Pregnancy, lactation, diabetes as it can modify glucose regulation; some say to avoid it if taking antidepressants or if there’s hyperthyroidism; some say even Viscum album should only be used by experienced practitioners.
Dose: Fresh plant tincture : chronic - 1:5: 10-20 drops TID (60 drops mas/day); up to 75 drops/day short term for an acute crisis.
Chinese medicine uses the species Taxillus chinensis (formerly Loranthus chinensis or sang ji sheng), the mistletoe growing on the mulberry tree. It is used to expel Wind-Dampness, tonify the Liver and Kidneys, nourish the Yin and Blood, and quiet the fetus in pregnancy. It treats low back and muscle pain, arthritis, rheumatism, and hypertension. It treats weakness and atrophy of the sinews and bones, and numbness,. Because it also tonifies Yin and Blood, it is used to nourished dry, scaly skin due to Blood Deficiency or stop uterine bleeding during pregnancy. It also promotes lactation.
The Chinese also use the species Viscum coloratum (hu ji sheng) or colored mistletoe, which is a parasite on a different kind of tree than taxilli. It is also used to expel Wind Dampness and also tonifies the Liver and Kidneys, strengthens the sinews and bones, and calms the fetus. It is stronger at expelling Wind-Damp and so used more for painful obstruction, although it also treats lower back and leg pain and weakness, and hypertension.
Because of their similarities, it’s highly possible that Chinese mistletoe could be used for epilepsy and nervous debility, like Western mistletoe is used.
Chinese Mistletoe Contraindications: None noted
Dose: 9-15 g
One of my favorite movies, Where the Wild Lilies Bloom (1974), tells the story of a family of five Appalachian children who use herbal folk healing they learned from their widower father who recently passed away. Not wanting to be separated and adopted out, they developed a reputation of healers by relieving a neighbor’s bad case of pneumonia by immersing him in a tub of filled with hot water and chopped raw onions until the desperate fellow broke a sweat. After that, his fever passed and he got well.
The principle behind this depiction of true Appalachian folk medicine, to break a sweat, happens to be the best way to cure a cold or flu. The method was certainly espoused by the famous iconoclastic 19th-century doctor Samuel Thomson (1769-1843), whose popularity at the time earned him the title, ‘the father of American herbalism.’ He learned of the value of sweating for these seasonal afflictions from Northeastern Native Americans and their use of sweat lodges.
Thomson said “warming the vital force” was the key to health and freedom from disease. To accomplish this, he combined the following internal warming herbs into a formula we know as “Composition Powder”:
4 parts bayberry root bark powder
3 parts ginger powder
3 parts white poplar bark (inner bark) powder
3 parts pine bark (inner bark) powder
2 parts clove powder
1 part cayenne powder
Those afflicted with colds, flu, fever and even acute joint and back pains would be told to steep a teaspoon of these herbs in a covered cup of boiling water until cool enough to drink. Honey could be added to improve flavor, but the best results were effected if the patient also consumed the dregs.
This is only the first part of the treatment. After consuming the formula in the way described above, the patient was to quickly bundle up and lie perfectly still in a warm bed until a sweat is broken. If sweat does not occur the first time within an hour or two the process can be repeated once or twice more.
These old-fashioned sweating treatments were not only used for colds, flu, fever, and even pneumonia, but for any condition where circulation is weak and obstructed, for the aged who require a stimulating drink, and to relieve cold sensitive back and joint pains as well as urinary conditions.
This was the single most popular North American old-time remedy for over a century with famous doctors such as Dr. Nowell of Canada and the Dominion College of herbalism claiming that each year he would dispense hundreds of pounds of composition powder to his patients for a wide variety of conditions.
Most people who take Composition Powder today in capsules or pills don’t realize that the powder must dissolved in hot water as described above, followed by the sweat in bed; take note!
Composition Powder is available as a Planetary product called “Ginger Warming Compound.” It is my own proprietary formula and it consists of: Cassia Bark, Ginger Root Extract (5% gingerols), Cayenne Fruit, White Pine Bark, Cloves Fruit, Bayberry Bark, Marshmallow Root Extract, and Licorice Root Extract.
Back in the 1940’s, my mother would use a similar approach at the first sign of any cold or flu my younger brother or I developed: She would give a warm drink, perhaps hot lemon and honey tea, then slather on a thick coat of Vick’s Vapo Rub and camphorated oil on our chest and back (we hated it but it worked!) and then tuck us tightly under the covers with the admonition to lie perfectly still until we broke a sweat. After this, she’d quickly sponge us off with warm water, then get us into new pajamas and bedding for a comfortable night’s sleep. In most cases we were completely recovered by morning and could even return to school.
Western herbalists frequently recommend a tea made by steeping one or two teaspoons each of elderflower and peppermint in a cup of boiling water for 10 to 15 minutes. This can be taken with honey but the key always is to retire with some warm blankets and lie perfectly still until a sweat is broken.
In some rural areas of throughout Europe, people take a stiff shot of whiskey or brandy as the hot drink before retiring to sweat. Using a similar technique, my old Sicilian grandparents would eat several cloves of garlic again with hot water followed by sweating under the covers.
Many a time when coming down with a cold or flu while traveling all I could find was preferably raw ginger or dried ginger, which I would make into a tea with honey.
In Japan a drink of hot sake with garlic taken as a shot two or three times a day is used as an effective cold remedy.
In Mexico a tea is made with a stick of cinnamon, a handful of raisins and a teaspoon of oregano is used.
In all of the examples above, the hot drink is followed by lying still under the covers until one breaks a sweat. A hot water bottle or hot brick wrapped with a flannel applied to the feet greatly assists this process. It may not be easy for children to remain still until sweating occurs (nor for parents who must keep them still!), but the objective of all of these remedies is to induce diaphoresis.
One must induce sweating even if a fever is already causing perspiration. Spontaneous perspiration from fever or hot climate occurs because of exhaustion, but diaphoresis as a result of drinking certain herbal teas actually rallies the body’s internal defense to drive the invading pathogen out through the pores of the body. I know this idea of releasing the invader through the surface of the body may not be physiologically accurate, and what may be really occurring is that the herbs rally the body’s immune response to destroy the invading pathogen, be it bacterial or viral. But it serves as a strategically useful description of how herbal diaphoresis works when it is done correctly.
Due caution should be taken to not sweat too long or to the point of exhaustion. Only take enough herbs to induce perspiration and then stop taking the herbs.
For babies and small children who tend to run higher fevers, it is a good idea to apply frequent cool water compresses to the forehead during the sweating process which can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour.
Traditional Chinese Medicine describe most acute cold-sensitive, external diseases with possible joint and muscle aches as a Tai Yang stage disease which is the first stage or layer of six described as the Shang Han Lun compiled by Zhang Zhong Jing around 200 AD. Without going into detail regarding the six stages, Tai Yang is the only stage where diaphoresis (sweating) is absolutely indicated. Diseases can affect many levels or layers of the body, but sweating should be induced is for anyone with an external disease (which includes colds, flu, fevers, coughs, joint and/or back pains, skin affections, anxiety, nervousness, fluid abnormalities (swelling, etc), jaundice, and accompanying symptoms) so long as they exhibit the syndrome of aversion to cold and/or wind, floating pulse, and neck or upper back pain or stiffness which classifies it as an external Tai Yang Syndrome.
The Shang Han Lun describes hundreds of different Tai Yang formulas, each more or less specific for treating associated symptoms. Most of them are grouped under the category of cinnamon tea (Gui Zhi Tang) or Ma Huang tea formulas.
Gui Zhi Tang (pronounced: ‘gway jur tang’) is specifically indicated if someone has a Tai Yang condition with a tendency to sweat but the condition is not relieved.
Ma Huang Tang is specifically indicated if an individual is stronger, and tends not to sweat.
There are dozens of variations of ma huang and gui zhi formulas based on other problems occurring other than a cold, flu or fever. Further, these formulas are used to treat a wide number of diseases with basic Tai Yang syndrome. However in most cases these need to be followed by diaphoresis.
Diaphoresis is a Qi-exhausting process and is contraindicated for individuals who are weak and generally deficient. If a tea were used for such individuals it should be Gui Zhi tang which is more nourishing.
After sweating, it is recommended that you have a bowl of thin, easily digested white rice cream or oatmeal to replenish energy that was lost during sweating. Chicken soup is also a good food to use after or when recovering from colds or flu.
Note: Because of the ban by the FDA of the retail sale of ma huang due to industry abuses of this valuable herb you may substitute 10 grams of fresh ginger or Composition Powder mentioned above (Planetary's “Ginger Warming Compound" available at stores around the country).
We’ve all heard of so many products such as zinc, Vitamin C, echinacea for colds and flu – these are really good to use if you want to get rid of your cold or flu in a week or two or three. However sweating therapy using Composition Powder tea, strong ginger and honey tea, or garlic and honey tea, followed by breaking a sweat, is the best way to get rid of a cold, flu or fever in one or two days.
It’s that season of the year again and so time to share some of my favorite herbs and therapies. The following I’ve found extremely useful over the last year. Some are herbs, others formulas, while still more are important therapies. All of these I have found to be healing clinically and helpful for many people. A few are new to my tool kit while others I have shared in some way or another in the past but are still primary in my current use. Most can be made at home or inexpensively purchased. These make great gifts for yourself or others and they’ll truly improve one’s health and life. May they help you and yours through the holiday season and beyond!
If you want to give a useful homemade gift, this is the one to make. Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) treats lower back pain, joint pain, low adrenal function, stiffness in the joints, weak legs, arthritis and rheumatism, all due to coldness (feels better with heat and worse with cold and doesn’t look red). Teasel is also used for pains associated with Lyme disease. It probably works for joint pains associated with other conditions, too, although I have yet to try it.
The Chinese use Dipsacus asperi (xu duan) for these same purposes as well as to stop white vaginal discharge and bleeding, especially uterine, bleeding during pregnancy, to calm a restless fetus and to treat threatened miscarriage. Because teasel moves blood, alleviates pain and promotes growth of flesh, it is used for traumatic injuries, healing of bones (as its name implies) and skin sores when it may be applied externally and taken internally.
If you use the tincture, you only need from 3-10 drops and can experience relief within minutes. Once I gave it to a woman who woke every morning in excruciating back and hip pain. She took 5 drops of teasel tincture and not only did she feel tremendous and quick relief, but her ankle swelling reduced so she could eliminate medication she was taking for that condition.
Moxibustion is one of my favorite therapies. A powerful technique of burning herbs, typically mugwort (which creates a far infrared ray penetrating heat), on or above the skin, it alleviates blockages, stimulates Qi, Blood and Fluid circulation and warms cold areas. It is especially effective for sprains, traumas and injuries, although it treats other types of pain, such as arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, menstrual pain and muscle aches and pains. In addition, it stimulates and supports immunity and eliminates cold and damp, thus promoting normal organ functioning.
I recently learned about a new moxa-type tool called Therapik. It also uses far infrared ray energy but is conveniently battery operated. Sold as a device to treat non-venomous bites and stings, I’ve found it a wonderful smokeless moxa substitute. Not only is there no smoke but also no odor, fuss, or muss, and can be used anywhere, anytime, plus it travels well AND is very inexpensive. What could be better than that?!
Of course Therapik is great for clinical use, yet it’s terrific for home use as it increases client compliance for doing moxa on themselves ten-fold. I used it myself on a bruise after running my hand into a door. Normally I would have immediately applied moxa but I decided to try this instead. After several moments, the pain dispersed and the next day I had no bruising or marks of any kind, which would have occurred if I had not used moxa or this tool. I also have a client who has been using it on a long abdominal scar from surgery four months prior and the scar is disappearing. Therapik has passed the test!
To use, touch the Therapik tool directly on the skin and press the button. Hold in place until it feels too hot, and then remove. It may be used exactly where and how moxa is used.
For more on moxibustion and how to use it, see chapter 11 in my book Healing With the Herbs of Life.
To find Therapik, use Google (Amazon.com carries it of course!).
Noni leather/Noni lotion
The most recent addition to my herbal medicine kit, these products quickly belie the myth that noni smells and tastes too bad to enjoy its enormous benefits. Noni leather (by Real-Noni) tastes great, is convenient to use, easy to take, and has multiple uses. It’s also extremely high in antioxidants.
Made from pure fresh noni in the valley where traditional Hawaiians grew and lived on it, this noni leather is made of 100% pure organic noni. It is processed at very low heat for a long time, which increases its antioxidant content tremendously so it’s 14 times stronger than the juice. In fact, fresh noni is where the fruit’s healthful properties lie and not in the tincture, juice, or fermentation since these latter forms destroy most of its properties. That means you only have a small window to enjoy its fresh sour, astringent and slightly sweet flavor because if it’s exposed to heat or pasteurization, then its properties are lost
You can suck on it, eat, it, roll it into a little ball and swallow it like a pill, or dissolve it in water and drink as a tea. You can take it internally, wet and apply it as a bandage, or dissolve it in water and rub on as a lotion. This product is incredibly versatile.
But why risk trying the flavor of this noni? Because it has amazing healing properties and in fact, could be called a medicine chest in one herb:
I know a lot of herbalists may be rolling their eyes by now – is there really something to all the claims made about noni? Or is this just the latest hyped herb that cures everything? All I can say is that my limited experience so far validates certain uses. Michael and I are about to try it clinically and we’ll let you know in a future blog!
In the meanwhile, I’ve already use noni lotion successfully on those annoying chiggers, and recently ‘had’ to give it the acid test of course. While writing this I waded barefoot through a muddy stream and cut my foot on a rock. I found it had gouged a chunk of my skin from the edge of my heel. Red, raw, and sore underneath, I immediately ate some noni leather and then applied it externally as a small bandage (by licking it and sticking it on while holding its edges in place until sealed).
Within a minute, the pain and redness were gone. After 4 hours, the bandage was still in place and I could walk normally. After showering, I found the cut almost healed and no pain ever returned! If I hadn’t used the noni, I would have had pain and walking limitation for at least a day, in not more, even with using my favorite healing salve.
This superfood comes in 1 and 2 oz. sizes. One 2-oz packet lasts one month when you take the 2” X 2” sized piece dose two times daily.
You can purchase Real Noni leather, lotions and salve at: www.real-noni.com.
(Note: I do NOT get a kickback from this! I just think it’s fabulous stuff everyone should know about!)
Based on the famous Chinese formula, Liu Wei di Huang Wan, Planetary Formulas’ Schisandra Adrenal nourishes the kidneys and adrenals and yet simultaneously helps filter and retain fluids. It is basically Rehmannia Six Combination (Liu Wei Di Huang Wan) with several astringents added – schisandra, plantain, and rubus – along with the blood and yin tonic, lycii, and the yang tonic, cuscuta.
The result is a formula that binds essence in the kidneys and astringes and holds yin and fluids. The overall effect is to boost kidney and adrenal function, alleviate low back and hip pain, and stop frequent urination, all due to poor kidney function and weak adrenals. Since it is now winter and we are in the kidney/adrenal time of year, it is a perfect formula to take now for these purposes.
Schisandra Adrenal is also fabulous for helping the kidneys to filter and hold their energy better. At the same time it eliminates back pain when nothing else works. This means the kidneys no longer hurt and weakness and pain disappear, no matter where it was felt – the sacrum, hips, and knees. I give this formula to my back pain patients and their pain releases. In a few cases I increase the normal dose, which is usually important to do short-term in acute conditions to get results. As well, women in menopause and men in andropause will find this formula very useful for leaking urine or frequent urination.
Schisandra Adrenal works well for both kidneys, but especially for left-sided pain since that is the Kidney Yin side. If the pain is more right-sided, then Kidney Yang needs to be tonified. This is easily done by adding in a small handful of walnuts daily and/or ¼ - ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder – or take 1 Planetary Formula cinnamon tablet with the Schisandra Adrenal.
This underrated spice has a very powerful healing property – it clears the stomach, resolves phlegm and dampness and subdues reflux. As an aromatic damp-drying herb, it is powerful for treating GERD, acid reflux, nausea and indigestion in those with coldness and white phlegm. It is the main ingredient in the Ayurvedic formula, Avipattakar, which is hands-down the best remedy I’ve found for GERD, especially when nothing else works.
Use after eating heavy holiday or other big meals with symptoms of fullness and distention of the abdomen, vomiting, nausea, foul breath, belching, heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD. Take directly, mix with a little honey, or put in capsules.
For a holiday treat, make cookies or biscotti with it, cinnamon, nutmeg and dried ginger to help your holiday meal digestion!
Facial suction cups
Cupping is a fabulous technique that treats disease by suction. It is done by creating a vacuum in small jars and attaching them to the body surface. The vacuum draws the underlying tissues into the cups, pulling inner congestion and heat out of the body. Cupping is done over areas of swelling, pain or congestion, edema, asthma, bronchitis, dull aches and pains, arthritis, abdominal pain, stomach-ache, indigestion, headache, low back or menstrual pain and places where bodily movement is limited and painful. I have also seen cupping relieve depression, anger and moodiness.
While most cupping techniques use either fire or a plunger to produce the vacuum suction so the cups stay on and work their magic, I’ve discovered a new type of cup that has an attached rubber ball on top. All you do is place the cup on its desired location and squeeze the ball. Voila! Instant suction! Easy to use and convenient for travel, they come in many sizes. I especially love the tiny cupping set as these can be used places that normal cups won’t fit or hold, plus they come in shapes other than round.
The set of very small cups is particularly useful for the face and neck. Of the four small cups in the set, the largest one (which is still smaller than the smallest cup in a standard cupping set) works brilliantly over the cheeks and neck. Use by applying the cup and sliding it in a circular motion upward and outward. No lotion or oil is needed, although you may apply some if desired. This technique stimulates blood and energy circulation, which removes dark spots and firms skin. These cups may also be used on the face for headaches, sinus congestion, and more.
For more on cupping and how to use it read chapter 11 in my book, Healing With the Herbs of Life.
You can find facial (and other sizes) cups at: http://www.cuppingtherapy.org
Salt does many important things – explodes bacteria, kills bugs and softens hardness. I use it on my carpets to kill fleas. It does the same on the skin for unwanted pests, although not the burrowing kind. It is also great for making the skin smooth and soft. Salt not only exfoliates skin, but it “kills” any bacteria by absorbing their fluids so they “blow up.”
After rubbing salt on my skin and rinsing it off, my skin feels silky smooth and lustrous. Adding olive or coconut oil and a drop of your favorite essential oil will turn anyone into a Tahitian God or Goddess within minutes, another reason why it is sometimes called a salt “glow!”
I also use salt alone, mixing it with water, spreading all over the body, letting it sit 15-20 minutes and then rinsing off. You won’t believe how soft and smooth your skin feels afterward.
A salt rub makes a wonderful gift, is very simple to make and quite inexpensive. You can get quite expressive and creative, including the jars and labels you choose. The following is one simple recipe. Keep in mind that the amount of salt used will vary according to the grind and type chosen.
Mix all together and put in jar.
To use, rub or massage salt mixture into desired skin area. Rinse off.
Travel Neti Pot
Neti, also called nasal wash, is a procedure of rinsing the entire nasal track with a salt-water solution to clear sinus congestion and infections, and treats allergies, stuffy nose, difficulty breathing through the nose, and sore throats. Because bacteria linger in the passage between the bridge of the nose and the throat, neti is especially useful to treat recurring sinus and throat infections as the salt water accesses these areas. Nasal wash may be done on a preventative basis once a day, or several times daily for infections.
This travel neti pot works brilliantly for all of these purposes. Normally neti pots are large, heavy, ceramic pots. While beautiful and functional, they are heavy, can spill and don’t travel well. This small neti pot is plastic, compact, and lightweight. It is great for travel as well as home use, and even comes with packets of a perfectly proportioned salt mix. It also has a lid so you can tilt it farther without splashing water everywhere.
You can find this neti pot at drug stores (I’ve seen it at CVS and Walgreens).
Cnidium and Tea Combination /Fresh Ginger
The fabulous formula, Cnidium and Tea Combination, is not known and used as much as it should be. We all know about colds and flu from heat (high fever, mild chills, sweating, thirst, yellow mucus, throws covers off, severe sore throat) but we don’t always distinguish colds and flu due to coldness (symptoms of chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, and achiness), which takes a different treatment approach. Great Western herbs for this include fresh ginger and osha. However, none of these herbs is as effective in treating wind as Cnidium and Tea Combination.
The Chinese patent version of this formulas is Chuan Xiong Cha Tiao Wan, or in the Plum Flower brand, Ligusticum Teapills. The formula is composed of mint, ligusticum (chuan xiong), schizonepeta (jing jie), notopterygium (qiang huo), angelica (bai zhi), licorice, siler (ledebouriella), Chinese wild ginger (xi xin) and is taken with green tea.
This formula treats colds and flu from coldness with chills and low fever, lack of sweating, white mucus, no thirst, desire to be covered up, fear of cold, and chills at the back of the neck and top of the shoulders. It also staves off early onset of colds and flu. It warms and treats pain due to coldness, specifically dull headaches that move around and have a tightening or tingling sensation on the scalp.
This last summer while traveling I was exposed to constant external wind cold. It began after sitting in a room with extremely cold air conditioning. After, I contracted a chill that was hard to clear while traveling. Regularly taking this formula (in teapill form) helped me dramatically to both recover from a light cold and to prevent its recurrence. When I ran out of my stash, I switched to fresh ginger. While not as effective nor long-lasting in effects, it was still a fabulous help when I was exposed to unavoidable wind such as on boats, or in the Tube (Underground), air conditioning, and colder climates. I’d bite off a hunk of fresh ginger root, chew it, and quickly disperse the chill.
Note that dried ginger is not the same as the fresh; it has a hot energy and goes to the spleen rather than fresh ginger’s warming, dispersing energy that mainly goes to the lungs. It is best used to revive the digestion in those with coldness.
In my search for western substitutions for Chinese herbs, it’s hard to ignore the easy ones. Since we’re at the end of the Spleen time of the Spleen time of year – deficient Spleen symptoms being poor digestion, difficulty losing weight, diarrhea, low appetite, fatigue, and slow metabolism – choosing hawthorn seems a perfect start to my herbal substitution blogs.
Technically, this is not really an herbal substitution but rather teaching Western herbalists to use an old favorite in a new way, although this is a type of substitute of sorts, isn’t it? The question is, can an old herb (or herbalist) learn new tricks? I hope so, because this one is really worth it!
Western hawthorn (Crataegus oxyacantha), the herb much beloved for treating heart conditions, is cherished indeed because cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death not only in the US but also the entire world. Hawthorn is perfect for this because it’s a cardiac tonic, regulates blood pressure, lowers cholesterol, and protects the heart all in one.
Chinese hawthorn fruits (Crataegus pinnatifida – shan zha) have another powerful use that Western hawthorn could "learn" and this one actually relates to heart problems – as a digestive aid. (I know the Chinese variety is a different species, but stick with me here as all will become clear in the end.) Chinese hawthorn has long been used as a digestive to transform blockages in the stomach and intestines. In particular, it helps the body digest meat, fats, and greasy foods, alleviating symptoms of abdominal distention, pain, and watery diarrhea or dysentery (especially for the latter two when the herb is charred). It has been so widely used for this that hawthorn wafers are sold in Chinese pharmacies and markets as a tasty after-meal digestive for all ages.
And yet, the Chinese have also used their hawthorn species to circulate the blood and transform blood stasis, particularly for postpartum or lower abdominal pain and clumps, or pain in the chest. In recent years, however, the Chinese have begun to also use it for hypertension, coronary artery disease, and elevated serum cholesterol. Sound familiar?
This is why: the Chinese tested their species of hawthorn with anesthetized rabbits and found it lowered blood pressure for up to three hours. In other experiments it caused systemic vasodilation, while further experiments in China and other countries showed that various species of hawthorn grown in different parts of the world were useful in preventing and treating atherosclerosis. Lastly, other animal experiments with hawthorn showed changes in both serum cholesterol levels and coronary arteries and aorta. And what underscores the similar uses of both the western and Chinese species of hawthorn? Both have the same flavors and actions – sour and sweet flavors and slightly warm energy!
What I find especially interesting about this herbal usage cross-over is that after eating a big meal or poor food combinations, many people experience pain in the chest and so fear they are having a heart attack. When they go to the hospital, one of the very first treatments for this often given in emergency rooms is a digestive such as Pepto-Bismol, which more often than not alleviates the symptoms. The doctors then know their patient’s pain was not from a heart attack but from blocked digestion. Many of us know what this feels like – just think back to the physical aftermath of a heavy meal and you’ve got the idea.
While the Chinese have researched and adopted the Western usage of hawthorn, it’s now time for Western herbalists to do the same and try hawthorn for digestion. And this is the perfect time of year to use hawthorn for digestion of meat and fats, stuffiness, abdominal distention, or pain, and watery diarrhea, or for postpartum or lower abdominal pain and clumps. Try it and watch your hawthorn horizons expand!
If you experience blurry vision, tiredness, dizziness, numbness, black spots in the visual field, dry skin, hair or eyes, and/or are easily startled or overwhelmed, then combine dang gui or gou ji berries with the hawthorn to protect your blood.
Pull out your hawthorn tincture (or wine!), take it with meals, and feel your digestion improve while your herbal skills grow!
 The same herb but different species may have completely different actions. For example, western black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) has a cool energy, sweet, acrid and slightly bitter flavors and enters the Liver, Spleen, Stomach and Large Intestine meridians. It has traditionally been used as an antispasmodic for rheumatic and arthritic complaints, skin rashes, and delayed and painful menstruation. Today it is used for menopausal hot flashes since it contains estrogenic substances. Chinese black cohosh (Cimicifuga heracleifolia, C. dahurica, C. foetida – sheng ma) has a cold energy with sweet and acrid flavors and enters the Lung, Spleen, Stomach, and Large Intestine channels. It is specifically used to vent measles and headaches, clear heat and toxins, treat canker sores and swollen throat, and lift the yang in prolapse.
 Bensky, Dan, and Gamble, Andrew, Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, (Revised Edition 1993), Eastland Press, Inc., Seattle, WA, p. 224.
I first learned about dandelion by reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury many decades ago, a book not really about dandelions but so fully infused with the spirit of summer that it may as well have been. After finishing it, I proceeded to actually make dandelion wine with a friend and we found it quite refreshing and surprisingly good. I even won a prize in a photo contest with my dandelion shot. At that point, I was hooked on dandelions and proceeded to learn much more about them.
That’s when I discovered that dandelions truly are Spring’s blessing, despite being cursed by many people for making a mess of their lawns. Yet, these same folks who hate dandelions could benefit from this weed most as it clears the liver congestion that causes that fiery, angry energy.
One of the best liver herbs around, dandelion root treats cirrhosis and jaundice. I have also seen it effectively heal hepatitis in doses of 6 cups daily of the decocted raw root taken for 1-2 weeks. It clears skin conditions, too, such as rashes, measles, chicken pox, eczema, poison oak and ivy and other eruptions, especially when combined with two other great skin herbs, burdock seeds and calendula.
Dandelion root also acts on the digestive system by stimulating the secretion of bile, assisting digestion and elimination (especially of fats), dissolving gallbladder and kidney stones, and regulating blood sugar in diabetes and hypoglycemia. As well, it helps detoxification and stagnation from over-eating meat and fatty or fried foods, thereby treating poor digestion of fats along with constipation, gout and arthritis.
I always include dandelion in my liver formulas, often combining it with isatis Isatis tinctoria; ban lan gen) and andrographis (Andrographis paniculata; chuan xin lian) for a premier anti-bacterial, antiviral, and heat-clearing formula that treats inflammation anywhere in the body as well as for colds, flu, sore throats, bladder infections and constipation from heat (red hot swellings, eruptions, severe sore throat, feelings of heat, lots of sweating, and thirst).
The root can be roasted and made into a strong tea that Europeans call "dandelion coffee." It’s an excellent coffee substitute since its full-bodied bitter flavor is satisfying and counteracts the effects of previous caffeine by cleansing the injured liver (use roasted dandelion root if there are feelings of coldness, but skip the dandelion coffee and use unroasted raw dandelion root tea if the person feels hot). It also combines well with chicory root for a closer coffee flavor, as this latter herb is included in instant coffee.
I frequently recommend dandelion coffee to help people eliminate their daily coffee by slowly decreasing coffee consumption while commensurately increasing the roasted dandelion-chicory beverage. If you want, maintain your coffee ritual by grinding the roots and placing them in a filter.
The Chinese consider dandelion root an anti-toxin herb. They use its cool energy to treat hot, painful, toxic swellings, infections, inflammations, boils, abscesses, dental caries, red, swollen and painful eyes or throat, fever, and mumps. Since it has a special effect on the breasts, the Chinese also use it to treat breast sores, tumors, mastitis, swollen lymph glands, and cysts. It is used as a breast cancer preventative as well. Even better, dandelion root is only mildly bitter and so may be used by those with deficiency heat (Yin Deficiency), too!
Western herbalists use dandelion root as a galactagogue to stimulate the production of mother's milk, and as a blood purifier. Dandelion root does not increase or build blood. Rather, its cooling and slightly bitter energy counteracts the very nature of blood, which is warming and moistening. However, if you combine dandelion leaves, which are high in iron, with molasses (which nourishes blood), then you can use that combination to build blood.
Dandelion leaves are as medicinal as the root. Very high in iron and Vitamin A, they support the blood (when combined with molasses as explained above). Taken cool, dandelion leaf tea is one of the most effective diuretics – as effective as Lasix. Because it is rich in potassium, it isn’t as harsh and so cleanses the kidneys while eliminating water retention and lowering blood pressure.
Dandelion is used throughout the world. Native Americans applied its juice externally to snake bites. Ayurvedic practitioners use it for dysentery, fever, vomiting, and as an anti-poison. The leaves are grown as a vegetable in Europe and eaten when young in the spring (they are less bitter then – add olive oil and lemon juice) to help clear winter’s excesses and prevent spring’s colds and flu.
Of course my favorite use of dandelion is still what I learned as a child – picking the flowers when gone to seed and blowing their white parachutes off the stem. To me this is a wonderful metaphor – the plant transforming like a snake that sheds its skin and then reseeds to start their lives anew. May this wonderful plant continue to mellow the angry folk and heal many others!
Taraxacum mongolicum; Asteraceae
Chinese: pu gong ying; Sanskrit: atirasa
Part Used: Leaves and root
Energy, taste and Organs affected: Cold; bitter, sweet; Liver, Stomach, Kidney, Gallbladder, Bladder, Spleen, Pancreas
Actions: Clears Heat and toxins
Properties: Lithotriptic, astringent, cholagogue, galactagogue, mild laxative, alterative, diuretic (especially leaves), antibacterial, bitter stomachic
Biochemical constituents: Eudesmanolides, germacranolides, triterpenes, sterols, carotenoids, flavonoids, carbohydrates (root), fructose, mucilage, potassium (leaves), inulin, aesculin (leaves), a bitter principle, tannin, Vitamin A
Dose: 9-30 g; decoct 1 tsp./cup water; drink 1 cup tea 3 times/day; 2 "00" caps 3 times/day; 10-60 drops tincture, 1-4 times/day
Precautions: Overdose can cause mild diarrhea
Indications: Red, swollen and painful eyes, firm and hard abscesses and sores, tumors and cysts, promotion of lactation, mastitis, gout, arthritis, skin problems, painful urination, indigestion, liver congestion, hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis, constipation, skin eruptions, urinary bladder and kidney infections, gallbladder and kidney stones, diabetes, hypoglycemia
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Heat milk in a pan to scalding. Add powdered cinnamon and honey and stir well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
We 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:
Stay tuned for Sept. 21 when I'll describe food and herbs for treating Spleen imbalances.