Welcome, armchair herb travellers. This is the fourth in a series on Herbs and Spices of the World. In this issue, we travel to the Orient, specifically China and explore some of the herbs it is know for. No culture has more painstakingly documented the healing powers of herb than the Chinese, whose medical texts date back more than 4,000 years.
The Chinese believe in using herbs and spices to keep the yin and yang of the body in balance. Of course, dear reader, there are many great herbs the Chinese use but we will only concentrate on a few of the most well known in this limited space.
Ginseng (American Ginseng, Eleuthero – Siberian Ginseng, Panax Ginseng) Ginseng is considered as one of the most famous herbs used by the Chinese. Its botanical name, Panax ginseng, comes from Panakes, a Greek word meaning “panacea” or “all healing,” In Oriental medicine, Ginseng is considered a superior medicine because it restores our vital energy while balancing organ-system functions, thus enabling the body to heal itself.*
The more semblance ginseng roots bear to the human form, as well as the older and larger they are, the more expensive they are. The three types of ginseng commonly marketed today are Chinese or Korean ginseng (panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) and Russian or Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus).
American ginseng is considered to be the most balanced, serving as both a yin and yang tonic. It counteracts weakness, irritability, fatigue and thirst associated with chronic, low-grade fevers, as well as wheezing, expectoration of blood and loss of voice. It helps recovery from infectiousness diseases such as chronic bronchitis or tuberculosis.
Contraindications: American ginseng is a cooling herb and should not be used by people with diarrhea and poor digestion due to Cold.*
Eleuthero Ginseng helps the body adapt to stress and normalizes all its functions – a true adaptogen,so it can be taken for a longer time than Panax ginseng, from 2-8 months at a time.
Panax Ginseng is a more stimulating ginseng and is best reserved for the “over 40 crowd.” It should only be taken for three weeks at a time, and is reserved in Oriental medicine for chronic illnesses such as cancer, the elderly and those with weak constitutions.
Contraindications: Panax ginseng should be not used for those with high blood pressure, and should not be ingested with alcohol, caffeine, tea, turnips or bitter or spicy foods.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale Roscoe)
Many of us are familiar with the pickled ginger that comes with sushi or have cooked with ginger when preparing a stir-fry. Ginger is an important herb used in about half of all Chinese herbal preparations. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), fresh and dried ginger have different uses. Dried ginger is used to warm the center consisting of the spleen/stomach section. Ginger warms the lung, reduces thin, watery or white phlegm, stops hemorrhage due to cold, particularly uterine bleeding, and rescues devastated, weak Yang energy. In Western terms, dried ginger improves digestion and liver function, and stops nausea and vomiting. Ginger stimulates circulation, reduces muscle spasms and eases rheumatic pain, lumbago and menstrual cramps.*
Fresh ginger promotes sweating, and is an expectorant for coughs due to colds and flu’s accompanies by chills. The juice is used as a diuretic and for the treatment of indigestion and biliousness.
There are about 100 species of ginger that produce thick, hard, light-golden tan aromatic roots. Ginger is used in curries, chutneys, cakes, cookies, meat and fish dishes, soups, candy, soft drinks and more.
Dong Quai or Dang Gui (Angelica sinensis)
Known as the ‘Queen of Women’s herbs,’ Dong Quai is known for its ability to tone and invigorate the entire female system. It is used for almost all gynecological problems including irregular menstruation, PMS, dysmenorrhea and amenorrhea. It is also useful for eliminating anemia and constipation due to anemia, palpitations, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), blurred vision, abdominal pain, dry skin and skin eruptions. Dong Quai increases circulation, helps rheumatic pains and pain from traumatic injury in both men and women.
Contraindications: Dong Quai should be avoided if there is diarrhea and used with caution from those suffering with chronic water retention, poor digestion, chronic infection, night sweats or skin rashes.