By Kim Robson
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been perfected over more than 2,000 years. It embraces a wide range of disciplines, including herbal medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, massage, exercise and martial arts, and strict diet. Many Westerners have experienced at least one of these, perhaps several, in their lives. Herbal medicine and dietary therapy, in particular, should be undertaken only under the supervision of a trained medical doctor who can incorporate traditional methods with modern medicine.
TCM is founded in ancient texts like The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon, and precepts like Yin/Yangand the Five Phases. The five phases correspond with five elements — Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water — and how they interact in your body. Health is defined as the harmonious interaction of these entities with the outside world, and disease is interpreted as a disharmony in this interaction.
Incorporating this ancient set of practices into your life doesn’t have to mean finding a different doctor. Below are four tried-and-true methods you can easily add to your household:
Dit Da Jow is an external analgesic liniment used by martial artists to reduce bruising, swelling, soreness, aching muscles, and arthritis; and to stimulate circulation. Every master has his own recipe, but it consists of a mixture of herbs steeped in vodka in a large glass jar. My husband, who has taught kung fu for 23 years, has a recipe that came to him from his grandmaster. It’s literally a sheet of paper covered in Chinese handwriting. He takes it to a place called Gen Min in San Diego, where they fill the order. It’s an old recipe, so it includes things like tiger gallbladder and such, so for obvious reasons substitutes are found for those ingredients.
Allow the Dit Da Jow to sit for between at least eight weeks and up to several years. Then strain out the herbs and discard them. The longer the herbs soak in the vodka, the better the resulting jow works. Keep the jow in a glass jar and in a cool dark place, and fill a small squirt bottle with some to keep in your gym bag. Rub it on bruises, sore muscles, and minor abrasions. It really works.
There are eleven different types of Ginseng, all highly prized for the healing qualities of their roots. Best taken fresh (not dried), it has a generally stimulative effect. Depending on the type used, ginseng can promote yin or yang qualities, cleansing and balancing the body as needed. The roots are available at Asian markets, and can look eerily like a human form, with root-like “arms” and “legs.” The simplest way to take it is to finely grate a few tablespoons with a microplane or the small side of a cheese grater, and make tea with it. Ginseng is warming and stimulating, great when you need an energy boost, especially when you’re under the weather.
Ginger root can be found in most supermarkets, and is another fantastic all-around item for health. It, too, has a warming, stimulative effect on the body. It’s also a delicious component of thousands of Asian dishes, but you can make a wonderful tea also. Again, the best effect comes from fresh ginger root. You can grate it just as described above, or use it peeled and finely minced. Candied ginger pieces make a delicious and healthful snack. It helps with digestion, eliminates free radicals, and may help fight colon cancer.
Finally, Umeboshi Plum is the most revolting condiment you’ll never want to be without. Green-Mom writer Valerie Yoder recently wrote about battling morning sickness the natural way. She mentioned umeboshi plum for nausea. Umeboshi are sour, salted, fermented plums, either whole or in a paste. It’s purplish in color, very salty to the taste, and I practically have to hold my nose while gulping it down. But the effect is immediate and extraordinary. If you have an upset stomach, gas, acid reflux, or nausea, umeboshi plum works better and faster than Alka-Seltzer or Pepto-Bismol. It fights bacteria growth and aids digestion, and was prized by samurai for aiding battle fatigue. It’s full of vitamins and minerals, and is considered a good hangover cure, too.
Putting traditional Chinese medical wisdom to modern use doesn’t have to require a lifestyle change. There are many simple and easy ways to incorporate the health benefits of Asia’s natural bounty and thousands of years of medical knowledge.