Summer Wellness Series: Eating for the Heat!

This article is second in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

A guiding principle of holistic health systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine is harmony or balance. So healthful eating in summer means feeding ourselves in a way that offsets the extremes of the seasons and keeps us in harmony with the earth's energies. What this is exactly will vary depending on the climate - traditional seasonal foods from where you live are the best place to start! For those of us with hot, dry summers like Northern California here's three things to consider

1. Hydration: we're in the dry season - the earth is parched, fires are burning and it's a long way to go before the rains of winter. 

2. Seasonal produce: what's fresh, local and available right now? These foods are naturally in sync with what our bodies need, and make meal times tasty and fun.

3. Energetics: part of 'food medicine' - certain flavors help us balance the external energies coming at us and keep us on an even keel

Hydration - healthful and tasty summer bevvies:

There's something so 'summery' about a big glass of a refreshing, beautifully colored beverage, even better if sipped on a patio with friends and your feet up! There's a lot of options out there that might not help you feel great, like sugary sodas and alcoholic beverages. It's great to have options that will restore you, rather than leaving you having to recover the next day!

Sun tea: brew herbal tea in a half gallon mason jar or jug in a sunny spot. Great choices for cooling summer hydration include hibiscus, mint, lemon balm and chrysanthemum. Put 1/4 cup of herbs in half a gallon of water and leave in the sun for a few hours until it's strong enough. Strain to drink.

Shrubs and switchels: delightfully refreshing old fashioned drinks. Vinegar, sweetener and ginger are added to water, along with fruits or other flavorings. You can buy readymade shrub bases in many health food stores and liquor stores, or experiment with making your own. Try this strawberry shrub recipe from Erin.

Earth Wisdom: seasonal foods have what we need!

Foods in season at this time of year are light, refreshing, usually easy to digest even when raw, and packed with water. Melons, stonefruit, grapes and berries, and veggies like summer squash, artichokes, cucumbers, snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce. In general, most people don't do well with a ton of raw foods in their diet - we evolved to eat cooked foods and it is easier on our digestion. At the height of summer we can often tolerate more raw foods - but if you still find you have gas, bloating and indigestion with raw veggies, try a cooked veg salad.

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Energetics: Healing with the Flavor of the Heart.

Last week Erin talked about the energy of Summer - it's the season of the Fire element and the Heart. We're 'fired up' and open to connection, eating together with friends, family and lovers, and especially tuned to beauty and love in our mealtimes. The flavor of the Fire element is bitter. Bitter has a cooling, descending quality, and a small amount can help us cool off and feel more grounded. It's a flavor that's often neglected in Western diets. Try adding some bitter greens like escarole or dandelion to your salad, sprinkling a few raw cacao nibs on a bowl of diced peaches, or have some herbal bitters in water -especially if you're feeling overwhelmed with the fiery energy of summer, too hot, too much, overdrawn on social energy or having trouble sleeping or 'coming down' after fun and exciting times.

Seasonal eating is the heritage of all people! Here's a few of my favorite sources to learn more (and get lots of recipes!) Please let me know some of yours in the comments!

Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, Jessica Prentice

Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Elson Haas MD

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni PhD and Cathy McNease

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morrell

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett

The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Urmila Desai

The Yin-Yang Diet, Tara Akuna R.Ac. & Sara Ward R.Ac.

 

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Summer Wellness Series: The Energy of Summer

This article is the first in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: my fave recipes for keeping cool in high summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

What is the Summer Energy All About?

Welcome to Summer!  The summer season can be divided into two time periods and elements in Chinese Medicine.  First comes full summer, the true heat of the season and is associated with the fire element.  Full summer transitions into late summer, which is connected with the earth element, which then leads into fall and the metal element.

Challenges we face in the summer are heatwaves, dehydration, sunburn, trouble sleeping, and agitation.  We might also experience digestive distress from eating at BBQs and too much ice cream or chilled beverages.  Cold and damp foods like ice cream can extinguish the helpful part of the digestive fire. Like anything, we are looking for balance here.  We don’t want too much fire and we don’t want too little. We need to cook the food without scorching it. We want some sunshine and Vitamin D, but we don’t want to get sunburned.  

Full summer’s fire element is connected with the organs of heart and the small intestine, the color red, the bitter taste, and the emotion of joy.  And as in all aspects of life, there can be too much of a good thing, and that too much joy can look like mania. It can also manifest in a milder way as agitation, anxiety, or insomnia.  We can also get a natural boost of energy and enthusiasm for new projects and adventures starting in the spring that can carry into the summer.

Read more at www.erinwoodacupuncture.com 

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Spring: Scents and Sensibilities

To celebrate the beginning of Spring, Denise of Cicuto Acupuncture and I are having a special Spring Sale on all our 5 Element Healing Anointing Oils! 15% off all the blends, and 20% off the WOOD element ones, the element of the spring season.

Curious about how to use blends like these for balance and well-being? Last year Denise and I recorded a video with some advice on using all the blends and specifically the WOOD element ones for common issues like stress, insomnia, irritability, headaches, moodiness and other fun symptoms of modern life. Watch the video below and follow me on Instagram where Denise and I are sharing more about the Wood element and spring balance for the next few weeks.

 

 

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Looking into your Heart

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Valentine's day is here, and we're inundated with images of hearts as a symbol for romantic love. February is also 'Heart Health Month,' focused on heart disease in a literal sense. It's also Black History Month, a good time to acknowledge the burden that experiencing racism and oppression have on health, notably cardiac health. Hearts have been on my mind so I dug into the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the Heart energetically, as well as the physical organ.

The Emperor

The heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits (shenming) stems from it. - Nei Jing Su Wen

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the seat of consciousness, the Shen. Like an Emperor seated in a vast cinnabar throne room, our heart requires stillness and calm to make the highest level decisions that keep our spirits in tune with our deepest selves and our heavenly destinies. In the vision of the human as a well-ordered society, the Heart-Emperor is protected and aided by the other officials, the organs and conduits of the body that allow it to remain in contemplative meditation and connection with our true self. When we're balanced, we're able to respond appropriately to life events, to avoid over or underreacting, and to proceed in harmony with our true desires and natures.

Circulating Health

Traditional Chinese medicine texts recognized all varieties of heart conditions and understood clearly blood circulation and the role of the physical heart. Acupuncture and herbal medicines can be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease. From the kitchen pharmacy, there are many food herbs which can be taken daily as tonics for cardiovascular health, including maintaining healthy blood pressure and circulation. Here are a few faves:

Hawthorn Berry Tea: Hawthorn has been extensively studied as a cardiovascular health supplement, including all parts of the plant, berries, leaves and flowers. In TCM, the berries are used to aid in the digestion of fats, and from a Western perspective seem to lower serum lipid levels.

Chrysanthemum Blossoms: I often use the bitter, refreshing tea of these flowers to aid with allergies and eye irritation, but the same energetic action that sends energy down to calm eyes and headaches can act to lower blood pressure. Hawthorn berry and chrysanthemum blossom tea is a tasty cardiac combination.

Heart-friendly Foods: Despite what we were taught for many years, fat consumption by itself is not the guilty party in heart disease. Overconsumption of sweet, refined and processed foods increase inflammation in the body and our bodies reaction to it can result in stagnation and impaired circulation. Eating a whole foods, balanced diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits is a vital move for all of us. Foods with an especially beneficial effect on the heart and circulatory system? Try celery, onion, garlic, carrots, apples, pears and tangerines. Black fungus, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and mung beans are other tasty recommendations.

The Emotions of the Heart

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The Heart holds a powerful symbolic role in many cultures. Associated with the element of Fire in the 5 Element cosmology, spiritual and emotional dysfunction of the Heart can show up in a variety of ways.

Too Hot: An excess of Fire element affects our Heart energy with overexuberance. We can't stop talking, our minds race. Our sleep is disrupted, especially falling asleep. Anxiety and restlessness can make us feel overwhelmed and make it difficult to think clearly. In addition to proper treatment with a practitioner, cooling foods and herbs and calming activities such as meditation can help chill us out and give our Hearts room to breathe.  

Too Cold: Deficiency in the Fire element often manifests in physical symptoms of coldness and poor circulation, but emotionally we can feel detached, listless and depressed, unable to access our feelings or communicate them. Together with treatment, warming herbs and foods and gently stimulating activities can help stoke our Heart fire.

Check out 5 Element Healing Anointing Oils for some gentle aromatherapy designed to support the 5 elements and our emotional well-being.

Wishing you a happy heart!

Sources:

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease

The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine, Bob Flaws and Philippe Sionneau

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Lonny S. Jarrett

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia

Chinese System of Food Cures, Henry Lu

Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra

Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, Mary C. Tassell, Rosari Kingston, Deirdre Gilroy, Mary Lehane, and Ambrose Furey


 

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Candy corn, pumpkin spice, and seasonal eating

Scroll to the end for seasonal recipe ideas if you don’t want to read my rant!

We crave the foods the earth offers

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What’s the deal with pumpkin spice flavored everything? Why do we go so nuts for manufactured foods like candy corn, Shamrock Shakes, Cadbury Creme Eggs and so on? I’ve seen this insight attributed to Michael Pollan - that ultimately we crave seasonal eating at a deep ancestral level so we flock to these commercial substitutes (let me know if you have a source on this - it’s not original to me).

Once strawberries, oysters, pheasant, asparagus, peaches and fresh churned butter were transient seasonal delicacies, enjoyed for their fresh, once a year flavor, as well as the health benefits that our ancestors reaped from eating seasonal foods. Modern agribusiness has cut us off from the rhythms of the earth and sold our ancestral heritages back to us as pumpkin spice m&ms.

My family in Canada sometimes mocks my commitment to seasonal local eating, given that I live in California, with a 12 month growing season, surrounded by farms producing some of the world’s tasty produce all year long. I ate seasonally and locally when I lived in Toronto as well, and there were a lot of apples and beets during the winter, I’m not going to lie. On balance eating seasonally is generally tastier (and more frugal) as we eat the foods when they are at their best, and can enjoy heirloom varieties that won’t withstand the rigors of transport and supermarkets. We also gift ourselves with the intense pleasure of eating a food for the first time in the year (in Judaism, we have a special blessing to acknowledge the wonder of that moment - the taste of the first strawberry of spring, the first peach of summer, the first pomegranate of fall)

Your perfect diet

A central tenet of Traditional Chinese Medicine and many traditional and holistic approaches is that there is no one size fits all approach. In modern Western culture, we quest constantly for the ‘perfect human diet’ (in fact there’s a best selling book by that name) but let me break it to you. There is no such thing.

Western science is only starting to understand the barest glimmer of how food and nutrition actually interacts with our body processes, and is continually exasperated by contradictory findings when it tries to study whether a particular food or macronutrient or diet is ‘healthy’ or not. The dualism of dominant western thought endlessly strives to judge whether a food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ but this profoundly misunderstands the nature of reality. Your genes, your age, your lifestyle, the climate where you live, your history, what you ask of your body - all of these deeply affect what is ‘’healthy’ for you. Fortunately, we don’t need to wait a couple of thousand years for Western dietitians to figure this out - we have the wisdom of all our ancestors and traditional knowledge available to us.

One thing I have come to understand in recent years is that the toll of modern ‘foods’ including food processing, additives, intensive hybridization, genetic modification, as well as environmental degradation and toxic exposures has resulted in an even more challenging situation for many people, where what appear to be natural whole foods cannot be tolerated. There are folks whose health restricts them from certain foods - like wheat - that are cornerstones of traditional diets. But is it really wheat as our ancestors or even other countries know it? Witness the common phenomenon of North Americans with wheat or grain intolerances who are able to eat bread and grains in Europe or Asia without symptoms. Undoubtedly being on vacation can reduce our stress load and improve our digestion, but in fact there are measurable differences between American and European wheat and bread.

Understanding the properties of food

In Traditional Chinese Medicine we learn that all foods have different properties. These are based on the Five Flavors, each of which has different effects in the body. This enables us to understand foods as active, interactive substances that we can combine and use for pleasure, nourishment and healing.

The Five flavours are: Pungent, Sour, Bitter, Salty and Sweet. Different seasons have affinities for different flavors, and we benefit from emphasizing that flavor in the right season. This approach to food can be a study in its own right, but I really believe it is accessible to any home cook who is interested in this approach. Soon it becomes second nature to choose and modify recipes in harmony with the season or with particular needs or conditions of those who will be eating. It’s really just part of cooking to think about complementary flavors and properties - you are already doing it when you choose what to make for dinner!

There are a variety of cultural approaches to this, and I recommend exploring Ayurvedic sources like Acharya Shunya’s Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom or the works produced by the Weston A. Price Foundation which promotes traditional eating from a European perspective. The Tao of Nutrition by my teachers Dr. Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease is a friendly introduction to the specifics of the TCM energetics of foods, and I love the recipes in Daverick Legget’s Recipes for Self-Healing. California based Jessica Prentice’s book Full Moon Feast is probably my number one recommendation for the North American resident looking to eat seasonally.

So, where to begin? Where you are of course! If you’re in the US, visit www.seasonalfoodguide.org for a fun interactive listing of what’s currently in season in your area (you can even get the app!)

Foods and flavors of Late Summer:

The Earth element rules late summer, and conveys a sense of both transitions and neutrality - neither here nor there. The direction associated with the Earth element is none -  the center. Foods that support the Earth element often carry its associated color of golden orange or yellow, as well as being relatively neutral or sweet in taste, grounding, comforting and calming. As we move from the expansive activity of summer to the challenges of Fall, and the often frantic pace of modern life including returning kids to school, projects on overdrive to finish out the calendar year, accelerating towards the frenzy of the holiday season, these weeks are ones where emphasizing simple, comforting and easy to digest foods is a blessing.

Gorgeous golden seasonal foods in California right now include persimmons, cantaloupe, winter squash, carrots and sweet potatoes

Meals to try could include squash soup (or squash curry with meat or legumes for a one pot meal), carrot salad with raisins, or lentil dal over baked sweet potatoes. All of these are easy to make ahead, pack for lunch, or heat up quickly at the end of busy day for a peaceful, centered meal that will nourish you body and soul.

Foods and Flavors of Autumn

The Metal element rules autumn, and conveys an energetic sense of contraction, withdrawal, the harvest and the in-breath. We are gathering-in and preparing for winter, darkness and the quiet and restful time of the year (in theory!). Metal and autumn are associated with the lungs, skin and respiratory system - and we certainly know this as the onset of cold and flu season. The pungent or spicy flavor, which warms the body and opens the lungs is the associated flavor - our friend pumpkin spice, with cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, ginger and allspice does both these things, and is a wonderful example of a medicinal, seasonal food (when not in m&m form!) Metal is associated with the color white and many white foods help alleviate dryness, considered the most common cause of illness and dis-ease during autumn. We can cook longer, slower dishes, infusing them with warmth and helping us to slow down.

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Seasonal autumnal foods which reflect the autumnal white color - the blanching of the vibrancy of late summer and the contraction of the natural world include pears, apples, bok choy and cabbage, celery root, cauliflower, fennel, leeks, endive, turnips and mushrooms. Most of these are also beneficial for the lung system. Pears are a traditional remedy for lung ailments and western researchers have identified a mucus thinning component in pears which helps people with asthma breathe easier

Meals to try are roasted cauliflower soup (roast florets in the oven at 400 for about 30 minutes, then puree with chicken stock), chopped celery root and fennel salad, leek and potato soup, and poached pears. Here’s my recipe. (Oh and pick up some good quality pumpkin spice blend or make your own - a wonderful addition to poached pears or baked apples!)

Poached Pears - serves 4

4 pears, any variety
Water or tea to cover, about 4 cups (try Earl Grey for a taste of elegance)
Spices to taste: try cinnamon stick, fresh ginger, and star anise

For Asian pears, use an apple corer to hollow them. Regular pears can be cut in half and the core scooped out. Bring water or tea to a simmer in a medium sauce pan - add the pears and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes, until the pears are soft and easily pierced with a fork. Lift out with a slotted spoon. Delicious with a drizzle of honey, a natural antimicrobial and lung moistener.

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Pop-up sale at Inkblot Gallery, Friday July 14, 6-9 pm

Photo collage by Denise Cicuto

Photo collage by Denise Cicuto

My friend and colleague Denise Cicuto is a gifted photographer, and as part of her deep work in the wisdom of the Five Elements over the last two years, she has created a photographic project evoking the embodied alchemical transitions of five elements through the year. I'll be joining Denise at the opening reception to share the first two available Healing Anointing oils we've created based in these elemental studies - Wood and Fire. These ready-to-use aromatherapy blends offer powerful healing for body, mind and spirit.

Join us at Inkblot Gallery, 933 Central Avenue, Unit B, Alameda, California 94501, part of Alameda Artwalk.

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A season of rest - for you and the world

Traditional Chinese Medicine and holistic medicine are about harmony and balance - but what does that mean? It means we move in sync with the external rhythms of nature, not fighting against them. What those rhythms are and what being "in sync" means in practice is traditional knowledge: based on observation over thousands of years. Western science itself is starting to grapple with the idea that what we learn is passed down in our DNA to our children and we can 'know' these things without ever being taught them - we might call it our 'intuition,' our 'wisdom' or as my Granny would say, 'the common sense God gave a chicken'.

The transformation of yin and yang in the four seasons is the basis of the growth and the destruction of life. The sages were able to cultivate the yang energy in spring and summer and conserve the yin energy in autumn and winter. By following the universal order, growth can occur naturally. If this natural order is disregarded, the root of one’s life will be damaged and one’s true energy will wane.
— The Yellow Emperor's Classic of Internal Medicine, trans. Maoshing Ni, PhD

Here's an outline of the year as it corresponds to the primal polarities of Yin and Yang. We sail through the year, transiting from Yin (darkness, stillness, rest) into Yang (brightness, action, movement) and back again (I recognize this cycle applies most to those living farther from the equator. The traditional medicine of equatorial peoples no doubt contains its own applications of harmonious living). The apex of each energetic moment is also the beginning of the transition into the next. Right now as we approach the Autumnal Equinox (and celebrate the mid-autumn festival), we are travelling into the most Yin time of the year:

When we accept the reality of change. and the forces that are affecting all us earthlings, we don’t use our resources fighting it - we modify our experience harmoniously, softly, gracefully. This is what I think a lot of "New Age" philosophies are trying to get at when they talk about being "supported by the universe" or the "law of attraction" - when we align ourselves in harmony with the earth cycles, with the massive, manifest patterns that are exerting themselves on our being, we FEEL supported, because we are - the wind is at our back, we are planting in planting season, harvesting in harvest season, and we are much more likely to get the outcome we want and expect.

So back to Fall and rest - as you can see from the yin yang, the Summer solstice, the most YANG time of the year, is the moment when the earth begins its energetic transit into yin - into darkness, cold, wetness, quiet, inaction. As the months progress through the autumn equinox, keeping the frantic pace of modern life becomes even harder. Our energy lowers, our sleep is longer, deeper, we feel quieter, more introspective. We suffer more as we face the growing contradiction between the earth’s energies and the requirements of capitalism - start school, take the kids to soccer, 60 hours of work each week, joyless exercise, big salad for lunch, drinks after work, hurtling ourselves through space, as our cells are insisting more loudly that we slow down, put on weight, sleep more, do less.

As a healing practitioner and as a human being, I often have an internal reaction to this type of discussion (people need to rest more! Folks need to do less and slow down, sleep more!) because so many people literally cannot. Cannot access, cannot afford, cannot find the time. And here too there is a yin and yang - the yin of the personal and the yang of the political. The yang of global capitalism requires an infusion of yin from anti-capitalism and holistic political organization. Political issues like universal health care, paid family leave, universal basic income, housing reform, environmental protection etc., are yin in nature - they nourish, they share, they prioritize rest, healing, redistribution, slowing down so everyone can catch up. Right now the earth and human society is suffering on a massive scale from a lack of rest, from a denial and denigration of the yin energies of existence - the quiet, the dark, the still, the cool, the wet, the chaotic, the unknown, the feminine. Is it any wonder our poor mother earth is becoming hotter, drier, suffering from yin deficiency, hot flashes and night sweats?

I hope you are able to join me this fall in bringing more yin into existence - I don’t want to close on a note of despair, so let me share some of my suggestions for bringing more yin energy into your life right now.

  1. What can you stop doing or simplify? Do you have a bevy of activities? What can you quit for a few months and return to in the spring? (this goes for your kids too!)
  2. Do you have a meditation or mindfulness practice? This is the perfect time of year to start a stillness practice - even a few moments in the day can be powerful
  3.  Can you go to bed earlier? every hour we’re awake after sunset we’re fighting with our biorhythms. Maybe the next episode of Stranger Things can wait.
  4. A regular practice of rest: Shabbat or the Jewish sabbath is a profound weekly rest where observant Jews refrain from all kinds of work, including the use of electronics and spending of money. Consider incorporating a weekly habit of rest: screen free time, family dinner, no shop Saturdays. Ritualizing this time can be a supportive way to introduce a regular restful practice:

May you have a restful and restorative Fall!

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
— Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath

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Three Herbs for Powerful Pain Relief

Herbs offer effective treatments for pain of all kinds, often as effective as Western pharmaceuticals, with dramatically fewer side-effects and risks. These are three of my favourites, but there are literally hundreds of herbs and combinations with pain relieving abilities. As always, I’m sharing information, not providing medical advice. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

Ginger

It’s a food, it’s a spice, it’s a healer. Ginger is effective internally and externally for a wide variety of problems, including pain. Stomach pain, discomfort, indigestion and nausea respond rapidly. Sip ginger tea, chew candied ginger or try a topical application on your tummy. I created a topical ginger based treatment for just this type of problem, Ginger Belly Soother Oil with infused ginger and fennel oil and essential oils of patchouli and sweet orange, all of which act to relax the digestive system and relieve gas and bloating, common causes of stomach pain. Ginger oil + massage = relief.

Muscular pain, acute or chronic, also responds well to ginger, (Source). I use straight infused ginger oil with pure menthol and ginger essential oil in Ginger Menthol Balm, and ginger with cinnamon and mugwort with menthol in Warming Menthol Balm for pain that responds especially well to heat (read Should You Apply Ice or Heat for Pain by Lynn Palmgren L.Ac) 

Ginger also relieves menstrual pain - better than ibuprofen with added anti-nausea benefits (Source). Make a tasty and gentle menstrual cramp relieving tea by mixing chamomile and dried ginger half and half and steeping in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use about a tablespoon per cup of water. Externally, both Tranquil Palace Oil and Warm the Palace Oil use ginger’s pain relieving and warming power to relieve menstrual and abdominal pain.

Turmeric

Turmeric has gotten lots of attention as an anti-inflammatory superpower. In Chinese medicine it ‘moves the blood’ ‘moves the qi’ and ‘cools the blood’ indicating its effectiveness for pain related to constraint like digestive and menstrual pain and to chronic internal inflammation and bacterial and viral infections. Here’s a massive overview of research into the abilities of turmeric for stomach pain, arthritis pain, post surgical pain, dental pain, hemorrhoid pain and more!

A meta analysis of research on the zingiberaceae family, ginger, turmeric and galangal, for chronic pain treatment finds them to be effective and safer than NSAIDs (Source)

Turmeric can be taken daily as a capsule for joint health, but check in with your health practitioner before launching into it - it has some contraindications and you don’t want it to interact with an existing health condition or medications you may be taking.

You can get the benefits of turmeric in food form without the worry that comes with large doses or extracts. Add a teaspoon to lentils while they cook, sprinkle a tablespoon onto sauteed veggies for a soup or pilaf base, or make chai or golden milk, the traditional combination with black pepper which modern research has shown increases the bioavailability of active components in turmeric

Here's a golden milk recipe I like.

Mugwort

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I use a special moxa box to hold sticks of burning herb over painful areas

I love mugwort! Called Ai Ye in Chinese, the latin name is artemisiae argyi (although western mugwort, artemisiae vulgaris, is sometimes substituted). Mugwort is the herb used to make moxa - a phenomenal pain relieving technique from traditional chinese medicine, where a cigar or cigarette of packed herbs is lit and held over the painful area or acupuncture points. Moxa powers up all Angelica & Peony’s Healing oils when used together with them, (here’s Denise Cicuto L.Ac explaining how to use moxa at home especially for menstrual cramps

A device called a tiger warmer or lion warmer is another safe and easy way to get the power of moxa at home. We did a TCMTalk about that as well! 

Mugwort makes a great warming and pain relieving bath if you have achey joints in cold, damp weather. It’s also a beneficial addition to a ‘v-steam’ blend for vaginal steaming, especially for pain and heavy bleeding. I infuse mugwort into sesame oil along with ginger and cinnamon to make my Warming Blend, the base of both Warming Menthol Balm and Warm the Palace Oil

There are safety and health considerations with using moxa, so be sure to speak with your acupuncturist or health practitioner before folding it in to your pain management routine. Email me if you’d like help finding a qualified practitioner in your area.

You can get ginger and turmeric at most grocery stores, and certainly healthfood stores. You can ask your acupuncturist about bulk mugwort, moxa sticks and tiger warmers. This is the type of moxa stick I especially like.

Tune in to TCMTalk on Thursday August 4th and 18th at 4 pm PST on Periscope for more discussion about natural pain relief and management, ask your questions while we're live, or email them to us at traditionalchinesemedicinetalk@gmail.com!

Kirsten Cowan L.Ac is a Physician of Traditional Chinese Medicine and CEO and Chief Alchemist at Angelica & Peony, Radiant Natural Health and Beauty. She lives and works in Oakland California.

 

 

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Plants with Benefits Part I: Herbs to support a satisfying sex life

Herbal medicine and acupuncture offer a lot of support for those experiencing any kind of sexual problem, physical or emotional. This article is intended to introduce you to some herbal allies and offer some simple home and traditional applications for gentle support. For effective treatment of ongoing or serious issues, consult a qualified herbalist (email me if you'd like help finding someone in your area).

Herbs to stoke the flames: Yang Tonics

Many herbs traditionally considered aphrodisiacs in the Chinese materia medica are in the Yang tonic category - they stoke the energetic fires of the body and reinforce the basal energy that governs sexual function and especially libido. Herbs in this category are generally warming, and include a few foods you might be familiar with. You might recognize some of these herbs advertised as aphrodisiacs or 'herbal viagra' but it's not a good idea to indiscriminately guzzle them. Overuse of yang tonics in search of super potency can be overheating and lead to side effects such as headaches and dryness.

Notice what's not on this list? Rhino horn. It's never been considered an aphrodisiac in Chinese Medicine, and is not used by TCM practitioners.

Yin Yang Huo, known as Horny Goat Weed, might be one of the most well-known Chinese libido enhancers. It's been shown to increase erections and ejaculations in studies with rats, and seems to mimic testosterone in the body. 

Dong Chong Xia Cao or Cordyceps. Cordyceps is a type of fungus that grows in the body of a caterpillar. It has been used in Tibet for millenia and is renowned as an aphrodisiac. "People of both sexes usually take one piece of [cordyceps] with a cup of milk to enhance their sexual potency and desire." (Source)

Cuscuta Seed or Tu Si Zi. The tiny seeds of this parasitic vine are used traditionally especially for issues like premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction.

Other herbs that benefit the Yang and might be found in your kitchen include walnuts, fenugrek seed and black cardamom seed.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, herbal medicine is a continuum from foods, which one can use to gently maintain and restore balance, all the way to toxic substances that can only be taken for a short period to deal with serious illness (how I would categorize most Western drugs). So your kitchen is filled with aphrodisiacs! Renowned libido enhancers include lamb, especially the kidneys, walnuts, warming spices such as fenugrek, fennel, cardamom, black pepper, garlic and ginger.

Shrimp is another famed aphrodisiac; 'some Chinese herbalists believe that if one consumes too much shrimp without sexual intercourse, one may develop nosebleeds due to excessive fire built up in the body." Take that under advisement! (Source)

A simple shrimp stir-fry with ginger and garlic is an easy yang enhancing meal, or try spiced dairy or coconut milk as in this ayurvedic recipe, with fenugrek, cardamom and black pepper for a spicy drink that will give you a boost.

These dietary additions are great to support you when you feel a little 'off your game' or to enhance the effects of customized treatment you're receiving from a practitioner. 

Plants with Benefits Part II: Essential oils for love and sex (up next!)

 

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Kitchen wisdom for PMS symptoms

Traditional Chinese Medicine sees medicine as a continuum. Herbs are not only things you'll take as teas or pills when you're ill. They begin with food, and travel all the way to toxic substances (most modern drugs would fall into the latter category). We like to begin treatment with the most gentle, non-toxic approach, and only move into more possibly damaging substances and interventions if necessary. This philosophy of always beginning at the simplest, least interventionist solution is a big part of why I chose to become a holistic health practitioner and is my guiding philosophy. It's spelled out very beautifully by Western herbalist Susun Weed in Spirit and Practice of the Wise Woman Tradition

In that spirit, I'd like to share some simple solutions for a common source of misery: premenstrual symptoms such as bloating, headaches, moodiness and irritability. In Chinese Medicine, these are generally understood as imbalances in energy flow. If lifestyle changes like movement, dietary tweaks and rest don't shift your symptoms, level up to working with a practitioner and you'll likely find relief with acupuncture and herbs. But let's begin at the beginning - with some kitchen remedies by symptom. Enjoy (and feel better!)

Learn more with my previous article on easing PMS symptoms, and for more on food and healing in Chinese Medicine, check out Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford, Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett and Real Food All Year by Nishanga Bliss

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