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 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!
February 9, 2012
Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Now that the Solstice is here we can all look forward to longer days again. Sorry about the long lag between blog entries. Things have been wonderful, yet busy here in Tacoma.
During this cold, winter season most of us regularly consume lots of Chinese (and Western) herbs in the form of spices. I thought that it would be fun to share those spices and their properties. It gives you something to think about the next time you take a sip of that spiced cider or a bite of pumpkin pie. The great thing about these spices is that they are wonderfully warming and help stave off the winter cold.
Ginger (Sheng Jiang)
This is probably one of the most commonly used Chinese herbs. Often it is added to Chinese herbal formulas to help aid digestion. It is a great herb to make a tea out of when you feel like you are fighting a cold where one of the predominate symptoms is achy muscles and/or chills. It is also good at helping treat nausea (like morning sickness) or seafood poisoning. I always wonder if that is how the tradition started of serving pickled ginger with sushi. Yum!
Clove (Ding Xiang)
Cloves help warm the digestion and can help with symptoms such as hiccups. It can also help tonify kidney yang. Kidney yang helps warm the entire body and when you are Kidney yang deficient, often you will notice symptoms such as a tendency to feel cold both in the core of your body and extremities as well as a sore back and weak knees. This warming herb is especially appropriate in the winter when many of us are already bundled up to stave off the wind and rain.
Cinnamon (Rou Gui, Gui Zhi)
There are two kinds of cinnamon used in the Chinese Materia Medica. The first is cinnamon twig. These are the small branches of the cinnamon tree and they are most commonly used to treat colds with a predominance of muscles aches and chills. Cinnamon twig is also a wonderful herb for helping treat pain conditions when used in combination with other herbs. It can help increase circulation to help with reduction of pain and the healing process.
The second kind of cinnamon is the larger bark and what we are more familiar with seeing in its ground form in our spice cupboard. It is great at warming the body internally and is considered a primary to tonify Kidney yang. It is able to address a variety of conditions including back pain, dizziness, lung conditions, lack of libido and impotence.
Cardamom (Bai Dou Kou)
Just like ginger, cardamom is another digestive aid. It helps move and regulate qi in Chinese herbal formulas with a main focus on the stomach. Like ginger it can help with nausea and morning sickness. Cardamom is warming and dissolves dampness. Often dampness is a symptom of poor digestion, an inability to efficiently harvest energy from food. Examples of this can include abdominal fullness, distention, nausea and poor appetite. Studies have show that cardamom is associated with an increase in the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach and decreased vomiting (Chen 373)
Nutmeg (Rou Dou Kou)
Another wonderful digestive herb with a focus on indigestion as a result of Spleen and Kidney yang deficiency. These symptoms include poor appetite, abdominal distention and occasionally vomiting. In some cases, symptoms also include loose stools early in the morning. Like cardamom this herb can also help regulate qi and improve digestion. It is primarily indicated by the indigestion being caused by cold. This is indicated by symptoms and a sensation of cold reported by the patient.
All of these herbs are warming and wonderful for our cold, winter days. Because in Western cooking they are used in small amounts and in Chinese Herbal medicine they are traditionally combined with other herbs in a formula, it is important to keep this in mind and not to overindulge. For example, having a a teaspoon of cinnamon on your oatmeal is great, but a three tablespoons every day could really overdo it (and taste terrible)! I think that simply learning the attributes of these spices makes us think of our traditional winter foods in a different way. Food is medicine! Exciting!
If you want any more information about Chinese Herbs, I highly recommend John and Tina Chen’s Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology.
Chen, John and Chen, Tina. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. Art of Medicine Press: 2004, City of Industry, CA.
April 1, 2011
Welcome to the first blog entry for Hawthorn Natural Health. The goal is to provide some simple Chinese Medicinal health tips that you can easily implement at home. In honor of spring finally arriving to the Northwest, it seems appropriate to share some tips to help your body adjust to the new season.
Spring is a time for excitement and growth! All the seedlings are starting to sprout and form roots in the garden. The weather varies drastically from warm and sunny to rain. Chinese Medicine thinks of spring as full of lots of what we call wood energy. Wood energy is like a new sapling that is still green. When it is healthy, it is flexible and strong. When it is ill, it becomes dry and brittle and is more likely to break.
Some things that you can do to help your body adjust to spring is to take advantage of clear days and go for a walk. It is great way to get your qi (energy) moving and relieve stress. Because there is so much energy in the air during spring, it is easy to feel frustrated and stuck. If walking isn’t your thing, trying meditation, yoga, running or bike riding. Just remember to keep everything in moderation and take it easy if your body has been resting all winter.
To help yourself feel more rooted, trying getting out in the garden and planting a few vegetables. Gardening can help nourish and protect your digestion (earth energy) which is often beat up by an over active wood element. To put this in familiar language, it is common to have indigestion when you are stressed and frantic. Counteract this problem by slowing down for meals and get out and into your garden! Now is a great time to get peas, kale, winter greens, brussels sprouts, collard greens and squash into the ground. If you don’t have a garden or live in an apartment, trying planting a few small tomato plants in your window sill. You can use old egg cartons or disposable coffee cups as containers.
I hope this helps you adjust to the changing seasons. More blog posts to follow!
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