Summer Wellness Series: Herbs for Late Summer

This article is seventh in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: self-care practices including essential oil picks for Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Herbs for the Late Summer + Earth Element

by Erin Wood, L.Ac

Welcome to the late summer!!! This season is the transition from summer to fall, the time of the spleen organ. The spleen prefers a dry, warm environment. Cold and damp climates and certain cold or raw foods can hinder its function and gunk it up. We can balance this dampness and support the spleen by sprinkling these additional herbs and spices into our food and drink:

  • Cardamom

  • Sichuan peppers

  • Ground white pepper

  • Tangerine peel, and other citrus like the Buddha’s hand

  • Licorice root, sometimes fried in honey

  • Dried ginger root

  • Green or Jasmine Tea

  • Raspberry Leaf Tea

  • Nettle Leaf Tea

  • Turmeric, like Golden Milk

  • Garlic

  • Parsley

The category of herbs that most support the spleen is the Tonify the Qi group, which means to boost the available energy and vitality. Two of these Tonify Qi herbs are also adaptogens: Ginseng and Astragalus. An adaptogen is a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to have a normalizing effect overall. I prefer American Ginseng over Korean Ginseng, it is actually slightly cooling, thirst-quenching, helps with diabetes and doesn’t raise blood pressure. Astragalus is a sweet and warm herb that goes to the lung and spleen channels to boost the immune system. Red Chinese dates also Tonify the Qi, they are easy to digest. Dates are delicious in well-cooked rice with carrots and some ginseng slices, a super energy booster!

Read the entire article at erinwoodacupuncture.com

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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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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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Friday Roundup - April 28, 2016

What I've been reading, writing, thinking about and indulging in this week.

The Trouble with Clean: I am always inspired by modern American herbalist matriarch Susun Weed. Today she shared one of her occasional essays, this one challenging the notion of 'clean' and cleanses.

"Where are we going to throw away that which we have cleaned away? What shall we do with the toxins, the filth, the disgusting waste, the foul, unneeded, unwanted, unloved parts? Where is far enough away? Can I ever get away from my shadow?" 

Rings of Power: I was mesmerized by these wood and resin rings that capture entire miniature worlds on your finger. Created by Vancouver jeweler Secret Wood, each one is handmade so no two are identical.

I love the cooking blog My Heart Beets, mostly paleo recipes by blogger Ashley. She has a great collection of Indian recipes, including lots of regional dishes. Her Coconut Egg Curry, a scrumptious and frugal dish of eggs simmered in a fragrant coconut sauce is on my menu this week.

Have a great weekend!

 

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