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Foods as Herbs
Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine
Summer Volume: 1998 Issue: 5(2) page(s): 13 and 14
Most requests relate to things herbal with people wanting to know which are the most important Chinese herbs and how are they used in foods. Continuing the theme of five in this, our fifth year, it is interesting to know that in the United States, the five top selling herbs of 1997 are all known to the Chinese. It is equally interesting that only two of them, Ginseng and Ginkgo. appear in Medicinal Herbs, a volume of three hundred twenty-two medicinal herbs detailed in this volume in the Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine and Pharmacology series.
A recent Gallup study discusses some interesting things beyond just naming these five herbs that sell best in the United States. It advises that those using these herbs are active and health conscious, more than half of those taking them and other herbs take two or more different herbs each day, and that more than half of the people consuming these five herbs exercise and also take vitamin and mineral supplements.
Experts are wary of this increased interest. They are concerned about people who take many different herbs and equally concerned about those taking large amounts of any one or more herbs. They worry about long-term ramifications of such behavior and ponder synergistic effects of multiple herb intake. Overall, the experts urge people not to play doctor but rather consult a medical practitioner to assure no harm.
This concern is real, perhaps because these people know that Chinese traditional doctors are taught many important things not commonly known about herbal use. For example, they know that an overdose of ginkgo is toxic. They also learn that when taking ginseng one should not drink tea or eat turnips; and, that one should not use pots made of iron when frying or decocting this particular herb and many others, as well.
Every one of the five best selling herbs is known to the Chinese and they are used by them. In decreasing order of dollar revenue, these five herbs are: Ginseng, Garlic, Ginkgo, Echinacea, and St. John's Wort. First an overview of each of them and then a soup recipe for the two considered important Chinese ones. Soups are one of the preferred means of herbal intake for the Chinese.
Ginseng: Store sales of this herb botanically known as Panax ginseng increased nearly fourteen percent in 1997 to seventy-eight million dollars. That impressive amount of money for an herb used for centuries, includes not only expenditures for the herb but also purchases of it as a decoction. Ginseng is popular with the Chinese who make their own decoction from it, use it in soups, and drink it as tea. These days, Americans are also using it; their choices in specialty beverages, ordinary sodas, and even fruit smoothies.
Ginseng was and still is beloved as an energy booster. That use was first recorded in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, Shen Nong's Cannon of Materia Medica, where it was also listed as the Emperor of Medicine. Yes, the Chinese have used it to restore health for at least 5,000 years. They believe it replenishes qi, tonifies the spleen and lungs, calms the heart, and soothes the mind. They see not only energizing benefits but also its ability to increase the body’s coping with a wide range of emotional and physical stress. Additionally, they believe that Ginseng enhances digestion and breathing and is valued as an aphrodisiac.
Garlic: Consumers remain loyal to garlic, spending $67.6 million, a 1.7 percent increase in sales from 1996 for this herb botanically known as Allium sativum. Although the Chinese believe that Garlic counteracts congestion, stimulates the nervous system, and aids digestion, it is not one of the first few hundred medicinal herbs their pharmacopeia lists.
The Tao of Healthy Eating (to be reviewed in an upcoming issue) advises that Garlic moves stagnant Qi, warms the spleen and stomach, and treats food and drink accumulation and stagnation, among other things. In this country and in Europe, garlic’s current medical claim to fame is its ability to reduce cholesterol. Folks including Kellogg and Graham touted it more than a century ago, sometimes to ward off germs, other times to cure folks from their indigestion or their infections.
Ginkgo: Sales of this 'thinking herb,' botanically known as Ginkgo biloba were up in the United States one hundred and forty percent, with folks plunking down more than sixty-six million dollars last year for some. Some pharmaceutical companies have termed this herb 'The fountain of youth' for its antioxidant qualities, others have called it a 'smart pill' because about a quarter of a group of people suffering from dementia improved their mental functions.
Ginkgo is valued for slowing both disease and aging and reported to speed circulation providing more oxygen for the mind and the body. The Chinese have touted this seed for centuries advising that it nourishes the lungs, reduces coughing, improves alertness and helps with depression, headaches, and mental confusion. They also use it to treat other pulmonary problems and regulate urine emission. Europeans use extracts of this herb to improve brain metabolism and increase capillary flow to the extremities, particularly in the elderly. They also use it to treat sleep disturbances.
Echinacea: Sales of concentrated Echinacea totalled fourteen million dollars last year. This native American herb is not reported in any Chinese materia medica that could be located. First used by American Indians, Echinacea is said to boost the immune system and ward off colds and flu. Though this has been one of the best selling herbs in health food stores for years, research is skimpy and results are not clear because Echinacea is a family of nine flowering plants, three of which are used in dietary supplements (E. purpurea, E. augustifolia, and E. pappida).
About ten years ago, a German study showed major increases in immune function in but a few days for those who consumed controlled amounts of Echinacea. Last year, it showed some small assistance treating Aids patients but there was and still is some question about its safety, particularly for those with auto- immune diseases. At this time, Bastyr University in Seattle is completing a well-controlled study to evaluate one aspect of its use, if it prevents or relieves the symptoms of respiratory tract infections.
St. John's Wort: Increasing a staggering eleven and a half thousand percent in 1997, sales for this herb reached thirteen and a half million dollars. This massive increase is credited to news coverage of one report that investigated a couple of dozen studies. They concluded that the herb had mood-enhancing benefits. Some media reports called it a 'natural Prozac' and others, while touting it, did report there were a few side effects including dizziness and mild stomach aches.
St. John's Wort is also called the 'Rose of Sharon' or by its botanical name of Hypericum calycinumis, comes from one of several evergreen shrubs native to Southeast Europe and Asia Minor. The flowering tops of any of these shrubs are sold as St. John's Wort and used to make it into an herbal tea. It is also used to flavor liquors beloved for their aromatic nature. Considered sweet and slightly bitter tasting no matter where used, in China the young leaves are eaten as a vegetable while the decoction is used as an aid to treat boils, snake bites and conjuctivitus.
|Ginseng Fish Head Soup|
1 fish head, about two pounds
1 Tablespoon coarse salt
2 scallions, minced
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 ounce ginseng, sliced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Rub fish head with salt and marinate with scallions, rice vinegar, and white pepper for about half an hour, then drain.
2. Blanch fish head for thirty seconds in boiling water.
3. Bring sliced ginseng an four cups of boiling water to a boil, lower heat and simmer for an hour. Then add fish head and the marinade and simmer another fifteen to twenty minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer another five minutes, then serve.
|Ginkgo and Sweet Rice Soup|
2 cups glutinous rice flour
1 cup assorted peeled and diced fruit such as pear, peach, mandarin orange, litchi, and longan
3 ounces cooked or canned ginkgo nuts
6 Chinese dates (jujubes), cooked for five minutes
1 teaspoon sweet osmanthus
1 Tablespoon Chinese slab or light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons of water chestnut powder or cornstarch mixed with 2 Tablespoons of cold water
1. Mix rice flour with two cups of water and cook until very thick, stirring constantly. Chill then make into one inch balls. Simmer them until they float to the surface, then remove, chill, and set aside.
2. Mix all other ingredients and bring to a boil. after it thickens slightly and clears, cool. Then add rice balls and serve.