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Chinese Food, Medicine, and Health

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Food as Herbs, Health, and Medicine

Spring Volume: 2016 Issue: 23(1) pages: 25 to 26

Traditional Chinese health practices developed over many milennia and include acupuncture, moxibustian, therapeutic manipulation, herbal medicine, and others keeping them healthy. Defining these items, acupuncture uses needles at specific body points to normalize physiologic functions. These were found in China and dated before 1,000 BCE. Moxibustion is the smoldering of mugwort at these very same places. Chinese herbal medicine uses one or more dried herbs, minerals, or animal products as prescribed by Shen Nong, China’s first herbal doctor.

Some of these early health notions are now called prescriptions, some found on oracle bones or turtle shells such as one illustrated on this page. These were China’s first medical notions, a few actually from Neolithic times. Traditional medical practitioners, called TCM doctors, would heat these shells or bones and what the said where they cracked would determine a patient’s outcome and healing directions.

The Chinese believe that a healthy body must also be in balance with nature; illness occurs when it is not. A balanced diet is needed with foods of various energies such as cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot, also different flavors kept in balance be they sweet sour, pungent, sally, and sour. In addition, there needs to be a balance of yin and yang foods to treat various conditions. Yin foods are are cold or bitter, also cool and they can be sour, salty, or sweet. Yang foods can be hot or pungent; these are their nature and not their temperatures.

Every body organ corresponds to a flavor to feeds that organ. For example, the liver is associated with wood and it relaxes anger and dissolves tension. Bitter foods support the cardio-circulatory system and give the fire element balanced Qi. Sweet foods support the earth element to help feel more power; and spicy foods feed the metal element helping the flow of Qi. Salt associates with the water element and relates to the kidneys where Qi is stored. These are a dynamic cycle, think circle, each feeds the next including wood is for fire then earth then metal then water and on to wood, etc. See the picture illustrating this.

Meals should include every element. Wood feeds the liver and gall bladder, its flavor is sour, its sensory organ the eye, its emotion anger, its tissues are muscles, its color blue-green, its aroma is rancid, its direction is east, its virtue goodness, and its expression screaming. For fire, these are heart and small intestine, bitter, tongue, pleasure, blood vessels, burned, morality, and laughing. For earth it is the spleen and pancreas, sweet, mouth, humidity, worry, tissues, yellow, aromatic, and singing. For metal, it is the lung and large intestine, spicy, nose, dryness, skin, white/light gray, honesty, and crying. For water think kidneys and bladder, salty, cold, bones, blue/black, rotting, wisdom, and sighing.

We tell you about three foods for each element, though there are many more; they are simply illustrations of some of them. For wood our illustrations are vinegar, shellfish, other crustaceans; for fire they are nutmeg, saffron, and grilled meat; for earth they are aniseed, honey, and licorice; for metal they are chili, curry, and garlic; and for water the three are ham, salmon, and salt. Warm foods include leeks, cherries, and pork liver, basil, almonds, and goat meat, vanilla, beef, and bell peppers, ginger, black pepper, and venison, and cumin, eggplant, and pork. Neutral foods are parsley, plums, and grapes, and radicchio, heart, and sweetbreads, millet, corn, and carrots, savory, peaches, and goose, wild rice, and carp, and catfish.

Cool foods include lettuce, lemons, and duck, also wheat, olives, and ale, rye, cheese and peas, and onions, radish, and rabbit; cabbage, and codfish, and shellfish. Those that are cold include spinach, tomatoes, pineapple, asparagus, pomegranate, and blood sausage; mushrooms, pumpkin, and mango, and peppermint, Spanish onions, and turnips, also sprouted seeds, sea vegetables, and horse meat. Keep in mind there are many more for each element than the ones we have provided here.

Overall, the Chinese believe one should not eat one’s fill of any one food nor of all foods. One should select foods to prevent or cure an illness. For example, they eat green vegetables to reduce a fever, combat fatigue by eating high energy foods, eat lotus root and rice porridge if elderly, aid digestion eating bamboo shoots and chili, clear away toxins eating peanuts; these are also used to maintain a healthy stomach, and they drink alcohol in moderation aiding ones overall health. They also believe one should eat only until seventy percent full.

There is very good information in Cecilia Tan’s Family Herbal Cookbook which is reviewed in Volume 22-4 of this magazine. In that issue we also provide one of her recipes. It is for Savory Tripe, and in that issue, as well. Do consult this book as it looks at herbals from infancy though adulthood; and it is an excellent book to have and use.

For other specific information, consult Hu Sihui’s Principles of Correct Diet. it is written during the Yuan Dynasty (1271 - 1368 CE) and discusses many things to do for various conditions. It is reviewed in Volume 22-3 and it can be looked at for diet, herbal and non-herbal, and can be discussed with one's health professionals. We recommend using both a classically trained Chinese medical practitioner and a western trained dietitian working together. They can help you eat healthier, add herbs to your diet, and help you live longer.
Grass Carp and Sea Vegetables
1/2 pound grass carp fillet
1/4 cup dried sea vegetables, soaked for ten minutes, then chopped
6 slices fresh ginger, shredded
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce

1. Place grass carp on a heat-proof plate and put the sea vegetables and shredded ginger on top.
2. Mix the heated oil and the soy sauce, and sprinkle on top of the fish filet. Cover with plastic wrap and steam for five to six minutes, then uncover and serve.

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