January 29, 2013
Suan Zao Ren, ziziphi spinosae semen, or the Sour Jujube seed is an herb commonly used to treat insomnia. The first thing that you may think of is this delightful movie-theater candy, but that candy is not to blame for you falling asleep during Branagh’s Hamlet.
The Jujube seed is a small, brown seed you can sometimes find it in the grocery store, and may have even eaten before in breakfast foods or soups. The whole sour jujube date is even more commonly used in cooking. It looks very similar to the more common, Chinese Red Date or Da Zao when dried, but when fresh (see above picture) it is green and has a taste and texture more similar to an apple then a date.
Sour Jujube is indicated when the person having trouble sleeping has what East Asian Medicine Practitioners refer to as “yin deficient” insomnia symptoms. In this case, instead of settling into a deep sleep, their mind is active at night and they might experience anxiety, palpitations, night sweats and dream-disturbed sleep.
December 19, 2012
Almost a year ago I was excited to see a Chinese Herb, Qing Hao, mentioned in this New York Times article. In Chinese Medicine, Qing Hao is traditionally used to treat fevers, but it was discovered in China to have properties that are effective against Malaria. These properties are damaged by the traditional method of decoction or boiling of the herb. The compounds have now been isolated into a new strain of malaria drugs. This fun NPR video talks about the history of malaria drugs and their connection with herbs. It’s a great, 3 minute video that even explains how a gin and tonic became known as a “tonic”. For more information on Qing Hao you can check out the wikipedia entry.
November 30, 2012
I was reading this article on what happens when your body is infected with the flu. Did you know that echinacea is most effective in the early stages of the flu? It helps mobilize your body’s immune system so it is less helpful when you are already in full fledged symptoms. There are several Chinese Herbal formulas used to help treat colds and flu. Chuan Xin Lian is often used when your predominate symptom is a sore throat. Gan Mao Ling is also a great antiviral formula. If you find that you are experiencing frequent colds or flu, Yu Ping Feng San might be the formula for you! A Chinese herbalist can help you pick the correct formula to get over your symptoms faster. However, the best treatment (as this article suggests) is often fluids and rest. Flush that virus out!
November 27, 2012
I always get excited when I see Chinese Herbs show up in my NPR newsfeed. It’s even more exciting when it is also a Western herb and even better…a common kitchen spice. You probably guessed by the title, but the star of this article is nutmeg! The article mainly focuses on the history of the spice. What really interested me is that nutmeg was thought to treat stomachaches. That’s strikingly similar to what it is used for in Chinese Medicine! So, the next time you drink your spiced cider or eat some pumpkin pie, you can think about the tiny amount of nutmeg in it contributing to your health.
August 17, 2012
Most of us experience the occasional lower back twinge, which is unpleasant enough, and I dread having to suffer through the more constant ache of real low back pain. It can be debilitating! And once you have low back pain you realize how much we use our backs for everything. So why is low back pain so common and how can East Asian Medicine contribute to its treatment?
There certainly are many factors accounting for the prevalence of pain in our modern lives. Often the source of the pain is a combination of things, ranging from a history of trauma (such as from a car accident or a bad fall) to more mundane reasons like a sedentary lifestyle, bad form when lifting, or awkward posture while using the computer, while reading, while driving, etc.
East Asian Medicine looks at the back a bit differently from Western Medicine. While our Doctors, Chiropractors and Massage Therapists typically may identify the source of a back problem in the musculoskeletal framework: a pulled muscle or a partially ruptured disk, East Asian Medicine often sees a combination of injury (stagnation) and a constitutional susceptibility to injury (underlying deficiency).
Stagnation, like it sounds, is a lack of circulation. But not just of blood; East Asian Medicine focuses on both blood circulation and the circulation of energy (qi). In fact, sharp, stabbing pain is usually seen as a blood circulation issue rather than qi. “Where there is stagnation, there is pain. Where there is no stagnation, there is no pain.” This a central tenet directing the treatment of pain conditions. If you move the qi and the blood to increase circulation, pain will decrease and the healing process can get underway.
But for most patients it’s not just stagnation, there’s a deficiency as well. This can be difficult to understand, but the simplest way to describe deficiency is as underlying constitutional factors. This can be anything from a genetic predisposition to bone or tendon problems – to poor diet – to inadequate rest and treatment for a prior injury. Whatever the cause of an initial injury and stagnation, if improperly taken care of, eventually leads to deficiency. As this continues the patient is more predisposed to re-injury.
So how can Chinese Herbs and Acupuncture help you and your back pain? They work wonderfully in concert to address the problem. Acupuncture is great at moving qi and blood to help the initial pain caused by stagnation. Chinese Herbs can help supplement and strengthen your body to attack the underlying deficiency. The two of these together make an approach with lasting effects, and which complements the Western musculoskeletal approach well.
March 15, 2012
If you’ve read my other blog Ruston Farm, then you know that we have been struggling with a yard partially overrun with Japanese Knotweed. Its long, brittle roots have spun out across our entire front yard. This non-native weed is tenacious, frustrating and incredibly difficult to get rid of. It is also a Chinese herb.
Well, it’s closely related to a Chinese herb at least. Still, I have had difficulty reconciling my gardener’s disgust for the weed and the wonder I feel towards a very effective herb.
He Shou Wu: Also known as the root of polygonum multiflorum. This is a wonderful herb that can nourish the blood and tonify the essence. Commonly used in formulas to help counteract hair loss or greying hair. Because of the rich nature of He Shou Wu, it can be difficult for some people to digest.
Ye Jiao Teng: Also known as the stem of polygonum multiforum. Tonifies the blood, moves the blood. This is a wonderful herb that helps manage pain by increasing the circulation of blood and qi. It is also commonly used to help with insomnia. I love this herb, perhaps even more the He Shou Wu because it is easier for people to digest and sleep is so important!
So, what do I think you should do if you have invasive knotweed in your yard? Get rid of it! I know, I just espoused all of its virtues, but this is one plant that I think is better off being cultivated in its native environment where it is less likely to take over. Our native plants have unique value too and having them be strangled out by knotweed limits our biodiversity and medicinal options.
If you need help with your knotweed problem, read this great handout from King County. You can also talk to the helpful folks at Pierce County Conservation . I met them a few weeks ago at the South Sound Sustainability Expo and they are very willing to give advice and help with your knotweed project.
February 24, 2012
We get most of our energy, or qi (that’s pronounced ‘chee’), from our food. In East Asian Medicine, the main pathways to gain qi are from food and from breathing the air. Although air quality does have a significant impact on our energy (as a quick visit to Beijing or Mexico City will attest) we will focus here on the energy we can get from food since this is an aspect that we have some control over.
There are a couple of things that you should consider when choosing what you eat. The first is the freshness of the food. Did you just pick it from your yard, buy it from a farmers market or has it sat in cold storage for a month before being sold at the grocery store? I have been pouring over my gardening books lately and learned that the vitamin content of older food decreases the longer that it sits out (Markham, p1) . In other words the fresher the better! Processing also damages the qi in food. This means that although an energy bar can have a great amount of protein, calories and vitamins and minerals, because of the processing it has a lower amount of qi then the equivalent caloric/vitamin/etc apples or bananas.
Freezing, drying or canning food can be a good way to preserve the qi of the food. You do lose a bit, but not much. Just be sure to use fresh ingredients and to not let things get too old before you dig in! Freezing and low temperature drying are the best options to preserve the most from your food. Canning can be intense and damaging, but your homemade cans are much better then store bought!
Processing is a separate and more intense process than cooking and should be thought of differently. Cooking your veggies, fruits or grains lightly can help increase their digestibility by starting the digestion process. During the winter season, it is especially good it eat cooked foods because of the cold temperatures outside. You may as well enjoy your food warm!
The second interesting aspect is that wild foods are more potent in their effects then domesticated foods. For example, foraged mushrooms with have more damp draining (you might need this if you have issues like foggy headedness or sinus problems or even just live in the Pacific Northwest) attributes then their cultivated cousins. This can even be true for the same kind of mushroom, for example wild chanterelles are stronger, more powerful then farmed chanterelles. This is a wonderful attribute that is also seen in Chinese herbs. As with any wild/foraged resource, and especially so because of their powerful characteristics, these plants and animals should be used sparingly. This helps maintain balance in your own body as well as prevents them from becoming an exhausted resource.
Eat up and enjoy!
Markham, Brett L. Mini Farming, Self-Sufficiency on a 1/4 Acre. Skyhorse Publishing: 2010, New York, NY
February 17, 2012
I haven’t addressed any specific acupuncture points here yet so I thought I would share one of my favorites, one that I use on many patients. The point is called Heart-7 or shenmen (spirit gate). I should pause to explain that the majority of acupuncture points have a name as well as a channel-number code. The channel-number designation makes it easier to remember where the point is found, but the name gives insight into the full function of the point.
Chinese Medicine views the Heart in some ways similarly to how Western Medicine does, and in some ways very differently. In addition to its function to help circulate blood through our body (as in the Western perspective), it is also heavily involved with the connection between body and mind (significantly less Western, though you could imagine the romantic ‘heart’ here). The Heart can suffer from both excess and deficiency which results in symptoms such as insomnia (ranging from minor trouble falling asleep to extreme insomnia), vivid dreams, anxiety, being easily startled/frightened, heart palpitations, poor memory, talking during sleep, or mania.
So what makes Heart-7 special and one of my favorites? Well, for starters, there’s the location. It is easy to access right next to the pisiform on the underside of the wrist. And its function is relatively straightforward. The spirit in ‘spirit gate’ can be viewed as strongly affecting our mind and personality, making this point one of the most useful to address both mood and sleep. Sleep is so important! For everyone! It’s what rejuvenates our bodies and our minds. Many people are stuck in a cycle of not being able to sleep or having poor quality sleep. Even for those who sleep well, we could all use a little boost to get the most from our rest at night. Getting a good night’s rest can do wonders for our body and mind. And this is the point for that!
February 17, 2012
Okay. I admit it. I read a lot of NPR. And I was thrilled today when I saw this gem discussing the new use of Acupuncture within the US Military as a viable treatment for pain. The more people able to treat their chronic pain the better!
February 13, 2012
One of my favorite activities to do every morning while I eat my breakfast is to peruse the NPR webpage. The other day I came upon this great article: “Tai Chi May Help Parkinson’s Patients Regain Balance.”
It discusses an interesting study that split Parkinson’s patients into three groups. Each group received a different kind of therapy: stretching, resistance training or Tai Chi. The Tai Chi group was able to see great improvements in strength and balance. This is so exciting! I loved practicing Tai Chi in school and found it relaxing and a big help dealing with stress. This kind of moving meditation can be a powerful thing, and I’m surprised we haven’t seen more studies on the subject. My own experience treating Parkinson’s with Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine is that these too are powerful techniques that can lead to profound improvements for the patient. I’m glad to have this study to refer my patients to when I recommended that they try Tai Chi in addition to Acupuncture. The more tools they can have to help them deal with illness, the better.
I have heard that there is a Tai Chi school in Tacoma: Tai Chi and Qi Gong Wellness Center. I’ll have to go check it out!
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