Astragalus

September Herbal Spotlight: Astragalus

If you read the last blog post on Autumn and the Metal element, you will recall how the lungs are very closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of the Wei-Qi – the defensive Qi that protects our bodies from external ‘attacks’.

For this month’s Herbal Spotlight, I wanted to feature a plant with a very long history as an immune system booster and disease fighter. Its roots are (literally!) in Traditional Chinese Medicine, in which it has been used as an adaptogen for thousands of years – meaning it helps the body fight off stress and disease.

This month’s featured herb is Astragalus – a plant within the Leguminosae (beans or legumes) family.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the herb (also known as Huang-Qi) was hailed as a protector against stresses, both mental and physical. Astragalus provides health benefits to a number of body systems and ailments due to its ability to prevent and protect cells against cell death and other harmful elements, such as free radicals and oxidation.

Astragalus contains three components that allow the plant to have such a positive impact on human health:

saponins, flavonoids and polysaccharides.

Saponins are known for their ability to lower cholesterol and improve the immune system;

Flavanoids provide health benefits through cell signalling. They show antioxidative qualities and can help prevent heart disease; and

Polysaccharides are known to have antiviral and anti-inflammatory capabilities.

There are many other health benefits derived from Astragalus, including its ability to:
reduce blood pressure;
act as an antidiabetic;
relieve insulin resistance and treat diabetes naturally;
treat kidney illness;
reduce the severity of allergic reactions by preventing the release of histamines;
help deliver uninterrupted, restful sleep;
improve airway inflammation and treat asthma.

Astragalus has traditionally been used both as a supplement/natural remedy and in cooking. In Traditional Chinese Medicine it is said to tonify the Spleen and Lungs and hence is used for fatigue linked to decreased appetite. It is also said to raise the Qi, making it a potent herbs for prolapse and weakness anywhere in the body.

It is a tough but sweet, starchy root, and can be added to soups or made in to a decoction by boiling the root in water.

Astragalus powder is also very versatile in all the ways you can use it.
Here is a very easy recipe for an excellent substitute for peanut butter (and it’s better for you too!).
Ingredients:
• 1 cup tahini (sesame seed butter)
• 7 tablespoons of almond butter
• 3 tablespoons of Astragalus powder
• 3 tablespoons sesame oil (you can leave this out to lower the calories)
• Sweetener (maple syrup or agave nectar)
• Dash of cinnamon and/or a dash of nutmeg

Note there really are no exact measurements in this recipe!

Warm the tahini and the seed and/or nut butters in a double boiler. Do not use high heat.

Stir the Astragalus powder and cinnamon powder. Add the sesame oil and stir until you get a smooth consistency.

Refrigerate and enjoy! You can also thin it out with some lemon juice and apple cider vinegar to use as a salad dressing.

And here’s an easy to follow recipe for Astragalus root immune power balls (delicious!).

Ingredients:
• 2 tablespoons astragalus root powder
• 1 tablespoon maca root powder
• 1 tablespoon ginkgo powder
• ½ tablespoon spirulina, blue-green algae, or chlorella powder
• 1 cup sesame butter (tahini) or peanut butter
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup crushed almonds
• Your choice of shredded coconut, cocoa or carob powder, raisins or goji berries, chocolate of carob chips, and granola for flavor.

Combine the powdered herbs and mix well.

Combine the sesame or peanut butter and honey, mixing to form a paste.

Add enough of the powdered herbs to thicken, and add the almonds and the other optional stuff to your liking. Thicken to consistency with carob or cocoa powder. Roll into teaspoon size balls.
Store in the refrigerator or in a sealed glass jar. You can eat up to two per day but eat them within a week.

Disclaimer: If you are pregnant or nursing or have any medical condition, you should consult a doctor before taking astragalus or any supplement or herb. If you are taking any kind of medication or if you suffer from an autoimmune disease, you should also check with your doctor to rule out drug interaction before taking any form of astragalus.

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Autumn Season and TCM

Although it might be hard to imagine with the somewhat above average temperatures around San Francisco over the last few weekends, given that the autumnal equinox took place on September 22nd, autumn has officially arrived.

Over the coming weeks we’ll start to notice a slight chill in the air; the days will get shorter; and before we know it, we will be turning the clocks back and the summer will be over for another year.  Traditionally autumn marked the season of the harvest – when we would reap what was planted in the spring and preserve it for the colder winter months that lay ahead.

In our childhood autumn often meant us and playing among the piles of fallen leaves at the park or in the garden as the leaves fall and change color all around.  As adults we notice the cooler, drier air; we may find ourselves a little more serious and less relaxed and carefree than in the summer months; and we might even experience more clarity of vision – both externally as well as internally.

The autumn months are about slowing down the momentum of growth – it’s a time for our bodies to harvest and gather energy for the colder months ahead. During this time you might feel inclined to de-clutter, to set extra ‘fuel’ aside to ensure you are both physically and emotionally prepared for the colder, darker months ahead.

Autumn marks the beginning of the yin cycle when the daylight lasts less than 12 hours. The yang of summer surrenders itself to the growing yin energy of the approaching winter. After summer, autumn is a time to clear overactive yang from the body in the form of rest and more quiet time, and then as the temperatures drop, the time will come to start warming the body against extremes.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the summer is ruled by the Fire element while the autumn is associated with the element of Metal – governing organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries.

In nature we can see the plant kingdom transforming before our very eyes as nutrients move from the leaves deep down into the roots of the trees causing the leaves to turn from orange to brown, and eventually fall away. As the leaves change color and drop, the old ‘dead’ leaves go back to the earth, enriching it to promote the harvest of the year ahead.

In autumn we learn more about ourselves, perhaps more than in any other season. It’s a time to turn inward, a ‘falling away’ of outer directed energy. Autumn moves us to get rid of what we no longer need and reminds us of what is most precious in our lives.

The transition from summer to autumn is a time when our Qi is most unstable. If you are susceptible to “rebellious Qi” (respiratory infection; colds, sinuses, hay fever etc), it’s possible for certain acupuncture treatments and Chinese herbs to strengthen your Qi and your immune system before the onset of winter.

In Chinese Medicine, the lung and the colon are the internal organs related the Metal element and to autumn. The lungs are very closely associated with the immune system and control the circulation of the Wei-Qi (the protective Qi) which is the defensive Qi that protects the body from external attacks by viruses like colds and flu. A weakness in the lungs can lead to a weakness in the Wei-Qi, making you prone to frequent colds.

One of the best ways to strengthen the lungs is to breathe deeply. It sounds simple but most of us don’t breathe so deeply and this can also affect things like our memory, energy level and immune system.
So go for a walk outside, soak up the beautiful autumn colors and breathe in the cool air. Doing this will strengthen your lungs while also helping you achieve mental clarity and emotional tranquility. In classical Chinese medicine, the lung is described as “the receiver of the pure Qi from the Heavens”.  When the lung (Metal) energy is out of balance the body begins to stiffen up. That’s when we can become more prone to infection. Our susceptibility to allergies is more amplified and asthma and chest heaviness can appear.

The colon is the second organ in the Metal element and is responsible for eliminating what is unnecessary and toxic from our bodies. However in addition to physical garbage, we also need to eliminate mental and spiritual rubbish.

Autumn is the perfect time to take stock of all things in your life. Let go of the old, make room for the new; donate old clothes to charity; clean out your computer deleting anything you no longer need.

What you eat also greatly affects the health of your lungs. During autumn, eat less cooling foods (like salads and raw foods). Heartier soups and stews are better at this time of the year. You should also try to include more sweet potato, cabbage, pears, walnuts, rice, cinnamon, leeks, beans, asparagus, broccoli, greens, apples, plums, grapes as well as moderate amounts of pungent foods like garlic, onions, ginger, horseradish and mustard into your diet as they are also beneficial to the lungs.

You might want to consider doing a gentle cleanse by fasting to give your body time to eliminate toxins. Don’t fast for too long, but rather eat healthy fruits and vegetables. Also remember to drink plenty of water. As autumn is associated with dryness, it’s important to hydrate. Water will promote healthier bowel movements.

The lung and the colon work hand in hand – one taking in the pure, the other eliminating waste. But if waste keeps building up and we can’t take in purity (when our Metal energy is out of balance), we are more likely to feel stubborn, depressed, isolated and unfulfilled – feelings commonly associated with autumn and winter.

Sleep is another important aspect of staying healthy in autumn. However, if you can’t find enough hours for more sleep, at least try to make time for stretching, meditation and relaxation. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that this is the time of the year when the spirit is more accessible so just take a few minutes to do nothing at all.

Close your eyes, breathe and just be present feeling your chest and belly. Breathing exercises (which naturally strengthen the lungs) increase energy, still the mind, and lift the spirits. It’s time to build up your immune system for Winter!

Dandelion seeds in the morning sunlight blowing away in the wind across a clear blue sky

Herbal Spotlight: Dandelion

I remember going to the park as a kid. Sure my friends and I would have fun on the swings and slides. But sometimes during the springtime we just went to the park to have dandelion blowing competitions. We’d pick as many as we could and then we’d just huff and puff until we were all left just holding the stalks.

Who would have thought that three decades later I’d be featuring the dandelion as the ‘herbal spotlight’ on my blog?

When most people think of dandelions, a sea of annoying yellow flowers invading their lawn usually comes to mind, but there is more to this unassuming flower than meets the eye. For thousands of years, dandelions have also been used in a variety of herbal preparations to improve health.

In Western herbology, dandelion is often labelled as a “natural antibiotic”. It is rich in vitamin A (dandelion leaves contain more vitamin A than carrots!), vitamin C, iron and calcium and detoxifiers explaining its common inclusion in medicines.

Coincidentally, in Traditional Chinese Medicine it has long been used as an anti-inflammatory and an antidote to heat toxicity. So both western and eastern medicine seem to have reached a similar conclusion on dandelion’s medicinal uses.

Historically, dandelion (which literally translates into ‘lion’s tooth’ in French) has been used to relieve liver disorders, diabetes, urinary disorders, acne, jaundice and anemia. It also helps in maintaining bone health and skin care. Dandelion leaves and root have also been used to treat constipation, indigestion, heartburn, and to remove water from the body, while the root is used to increase bile production in the gallbladder and to treat liver problems.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine dandelion is referred to as ”Pu Gong Ying’ and is considered to be energetically bitter, drying, and cooling. According to TCM, dandelion clears heat from the liver and has a beneficial effect on the stomach and lungs. Its leaves can also ease acute mastitis, lung abscess, skin abscesses, swollen eyes, cold and fever and ‘stomach fire’ (gastrointestinal issues).

Dandelion flowers can be used to make dandelion tea which has the best effect when consumed in the morning. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners will prescribe dandelion tea to help detoxify the liver and get their body back on track. It is a powerful diuretic, which helps the body eliminate toxins more rapidly and promotes healthy kidney function. Dandelion tea also increases the concentration of certain detoxifying enzymes in the liver.

If you’re feeling run down, prepare yourself a cup of this healthy tea, which is made quite simply by steeping the flower petals in boiling water.

The rich blend of antioxidants found in dandelion tea can all help the body eliminate free radicals and minimize oxidative stress, which is a major cause of chronic illness, including cancer. By neutralizing these free radicals, this tea can help strengthen the immune system and improve your overall health and wellness.

The nutrient-rich roots can also be used to brew dandelion coffee. The coffee requires the dandelion roots to be dried, chopped, roasted and then ground down to be brewed into the powerful coffee substitute.

Both beverages have similar health benefits, and are becoming more and more popular.

My patients are often quite surprised when I tell them that the whole dandelion plant is edible. Leaves can be stir-fried or sautéed like spinach or used to make dandelion salad; dandelion root can also be consumed as a vegetable. Just be careful not to overdose on the herb and patients with stomach ulcers or gastritis are generally encouraged to avoid too much dandelion, as it may stimulate overproduction of stomach acid.

Solar Eclipse pic #3

Total Solar Eclipse 2017

On Monday August 21st, the so-called Great American Total Solar Eclipse will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina along a stretch of land about 70 miles wide.

Whilst the eclipse won’t pass directly over us here in San Francisco, I wanted to share my thoughts on this cosmic phenomenon as well as some of the spiritual and mystical elements behind it.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon blocks out the last sliver of light from the sun in the sky. The moon orbits an average of 239,000 miles from Earth — just the right distance to seem the same size in the sky as the much larger sun. However, these heavenly bodies line up only about once every 18 months.

During what  ‘sky watchers’ refer to as totality, the area inside the moon’s shadow is cloaked in twilight. At most, the moon will completely cover the disk of the sun for 2 minutes and 40 seconds.

During totality, when the sun’s disk is completely covered by the moon, it is safe to view the eclipse with the naked eye. But you should never look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection as this can cause blindness.

Solar eclipses always take place during a new moon. In astrological lore, la lune represents the mother, the divine feminine and the archetype of the nurturer. She is the governess of our emotions and deepest desires — and she has a dark side we’ll never see. New moons are times for planting seeds; for conceptualizing and initiating.

Astrologically speaking, eclipses usher in a time of change. Like any new moon, a solar eclipse represents the end of one cycle and the beginning of a new cycle. It means that all possibilities are on the table and you can rightly put yourself in the forefront of new plans for the future. It is the ideal time to make a fresh start and write down a to-do list on a blank sheet of paper.

A solar eclipse asks us to balance our head with the heart.  The heart offers guidance and truth while the head gifts us understanding and communication.

Ancient cultures tried to understand why the sun temporarily vanished from the sky, so they came up with various reasons for what caused a solar eclipse.

In many cultures, the legends surrounding solar eclipses involve mythical figures eating or stealing the sun. Others interpreted the event as a sign of angry or quarreling gods.

For example in Vietnam, people believed that a solar eclipse was caused by a giant frog devouring the Sun, while Norse cultures blamed wolves for eating the Sun.

In ancient China, a celestial dragon was thought to lunch on the Sun, causing a solar eclipse. In fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.

Korean folklore suggests that solar eclipses happen because mythical dogs are trying to steal the Sun.

The Pomo, an indigenous group of people who live in the north-west tell a story of a bear who started a fight with the Sun and took a bite out of it. In fact, the Pomo name for a solar eclipse is Sun got bit by a bear.

Meanwhile the Tewa tribe from New Mexico believed that a solar eclipse signified an angry Sun who left the skies to go to his house in the underworld.

Fear of solar eclipses still exists today. Many people around the world still see eclipses as evil omens. People in many cultures will get together to bang pots and pans and make loud noises during a solar eclipse, since it is believed that loud noises scare away the demon causing the eclipse.

However not all superstitions surrounding solar eclipses are about doom. In Italy, it is believed that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time of the year.

Even though we won’t see the total solar eclipse first hand, if you look up on August the 21st , you may still see the sky appearing a little eerie … and now you know why.

Peppermint 1

Herbal Spotlight: Peppermint

This month we’re shining the herbal spotlight on Bo He … or what you would more commonly recognize as peppermint with its refreshing taste and strong aroma.

As a representative member of the aromatic plants, mint herb (also known as mentha) comes with more than 500 species, almost all with a cool and refreshing scent and is most commonly harvested in batches when the stem and leaves are flourishing during summer.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, mint is considered to have pungent, aromatic and cooling properties. It is associated with the Lung and Liver meridians, and is used to expel wind heat, relieve headache and dizziness, improve eyesight, relieve sore throat, clear up rashes, relieve itching, and soothes anxiety and stress by clearing liver qi stagnation.

When taken orally, mint is typically used to dissipate body heat and to calm the nervous system.
Bo He is often combined with other wind-heat dispersing herbs or heat-clearing and toxicity-relieving herbs to reinforce the function of expelling exterior pathogen (bacteria and viruses) and toxic heat, such as in the formula Yin Qiao San which many of you may know to take for the onset of a cold.

Mint should be used in moderation for those diagnosed with yin deficiency (dryness) and those with sensitive digestive systems, who may in fact suffer moderate stomach disorders by ingesting too much mint.

Because Bo He (mint) helps to promote perspiration, it should not be taken by people who tend to sweat profusely. As with any Chinese herbal remedy, it’s always best to check in with the Clinic before adding mint into your herbal regime.

When applying mint oil directly on to the skin, the mint causes a cold sensation while inhibiting and benumbing the sensory nerve ending. This means it can have an anti-allergic effect on skin itch. Mint products also have a desensitization and anti-inflammation effect on insect bites and are also said to relieve upper respiratory tract infection.

The cool, refreshing, and pleasant scent of peppermint is also often used to cover and improve certain Chinese medicinal herbal formulas with a peculiar smell or taste (for example mint is often used in conjunction with lonicera, forsythia and arctium).

Peppermint is also an excellent source of vitamin C and vitamin A. Peppermint is a very good source of magnesium, folate, dietary fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin B2.

The edible parts of the mint are its stems and leaves, which are often used when preparing fresh juices and teas. Personally I love to make fresh mint tea. There’s a bit of an art to making it taste really good, so consider following the steps below:

• For each serving of tea you plan on making, pick 7-10 peppermint leaves from the stem of the plant. Try to pick leaves that are green and unblemished.

• Rinse the peppermint leaves. Even if you picked the peppermint from your own garden, you still want to make sure to wash off any dirt or impurities from the leaves.

• Crush the peppermint by rubbing the leaves in between your fingers. This helps to release the flavor and aroma of the herb. The leaves should look crumpled and slightly greener, not mashed to bits.

• Put the freshly crushed peppermint leaves into a mug. For every serving of tea, place 7-10 leaves in the mug, depending on how strong you like the tea.

• Boil water. Instead of pouring the boiling water into your mug, wait a couple minutes for the water to cool slightly. Peppermint tea is better when brewed in hot, but not boiling, water.

• After you have let the water cool for a few minutes, carefully pour the water over the peppermint leaves. Make sure that all the leaves are submerged in the water, then cover the mug. Let the tea steep for 7-12 minutes before removing the leaves.

Enjoy your fresh cup of peppermint tea!

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June 21st 2017 Summer Solstice Blog

Wednesday June 21st is the longest day of the year – the summer solstice – marking the first official day of summer and the turning point after which the sun starts rising later and setting earlier.

“Solstice” comes from the Latin solsitium, or “sun stands still.” On the solstice the sun will indeed appear to stand still as it reaches its highest point in the sky. This illusion occurs because the earth is tilted as far as it can toward the sun.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Fire is the element associated with summer and it has the power to illuminate our inner being as well as our external world. Summer is also associated with the energy of the Heart. Fire represents the energy of yang, strength, courage, passion and rejuvenation. Its power is felt most intensely in the summer months.

During the summer I encourage you to focus on the connection between the Heart and  the Kidneys, located on either side of your spine, on the edge of your lower ribs. The Kidneys represent the element of Water and can help balance excess fire, which is the element associated with the Summer solstice.

Have fun this summer by exercising outdoors, hiking, engaging in social events like BBQs etc and remember to offset these activities with meditation, relaxation, and generally recharging your batteries. When we don’t seek out balance we may feel  typical “summer symptoms” related to heat/yang such as excess body heat, sweating, feeling parched, skin dryness, the inability to focus, agitation, nervous exhaustion, heartburn and insomnia and general restlessness.

Here are a few tools to balance Fire:

• Consider getting up a bit earlier and make the most of exercising in the morning sun before it gets too hot; Try to walk fast enough to break a bit of a sweat, but don’t overdo it. The heart is more vulnerable in the summer, so build up your exercise routine gradually.

• Walk barefoot on the grass!

• If you’re staying up later, make sure your bedroom is cool and dark enough to help you sleep.

• Eat well. Choose cooling foods that will nourish the yin. Fruits like watermelon, peaches and oranges; vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, corn and cucumbers; (For anyone with a weaker digestive system, lightly steam, stir-fry or grill your vegetables).

• Drink plenty of fresh water. You need to keep rehydrated. Your body will give a sigh of relief, thanking you.

• Breathe through stressful situations, and come all the way down into your belly and Kidneys with your breath.

• Get regular acupuncture treatments in the summer. An old Chinese medical text states that when you get treatments in the summer you will stay strong and healthy in the winter months.

Enjoy the longer summer days and bring the joy, love and happiness that’s inside you to life!

Chrysanthemum 3

Herbal Spotlight: Chrysanthemum

Last month we shone the herbal spotlight on ginger. For March, in keeping with the theme of Spring, we’re shining the spotlight on a beautiful herb called chrysanthemum.

In the modern Chinese Medicinal guides, the chrysanthemum is listed among the cooling herbs for “relieving the surface” (or “releasing the exterior”). The flowers are also often utilized to promote circulation, cool the body, preserve vitality, and provide some properties akin to those of the tonic herbs.

The chrysanthemum is sweet, bitter, and cool-natured, and according to Traditional Chinese Medicine has the potency to expel wind, clear away heat, calm the liver, improve acuity of sight, subdue inflammation, and expel toxic substances. It is used as an exterior syndrome relieving herb, pungent in flavor and cool in property, to treat wind-heat syndrome and swelling and it can even be used to treat cardiovascular diseases and hypertension due to it’s cooling and pressure/swelling relieving functions. High blood pressure is also a kind of “wind rising upward”, which can cause headaches, dizziness and light-headedness. Combined with honeysuckle flowers, chrysanthemums have been known to effectively reduce blood pressure.

When incorporated into a treatment, chrysanthemum tends to clear heat in the upper body. For conditions like the common cold, upper respiratory infection, and tonsillitis that are categorized as an external invasion of wind and heat in Traditional Chinese Medicine, chrysanthemum is usually combined with mulberry leaf, peppermint and platycodon root for relieving fever, headache and coughing. For red and itchy eyes, adding the flower to your diet can help nourish your Liver and benefit your vision, thus clearing visual discomfort.

One of the (many) benefits of the chrysanthemum as a herb, is that it is easy to make into a remedy without having to visit the clinic to have your formula prepared. “But how?” (I hear you asking excitedly!). Quite simply, one of the most effective ways to introduce chrysanthemum into your system is by drinking it as a tea! There is absolutely no complicated preparation needed to use this herb. Simply pick the best looking flowers and put them in a warm oven for an hour or so to dry the flowers out. Then, just drop them in hot water to make tea. To prepare the tea, dried chrysanthemum flowers are steeped in hot water (usually cooled slightly after boiling) in either a teapot, cup or, or glass. Often cane sugar is also added. The resulting drink is transparent and ranges from pale to bright yellow in color, with a floral aroma. In Chinese tradition, once a pot of chrysanthemum tea has been drunk, hot water is typically added again to the flowers in the pot (producing a tea that is slightly less strong) and this process is often repeated several times.

So if you’re feeling ‘herbally inspired’, go out and pick up a handful of chrysanthemum flowers, dry them out, and make tea (you can always add honey, licorice, or add the flowers to green tea). It will soothe your Liver, help your eyes, lower your blood pressure, and help your headache. Some practitioners say that it can even anti-oxidize and slow down the aging process.
Talk about a “flower power”!

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The Wood Element

The Spring Equinox on March 21st officially marked the end of winter and welcomed the onset of the season that’s often associated with re-birth, replenishment and rejuvenation.

People like to talk about “spring cleaning” at this time of the year pertaining to their homes, but more recently we’ve also become accustomed to upgrading our software or rebooting our operating systems when the performance is slow or sluggish. The times are changing!

To use the modern concepts, Spring is the perfect time for us to upgrade our own personal operating systems and to press the re-set button and develop better habits in the lead-up to the warmer months ahead.

As we start to wake up from our winter hibernation, and nature warms up around us, we can start to feel a lot more Yang in our environment. We start feeling more refreshed and our inner vitality slowly starts to blossom. Just picture the stunning cherry blossoms blooming in Japan at this time of the year. There’s even a term for viewing these amazing blossoms in Japan and it’s called “Hanami”.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Spring is associated with the Wood Element. After lying dormant throughout the colder months, the energy of wood literally springs forth to begin the “5 elements cycle” all over again. It is a time for us to grow (spiritually and emotionally), to set a new direction and to move forward.

This is the time of the year when your own personal wood element also starts to grow. After the isolation of winter you might feel propelled to venture out to experience the sun and the return of the warmer weather, and you may also seek the company of others more, as wood tends to want to expand outwards. This feeling of rejuvenation can also give us the inspiration to bring our creative energy to fruition.

Wood is at its best when it is strong, but can still sway in a strong wind. The Chinese like to use the analogy of bamboo … it grows fast, stands tall, yet it remains flexible and able to withstand the strongest wind – and so can we adapt to our ever-changing surroundings, even extremely tumultuous ones, if our Wood element is strong and nourished.

An imbalance of the Wood element often expresses itself in the tendency to judge others too harshly, of being edgy and irritable or overly anxious and unhappy in the present moment. Some of the more physical issues associated with imbalances in the Wood Element include muscle tension, headaches, digestive problems, and high blood pressure.

In Chinese Medicine the Wood Element is reflected in the functioning of the Liver. The Liver is said to control the free flow of our Qi and it wants us to expand to reach our fulfillment like a bamboo shoot stretching to reach the sun. It’s time to stretch out those limbs that may have stiffened during the winter!

Spring is the time to experience nature. Try getting outside for a brisk early morning walk or jog for 30 – 45 minutes at least 3 times a week. This will give your body a much-needed boost and will definitely prevent the Qi of the Liver from becoming stagnant – a major problem in our sedentary, stress-filled lives.
Allow new things into your life. Imagine what you would like to create, write new affirmations and make plans to make the dreams into reality.

It’s also the perfect time to start a healthy dietary regime. Add fresh green foods (liver foods) such as sprouts, lemon, wheatgrass, alfalfa, apple cider vinegar, radishes, dandelion and tender young leafy greens to your diet. It’s a good time of year to gently cleanse the liver to support the clear flow of its rising energy, clarity of vision and harmonious movement. The Liver is one of the hardest working organs in our body and it is easy to forget how much we put it through, especially during the more sluggish winter months.

There are so many other ways to press the restart button on your body and lifestyle at the start of spring. Come and visit us at the clinic any time to find out how we can help you grow stronger during spring. If you are feeling at odds with the seasonal changes happening around you, it’s the perfect opportunity to use acupuncture to help unblock ‘stuck’ energy that may arise from the frustration of not being able to move forward as quickly as the spring energy dictates.

Ginger

Herbal Spotlight: Ginger

Patients often ask me about the role of ginger in our overall health, circulation and in generally keeping our body’s Yin and Yang in balance.

Ginger is incredibly valuable for promoting health and wellness because it naturally stimulates good digestion and is often used to “fire up” a congested, clogged, sluggish or weakened digestion in patients.

In an earlier post this month, I wrote about the Water element. Ginger is also incredibly useful in drying dampness (Water) during the winter months as it helps the body to dispel cold.
Traditional Chinese Medicine considers ginger to have warm characteristics that help to improve the spleen and digestive systems to increase Spleen Qi and yang. Especially during winter, eating a little of ginger can help raise your Qi and yang energy. In Western term these functions may be called “boosting the Immune system”.

For those patients that I may have described as naturally having a warm constitution, be careful how much ginger you eat since you’re already warm and don’t want to overheat unnecessarily. A ginger tea taken once or twice daily should be fine for those constitutions.

Ginger root, in both its fresh form “Sheng Jiang” and its dried form, “Gan Jiang” stimulate our digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid, a process that is part of stimulating the transformation and transportation of the solids and fluids in Chinese Medicine. So its not just that ginger stimulates digestion, but that it aids in assimilation of nutrients making them more “bioavailable” in the blood stream, and with its warm, pungent nature helps to ignite the ministerial fire in Chinese Medicine.

Ginger’s fibrous rhizome is spicy and is also said to neutralize poisons in food, ventilate the lungs, and warm the circulation to the limbs. Today, many Chinese medicine practitioners use ginger in the treatment of cough (it acts as an expectorant) and common cold.

Ginger is typically also used in making teas as the powder is encapsulated for easy consumption. Personally I like to add smashed or sliced ginger to tea (as opposed to powdered ginger) and I will often dice it up to add to soups.

Here is one of my favorite recipes using this wonderful herb … give it a try some time!

Ginger and Spring Onion Porridge

(This is a very traditional porridge, cooked at home and also available for dim sum or yum cha. It will definitely help warm your circulation.)

Ingredients:
Small handful of rice (if you like oats, you may use these instead)

2 cups of water

1 inch of ginger chopped very finely

2tblsp spring onion

Instructions:
Boil the rice and water until the rice is soft. Add the ginger and spring onion and cook for another minute. You can add soy sauce to taste. Yup it’s that simple!

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The Water Element

San Francisco might be experiencing it’s annual burst of early Spring, but for all intents and purposes it is still Winter with so much of the country still blanketed in snow.

Winter is the season where nature ‘rests’ in preparation for the upcoming Spring and Summer months. While nature is hibernating, Winter encourages us to acknowledge both the coldness and darkness around us and the deeper and perhaps darker parts within us.

For many of us, it has been an emotionally challenging few months causing people to feel anxious and ungrounded. From a Chinese medicine perspective, the darkness and fear we might be experiencing are directly associated with the Water Element (the most Yin of all the five elements) and therefore the Kidneys which rule water metabolism and maintain homeostasis, a dynamic continual rebalancing. Traditional Chinese Medicine says that excess fear injures the Kidney energy while a dysfunction in the Kidney energy, in turn, increases our fear.

As the most yielding of all the elements, Water will break down even the hardest rock over time and find the path of least resistance to move around any obstacle. So Winter is a good time to learn to “flow” which means when uncomfortable feelings come up, try to breathe with them and allow them to naturally move through the body. When we resist these feelings, they tend to get blocked in the chest, since the Kidneys are not grounding these feelings, thus causing tension, anxiety, and a myriad of physical symptoms too, over time, such as high blood pressure and back pain.

In Chinese Medicine, the Kidneys store the Essence and consolidate the Qi that governs over our physiology, so by tonifying the Kidney energy, we correct physical and emotional imbalances associated with the Water Element. The Kidneys can be considered as the “mother organ” since they nourish all the other organs and consolidate our energy stores, as well as all of our fluids. The Kidneys are thus the anchor that supports all of our physiological processes by providing primordial energy (Essence, Yin, Yang) to the body as a whole.

Winter is the best time of year to build up Kidney energy. It is a time to rest, go to bed earlier and wake up later (part of your natural instinct to want to hibernate). Your diet should consist of hearty, warming foods like soups and stews. Walking, hiking and other gentle exercise like yoga and Qi Gong are also great for your kidneys.

Allow yourself to feel into what your body needs and rest as much as you can, but also balance this with light activities, breath work, and any activity that increases your circulation, so you don’t get stagnant . Just like water – it needs to flow in order to stay vital.

Acupuncture and Chinese herbs can also help correct deficiency and keep the kidneys strong. When the Kidney energy is strong you will regain the willpower to live life with focus and direction in spite of the current that you might feel pushing against you.

Winter teaches us to fully enjoy the powers of the season by surrendering and learning from what it has to offer us and Traditional Chinese Medicine gives us numerous mental, emotional, physical, and nutritional tools to help augment the water reserves within us.

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