Category Archives: Herbal Medicine

Food As Medicine: Treating Fall Dryness from the Inside Out

wheat stalk

“The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”  – Thomas Edison

The earth is our most abundant pharmacy, providing us exactly what we need in any given time of year to stay healthy and strong. When we eat seasonally and locally, the foods we are ingesting contain the properties we need to stay well all year long. Fall is the season of dryness and the more abruptly it comes on, the quicker our bodies need to adapt. If you’re feeling a bit parched, try these simple dietary solutions to reconcile these common fall imbalances:

Allergies, Sore Throat, Cough
As the leaves begin to change color and fall from the trees, they become brittle and crumble to dust. When we inhale this particle dust it can cause allergies, cough, sore throat, and inflammation. In TCM theory, our lung channel regulates the qi for the entire body. Foods that are more acrid or pungent aid the lungs in keeping the qi circulating and dispersing. If you’re feeling a tickle in your throat, try apples, pears, miso soup with scallion, cabbage, leeks, onion, garlic and ginger. If the qi is rebelling in the form of a cough, root vegetables help to pull energy downward. If the throat feels raw, tea with ginger or ginseng and honey is not only soothing, but can give you a powerful immune boost. If allergies persist, herbal formulas are a great solution to get them under control.

Dry, Itchy Skin
The moisture from the summer has left the air leaving it cool, crisp and static. To protect our skin from drying out while it works to protect us from the elements, we need to do more to nourish it from the inside out. In addition to the lung-qi boosting suggestions above, the simplest way to keep your skin healthy and glowing is to stay hydrated. Water, water, water, is great in any season. Also, don’t skimp on the Omega 3’s (healthy fats) such as those found in avocados, egg yolks, and olive oil. Oily seeds such as flax and sesame also help to keep the skin and entire body moistened (grind them to maximize the benefits) and sesame and coconut oil are widely used topically to protect the skin and keep it supple.

In the seasonal transition when the weather is erratic and windy, the body becomes more vulnerable as it works to adjust to the change. Fall dryness can reach beyond the skin and lungs, moving deeper into the body and causing sluggish digestion or constipation. In addition to staying hydrated, oily nuts and seeds (in reasonable quantities) such as almonds or walnuts can help to lubricate the intestines and keep things flowing smoothly. Mineral rich vegetables from the earth also help to support metal – the element of fall. Things like pumpkin, yams, squash, bananas, walnuts, and beets help to keep our digestion regular and keep our belly’s happy and nourished. Also, chew slowly so you know when you’re full, and eat while relaxed to aid digestion and promote nutrient absorption.

A Deliciously Simple Fall Recipe
Try this seasonal recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen to keep the lungs strong, the throat relaxed, the fluids ample, and the tummy happy:

Ginger-Honey Pear

2 medium-size pears, peeled
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons water

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Cut off the top third of each pear and reserve. Cut out the core of the bottom part of the pear, making a hole but leaving the bottom and outside intact. Place the pears and the tops on a glass or ceramic dish.
3. In a small bowl, combine the honey, ginger, and water. (Heat the mixture to encourage the honey to dissolve, if necessary.)
4. Place the ginger mixture inside the pears. Now replace the top on each pear, restoring its original shape, and brush the sauce on the outside of the pear as well. Save 2 teaspoons or so of the sauce for later.
5. Bake the pears for 10 to 12 minutes, until they have begun to soften.
6. Take the pears out of the oven for a moment and drizzle with the remaining sauce, then return the pears to the oven and broil at a high setting for 3 to 5 minutes, until the glaze has caramelized. Serve warm.

You can find this recipe and much more in Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life. Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mika Ono. Da Capo Press, 2010.

For a more in-depth discussion of eating for the fall season from a Chinese medicine perspective, re-visit this post:

Spring Allergy Rx

pollenSpring is the season of rebirth, renewal and rejuvenation. As we wait in anticipation for the buds to bloom and the earth to become lush and vibrant, some of us are also faced with the prospect of spring allergies. Red watery eyes, itchy throat, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, and sinus pressure are just some of the possible symptoms that can inhibit our enjoyment of the warmer weather. Right now we are at a crucial point in the season to intercept allergy symptoms before they begin. The following strategies can help:

Acupuncture: In a feature article on Web MD reviewing natural strategies for the treatment of allergies, Colette Bouchez writes, “In a small but significant study of 26 hay fever patients published in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine, acupuncture reduced symptoms in all 26 — without side effects. A second study of some 72 people totally eliminated symptoms in more than half, with just two treatments. “ (See full article at

What distinguishes acupuncture from other traditional allergy treatments is that it is geared toward boosting the immune system to enable our bodies to fight external allergens. Each treatment is customized to the patient based on the individual presentation and therefore really targets the root of what’s causing the reaction. For best results, begin treatments before any major symptoms appear.

Herbal Medicine: Many traditional allergy medications, while temporarily effective, also come with an array of side effects. One of the many benefits of Chinese herbal medicine is that formulas are virtually side effect free. Customizable formulas are chosen based on the distinct pattern that a patient is showing so as to specifically address an imbalance in the system. Since the formulas are designed to target the root of what is causing the symptom, rather than the symptom itself, they do not usually need to be taken long-term.

Diet: When it comes to seasonal allergies, simple dietary adjustments can be quite effective. Foods that help promote the smooth functioning of the Liver/Gallbladder channel systems (which are dominant this time of year) often help reduce spring allergy symptoms. These foods tend to be sour in flavor and green in color. Some examples include bok choy, green apple, apricot, berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, plums, pineapple, dandelion, and vinegar. Alcohol and greasy or spicy foods should be limited and if there is a lot of phlegm or congestion, reduce the consumption of sugar and dairy.

Movement: Based on what we see happening around us in nature, it is not surprising that during the spring our bodies crave movement. This is the time of year to increase activity, stretch our limbs, and keep energy circulating. Specific types of movements to target the channels dominant in the spring include lateral stretches that open up the side body and neck, exercises that involve hip rotation, and strengthening and stretching of the inner and outer thighs and shins.

Don’t let allergies put a damper on your spring! By being proactive you can seriously reduce the effects of external allergens on your body and enjoy the beauty of the season.