Herbology evolved into a healing art in China through observation and usage. This knowledge was compiled and passed down for refinement through the centuries. Herbs, like everything else in Chinese Medicine, are classified according to their energetic qualities and functions. They are defined with terms like warming, cooling, tonifying or purging which describes the overall energetic configuration of the herb. Western science and medicine on the other hand attempts to understand an herb by deciphering its component parts, for example -- what essential oils, minerals or vitamins is the herb composed?
One such herb is ginseng. Ginseng is used to supplement energy (chi); however, there are different qualities and types of ginseng. Certain varieties are appropriate for individuals that are weak, energetically cold and overall deficient. However, if the same herb is given to an individual considered energetically warm, it will exacerbate the condition. It could make that person restless or hyperactive.
The healing qualities of an herb depends on many things: cultivation, harvesting, storage, selection, discernment of quality, and the different processing methods used. Processing is done to increase potency. For instance, an herb can be decocted or made into a medicinal tea to draw out the medicinal qualities; substances can be sliced to increase the surface area and potency, or alcohol can be used to extract the volatile oils.
There are also different methods of combining herbs. Herb combining can increase or promote therapeutic effectiveness. Combined they have a synergistic influence that would be different or perhaps less potent if taken individually.
Generally speaking, Chinese herbs are safer than western pharmaceuticals and rarely have unpleasant side effects. A professional prescribing Chinese herbs is usually able to eliminate or substantially reduce symptoms such as nausea, insomnia or headaches in a relatively short time, but deep healing may take a good deal longer depending on the type of illness and duration. Herbs are concentrated food -- their effect is very subtle and they work by assisting Nature and the body's own healing abilities.
Individuals that have a chronic illness and would like to try Chinese herbs should consult a Chinese physician that is knowledgeable and experienced in using the herbs. Those that would like to expand their culinary knowledge and taste experience can try experimenting to get to know qualities, texture, and taste. They can be purchased at an Oriental grocery store or Chinese pharmacy and relatively speaking are easy to use and inexpensive.
Herbs in this classification can be used in soups, congees (a type of thick cereal or porridge), vegetable dishes, and even in desserts and baked goods. They have been in use in China for thousands of years and are commonly sold in the marketplace.
Some herbs are fibrous roots that are not digestible. They can be cooked in cheesecloth and removed before serving the meal. Also some herbs need to be presoaked to start the process of extracting the essence and to shorten the cooking time.
Fresh Ginger (sheng)--- disburses cold, warms the middle burner, adjusts nutritive and protective qi. Helps to warm and move energy for women that get cold and stagnant pre-menstrual.
Codonopsis (clang sheng) -- sweet neutral, tonifies the middle burner and benefits qi, tonifies lungs, nourishes fluids, chronic fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite.
Dioscorea (shun yao) - wild yam root, sweet, neutral, benefits both yin and yang of lung and kidney, tonifies spleen and stomach. Can be used powdered or in pieces.
Da Zao (black dates) or Hong Zao (red dates) - sweet, neutral, tonifies the spleen, benefits the stomach, nourishes-? nutritive qi moistens dryness, calms the spirit and harmonizes the harsh characteristics of other herbs. The black dates have a smoky flavor and both the black and red are not as sweet as the ones sold in a grocery store.
Lotus Seeds (lian zi) - sweet astringent, neutral, clears heartfire and nourishes the kidneys, strengthens the spleen, gathering nature, used in deficient patterns. A good herb to use when you feel scattered or post-menstrual.
Fox Nut (qian shi) -- sweet, astringent, neutral, strengthens the spleen, stabilizes the kidneys and retains the essence, used for deficient kidney qi patterns
Poria Cocos (fu ring) -- sweet, bland, neutral, leaches out dampness of the middle burner (spleen -- digestive system), quiets the heart and-? calms the spirit
Longan Fruit (long yan rou) -- sweet, warm, tonifies the heart and spleen, nourishes the blood and calms the spirit.
Ziziphus Jujuba (suan zao ren) -- sweet, sour, neutral, nourishes the heart and liver, calms the spirit, used for irritability, insomnia and palpitations with anxiety from deficient blood or yin. If using this herb it should be powdered very fine.
Lycii Berries (you qi zi) -- sweet, neutral, nourishes and tonifies the liver and kidneys, used for deficient blood and yin patterns with symptoms such as sore back and legs, could be beneficial for diabetics.
Black Sesame Seeds (Hu Ma Ren) -- sweet, neutral, nourishes and fortifies the liver and kidneys, moistens and lubricates the intestines, nourishes the blood. Some symptoms include constipation, headache, numbness and dizziness from deficient blood or yin.
Almond Kernal (xing ren) -- bitter, warm, slightly poisonous, moistens the intestines and moves the stool, used for all kinds of coughs especially-?coughs from a cold.
Jobs Tears (yi yi ren) -- sweet, bland, cool, promotes urination, leaches out dampness, clears damp heat, used for edema and has a mild effect on deficient spleen patterns.
Cardamon (bai dou kou) -- pungent, warm, and aromatic, transforms dampness, warms the middle burner and moves qi and transforms stagnation. The powdered herb which can be purchased in the supermarket is the appropriate herb for congees, etc.
Astragalus (huang qi) -- sweet, slightly warm, tonifies qi, blood and spleen, immune enhancement.
Mushrooms (Shi take) -- strengthens the stomach, promotes healing, detoxifies, anti-tumor. (Button) -- similar in nature to shitake, but less potent.
Bad He (filly bulbs) -- sweet, slightly bitter, slightly cold, moistens the lungs, clears heat, and alleviates coughs and sore throats. Clears the heart and calms the spirit. Insomnia, restlessness and irritability as an aftermath of a febrile illness.
This extensive and engaging book--the first collaboration between a Chinese scientist and an American author and herbalist--blends traditional wisdom from both cultures with scientific verification of the medical effectiveness of many ancient Chinese plants, thereby deepening our knowledge of and appreciation for ornamentals whose usefulness extends far beyond their beauty.
About The Author
Micki Iborra is a licensed nutritionist and spiritual traveler. Micki works with her husband, Frank, an acupuncturist, at the White Crane Healing Center located in “The Gardens” office complex in Tamarac, FL. Visit their website at http://www.whitecranehealingarts.com