Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Chinese Herbs: Nutrition From Outer Space

Back in the days when I was a body-
builder, I thought about nutrition as
if my body were a race car or something
like that. My muscles were like the engine,
and they needed high-quality fuel to
move me around. I needed protein and
vitamins to repair broken-down parts.
I stayed away from sugar because it
just made me too heavy. I thought I was
doing a pretty good job because
"I looked good."

Chinese nutrition is far more complex
than that. Every food my teacher puts
into his mouth has some medicinal
benefit. Green onion for this and ginger
for that and squash does this and broccoli
does that. Always onion "for your health."

Americans eat what tastes good.
Chinese eat for their health.

I see some pretty weird stuff when
I'm with him. "Chicken feet is good
for your skin; eat it." The last time
I saw him, sifu had boiled eggs in
a strange mixture of herbs and let them
sit for days, turning the eggshells
a strange green color. When I asked--
his girlfriend said they were "female
herbs eggs," meaning for menstruation.

I was way over my head to write a blog
about Chinese herbs, so I called my
friend Holly Sparks in Tuscon to help me.
Holly says that what's first important is
that Chinese herbs are taken to correct
syndromes instead of symptoms. Women
in the west with hot flashes might take
black cohosh to help with that symptom.
But Holly says menopause is the syndrome
that requires a delicate balance of herbs,
carefully measured out for potency.

Typically, a Chinese doctor will assess a
patient by listening to three organs on each
wrist (sort of like taking a pulse); checking
the tongue, smelling the patient, and asking
questions about their temperature, cravings,
and lifestyle.

Cravings for salt have to do with the kidney.
Sour has to do with the liver; sweet has to
do with the spleen (or pancreas); bitter has
to do with the heart; and I've never heard of
a craving for metallic food, but those have to
do with the lungs.

Ginseng is one of the great power-herbs of the
earth. Westerners consider the carrot to be very
nutritious, and yet it only grows in temperate
climates with good soil and lots of water. On the
other hand, ginseng grows on the side of snowy
mountain and can take years to fully mature.
A comparative, randomized, double-blind study
at the National Autonomous University of Mexico
indicates it may be "a promising dietary supplement"
when assessed for an increase in quality of life.
But there are some different kinds of ginseng,
some of which can be dangerous. Holly says
the Red Panax ginseng is a "hot herb" specifically
for men, and probably to be taken in the winter.

Holly says JuHua (Yellow Chrysanthemum)
calms the liver, and helps sooth stress. HeShouWu
(Polygonum) works on the kidneys, and can
do things like prevent hair from turning gray.
Cordyceps is a fungus related to insect larvae that
offers great tonic for the lungs; it was virtually
unknown in the west until three Chinese athletes
broke five world track records in 1993 because
they were taking Cordyceps, not steroids.

You can consult your local Chinese doctor about
herbs and start learning about them online.
You can contact Holly in Tuscon at:

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