Ten Foods Used in Chinese Herbal Medicine

When we think about Chinese medicine, most of us immediately think of acupuncture, however, the use of herbs in healing is a cornerstone of Chinese medicine, too.  The theory behind herbal medicine is that each herb exerts several different effects on the body through its inherent temperature, actions, and the organ(s) that it affects.  

Like herbs, foods also have healing properties. However, some foods have stronger actions on the body and are in fact considered herbs as well as foods.   Among them:

Ginger is best known for its ability to settle an upset stomach.  Also considered a very warm herb, ginger can be combined with scallions in broth to fight off the early stages of a cold.

Walnuts have been getting the thumbs up lately as a good source of Omega 3 fatty acids.  However, walnuts are also used in Chinese herbal formulas and in food therapy to moisten the intestines and relieve constipation.  Walnuts are also considered a good tonic for the Chinese Kidney – think longevity.

Watermelon is a food you often crave on a hot, humid day, and for good reason.  Watermelon is cooling and moistening, and is used in Chinese medicine for a condition called Summerheat, which is that blah nauseous feeling you get when it’s really hot and sticky out.

Mung beans are also good for Summerheat.  Boil the mung beans until they are soft and drink the water they were cooked in.  If that sounds gross, just add a little broth, seasoning and some vegetables, and make it into a soup.

Cinnamon is warm and gets your energy moving.  It’s good if you have a cold with lots of aches and pains.

Scallions are also warming and dispersing (moving).  They are most commonly used in the early stages of a cold boiled with ginger.  Drink the broth and go to bed – these herbs are used to cause a mild sweat, which can diffuse a cold before it gets too severe.

Hawthorne fruit can be found in Asian markets, as a supplement, or as a sour candy called Hawflakes.  Hawthorne is good for something called food stagnation in Chinese medicine, which is similar to indigestionGarlic is known to kill parasites.  It’s used as a flu preventative in Chinese medicine, as well as for food toxicity (food poisoning), with symptoms such as diarrhea and dysentery.

Chinese dates are great to tonify the Chinese Spleen.  Signs of a Spleen weakness include shortness of breath, fatigue, poor appetite, lack of energy.  Chinese dates can also be found in Asian markets and some health food stores.  They can be eaten alone or added to salads and other dishes.

In the last couple of years, Goji berries have gotten a lot of attention as a food for health and longevity.  Also known as Chinese Wolfberries, Goji berries are red, sweet and sour, and can be eaten or added to foods like raisins.  In Chinese herbal medicine Goji berries are used for eye problems like blurred vision and diminished eyesight due to aging.  Eating Goji berries for longevity wouldn’t be wrong, as they also benefit the Chinese Kidneys, which are associated with aging.

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