TCM Super-Herbs!

11 July 2012

There constantly seems to be a ‘new’ superfood in the press, curing everything and preventing everything else! A lot of these foods are well know to the natives of their original country and are only just making their way over to the West.

We also have some well-established ‘super-herbs’ in TCM!

Ginseng Root

Ginseng has been hailed as a ‘super-herb’ for quite some time in the UK, finding its way into supplements, powders, teas, energy drinks and many other consumables, it has long been associated with China. The Panax variety, also known as Ren Shen in pinyin is native to China and is arguably the strongest variety, compared to Siberian or American ginseng. It has been used in TCM, for over 5000 years, was known to early Arab physicians and was apparently introduced to Europe by Marco Polo. Ginseng is said to mean ‘wonder of the world’ and panax comes from the Greek panacea, meaning ‘heal-all.’

Ginseng has been studied and researched all over the world. To name just a few; studies in Russia found that ginseng works to stimulate and improve the working of the brain with its oxygenation properties. Research in Korea found that the root strengthens the gastrointestinal system.

It is the root of the plant that is used as medicine, even though the bright red berries and flowers are also edible and the leaves can be used in tea. It is widely used as a general tonic for boosting the body’s weaknesses, deficiencies and as an adaptogen, helping to overcome stress and fatigue. In TCM it is used for a variety of symptoms and ailments such as restoring and tonifying Qi, invigorating Yang, nourishing Yin, coughs, asthma, regulating blood pressure, blood glucose levels and hormone levels.  It acts on the central nervous, cardiovascular and endocrine systems, improving metabolism and immune function. Furthermore, when combined with other herbs it works on a whole host of other conditions. It’s even been used as a hangover remedy!

 I think you would agree that it certainly deserves its ‘heal-all,’ ‘wonder of the world’ name!

Goji Berries

Gojies are another ‘super-food’ you may have heard of in the press. They are grown all over China, farmed and wild. Apparently, one of the best areas for gojies is the region of Ningxia, in the Northwest, where the land is very fertile due to the Huang He river which runs through the area. The Gansu and Qinghai provinces are also said to have an abundance of great gojies.

Known as Gou Qi Zi in Pin Yin – you can see where we got the English version from – they are also known as Lycium fruit, Boxthorn berries or Wolfberries. The berries are grown on an 8-10ft shrub which is part of the nightshade family, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines. Although the berries are the most prized part of the plant, other parts, such as the leaves and blossom, are also used as medicine, in teas or as a vegetable.

The fruit is quite tangy and can be added to lots of dishes from salad to porridge. The girls in the dispensary told me about a goji chicken soup they make in the winter, to protect from colds. The dried berry that we find here can be munched on as a snack like any other dried fruit or rehydrated and used in muesli, cous-cous or any dish you may desire to add them to.

One of our practitioners, Qin Li, told us a childhood memory from China, of young boys being scolded by their mothers when they would come home with red mouths and bloody noses from ‘scrumping’ too many fresh berries from neighbouring farmers! Apparently, if you eat too many they can give you nose bleeds due to their blood thinning and anti-coagulant properties. But don’t be concerned, think of the effects if you eat too many prunes! Everything in moderation!

There is an overwhelming amount of easily accessible research into gojies; from their anti-ageing and antibacterial effects to their ability to repair liver damage and protect the retina from light damage. They contain all eight amino acids, making them especially good for vegetarians, are high in fibre, iron and vitamins A and C. In TCM, they are used for treating skin, kidney, eye and liver problems as well as diabetes, tuberculosis, insomnia and anxiety.

The bark of the root can also be used to treat coughs and to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure and fevers.

By Victoria Osterbery

Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Bensky D, and Gamble A, Eastland Press, Seattle, WA, 1993 rev. ed.

Chinese Medicinal Herbs, compiled by Li Shih-Chen, translated by F. Porter Smith, M.D., and G.A. Stuart, M.D., Georgetown Press, San Franscisco, 1973


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