Dried seahorse is for asthma. Deer antlers for circulation. Ginseng promotes energy. What does lingzhi do again?
With winter around the corner, I thought it best to find out. So I visited a Chinese herbalist shop to see exactly what I would needin preparation for the season.
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is actually quite unique in that it treats your body rather than the specific disease. There is a very famous saying in Chinese medicine — Tong bing yi zhi, yi bing tong zhi — meaning, “one disease can have different treatments; different diseases can have the same treatment.” Let me explain. Chinese medicine is really about regulating balance in the body and letting your “qi” — the energy of the body — flow freely. Sometimes you get forces, either internal or external, that put the body out of balance, and that is why you get sick. Some of these forces include coldness, hotness, dampness and dryness. TCM tries to counteract imbalances in the body with herbal medicine, thus bringing the body back into balance. Keep in mind that two people can have the same disease (e.g., a cold) for different reasons. Maybe one has a dry liver and the other has too much heat in his or her body. TCM is treating those reasons, those “imbalances,” in the body rather than the actual disease itself.
It can get quite complicated, but for now, all you need to know are these three Chinese herbs that I think are absolutely essential for the winter season. They’re not too hard to find — most Asian grocery stores carry them — and all three are very affordable.
This root is used to strengthen the immune system and is often prescribed to treat colds and respiratory issues. Astragalus root can be consumed as a tea or as an addition to something like chicken soup. For tea, add some red dates or jujubes for a sweet and natural flavor.
Dong Quai (Angelica Root)
Dong quai, or Angelica root, is used to promote circulation in cold hands and feet during wintertime. This root helps with fatigue and anemia, and is also a great herb for alleviating cramps. It is usually consumed in the form of a concentrated soup or elixir. (See recipe.)
Tremela is a fungus that functions as an antioxidant for the skin. Given winter’s dry weather and rampant indoor heating, tremela can help the skin retain moisture. It is used quite often as a beauty supplement in Asia. Tremela can also be consumed in soups. (See recipe.)
Keep in mind that Chinese herbal medi- cines usually need to be mixed with other complementing herbs for it to take full effect. Usually these “medicines” are taken in the form of herbal soups or elixirs. Here are some easy soups for you to try.
–STORY BY CHRISTINA NG
This story was originally published in our Winter 2014-15 issue. Get your copy here!