Six years ago I found myself overweight, overworked and dealing with serious adrenal gland exhaustion, which left me tired and empty by mid afternoon daily. I made an executive decision to change my life and started studying Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic philosophy.
One of the most fascinating things I learned was that ancient Chinese medical doctors only got paid if their patients stayed well. This meant their methods of treatment centered around keeping people healthy and on life-affirming tonics and preventative medicinal foods rather than merely responding to spontaneous illness and disease. The maintenance of health was far more important then reacting to issues that would arise as a result of people not taking care of themselves. It was more common that a person was taught by their doctor how to stay healthy. In today’s world this concept is highly radical and the main reason our pharmaceutical industry is the massive behemoth that it is. Today we tend to see people largely ignoring preventative health so that by the time they get into the doctor’s chair, they are merely grasping for drugs and antibiotics for a quick fix. It is more widely accepted to treat the symptoms on the forefront of whatever chronic issues are brewing beneath the surface creating our utter dependence on the tit of industrial healthcare.
I have been relying on the preventative philosophies of TCM for five years now and am happy to report that I have not even had a common cold in all this time. Herbal medicine along with daily meditation, a devout yoga practice, regular time spent in nature, a holistic and sustainable, balanced diet and a commitment to coming from a place of love, grace, compassion and positivity rather than judgment, drama and toxicity has significantly altered my well being.
During this time of learning about my individual constitution, I have also come to learn of a few herbalist gems that are equally valuable across the board to everyone. In TCM, it is common for families to visit their Chinese pharmacist at the beginning of the week asking for a bag of the weekly soup. This soup is comprised of herbs, seeds, dried mushrooms, bark and other seasonal bits compiled for their special health benefits. Amongst these are universally potent ingredients such as dandelion root for the liver, jujube dates for the heart and the all mighty, ass-kicking astragalus.
Today, I use astragalus—a sweet smelling woody root, on a weekly basis to build a sort of internal army to ward off sickness and keep me running at an optimum level. Instead of bottles of pills in my medicine cabinet to be swallowed at the slightest sign of headache or cough, I stock a jar full of astragalus as my own private defense. Its many benefits include roles as immune system strengthener, aphrodisiac, energy and circulation stimulant, body warmer, diuretic and tonic for the kidney, spleen, lungs and blood. With its mellow taste, it makes a lovely infused tea, can be boiled directly in water for cooking rice, beans or lentils, or as a broth for soup or stock.
Good quality astragalus root should always be sought out for these purposes. The best bet is to visit your local Chinese pharmacy and buy it in bulk. You can also buy it online from a trusted resource like Mountain Rose herbs.
Here are some basic recipes from the book Tao of Nutrition (third edition) by Maoshing Ni, Ph.D., O.M.D. and Cathy McNease, B.S., Dipl. C.H.
For those suffering from anemia or looking for a traditional Chinese blood tonic, make your favorite chicken soup recipe but add ¼ cup of dried goji berries, one red jujube date, some dang gui root, 4-7 bits of astragalus root and fresh ginger root.
For weakness, boil meats like organic chicken in a pot with astragalus, ginger, scallions and ginseng.
For general immune system boosting maintenance, make a pot of congee, or traditional Chinese rice porridge, using the recipe below. This makes enough to have a little bit for one week for breakfast each morning.
Basic Congee Recipe
1 c. rice (white, brown, sweet or basmati)
5-10 c. water (depending on how thick or thin you want the dish to be)
5-7 pieces of astragalus root
Combine all ingredients and cook for about 4-6 hours on a low flame or overnight in a crock-pot. The finished congee can be seasoned with mild sea salt, miso or honey.
Newtopia Editor Kimberly Nichols is an artist, writer, social anthropologist and healer living in Los Angeles, California. Her conceptual works, literary fiction and creative nonfiction have been exhibited and published internationally. She is the author of the critically acclaimed collection of short stories Mad Anatomy (Del Sol Press, 2005) and is currently working on her second book. She is the owner of Tapping the Inner Palette, a company which utilizes the intuitive, spiritual, creative and healing arts to help people rediscover the inherent voice within as well as bring their authentic selves to fruition. She can be reached at Kimberly@newtopiamagazine.org.