Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happy New Year!

Thanks to all who came and contributed your celebratory spirits to our Moxa, Tea & Winter Poetry Open House on December 18! I had a great time!

Several of you requested more information on the herbal teas served at the Open House. So, I've posted a menu of the snacks & herbal tea blends below!

Want to learn more about the medicinal qualities of the herbs used in the tea blends? Please scroll down for detailed descriptions.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy, prosperous 2012!

black bean soup with satsuma yams;
assorted root vegetables roasted with olive oil, sea salt, fresh rosemary & oregano;
baked kabocha squash garnished with butter, roasted black sesame seeds & dried kelp flakes & cilantro;
millet steamed with black 'forbidden' rice;
crispy walnuts (hu tao ren);
dried goji berries (gou qi zi), raisins, cranberries;
mandarin oranges

Spicy Holiday Blend
Spicy cloves and cinnamon bark, sweetened with licorice root and jujube dates -- this tea evokes the winter holiday spirit, conjuring memories of warm mulled beverages. Medicinally, this blend deeply warms and invigorates the body's yang Qi, helping the internal organ systems function more effectively. It aids digestion and treats cough and wheezing. It alleviates aches & pains of all sorts and delights the soul – perfect for the deep of winter.

Ding Xiang (clove: warms, supports digestion)
Rou Gui (cinnamon bark: warms, invigorates yang qi of deep internal organs)
Hong Zao (red jujube dates: sweet, calming digestive tonic)
Gan Cao (licorice: sweet, harmonizing, digestive tonic & detoxicant)
Sheng Jiang (fresh ginger: warms lungs and stomach, eases digestion, releases cold and flu pathogens)

Rooty Tonic Blend
Sweet and earthy in flavor, this blend of astragalus and ginseng roots plus a bit of angelica root, sweetened with longan berries and red jujube dates, is the perfect antidote to any type of stress. This combination of tonic, adaptogenic herbs is a simplified version of the popular Chinese herbal formula Gui Pi Tang, commonly used to treat fatigue and emotional agitation due to overwork and overthinking. This tea was described by tasters as “grounding.”

Huang Qi (astragalus root: adaptongenic immune tonic)
Ren Shen (ginseng root: powerful Qi tonic & adaptogen: facilitates recovery from stress, illness, injury)
Dang Gui (Chinese angelica root: powerful builder and vitalizer of Blood)
Long Yan Rou (longan berries: Qi & Blood tonic: support the brain; counteract overexertion)
Hong Zao (red jujube dates: sweet, digestive tonic, calm the mind)

Sour & Sweet Digestive Blend
This warming and distinctively multi-flavored blend is an antidote to indigestion. In addition to facilitating improved metabolism of nutrients, it calms the mind, supports the Lung, eliminates phlegm, and can help ease cough. The five-flavored schizandra berries were added primarily for their complex taste; however, if drunk over the long term, these berries tonify the Kidney Qi and Essence and improve skin quality, brain health & sexual function.

Shan Zha (hawthorn berries: eases indigestion, supports cardiovascular health)
Chen Pi (dried citrus peel: regulates Qi, clears phlegm to support digestive & respiratory health)
Wu Wei Zi (shizandra berries: multiflavored astringent; tonify Kidney, support Lung, enhance brain function)
Zhi Gan Cao (honey-fried licorice root: sweet, warming, harmonizing, digestive tonic)
Hong Zao (red jujube dates: sweet, digestive, Qi & Blood tonic, calm the mind)

Medicinal Properties of Herbs used in Blends:

Spicy Holiday Blend:
Spicy cloves and cinnamon bark, sweetened with licorice root and jujube dates -- this tea evokes the winter holiday spirit, conjuring memories of warm mulled beverages. Medicinally, this blend deeply warms and invigorates the body's yang Qi, helping the internal organ systems function more effectively. It aids digestion and treats cough and wheezing. It alleviates aches & pains of all sorts and delights the soul – perfect for the deep of winter.

Cloves & cinnamon bark are spicy & very warm. They move Qi to increase circulation, but more importantly, they warm the body, strengthening vitality and internal energy. In Chinese herbology, they are frequently used as warming adjuncts in Spleen & Kidney Yang tonic formulas. In conjunction with other herbs, they help treat cold-induced disorders of the digestive, urinary or sexual/reproductive systems & alleviate pain related to deep cold, including abdominal, menstrual, and joint pain.

Cloves have the particular use of directing Stomach Qi downward. They alleviate vomiting and hiccoughs, which are considered abnormal uprising of Stomach Qi.

The twigs and bark of the cinnamon plant are both very commonly used in Chinese medicine. Cinnamon bark is warmer than cinnamon twigs. In fact, it is one of the most warming of the Chinese herbs. It is considered to penetrate more deeply into the body, warming the Yang of the Heart, Spleen and Kidneys. That is, it warms the visceral organs, helping them to function more effectively. Cinnamon bark is also said to calm the nerves. Its energy is also said to “move upwards and float,” dispersing energy blocks in the neck & shoulders, warming the flesh, and bringing a rosiness to the cheeks.

One of the unique functions of cinnamon bark is alleviating wheezing in chronic asthma cases where the Kidneys are weak and fail to grasp Lung Qi. Cinnamon bark also helps move Qi & Blood in cases of Qi or Blood stasis due to cold. In this capacity, it helps treat amenorrhea, dysmenorrhea, chronic pain conditions and helps heal chronic sores. From a western naturopathic medical perspective, cinnamon has a remarkable capacity for balancing blood sugar.

Red jujube dates & licorice root were used as sweeteners in this blend. Both of these herbs are wonderful Qi and Blood tonics. They are used as “adjunct players” in many, many Chinese herbal formulas, where they function to harmonize and moderate the properties of the major herbs in the formula.

Red jujubes are often used in conjunction with major Qi and Blood tonic herbs like ginseng and dang gui (Chinese angelica root), enhancing the efficacy and digestibility of these herbs. In addition to tonifying the Spleen, building Qi and nourishing Blood, red jujubes are also mildly sedative and help calm the Spirit. They are useful in imbalances characterized by weakness, shortness of breath, lassitude, reduced appetite, loose stools and emotional lability, as they build the blood and help the digestive organs extract energy from food more efficiently.

Licorice root is the master “harmonizer” in Chinese herbalism. It helps diverse ingredients in complex herbal formulas work effectively together. It also smooths the effect of harsh-acting herbs, and adds a deliciously sweet flavor to formulas. Moreover, it has the unique quality of entering all twelve of the body's major organ-related channels. In this capacity, it guides the healing properties of any herbal formula throughout the entire body.

Aside from being an important digestive tonic (aiding the body's assimilation of nutrients) and Spleen Qi tonic (treating low energy, weakness, low appetite, loose stools, etc.), licorice root has some other interesting functions. It nourishes the adrenal glands. It helps build and strengthen muscles, while also relaxing muscle tissue, alleviating painful muscle spasms. It is commonly used in formulas to treat leg cramps, intestinal spasms or uterine pain. An expectorant, it moistens the Lungs to stop coughing and wheezing. It helps cool down a hot sore throat and eliminate microbes in the case of viral or bacterial infection. It's a powerful detoxicant, ridding the body of over 1200 known toxins without distressful side-effects. In China, licorice tea is drunken by smokers to soothe their dry throats, as well as by singers and public speakers, because it improves the secretions of throat mucosa. Licorice root has anti-inflammatory properties similar to cortisone, but without the side effects. Finally, like cinnamon, licorice root helps regulate blood sugar, counteracting hypoglycemia.

Rooty Tonic Blend:
Sweet and earthy in flavor, this blend of astragalus and ginseng roots plus a bit of angelica root, sweetened with longan berries and red jujube dates, is the perfect antidote to any type of stress. This combination of tonic, adaptogenic herbs is a simplified version of the popular Chinese herbal formula Gui Pi Tang, commonly used to treat fatigue and emotional agitation due to overwork and overthinking. This tea was described by tasters as “grounding.”

Astragalus and ginseng roots are perhaps the most popular and powerful tonic root herbs in the Chinese pharmacopeia. They help the body recovery from illness and injury, and help it to adapt to physically and emotionally stressful circumstances. In terms of Chinese medicine theory, both astragalus and ginseng strongly tonify the Qi of the Lung and the Spleen, bolstering the body's digestive and respiratory functions. In this capacity, they treat weakened conditions characterized--in extreme cases-- by shallow breathing, shortness of breath, cold limbs, sweating, lethargy, lack of appetite, loose stools, or organ prolapse. Both astragalus and ginseng rebuild Qi and blood after severe blood loss due, for example, to childbirth, traumatic injury, or surgery.

Ginseng, king of tonic herbs, is considered a master-adaptogen, helping a person adapt to all kinds of stresses. It enhances endurance and resilience, builds muscles, increases mental and physical efficiency, and prevents overfatigue. It is considered a useful herb for elderly people, improving memory and cognitive power, and counteracting intellectual deterioration. It helps to regenerate fluids and alleviate thirst after acute debilitating febrile illness. It is also useful in treating emotional problems: it benefits the Heart Qi and calms the spirit, alleviating restlessness, anxiety, insomnia and forgetfulness due to Qi and Blood deficiency.

Astragalus root is perhaps best known as an immune-building adaptogen in Chinese herbalism. One of its major uses is strengthening patients who are prone to frequent cold and flu infections. In terms of Chinese medicine theory, astragalus is considered to augment the protective Qi (Wei Qi) that resides at the surface of the body. Stronger surface Qi is more effective in regulating the opening and closing of the pores of the body, preventing invasion by pathogens, but also allowing the body to rid itself of toxins and microbes through appropriate sweating. In a related function, astragalus helps curb excess sweating related to a range of physiological imbalances. Other functions include reducing edema through a mild diurectic action, countering prolapse or excessive uterine bleeding, and helping to discharge pus and regenerating tissue in the case of chronic sores and ulcers.

Studies conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center at the University of Houston, the world's largest cancer research institute, demonstrated clearly that astragalus root improves the immune response in humans undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatment for cancer. Patients taking astragalus during such treatment tend to have far fewer side effects and to recover at a higher and faster rate.

Chinese angelica root (dang gui) is the most popular blood tonic, blood vitalizer and gynecological herb in the Chinese pharmacopeia. Like the two Qi tonics described above, ginseng and astragalus, dang gui is helpful in rebuilding the blood to counter exhaustion after severe blood loss (particularly after childbirth or menstruation). It is superior in its ability to rebuild red blood cells and widely used to treat anemia. In China, women are often fed meat cooked with dang gui and ginger to help them recover from childbirth. Dang gui also helps clear away dead blood cells and circulate fresh blood. It is a superb regulator of women's menstrual cycle, used in cases of amenorrhea and dysmenorrhea. It might be used with cinnamon twigs (gui zhi) in cases of menstrual pain due to cold in the uterus. Though it is most commonly used as a woman's herb, men use angelica root to help build muscle, repair injury and improve circulation. An additional property of angelica root is its ability to treat chronic constipation due to Qi and Blood deficiency. For this it might be combined with crushed cannibis seeds (hu ma ren) and walnuts (hu tao ren).

Longan berries, a less commonly known tonic herb, were added to the rooty blend, along with red jujube dates, to add sweetness. Longan berries are typically spoken of as “the student herb” due to their unique capacity for treating fatigue and emotional lability related to excessive thinking and overwork. Specifically, in Chinese medicine theory, they tonify Spleen Qi and nourish Heart Blood, calming the spirit and treating insomnia, palpitations, forgetfulness, and dizziness. Red jujube dates, described above, are somewhat similar to longan berries in their ability to treat emotional conditions by nourishing Qi and Blood.

Sour & Sweet Digestive Tea
This warming and distinctively multi-flavored blend is an antidote to indigestion. In addition to facilitating improved metabolism of nutrients, it calms the mind, supports the Lung, eliminates phlegm, and can help ease cough. The five-flavored schizandra berries were added primarily for their complex taste; however, if consumed over the long term, these berries tonify the Kidney Qi and Essence and improve skin quality, brain health & sexual function.

Hawthorn berries (shan zha) and dried citrus peel (chen pi) both aid digestion. Hawthorn berries help break down meat and greasy foods and guide them through the digestive system. They ease abdominal distention and pain and stop diarrhea. Dried citrus peel (chen pi) is a “qi regulator,” helping to move Qi in the digestive tract. Chen pi is not a tonic, but by helping move Qi, it helps improve the efficiency by which the Spleen and Stomach transform food into energy for the body. In this way, it also eases symptoms of indigestion – distention, bloating, belching, nausea and vomiting – considered to be related to stagnant Qi in the digestive tract.

In addition to aiding digestion, hawthorn berries are commonly used in the modern-day treatment of hypertension and coronary artery disease. They have been shown to lower blood pressure, cause systemic vasodilation, and prevent and treat atherosclerosis.

In addition to being a digestant, chen pi is also used as an adjunct in treating respiratory illness. Its unique abilities to “transform” phlegm and dampness,and to “regulate” the flow of Qi enable it to clear the respiratory passages and treat cough. Again, chen pi is not a tonic. But is often used with tonic herbs to improve their digestion and assimilation by the body.

Shizandra berries (wu wei zi). The name “wu wei zi” translates to “five-flavor fruit.” These notable berries were added to this blend partly for their complex flavor. In terms of Chinese herbal theory, these berries possess all five flavors—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and pungent-- and each of these flavors has a different physiological effect on the body.

Schizandra berries were historically consumed by Chinese royalty and Daoist masters. They are said to contain all three life-enhancing treasures spoken of in Doaist health teachings-- Qi, Shen and Jing. They are an excellent tonic for brain & mind, sharpening concentration, memory and alertness, while also being mildly calming. Schizandra berries have been shown to enhance intellectual activity and work efficiency. They also improve vision. Taken over time, schizandra berries add softness, moisture and radiance to the skin, and are reputed to improve sexual function in men and women.

Clinically, schizandra berries support the Lung and treat chronic cough and wheeze due to Lung and Kidney deficiency. They also astringe leakage and stop diarrhea or excess urination due to Kidney or Spleen weakness. They inhibit sweating and calm the heart, treating irritability, palpitations, dream-disturbed sleep and insomnia. Recently they have been used to treat allergic skin disorders and to improve liver function in hepatitis patients.

Honey-fried licorice and red jujube dates were added to bring sweetness, enhance digestibility and enhance the calming and tonifying effects of the blend.

Thank you to Evelyn & Sean at Spring Wind Dispensary, San Francisco, for their thoughtful advice and help assembling these herbal blends. www.springwinddispensary.com


Bensky, Dan and Gamble, Andrew. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Revised Edition.

Ron Teeguarden. The Ultimate Source of Chinese Tonic Herbs and Superfoods. Website: www.dragonherbs.com

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Moxa, Tea & Winter Poetry Open House

Sunday, December 18, 2011
West Berkeley

to RSVP & for location information,
please call 510.495.5752
or email stephanie@stephaniedoucette.com

Take a cozy, rejuvenating break from the holiday bustle. Nurture your body & soul in good company. I will provide free moxibustion treatments. Winter-themed snacks will be served, along with a variety of tasty warming & tonifying Chinese herbal teas. Winter-themed poetry and choral music will delight your spirits.

If you can, please bring a poem reflecting the theme of winter to share.

Children are welcome!

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion (or "moxa") is the practice in Chinese Medicine of burning dried mugwort and other fragrant herbs at certain points of the body. Moxa stimulates healing by warming and strengthening the body’s vital forces and moving qi and blood. Moxa is deeply nourishing and protective. It is particularly appropriate for this time of year because it strengthens the essential energies of the Kidneys. It is useful in strengthening immunity as well as helping with chronic pain and cold conditions of various kinds.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Deep Nourishment: Winter Food & Cooking Tips

Two themes guide our discussion of winter eating:

1. Yin and Yang

In winter the outside environment becomes Yin: cold, dark, still. The Yang energy of plants (the energy of upward growth and metabolism) is pulled deep into the roots. Nature enters a state of rest and storage.

Matching these environmental patterns, the Yang Qi of our bodies also draws deeply inward, warming our internal organs. With Yang deeply inward, Yin energy of our environment pervades the more surface levels of our body, helping us to adjust to cold winter surroundings.

In winter, we can easily loose energy to our environment (whereas in summer, we easily gain energy from a predominantly Yang environment.)

We can keep ourselves healthy by eating foods that mirror these patterns of inner warmth, rest and storage. It is important for us to protect ourselves from the elements and to nourish ourselves with deeply warming foods.

2. Kidney Energy Predominates

In winter, the energy of the Kidney predominates. The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine are regarded as the root and foundation of the body's energy. The health of our Kidneys determines our overall health, the health of our bones, our reproductive capacity, and the grace with which we age. They are responsible for our enduring strength and stamina.

The Kidneys are particularly vulnerable to damage by cold and overexertion in winter. However, they are also uniquely available at this time of year for nourishment through food. Our food choices should be influenced not only by considering the Kidney, but also themes associated with the Kidney and wintertime in Chinese medicine: water, depth, darkness, inward-focus, etc.

Winter is a critical time to eat foods whose energies penetrate deeply inward, warming our Yang energies, supporting Yin, and nourishing our Kidneys. Following are some tips for winter eating and food preparation:

1. Match your environment:

Eat Foods in Season: A trip to a local farmers' market will help you know what's in season. At this time of year, your body thrives on storage vegetables like carrots, parsnips, burdock root, celery root, onions, winter squash, yams, and potatoes. Seasonal fruits include kiwis, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, kumquats and other citrus fruit, as well as dried fruit.

Dark-Colored Foods match the Yin energy of the season. These include sturdy winter greens like kale and collards, mineral-dense seaweeds and sea vegetables, dark-colored mushrooms like shitakes, and dried berries like goji berries.

Other "storage" foods include dried grains and beans. Brown rice, millet, wild rice, dark-colored strains of quinoa, dark-colored beans like kidney, black and aduki are all particularly nourishing in winter, as are nuts and seeds. Walnuts, almonds, and black sesame seeds nourish the Kidney in particular.

Meats: Winter is the best time of year to add moderate amounts of nutrients from animal products to our diets. Particularly nourishing in winter are those deep nutrient storehouses: organ meats and bones.

(A note on meat: Generally speaking, I advocate eating a small to moderate amount of meat or seafood, a few times per week to once per day, especially in the colder seasons, as a source of concentrated nutrients and energy. Animal products should be consumed in the context of a meal including cooked grain, vegetables, savory broth and a garnish of fermented food to aid digestion. Dietary needs and preferences vary, of course, in relation to individuals' constitutions and lifestyles. The way in which meat is cooked significantly impacts its digestibility and its nutritional affect on our bodies.)

Winter is a great time of year to get into the habit of eating bone broths and stocks. Simmering bone stock overnight is a great way to draw out minerals from an animals deepest stores, rendering them easily assimilable to our bodies. Broth and stock can be stored in our freezers and used to enhance soups and stews throughout winter.

See my article on bone broths and stock for recipes and further discussion.

Organ meats, especially liver and kidney, are also nutritionally potent. Dark-colored and originating deep in the body, they match the themes of winter according to TCM theory. It is advisable to seek out organ meats from organic or pastured animals, as the internal organs can be storehouses for toxic chemicals used in raising factory-farmed animals. Liver pates or liverwurst are a luxurious treat at winter celebrations.

As winter and the Kidney are associated with water and the sea, Chinese Medicine traditionally advised eating deep-sea animals to tonify the Kidney energies in winter. Consider adding some shellfish, oysters, shrimp, trout, wild salmon, sardines or cod liver oil to your diet at this time of year.

2. Cooking-styles for warmth and nourishment:

In Chinese Medicinal cooking, different cooking methods are used to accentuate the energetic qualities of foods, be they warm or cool. We increase the warming nature of foods either through hotter cooking methods (roasting, baking, braising or frying), and/or longer cooking time (think slowly-simmered soups, stews and stocks). While long cooking times reduce the contents of certain vitamins, they make minerals more available to the body.

Winter is really the only good time of year to consume some fried foods. While meats and fried foods are harder for our bodies to digest and can be hard on our vascular systems, they are warming and provide stamina in winter. Be attentive to the choice of fat in which to fry. Animal fats, which are highly saturated, can be heated to high temperatures with little damage, creating non-greasy fried foods. Think bacon grease or ghee. Less saturated vegetable oils don't typically perform well at high heats. They form free radicals which are virtually indigestible and, thus, damaging to our bodies. Peanut oil, an exception, is one of the most stable vegetable oils at high temperatures.

Fried foods in small amounts to garnish winter meals of grains, beans and vegetables. Compliment meats and fried foods with naturally fermented foods, like raw sauerkraut or pickles. These support the digestion and assimilation of heavy foods, starchy foods and oils.

3. Salty: the flavor of winter

Salty is the flavor associated with winter and the Kidney in Chinese Medicine. Eating more salty food in winter helps consolidate your energy, turning your focus inward. But all salt is not created equal.

Stick with truly unrefined salt, such as Celtic sea salt and salt mined from ancient sea beds. These are not bright white in color, but grayish or light pink, indicating the presence of the wide array of minerals naturally present in seawater. Fortunately, these sea salts are now available to us in health food stores. Also, I recently learned from a teacher about Korean sea salt, which is among the purest and most mineral-dense in the world—available to us in Korean food markets here in the East Bay.

Refined salt is pure sodium chloride, stripped of other minerals. It is much harder for the body to balance than natural sea salt. Keep in mind that the chemical composition of our bodies is quite similar to seawater. (Also, remember that water and the sea are associated with the Kidney and with winter in Chinese medicine.)

Again, winter is a great time to eat raw fermented foods like miso, tamari or shoyu (traditionally brewed, high quality soy sauces) and pickles or sauerkraut. Foods foods are not only salty, but also "storage" forms of food, "cooking" slowly over an extended period of time, so to speak. Thus they match the energy of the seasonal environment.

Healthy salts should be eaten in moderate amounts, of course, in a way that enhances--but doesn't overpower-- the flavor of our food.

Aside from salty flavor, bitter-flavored foods, like collards and turnip greens, also help to consolidate energy within during winter time.

4. Eat earlier in the day. Don't overeat.

In wintertime, the yang energy required to digest our food is in shorter supply. Despite our increased nutritional needs this season, our digestion tends to be more sluggish in winter than at other times of the year. Additionally, digestive energies are highest first thing in the morning, decreasing through the course of the day, according to Chinese Medicine theory.

The implications of this is that we are advised to eat most heartily in the morning, but to eat smaller meals later in the day. The days are short now. Try to eat your last meal of the day before 7:00pm. Eat a simple evening meal. Soups and or a bit of grain with lots of savory liquid are good choices for dinner. Late night eating tends to cause indigestion and interfere with sound sleep.

I'll conclude this article with some lists of foods traditionally considered to strengthen the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine theory:

Whole grains: millet, wild rice, dark-colored varieties of grains such as quinoa

Vegetables: parsley, sea vegetables, yams

Fruits: especially dark berries; dried fruits

Nuts and seeds: almonds, walnuts, black sesame seeds

Beans: all beans, particularly dark varieties such as black and kidney beans

Animal foods: bone broths, clams, crab, lobsters, oysters, organ meats, pork

Traditional foods to strengthen Kidney Yang:

Whole grains: oats, spelt, sweet brown rice, quinoa

Vegetables: cabbage, garlic, kale, leeks, mustard greens, onions, parsnips, parsley, green onions, winter squash

Fruits: cherries, dates, raspberries

Spices and herbs: anise, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, caraway, citrus peel, cumin, dill, fenugreek, fennel, ginger, rosemary

Beans: aduki, black beans

Animal foods: chicken, crab, lobster, organ meats, shrimp, trout, wild salmon

Traditional foods to strengthen KidneyYin:

Whole grains: amaranth, barley, millet, rice, wheat

Vegetables: asparagus, beets, eggplant, potatoes, sea vegetables

Fruits: apples, berries, lemon, grapes, mulberries, melon (in season)

Beans: all dried beans, miso

Animal foods: anchovies, cultured dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, duck, goat cheese, raw cheese, eggs, organ meats, pork, shellfish, sardines

Traditional foods to nourish Kidney Jing:

microalgae, chlorella, blue-green algae, barley and wheat grass, fish, shellfish, liver, cod liver oil, kidneys, broth made from bones and marrow, almonds, raw milk and cheese, ghee, nettles, bee pollen, goji berries

For more information on the Kidneys (Yin, Yang, and Jing), please see my associated article.


Bliss, Nishanga. Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal Whole Foods for Optimal Health and All-Day Energy. To be released by New Harbinger Press in Spring, 2012.

Liu Ming. “Nourishing Within” lecture series: 11/26/11 lecture.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Kidneys in Chinese Medicine: Physiology & Symbolism

Winter is the time when the energy of the Kidneys predominates. The Kidneys not only govern fluid filtration and urination, but, in Chinese Medicine philosophy, are considered the root and foundation of the body's energy. The health of our Kidneys determines our overall health, the health of our bones, our reproductive capacity, and the grace with which we age. They are responsible for our enduring strength, stamina, and clarity of mind over the long-haul.

Moreover, Kidneys are said to hold our connection to our ancestors. They also relate profoundly to our offspring as they hold the basic material for reproduction and fetal development.

For the sake of good health and longevity, nourishing the Kidneys is of paramount importance. Pregnant women and families thinking of becoming pregnant should be especially mindful of Kidney health.

Hormonal imbalances, conditions related to physical or cognitive development, conditions related to the bones, and issues of aging are all considered to be related to weakness of Kidney energy.

Kidney energy is most available in wintertime. It is vulnerable to being weakened if we don't eat well, rest sufficiently and protect ourselves from the colder weather. On the other hand, winter is the optimal time of the year for nourishing and supporting Kidney health. Please see my related articles for tips on how to do this:

Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

Kidneys as the Foundation of Yin and Yang:

The Kidneys are the foundation of the Yin and Yang of all other organs in the body. Kidney Yin is the fundamental substance for birth, growth and reproduction. It provides the material foundation of the body. Kidney Yang, by contrast, is the motive force of all physiological processes in the body (i.e. digestion, fluid metabolism, respiration, etc.)

Among the precious substances that make up our body are Qi, Blood and Body Fluids. Of these, Qi relates to Yang; Blood and fluids relate to Yin. As the root of Yin and Yang in the body, Kidneys provide the foundation for all body substances and for the organs that produce, move and metabolize these substances. So, we see that Kidneys are truly the foundation of the material substance and the motivating energy of the body. In a related statement, Kidneys are said to be the origin of both Water and Fire in the body.

Kidneys Store Essence and Relate to Ancestry and Reproduction:

In addition to being the foundation of Yin and Yang, Kidneys are said to store Essence (or, in Chinese, Jing). Jing, like Qi and Blood, is one of the precious substances of the body. The Kidneys store two types of Jing: pre-Heaven and post-Heaven.

Pre-Heaven Jing is the inherited Essence (genetic material) from our ancestors that, before birth, nourishes the fetus and after birth controls growth, sexual maturation, fertility and development. This Essence determines our basic constitution, strength and vitality. Post-Heaven Jing is the refined essence extracted from food through digestion. We can tonify our post-heaven Jing through healthy, relaxed lifestyle, and by eating nourishing foods. However, our pre-heaven Jing is our inheritance, or our genetic programming or fate, so to speak, from our ancestors. It can not be changed.

Other Anatomical and Physiological Functions of the Kidneys:

Kidney Essence (or Jing) is the organic foundation of Marrow, which is said to generate the spinal cord and fill the brain. If Kidney Essence is strong, it will nourish the brain, memory, concentration, thinking and sight. If the brain is not adequately nourished by Kidney Essence, there may be poor memory, concentration, dizziness, dull thinking and poor sight.

Practitioners of Chinese medicine will seek to bolster the Kidney function in patients with cognitive or developmental delays.

The Kidney's Marrow is also the basis for the formation of bone marrow. Strong Kidney Essence is critical to healthy development of bones and teeth. Osteoporosis and loss of teeth in old age is related to decline of Kidney Essence.

In Chinese Medicine theory, the Kidneys play an important role in breathing, along with the Lungs. The Kidneys are said to 'hold' down the Qi inhaled by the Lungs. Thus, Kidneys are partly responsible for inhalation, while the Lungs alone are responsible for exhalation. Weak Kidney energy can be a factor in chronic asthma cases.

As already mentioned, Kidneys play a critical role in reproduction. Not only do Kidneys store the Essence which nourishes the fetus and controls growth and development. This Essence is also the basis of semen and menstrual blood. Kidney Yang generates the fire that motivates fertility, sexual desire and sexual function. It warms the uterus to enable it to hold and nourish an implanted fetus. Again, couples hoping to become pregnant are advised to pay attention to their Kidney health, and seek the help of an acupuncturist if needed.

Obviously, the Kidneys are related to water metabolism since they govern fluid filtration and urination. Kidney weakness might be a factor in edema, hypertension or, conversely, in conditions of dryness. In children with chronic bedwetting tendencies, Kidney weakness might be a factor.

The Kidneys are said to open into the ears and manifest in the hair. Decline in hearing and thinning or graying of hair relate to the decline of Kidneys with age.

Kidney weakness is often related to weakness and achiness in the low back, knees and feet. This is because of the Kidney's relationship with the bones, and because the meridians of the Kidney's paired organ, the Urinary Bladder, run through these areas.

Mental-Emotional Aspect of the Kidneys in Chinese Medicine:

In Chinese Medicine, each of the five major organs is said to be connected with an aspect of human spirit. The Kidneys are said to house will-power (translated variously as Yi or Zhi). A person with strong Kidneys has strong will-power and is able to focus on and accomplish goals. This person will be disciplined and skilled. Lack of such will-power or motivation is often an aspect of mental depression. Acupuncturists may tonify a patient's Kidneys in the treatment of depression.

Pathologies of the Kidneys:

Pathologies related to the Kidneys are as varied as the Kidneys' roles and functions. As Kidneys are the foundation of Yin and Yang in the body, both extreme exhaustion and, conversely, an inability to slow down, relax and rest relate to a weakness or imbalances of Kidney energies. As the Kidneys relate to development and maturation, many conditions of old age, or delays/abnormalities in physical or cognitive development, relate to Kidney weakness.

When working with Kidney energy, an acupuncturist often needs to consider the relative balance of Kidney Yin and Yang, since both of these places such a fundamental role in the body's physiology.

Symptoms of a weakness of Kidney Yin include: restlessness, hypervigilence, excessively speedy metabolism, insomnia, feeling of heat, dizziness, tinnitus, vertigo, poor memory, poor hearing, night sweating, hot flashes, dry mouth and throat at night, lower backache, ache in the bones, infertility, depression, slight anxiety.

Symptoms of Kidney Yang weakness might include: lethargy, coldness, slow metabolism, softening of bones, weakness of knees and legs, poor memory, loose teeth, loss of hair or premature graying, weak sexual function, low back ache, infertility, absentmindedness, decreased mental sharpness, edema, urinary and prostate problems, excessive fear and insecurity, bags or dark circles under the eyes, etc.

Issues perceived as hormonal imbalances in western medicine are often related to imbalance of Kidney energy. An acupuncturist is likely to treat the Kidneys in conditions such as "adrenal fatigue," diabetes, thyroid conditions, etc.

Finally, because the Kidneys provide fundamental energies of Yin and Yang to the other organs of the body, Kidney imbalances are often a factor in innumerable pathologies of other organs, such as Heart, Liver, Lungs or Spleen, especially when these conditions are chronic and related to old age.

Symbolic Associations of the Kidneys:

The Kidneys are associated with Water in Chinese Medicine. On a superficial level this is obvious, as a principle function of the Kidneys is metabolism and excretion of body fluids. Beyond that, water constitutes the largest portion of all living matter. Water is the basis of life, just as the Kidneys are the foundation for all material and physiological function in our bodies. Symbolically, water is the most yin of substances, yielding, receptive, cold, deep, dark, and sinking. In the ocean or a rushing river, these yin qualities can be dangerously powerful.

The Kidneys are associated with the season Winter. This is the most yin time of the year—cold and dark. Growth and development are slowed. It is time for resting and reflecting. It is truly the end of the cycle before the return of light and the warmth of spring. (Many of our winter festivals and rituals—Hannukah, Christmas, Yule-- acknowledge this powerful image of the return of light amidst deep darkness. In the somewhat paradoxical statement, Kidneys are the source of both fire and water in the body. Similarly, even in the depth of winter, we celebrate the return of warmth and light.)

As the end of the cycle, winter holds an important connection to the end of life. It is said that the ancestors are close at hand at this time of year. Winter is also the most common, and possibly the most comfortable, time for people to pass into the realm of death. The emotion associated with winter and the Kidneys is commonly thought to be fear in Chinese Medicine philosophy. Fear is perhaps the most pervasive and deepest of our negative human emotions. It is deeper than, say, anxiety or worry. It is related to survival and to the continuity of life and legacy of our ancestors. Fear is countered by hope, love and joy. By embracing hope, love and joy, we promote life and honor our ancestors. Again, our winter rituals and gatherings help to summon up these qualities during the dark season, reminding us of the return of light in spring.

One teacher of mine characterized winter's emotional quality as realistic acceptance or cautious caring, as opposed to fear. This relates to the nature of winter as the end of the cycle and implies a sort of inherent wisdom.

In the human body, the Kidneys are associated with the ears and with the bones. Symbolically, ears correspond with the receptive, reflective, yin quality of winter. Bones relate to the deep, inward quality of winter.

What can we conclude from this constellation of associations with wintertime and the Kidneys? By nourishing our Kidneys we promote our health and longevity. We also honor our ancestors and provide the best chances for our children. We should do this throughout the year, but especially in winter when the energy of our Kidneys is most available. We can do this by resting and reflecting deeply before, eating warm delicious nourishing foods, and pausing to spend time with friends and family in the darkest days before the next yearly cycle begins.

See related articles:
Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

Winter blessings!


Macciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists.

Lectures by Liu Ming, Oakland, CA 2003-2011.

Bliss, Nishanga, Real Food All Year: Eating Seasonal and Whole Foods for Optimal Health and All-Day Energy.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

Haas, Elson M., M.D. Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

An Anecdote for the Beginning of Winter

I sat down to write an essay about the Kidney in Chinese Medicine and its symbolic relationship to winter, and I ended up writing about a set of surprising and delightful experiences I had in my community during the past week.

Because Chinese Medicine is not just about chemistry, anatomy, and physiology, but also poetically invokes the relationship between our bodies and our natural and social environments, I'm happy to share this anecdote with readers before I go on to write more specifically about winter health.


Last week, something special happened in my life that doesn't happen very often. And, it actually happened two times, on two separate occasions with two separate individuals.

Twice, I found myself sitting in a cozy room, chatting over tea and snacks with elders from my neighborhood. As we got to talking, and as I asked more and more curious questions, these wonderful elders ended up telling me their life stories (in abbreviated form, of course).

Both of these individuals had lived fascinating lives. One was an African American man who's family, through railroad jobs, had settled in a small town in the California Sierras in the 1940s. This man described to me his idyllic childhood in this cooperatively-oriented small town, and went on to tell me about his military training in the Jim Crow South, his work on freight ships, and more. His wife assures me, I haven't even heard the beginning.

The other individual shared with me equally interesting stories of a life lived between Germany, small-town California, Pakistan, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Also that week, at a cozy neighborhood cafe, I attended my neighbor's reading of his recently published memoir. This neighbor shared outlandish tales from his childhood in an Italian-American family in Buffalo, New York.

By the end of this week, I marveled to myself. What on earth accounted for this unusual confluence of events-- hearing wondrous tales from three colorful lives of people in my community? Mostly, in our modern urban life, we rush around, share pleasantries, and don't get to know one another too deeply.

My conclusion was that this week symbolized the beginning of winter for me, the beginning of Kidney time. Wintertime in Chinese medicine symbolizes the end of a cycle. It is a time for slowing down, drawing inward, and reflecting on our lives. It's a time for going deep. In wintertime, our yang energy sinks deep into our bodies warming us from within as the external environment becomes cold. The sensory organ associated with winter and the Kidney is the ear, symbolizing that winter is a time for listening deeply and being receptive, instead of active. Winter relates to the end of life, to ancestral spirits.

So, by mysterious coincidence, this past week, my neighbors and I slowed down for a few precious hours together. I had the chance to listen deeply. They had the chance to reflect on their lives. We tuned into the ancestral spirits by evoking old family stories. We shared cozy indoor warmth, despite the cold outdoor weather, and, through our camaraderie, warmed our spirits from within.

What a cozy way to welcome the Yin time of the year!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Six Lifestyle Tips for Winter Health

“During the winter months all things in nature wither, hide, return home, and enter a resting period... this is a time when yin dominates yang. Therefore one should refrain from overusing yang energy. Retire early and get up with sunrise, which is later in winter. Desires and mental activity should be kept quiet and subdued.”

---The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Medicine, circa 2nd century BCE

In winter, plants become dormant and pull their energy deep down into their roots. Rivers and lakes freeze and the ground hardens. Even here in California, where we have agriculture all year around, growth slows substantially. Birds migrate to the south. Many mammals go into hibernation. Our surroundings become cold, slow, damp and still.

The days become shorter and the hours of darkness longer until December 21st, the longest night of the year.

In terms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy, Winter is the time when Yin predominates in our environment, and in our bodies. Just as the energy of plants goes deep into the roots at this time of year, the Yang Qi of our bodies draws inward and exists in a concentrated form deep inside of us, burning like a small ember, warming our internal organs. These same internal organs are, in Chinese Medicine theory, responsible for both physical vitality and emotional well-being. As Yang is pulled deep inside, the Yin Qi of our natural surroundings is drawn in to pervade and nourish the whole body, supporting our immunity by helping our bodies adjust to the cold winter environment.

What does the predominance of Yin mean for us 21st century urban dwellers?

Many of us spend this time of year busily preparing for winter traditions which anticipate and celebrate the return of light. Moreover, central heating and electric lights enable us to keep our busy routines despite the cold and darkness. Our winter celebrations are wonderful, and it is true that the even the dormant plants are at work, deep in the ground, preparing for their reemergence in spring. However, the signals of our natural environment, and the teachings of Chinese Medicine, suggest that we benefit mentally, spiritually and emotionally by honoring the dark, inward, Yin quality of this time of year.

Here are five simple tips for honoring winter and darkness in our lives:

1. Dress Warmly

As the weather becomes colder, we easily lose energy to our environment. Be sure to bundle up. In terms of TCM, the energy of the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder predominate in winter. Some people wear an extra layer wrapped around their low back and lower abdomen, to protect their kidney energy. A scarf around the neck and a hat on the head are highly recommended to protect the back of the neck and head, domain of the Bladder meridian, where colds are thought to enter the body. The feet are also the domain of the Kidney and Bladder meridians, so be sure to wear warm socks and shoes.

Don't be deceived by the occasional 70-degree December weather in the Bay Area! Though it's tempting to shed layers & catch some rays, it is important NOT to expose yourself too much to the elements on the. Keep yourself dressed warmly. Temperatures change quickly in the late afternoon. Adjusting to these radical daily temperature fluctuations is very hard on our bodies. Our physiology is prone to lose energy to the environment at this time of year. You're much more likely to catch a chill or a bad cold from dressing lightly at this time of year than your are in July.

2. Eat Earlier in the Day and Don't Overeat

Our bodies crave deep nourishment from food at this time of year, but because the days are colder and shorter, our digestive energies are rather sluggish and active for fewer hours during the day. In Chinese Medicine theory, our digestive energy is said to be abundant at dawn, empowered at noon and sluggish in the evening. This means that you should eat a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner. (Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a peasant.) Dinner should consist largely of savory liquids (soups, broths) which are easy to digest and assimilate. A little fermented food with each meal also helps digestion. A large dinner can remain half-digested and interfere with sleep at night.

Because we crave nutrients at this time of year, there is a tendency for us to overeat. Overeating impairs our vital energy by injuring our Spleen (digestive system) as well as our deeper Kidney energy. It is important to be meticulous and consistent about eat nourishing food daily. Eat moderate amounts and learn to stop when satisfied, especially at the evening meal.

(Please stay tuned for an upcoming blog on great foods and food preparation tips for winter!)

3. Stick to Routine

The Kidney thrives on routine and is harmed by erratic schedules and lifestyle patterns. Keeping routines is hard in December if we're attending holiday events and visiting family and friends, but it is important during this time of the year when the Kidney is already vulnerable to overexertion. Try to maintain a regular sleep schedule, going to bed at the same time each night. Especially important is keeping a regular schedule of meals. It's great if you can eat regular staple foods at each meal. A grain like rice, quinoa, millet, or rice, along with some protein and vegetables is ideal.

4. Rest

It is perfectly normal to feel tired at this Yin time of the year. It is healthy to honor this by going to bed early and sleeping longer. Rest more. Simplifying our daily routines and scheduling less activities allows us more time for resting.

4a. Rest Instead of Stimulants

At this tired time of year, stimulants like coffee, sugar and chocolate become more tempting. In terms of Chinese Medicine, these stimulants pull our Yang energy to the surface of our bodies, giving us a short-term artificial burst of energy. The trouble with this is that instead of warming our internal organs, our Yang energy becomes lost to the cold surrounding atmosphere, depleting our immunity both in the short term and the long term.

Tea is a much healthier source of stimulation than coffee, as tea has anti-anxiety and anti-stress properties as well as immune-enhancing antioxidants and enzymes. Darker, more robust teas like oolong, pu-ehr, and black teas are great in winter as they pull heat into the center of the body, rather than dispersing it.

5. Reflect

Summer is a great time for being active and getting things done. By contrast, winter is a time for reflection and evaluation. As nature draws its energy inward and downward, we should also focus our energies inward. Simplifying our routines to the bare essentials gives us more time for reflection.

Sleep. Relax. Take quiet walks. Pay more attention to dreams. Meditate. Practice qi gong or taiji daily. Wonder. Write poetry. Look deeply within.

A teacher of mine says, in winter, instead of taking the trip, watch the movie.

Now, as a mom of a small kid, I know that time for resting and reflection can be hard to come if you have family members to care for. Kids can be part of our daily practice of quiet reflection. Enjoy simple, unscheduled time with them. Listen to them. Watch. Learn from them.

The sense organ corresponding to winter in Chinese Medicine is the ear. I think this implies that this is a time of year to be receptive, to be quiet, to listen deeply.

This is the time to reevaluate what we've accomplished in the previous year, how we've spent our time, who our real friends and family are. This is a time to lay bare and reexamine our most fundamental values. These will help guide us as we become more active again during the spring of the coming year. Quiet periods of reflection are part of how we grow as human beings.

6. Spend Time with Family and Friends

As I mentioned above, in winter, our Yang Qi is pulled deeply inside of us to warm our internal organs. Spending joyful times with family and friends is like this. We share rituals. We light candles. We enjoying music or movies and eat delicious meals. All of these things warm our hearts and nourish our bodies and souls from deep inside at this cold time of year.

Happy Winter!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Autumn and the Lung in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Autumn is the season especially connected to the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that right now is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies. You can do this by receiving acupuncture or herbal treatments.

Other ways of staying healthy in autumn include going to bed earlier. The days are getting shorter and our bodies will be wanting more rest. Dressing warmly in the evenings will protect your body from cooler temperatures. Especially remember to cover your neck and shoulders. Our bodies have been energetically open during the warmer summer months, and are particularly vulnerable to chills carried on cool autumn evening breezes, according to Chinese medicine theory. Finally, since this is Lung time, you'll benefit by incorporating a focus on the breath into your exercise and/or contemplative routines. Its a great time for pranayama, qi gong, or other martial arts practices focused on the lungs, or simply for taking walks, breathing deeply and enjoying the changing season.

According TCM physiology, the Lung inhales qi from the air and mixes it with the qi extracted from food. Then, the Lung distributes this precious qi throughout the body, especially to the surfaces (skin and mucous membranes), to protect it from viruses, bacteria and other pathogens. The Lung also regulates the opening and closing of the pores of our skin--guarding against external pathogens, but allowing waste products to be excreted via mild sweating. This, in a nutshell, is how the immune system functions according to TCM. Clearly, the Lung plays a central role.

The Lung shares a connection with the sinuses, bronchioles, and air passageways, as well as to the skin, body hair and mucous membranes. The Lung also has a special connection with the Large Intestine, which also plays a key role in immune health, by ridding the body of solid waste. So, autumn is also a good time to address chronic or acute skin conditions, like eczema or psoriasis, as well as colon-related conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, crohn's disease, constipation, etc.

TCM practitioners treat many problems related to this Lung-centered immune system (colds, coughs, asthma, allergies, skin problems, constipation, autoimmune dysfunction, etc.) through acupuncture and herbs. We might also take a step back and address the Spleen (basically the body's digestive and assimilative capacity), which is considered to be the parent of the Lung in Chinese theory. Healthy digestion and assimilation of nutrients is key to a healthy Lung/immune function.

(In TCM, we capitalize the organ names, i.e. Lung, Spleen, to differentiate them from the western anatomical lung, spleen, etc. In TCM theory Lung, Spleen, etc. represent a physiological system, often related to, but not exactly equivalent to its western anatomical counterpart.)

Recipe! --- Lung Soup

This simple recipe came from my first teacher of Chinese herbology at City College of San Francisco, Briahn Kelly-Brennan. It is good for cleaning and nourishing the Lung, good for dry lung conditions (dry cough, post-cold recovery). Briahn recommended eating it once per month to mitigate the effects of urban air pollution.

10 cups water
1 lb. pork or chicken (i.e. two chicken legs)
4 honey dates*
2 Tblsps apricot seeds*

Simmer 2 hours.
Serve as clear broth, or add a cup of rice in the last hour to make rice porridge.

*Honey dates and apricot seeds are mild Chinese medicinals for tonifying and cleaning the Lung.
You can find these in a Chinese market or get them from a Chinese herb supplier.
Contact me if you need help finding one of these near you, or ask for some at my clinic.

If you have a lot of mucous and phlegm in your lungs, airways, or sinuses, don't use this recipe. The herbs will exacerbate the phlegm by adding moisture. Ask me for alternative recipes.

TCM Tips for Autumn Health

The season Autumn is associated with the Lung, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. This means that Autumn is a great time to bolster your own lungs, and your immune system, for the coming winter. It's also a good time for getting at the root of chronic lung conditions like asthma or allergies.

Below are some self-help acupressure and herbal medicine tips you can incorporate to support your lungs and and immune system in autumn:

Self-Treatment Tip:
Acupressure Point for Lung Health

Zu San Li, or "Leg Three Miles."

This point is found about three cm below the knee cap, in the fleshy area just lateral to the fibula (the prominent bone on the front of the shin). An oral tradition has it that in ancient times, when the primary means of travel was on foot, stimulation of zu san li was sufficient to relieve fatigue and allow a person to journey another three miles. The point is reputed to have been used by the Chinese military to revive war-weary soldiers to continue in battle.

The point is on the Stomach meridian. Because the Stomach/Spleen (digestive) system is essential to Lung health, the point is frequently used to address problems of the lungs: colds/flu, asthma, cough, excess phlegm in lungs, shortness of breath. It is key point for tonifying the body's qi, blood and immune system.

Clinical research studies have linked the stimulation of zu san liwith acupuncture needles to increases in leukocytes and immunoglobulins in humans and animals. Click on this link:
Zu San Li

You can boost your own immune health using acupressure: Use your thumbs to press your Zu San Li point. Then, using strong force and slow speed, rub in tiny circles for two minutes. Do this several times a day.

Your acupuncturist might send you home with a moxibustion stick (rolled mugwort herb) which you can use daily to warm the point, a wonderful way of tonifying your immune system.

Astragalus: the immune herb

Astragalus, called "huang qi"[pronounced hwang-chee] in Chinese, is a wonderful herb for strengthening the Lung and the immune system.
In the traditional Chinese herbal pharmacopoiea, it falls under the category of digestive tonic. (Remember that digestion and respiration are closely intertwined according to traditional Chinese physiology.)
Western herbalists have categorized this herb as a powerful adaptogen (a restorative tonic increasing the body's resistance to trauma, stress, anxiety and fatigue). In Chinese medicine, we say thathuang qi builds the body's qi and blood, i.e. improves the physiological function of the body, particularly in terms of digestive and respiratory health.

Huang qi strengthens the Lung and treats frequent colds, asthma, allergies and other problems related to ineffecient or suboptimal Lung function.

In an elegantly complex way,huang qi regulates underactivity or overactivity of the immune system, making it useful in preventing colds, flus and allergies. It regulates the skin pores, so that the body's exterior is less vulnerable to outside pathogens, while simultaneouly releasing pathogens through an appropriate amount of sweating. (In Chinese medicine, the first way of treating a new cold virus is to open the pores to produce a mild sweat.)

Other powers of huang qi:
  • It has a raising quality, and is used to treat prolapse and excessive uterine bleeding.
  • It is used in cases of severe trauma or in postpartum to counteract severe blood loss and quickly rebuild energy.
  • It has a mild diuretic effect and reduces edema.
  • It can help chronic sores and ulcers heal and regenerate healthy flesh.

Some cautionary notes:
Do NOT use huang qi when you already have a cold. Its tonic nature will strengthen that power of the cold, making you feel worse. Rather, you should treat colds with pathogen-releasing, circulating and antimicrobial herbal formulas. I'll discuss some of these in my next newsletter issue. Consult your herbalist for the right combination of herbs for your condition.

Because this herb is strongly tonifying and elevating, we use it cautiously in conditions like hypertension, headaches, stroke risk, etc.

In TCM, single herbs are rarely used alone in treating patients. Rather they are incorporated into formulas where they balance and work synergistically with other herbs. Your Chinese herbalist might likely incorporatehuang qi in your herbal formula this autumn. See the next column for a description of one famous herbal fomula incorporatinghuang qi.

Here are some additional references to the immune-enhancing affect of huang qi:

Astragalus alone is effective in preventing depletion ofwhite blood cells during chemotherapy. A clinical study involving 115 patients receiving various forms ofchemotherapyfound that 83 percent had higher whitebloodcell counts when given astragalus. Common cold - Chinese studies have shown that using astragalus during cold season reduces the number ofcoldscaught and shortens the duration of those that are caught. If you tend to get colds and flu often, astragalus can help you build up a natural resistance.
-Prescription for Herbal Healing: An Easy-to-Use A-Z Reference to Hundreds of Common Disorders and Their Herbal Remediesby Phyllis A. Balch, CNC

In a study of 28 people, astragalus given orally over a 2-month period significantly increased the production and secretion of interferon compared with controls. Remarkably, the levels of interferon remained high for 2 months after astragalus treatment ended. These results have been duplicated in laboratory studies. Astragalus also increases levels of natural killer (NK) cells, which roam the body via blood and lymph fluid, destroying a wide variety of invaders, includingcancer cellsand virus-infected body cells.
-The Encyclopedia of Popular Herbsby Robert S. McCaleb, Evelyn Leigh, and Krista Morien

Yu Ping Feng San: an herbal formula to strengthen immunity

This elegant formula contains three herbs which work synergistically to increase the body's resistance to colds, flus and allergies.

It's an old formula. First documented by a famous Chinese physician in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), it was likely used well before that time.

Yu Ping Feng San translates from Chinese as "jade screen wind formula."
The term "jade" poetically suggests 1. the preciousness of the formula, and 2. its reinforcing quality.
Jade was traditionally used to reinforce coffins in order to preserve the contents. As jade might reinforce a protective windscreen, this formula strengthens our bodies' exterior to keep out pathogenic influences, like cold or flu viruses. (Keep in mind that traditional Chinese medicine treats colds primarily by regulating/venting the body's skin surface. We regulate the body's inherent physiology prior to or in addition to eliminating infectious pathogens.)

Three herbs are combined for a synergistic effect:
1. Astragalus (huang qi) tonifies the Lung and Spleen, improves physiological function at a deep level, while regulating the surface of the body.
2. Atractylodes alba (bai zhu) also tonifies Lung and Spleen and improves physiological function to improve immunity.
3. Siler (fang feng) is pungent and opens the body's pores, promoting a gentle sweat, to vent any cold or flu pathogens that may have entered, without compromising the body's surface too much.

Don't take this formula when you have a cold, because the tonifying herbs will make your cold symptoms worse. Rather, use this formula when you are well during the winter months to keep your immunity up. Keep in mind that it acts gradually, and is most effective if taken in small amounts over the course of one or more months. Consult your Chinese herbalist. He or she might incorporate this formula along with other herbs to more specifically address your condition.

This article cites a relevant clinical trial:

Yu Ping Feng San for Allergic Rhinitis