My top 5 favourite herbs to use at home
Did you know that Chinese Medicine is more than just Acupuncture, Massage and Cupping? No? Well, it totally is! Chinese Medicine also encompasses a whole lot of herbal medicine. In fact, practitioners have been using herbs, teas, decoctions and pills for several thousand years. Ancient Chinese Medicine practitioners discovered hundreds of formulas made up of between 2-20 traditional herbs, all for a range of different disorders. There are formulas for digestion, insomnia, headaches, stress, period pain, arthritis….honestly, the list goes on! But that doesn’t mean that it’s complicated. Actually, it’s quite simple and many of the herbs that we use in our formulas can be found in your kitchen. If I do give a herbal remedy to a client, I like to keep it super simple. This means that many of the remedies are able to be made at home from everyday ingredients. So, if you fancied getting to know your ginger from your galangal or if you think it would be useful to find out how to use cinnamon quills to help muscle recovery, read on!
| PEPPERMINT | HERBA MENTHA | BO HE |
Looking for a summertime herb? Look no further than the humble garden mint. This lovely little garden herb is one with sooooo many uses. From a Chinese medicine perspective it is cooling, acrid and travels to the Lung and Liver meridians. It also has a diaphoretic effect and will help you to sweat when you first get a cold.
When should you use Mint? Do you get rashes easily? Or sore eyes and an itchy throat? Are you feeling a bit feverish? Drink a cup of peppermint tea. Mint helps to vent all the Summer Yang that floats upwards to our heads and gets stuck there - essentially it ‘lets off all the steam’. This is fantastic for Summer when throats often get raw and scratchy and headaches can pop up due to all the upward flowing seasonal Qi.
Strangely enough, the active ingredients in Mint are quite volatile, which in Chinese medicine translates as being fantastic for strongly moving Qi. This makes Mint a great addition to your PMS routine or if you get regular headaches.
If you’re rather partial to mint, run off to your local market or garden shop and grab a seedling. Mint is a perennial herb and so it’s super easy to grow in your veggie patch or on your windowsill. Just make sure you keep it in it’s own little pot otherwise it will invade ALL of the other plants in your garden (ahem, yes i did learn that the hard way).
HOW TO: To incorporate into your routine just make a big pot of peppermint tea and sip on it a day or two before your period arrives or when you feel a headache coming on. Make sure not to steep your tea too long through, all of the oils in the mint leaves are delicate and so 3-4 minutes is more than enough.
| GINGER ROOT | SHENG JIANG | ZINGIBERIS OFFICINALE |
One of my favourite things is showing how everyday ingredients can be used as a medicine. Case in point - Ginger. This little rhizome is both completely delicious and completely medicinal. In Chinese medicine Ginger (Sheng Jiang) is a diaphoretic - meaning that it helps you to start sweating. This is essential if you’re at the beginning stages of a cold or flu as it’s acrid flavour opens up your skin to help you sweat and expel whatever nasty is getting you sick. The active compound in Ginger is called Gingerols, which are potent anti-inflammatories, causing them to have great pain-relief capacities especially when used for arthritis conditions. It is also a circulation stimulant, making it fantastic to boost blood flow to the limbs.
Ginger is quickly becoming famous as a carminative and intestinal spasmolytic making it great for your tummy (it helps to expel intestinal gas). This is fantastic if you get bloating, gassy, nausea or vomiting. It has an anti-emetic effect too, helping to decrease and stop vomiting. All those ladies in the early stages of pregnancy – I’m looking at you! A little bit of ginger tea has been shown to greatly affect and help morning sickness. Even GP’s are getting on the ginger bandwagon now!
HOW TO: to get the most from gingers' anti-emetic factors for nausea, have a 1/2cm slice of ginger steeped in hot water. For the anti-inflammatory and circulation-boosting aspects cook a 1/2-1cm slice finely chopped into one meal a day. If you can feel a cold or flu coming on, steep a 1/2cm slice in a tea pot with a few slices of lemon, a big stick of cinnamon stick and a 1/2 tsp of raw/manuka honey.
| TURMERIC | JIANG HUANG | CURCUMAE LONGAE RHIZOMA |
Turmeric has been showing up in the press A LOT lately, and probably for good reason. This little power-house of a herb has been shown to be super effective for a range of issues. It is anti-inflammatory and a natural painkiller (by inhibiting COX-2); it's full of anti-oxidants to help the damage done by free radicals; it’s anti-fungal and anti-bacterial and so great to use on cuts, grazes and skin disorders to decrease their severity. New studies are even beginning to understand how it can decrease the rate of cancer metastases and limit the progression of Alzheimers. Totally WOW – amiright?!
From a Chinese medicine perspective Jiang Huang will boost digestion by targeting the Stomach, Spleen and Liver organs as well as moving the Blood very strongly - making it perfect for pain relief. No wonder the Ayurvedic doctors of India cook with Turmeric in all of their dishes!
HOW TO: If you want in on the Turmeric action add a pinch of the ground spice (organic if you can) to soups, stews, stir-fries, your salad dressings, your breakfast smoothies and even your porridge for an early anti-inflammatory kick! If you can add a bit of black pepper and ground ginger you’ll also increase the bioavailability of Curcumin (the active ingredient). If you’re super keen, do the same but with the fresh root. I get mine from Paddy’s Market but it’s available at most good green grocers. BEWARE: the fresh root will stain EVERYTHING yellow. I kinda think that adds a slight festive air to the kitchen though.
What are you waiting for? Get into it!
| CINNAMON BARK | ROU GUI | CINNAMOMI CORTEX |
What’s your favourite spice? Mine is definitely cinnamon, hands done! Now, when I say cinnamon, I mean the bark, not the twig (Gui Zhi), which is a herb for another time. From a Western perspective, cinnamon can regulate your blood sugar levels, making it a fantastic addition to a diet if you have insulin troubles (think PCOS or early onset-diabetes). It also helps with blood circulation, so if you get bad period pain or DOMS after your workout, perhaps think about adding cinnamon to your diet to help flush your body with fresh warm Blood. This will help to increase oxygen levels to your tissues and help get rid of waste products from your cells and muscles.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective, this delightful spice is super warming for your insides - it tonifies your digestive organs and builds your Yang to heat you up from the inside out. We use it in patients with poor digestive, heavy limbs and fertility issues such as heavy bleeding, fibroids and endometriosis.
HOW TO: get some fresh (and organic if you can) cinnamon powder. Add 1/2 a teaspoon to your smoothie, porridge or chai tea to get a hit of Yang-boosting goodness. Or, add a cinnamon bark stick to your water bottle, top the water bottle up with boiling water (or 1/2 hot and 1/2 cold if you’re in a rush), let it sit for a while and then enjoy delightfully sweet water all day!
| ROSE BUDS | MEI GUI HUA | ROSA RUGOSA |
These little beauties are as functional as they are gorgeous. Did you know that the ancient Romans used to prepare roses to eat to celebrate the victories or great events? Or that they’re often candied and added to Middle Eastern desserts? By the By they’re also a fantastic source of Vitamin C.
From a Chinese Medicine perspective though, Mei Gua Hua are truly a herb for ladies - they gently move Qi, stimulate Blood and sooth the Liver to help menstrual difficulties. Western studies have even shown that they stimulate the female reproductive system! So roses truly are the flower for romance…
HOW TO: Grab a small handful and steep in hot water for 3-5 minutes. Strain and enjoy! These are best used a few days before your period is about to start and are perfect if you’re feeling a bit irritable, you’ve got some breast tenderness or menstrual irregularity and cramps. Also, they look super pretty.
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PLEASE NOTE: In saying all of this, its super important to listen to your body. What does it want? What is it telling you? Is it saying that you need something in particular? It’s really important to gather information to make the choices that are right for you and your body. This information isn’t personal medical advice – rather it’s a guideline on ways that could help you to live a healthier, happier lifestyle. It is always wise to consult with a qualified health practitioner before starting any new herbs, supplements or dietary and lifestyle programs.