Some of our favorite Herbs for Health contributors weigh in on the best herbs for summertime use.
Use cooling, bitter, and astringent herbs to brush your teeth and rinse your mouth with cool herbs, including neem and mint. Concentrate on sweet, bitter, and astringent tastes. A delicious mid-summer drink is a lassi (dilute yogurt shake) made with cilantro and cumin, or lime water with cumin or coriander powder. As a cooling drink in the evening, use cool milk with raw sugar, rose water, and blanched almonds. Good cooling herbs for summer teas include cumin seed, spearmint, chamomile, chrysanthemum, and honeysuckle. Jasmine, sandalwood, and rose are cooling scents to use during the summer heat.
—K. P. Khalsa
I get heavily into toasted sesame seeds in the summertime. I use them year-round, but more so in the summer. We wind up eating a lot of cold dishes: grain salads, gazpacho, etc., and the nutty flavor and subtle crunch of sesame seeds are the perfect complement. Not to mention that they’re nutritious—high in calcium—and my kids like them.
—Michael Castleman, San Francisco
Nothing excites me more than seeing the bright-green shoots of nettles heralding the spring. Nettle is a wonderful edible, though it must be cooked, and can be substituted anywhere you would use spinach. It is wonderful in lasagna, spanakopita, soups, or stir-fries. I am able to get at least four complete harvests through the summer season. It is most tasty when kept short, so I harvest it every few weeks. When I can’t keep up with eating that much, I dry it or blanch and freeze it for winter enjoyment. If is gets too tall, I harvest it to the ground and make a big pot of tea and add it to bath water or use it as a hair rinse. It is rich in minerals and iron, and is primarily used for its nutritive, diuretic, and anti-allergenic effects.
—Mindy Green, Boulder, Colorado
My favorite culinary herbs for summer are basil, chives, and scallions. If I can find garlic chives or arugula flowers, I use these too. These pungent herbs enliven salads, salad dressings, and fish dishes; they make great garnishes for soups. Chinese herbalists say that the pungent flavor sparks the digestive fire and aids digestion. I use herbs and garnishes year-round, but particularly enjoy the abundance of fresh herbs from my local farmers’ market in the summer and fall. I also like herbal iced teas during the summer, particularly lemonade and iced rosehip tea (both are sour and astringent, very refreshing). I plan to try herbal lemonades this summer. I sweeten my teas with stevia extract powder or liquid.
—Rachel Matesz, Toledo, Ohio
The first herb that comes to mind is lemon balm. It grows beautifully in my garden, in the face of my on-again, off-again horticultural attention. I like mints in general—thyme, basil, rosemary, sage, spearmint, peppermint, oregano, marjoram, and lavender. I grow all in my garden, with the exception of basil, which doesn’t seem to tolerate neglect. Of all the mints, I think lemon balm is the most beautiful and tasty. I like the way it grows in tidy mounds. When I do find time to actually weed, I like to nibble fresh lemon balm leaves. Ah, that taste and aroma. I do believe that eating the leaves calms me and makes me feel more centered. And it has so many other good qualities: antiviral, antibacterial, diaphoretic, antispasmodic, and carminative. I dry it for later use it in teas, tinctures, and syrups—which all come in helpful during the winter cold and flu season.
—Linda B. White, M.D., Golden, Colorado
The Chinese love to drink chrysanthemum tea in the summer as it cools the body during the hot summer months. Also, mung beans and black soybeans are frequently used now, again for their cooling action.
—Lesley Tierra Santa Cruz, California
I can’t give just one, but here are the top seven!
1. Sweet basil for pesto
2. Sweet woodruff for May Bowls
3. Chopped chive foliage and flowers for German potato salads at picnics
4. Fresh celandine juice for warts
5. Wormwood alcohol tincture for topical fungal infections
6. Chopped lovage
7. Bronze fennel in salads and soups
I can’t stop . . .
My all-time favorite summertime herb is fresh peppermint. I enjoy its refreshing taste and flavor as a stand-alone herbal iced tea, as a garnish for fruit sorbet desserts (especially with lemon, lime, and berries), and as an ingredient for tabbouleh. Peppermint is high in antiviral and antioxidant properties. In addition, as a tummy soother, flatulence eliminator, and menstrual cramps eradicator, peppermint is one of my all-time favorite “comfort herbs.”
—Ann Louise Gittleman, Bozeman, Montana
Sometimes they are so beautiful we forget that they are an herb, but the rose is my favorite summer herb. I dry rose petals throughout the summer to save later for later use. Crushed rose petals make a nice addition to tea. They can help with nervousness, depression, and stress. Rose is very good for the skin, especially for dry and aging skin. I make rose water by boiling the petals in water and then use it on my face as a toner or use it to make a cream. In the fall, I collect the fruit, or the hips. This I use in tea—the hips are packed with vitamins, especially C. They can also be used in crafts—children especially like to string the hips to make chains. Some people also use the hips to make jelly or wine, or even in baking bread, which I have never tried.
—Cindy Jones, Lakewood, Colorado
My favorite summertime herbs for culinary use are thyme, basil, and rosemary—of course, with garlic—a natural combination. Add some olive oil and you have a tasty medicinal food that goes well with most summertime fare: pasta, good crusty bread, salad, etc. With an herbal combination like this as part of your daily dietary repertoire, your health is likely to stay good, so you are unlikely to have to run to your herbal medicine chest for much more!
As for teas, the cooling delights are spearmint, peppermint, lemon balm, and hibiscus. Together and alone, these make tasty teas that are lively to the palate and help beat internal heat. Very refreshing! Mints make excellent additions to salads, tabbouleh, and many other summertime dishes. Try a few sprigs of mint chopped into a fruit salad or blended into a strawberry smoothie.
—Aviva Romm, Canton, Georgia
I just wouldn’t brave the summer months without my aloe vera plants. The cooling fresh gel is a compounding staple in our pharmacy. A must for summertime first-aid kids, aloe vera gel provides cooling, moisturizing relief to irritated skin. Soothe the sting of insect bites with a fresh poultice (split open a plump leaf with a lengthwise cut and apply gel-side down to the site), or keep a high-quality commercial variety on hand in the refrigerator for icy relief in a hurry. A ready stash of aloe vera makes it easy to customize a quick remedy according to your needs; the fresh or commercially available gel makes a light, natural base for a variety of easy topical rubs. Try a dab of triple antibiotic ointment or a few drops of tea tree oil as an additive. Mixed into aloe vera gel, they provide an antiseptic boost that will help prevent infection from insect bites or minor cuts.
—-Kathy Azmeh, R.Ph. , Austin, Texas
My favorite herb would have to be sage. I fell under the spell of sage one summer when friends gave me a hefty pile from their waist-high patch. While cleaning it, I experienced firsthand sage’s calming properties. Sage has a long history of ceremonial use by North American First Peoples. The smoke from burning bundles of sage purified the setting for sacred rituals. Sage does have antiseptic properties and that makes it a great herb for spritzers. I love the tender varieties of fruit and pineapple sage because of their lighter scent that goes so well with summer fruit dishes and barbecued fish.
—Pat Crocker, Hanover, Ontario, Canada
It’s so difficult to choose my favorite herb! But here are two (of my many favorites).
I love the beauty of echinacea in the late summer garden. The flowers last for weeks in the garden, attract butterflies, and they make wonderful cut flowers. I also enjoy making my own tincture, and harvest flowers in the summer, followed by roots in the fall.
Another of my favorites is anise hyssop. It’s a pretty plant, with violet flower spikes, and it’s a great butterfly and bee plant. I often pick a leaf or two to chew on while working in the garden—it has a delicious anise flavor, and makes a tasty tea.
—Laurel Vukovic, Ashland, Oregon
I celebrate nettles from April until October. I constantly collect the young tops to make nettles juice. Nettles pesto is a family favorite, and nettles tea is a daily delight. Nettles builds the blood, provides a wide range of minerals, and makes one feel blessed with health.
—Brigitte Mars, Boulder, Colorado
Lemon balm is easy to grow in the garden and prolific. It is full and leafy during the summer. It’s excellent as an infusion or sun tea for digestive upset, nausea, gas, nervousness, and mild insomnia.
Lemon verbena has got to be one of the best-flavored teas of all time. It has the clean refreshing taste of fresh lemons, but something more—some flavor zip that’s even better. It makes a great addition to green tea. Add 1/4 part of the dried leaves to your favorite green tea and steep for 15 minutes, strain, and drink.
—Christopher Hobbs, Santa Cruz, California
Violet is a lovely little plant that graces many yards and partially shaded areas. The purple blossoms are exquisitely beautiful and add delight to any salad. I like to gather them and freeze them in ice-cube trays to float in iced tea that is made from the leaves for a deliciously cooling summertime drink. Violet leaves are known for their cooling and soothing properties. The soothing properties will aid in sleep and will calm nervous tension. The wonderful heart-shaped leaves are a great reminder to honor our hearts and to remember that our hearts rule supreme. In Plant Spirit Medicine, this plant is given for those who have forgotten that the heart is the supreme controller and have let the mind take over this position. Violet places the heart back in its rightful position and allows us to make decisions and walk through life from a heartfelt place.
—Pam Montgomery, Danby, Vermont
At the moment, my favorite summertime herb is lemon verbena, because it’s so wonderfully pleasant, so lovely, so aromatic, and so delicious. You can take a fresh sprig, add it to just about any tea, medicinal or otherwise, and your taste buds will be hopping with a flavorful rush of light lemon and summertime sweet. This fragrant plant adds so much to the garden as well. A lovely lemon-green with the freshest, most aromatic scent in the herb garden, second to none—I love this plant. It only grows well in the summer months here in these northern parts, and though others have successfully babied a lemon verbena through six months of winter, mine always succumb to the long, dark months. A healthy lemon verbena, potted or planted in the most obvious place in the garden, is a signature of all that is pleasant about summer to me.
—Rosemary Gladstar, East Barre, Vermont
Herbal Pharmacology. July 18 and July 25 in Santa Cruz, California. Learn about the active constituents of herbs. The class will cover alkaloids, glycosides, essential oils, and more. Contact Jeanine Pollak at Botanic Adventures, (831) 425-3376.
Herbs for Graceful Aging. July 13 at Sunrise Herbal Remedies in Bethel, Connecticut. This class is complimentary and includes slides, handouts, refreshments, and prizes. Preregistration is required. Contact Sunrise Herbal Remedies, 35 Codfish Hill Rd., Bethel, CT 06801; (203) 794-0809; www.sunriseherbfarm.com.
Lavender Distillation from Plant to Essential Oil. July 13 in Santa Barbara, California. Learn distillation in the field with Jeanne Rose, sponsored by the Aromatic Plant Project. Contact the Aromatic Plant Project, (415) 564-6785; www.aromaticplantproject.com.
The Ottawa Valley Herb Association’s Seventh Annual Midsummer Herbfest. July 28 in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. Enjoy a variety of demonstrations on all aspects of herbs, herb garden tours, music in the gardens, tea sampling, a pesto contest, and a great market of herbal wares and wonderful food. Contact Debbie Luce, (613) 821-0456; www.herb4all.com.
Planting the Future Annual Membership Meeting and Conference. July 20 at Sage Mountain Herbal Retreat Center in East Barre, Vermont. Join United Plant Savers for workshops and demonstrations from teachers such as Steven Foster, Rosemary Gladstar, Pam Montgomery, and 7Song. Contact Nancy Scarzello, (802) 479-9825; www.plantsavers.org.
Wild Herbal Weekend 2002 with Brigitte Mars. July 20–21 in Boulder, Colorado. This summer celebration will include
wild plant walks, a wild food meal, herbal preparations, and wilderness skills. Contact Brigitte Mars, (303) 442-4967.
The Eleventh Annual Basil Festival. August 3 at Sycamore Herb Farm in Paso Robles, California. The festivities will include a pesto contest, a 5K run, information about growing basils, wine tasting, live music, children’s activities, and drawings for free prizes. Contact Sycamore Farms, (800) 576-5288; www.sycamorefarms.com.
The Fifteenth Annual Women’s Herbal Conference. August 23–25 in the Monadnock region of southern New Hampshire. Participate in more than sixty workshops on women’s health taught by herbalists such as Rosemary Gladstar, Kathi Keville, Juliette de Bairacli Levy, and Feather Jones. Contact Katie Pickens, 2984 Elmore Pond Rd., Wolcott, VT 05680; www.sagemountain.com.
Herbs for Blood and Heart. August 15 and August 29 in Santa Cruz, California. Learn about herbs and nutrition for building blood, enhancing circulation, and tonifying the cardiovascular system. Contact Jeanine Pollak at Botanic Adventures, (831) 425-3376.
Identifying Medicinal Herbs and Making Herbal Salves. August 10 at La Paix Herb Farm in Alum Bridge, West Virginia. Participants will learn to recognize the healing herbs in gardens and woods at La Paix and will participate in making and packaging La Paix’s Comfrey Comfort Salve. Contact La Paix, (304) 269-7681; www.lapaixherbaljourney.com.
Natural Healthy Weight Loss. August 10 at Sunrise Herbal Remedies in Bethel, Connecticut. This class is complimentary and includes slides, handouts, refreshments, and prizes. Pre-registration is required. Contact Sunrise Herbal Remedies, 35 Codfish Hill Rd., Bethel, CT 06801; (203) 794-0809; www.sunriseherbfarm.com.
Rocky Mountain Herb Gathering. August 31–September 2 in Estes Park, Colorado. Teachers include Brigitte Mars, Paul Strauss, Mindy Green, and Cascade Anderson Geller. Half of the event’s proceeds will be donated to United Plant Savers. Contact the Rocky Mountain Center for Botanical Studies, PO Box 19254, Boulder, CO 80308; (303) 442-6861; www.herbschool.com.
Name: Pat Crocker
Hometown: Toronto, but for the past fifteen years has lived in the country near Hanover, Ontario.
Occupation: Crocker is a culinary herbalist, a writer, and a photographer. She has degrees in food and nutrition, consumer and family studies, and education. She came up with the term culinary herbalist because people wanted to call her an herbalist and she felt like that was misleading. “They were asking me to recommend remedies and I don’t do that, so I needed to make it clear that I’m not a medical herbalist,” she says.
Crocker is the author of Recipes from Riversong: Using Herbs in Lean, Green Cooking (Moulin Publishing, 1996); The Healing Herbs Cookbook (Robert Rose, 1999); and The Juicing Bible, co-authored with Susan Eagles (Robert Rose, 2000).
How did herbalism become a passion for you?
People who love to cook are naturally drawn to fresh ingredients. The whole aspect of healing plants, put on the earth for man’s benefit, is so intriguing for me. When we were living in the cabin, this man who lived nearby came in with a terrible skin condition. He tried my comfrey skin cream and it cleared him up. I had gathered this comfrey practically right from under his own doorstep. The solution to his problem was there every day of his life and he hadn’t known it.
What’s your favorite herb?
I love sage. One year sage really talked to me. I was at a market and this lady started talking to me about her overgrown sage, so I went to see her and this sage had grown waist high! I brought it home and as I washed it, this incredible calmness came over me. I guess the essential oils got into my hands. I’ll never forget the feeling of tranquility that came over me that day.
What is your daily routine of herbal therapies?
I’m taking ginkgo of course, but I also have a hormonal-balancing morning tea. I make cleanser, toner, and creams for my skin. One of the things I don’t make but have been enjoying tremendously is the lavender tincture I bought at Purple Haze.
How was moving to the country a transition for you?
When people are moving in the fast-paced city environment, they get stressed out. That happened to me and I felt like I needed to take a long drink at the well. I was really interested in culinary herbs, and started to read everything I could about them. I would read and decide which herbs to work with each summer and would focus on those to learn everything I could about them. I began to make simple remedies for my family, and then other people started to become interested so I began to give workshops.
I did Riversong herb walks for years. We would gather wild herbs as we went, I would talk about each one, and then we’d go back and make a meal from those herbs. It was different in every season. I developed a large repertoire of recipes from those walks and decided to put them into cookbooks.
What is your favorite lunch?
It’s my grilled shiitake mushrooms with goat cheese from The Healing Herbs Cookbook. Here is the recipe.
Tailor this delicious, light meal to the seasons by using shredded root vegetables in the winter and spring/summer/fall greens when available. Try substituting shiitake mushrooms for wild.
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 large clove garlic, chopped
2 cups wild mushrooms such as chanterelles or oysters, sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
4 ounces soft goat cheese, cut into rounds
4 cups fresh greens or shredded root vegetables
2 tablespoons chopped fresh hyssop or sage
2 tablespoons fresh tarragon
2 tablespoons fresh chervil
1/2 cup fresh nasturtium flowers, optional
1/2 cup fresh chive flowers, optional
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lightly oil a baking sheet. In a skillet over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the chives and garlic; cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for 1 minute or until barely tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Using a slotted spoon, lift the mushrooms out of the pan and onto the prepared baking sheet. Divide the mushroom mixture into 4 portions on the baking sheet, and place 1 ounce of the goat cheese in the center of each portion. Bake for about 4 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt but not brown. Meanwhile, wash and dry the greens, herbs, and flowers. Divide the greens into 4 portions and arrange on plates. Add the remaining oil to the skillet. Heat and stir to collect pan juices and bits from the mushrooms. Add the vinegar and simmer until slightly reduced. Spoon the hot mushroom mixture over the greens mixture; drizzle with the hot oil and vinegar. Serve immediately.
Ann Louise Gittleman
Summer, powered by the fiery element of the sun, sets the stage for energy, vitality, growth, and maturation. Flowers are in bloom, fruits and vegetables become plentiful, and vegetation flourishes. Your body’s innate wisdom causes its inner fire to move nearer to the surface and cool you down so you’re feeling energized for a season packed with activities. This natural cycle of motion creates the perfect season to focus on your heart.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, when the “fire” element of your heart becomes out of balance due to heat and dehydration, you can experience palpitations, dizziness, and weakness. You can also become uneasy, irritable, restless, and suffer from insomnia. Your skin may appear reddish, your cheeks are often flushed, and you may have a bulbous or red nose.
Summer is also the time to focus on your small intestine. Linking the stomach to the large intestine, your twenty-three-foot-long small intestine changes the food you eat into useful elements—such as glucose, fatty acids, and amino acids—with help from enzymes in the pancreas and bile from the liver and gallbladder. Keeping the small intestine cleansed is vital for the overall health of the body. If your intestinal lining becomes coated with mucus, nutrient absorption is greatly diminished, which zaps your immune system and opens the door to food allergies and a number of digestive disorders. Having an impaired digestive tract causes the loss of essential nutrient building blocks, resulting in poor-quality skin, hair, and nails, as well as indigestion, with its accompanying bloating, gas, stomach pain, and constipation.
Enjoying the energy of the season will be easier as you follow my Living Beauty Detox Diet program for summer. You’ll not only provide your heart and small intestine the care they need, but you will also be mapping out a foundation for well-being and enhanced beauty.
Rose hips (Rosa spp.) tea is my summertime herbal beverage of choice because it is a good source of vitamin C and bioflavonoids—important for a healthy heart, blood vessels, circulation, immunity, and the integrity of the GI tract’s mucosal lining.
Garlic (Allium sativum) improves circulation, normalizes high and low blood pressure, and lowers blood lipid levels. Use garlic, cayenne, fennel seed, coriander, and oregano in your summertime cooking to further support your heart and small intestine.
Summer is the time for cooling foods, especially more raw fresh fruits and fiber-rich veggies that are not only deliciously purifying but also vital to eliminating summer heat from the system. The sun, which induces perspiration, also helps to release toxins during this time of the year. For the two-week summer cleanse, the foods to be consumed for breakfast, lunch, and dinner are from the food groups listed below.
This list is restricted to whole, natural foods without salt, vinegar, soy sauce, mustard, and most other herbs and spices with the exception of the detoxifying summer spices mentioned above. You may use unsalted chicken broth or beef broth for special dishes on the menu plans if you need liquids for basting or sautéing. You will also note that for summer, I have included sauerkraut—it helps increase beneficial bacteria in the GI tract.
Oils—1 tablespoon lignan-rich flaxseed oil; 1 tablespoon heart-smart virgin olive oil daily
Lean protein—at least 8 ounces per day. Choose from fish, eggs, lean beef, and poultry. For the fruit smoothie breakfasts, choose high-protein whey-based powders yielding at least 20 g of protein per serving
Vegetables—unlimited, raw or steamed, low glycemic, plus 3 tablespoons sauerkraut (health-food brands)
Fruits—3 whole portions daily. Choose from 1/2 medium banana, 1 cup berries, 1 small kiwi, 1 cup melon, 1/2 cup papaya, 1/2 medium mango, 1 medium nectarine, 1 medium peach, 3/4 cup pineapple, 2 plums, or 11/4 cup watermelon
Filtered water—8 glasses a day With or between meals—2 cups of rose hips tea daily
Upon arising—two 8-ounce glasses of water Before breakfast—1 cup rose hips tea Breakfast—Enzyme-Rich Papaya/Banana Smoothie (blend 1/2 papaya, 1/2 banana, 8 ounces water, 1 scoop unflavored protein powder, and 1 tablespoon flaxseed oil)
Mid-morning—two 8-ounce glasses of water
Lunch—Summer Beauty Niçoise (made with 3 ounces water-packed tuna, olives, green beans, and tomatoes on romaine lettuce with 1 tablespoon olive oil and lemon juice); 3 tablespoons sauerkraut with 1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
Mid-afternoon—two 8-ounce glasses of water
Before dinner—1 kiwi
Dinner—3 ounces charcoal-broiled Cornish game hen with garlic and pureed summer squash; Cooling Gazpacho (made with 2 tomatoes, peeled and seeded, 1/2 cucumber, peeled and seeded, 1/4 chopped onion, and 1/2 cup ice water, blended until smooth with a dash of cayenne); sliced jicama with lime; 1 cup rose hips tea
Mid-evening—two 8-ounce glasses of water 8
Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., C.N.S., is one of the foremost nutritionists in the United States. She is the author of The Fat Flush Plan (McGraw Hill, 2001), Eat Fat, Lose Weight (Keats, 1999), and Why Am I Always So Tired? (Harper San Francisco, 1999).
Last year, a lecture on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) by Raymond Chang, M.D. at the New York Botanical Garden had ten attendees; this year, the number was closer to fifty.
The growing interest in Eastern methods of treatment is something that Chang, who trained as a doctor in China before becoming a cancer specialist in the United States, finds gratifying. He knows that TCM, practiced well, works for many conditions. Yet he is worried about the possibilities of quackery open to those who treat TCM as the latest healing fad. Chang, born in Hong Kong, gained his TCM training as Chinese doctors have done for millennia, by apprenticing for years to Chinese masters of herbal- and acupuncture-based medicine. At his practice in New York, he employs both Eastern and Western therapies for patients with cancer, infertility, and other difficult conditions.
“There are many things which Chinese medicine can help—fertility, for example—but kidney stones will not be helped by acupuncture,” says Chang. “Some alternative doctors will tell patients not to get chemotherapy. Our determination is based on whatever [we think] is best for the patient.”
Those who decide to try TCM should realize that it is a very complex diagnostic system: A visit to a TCM practitioner, rather than self-treatment, is essential. The TCM doctor will ask detailed questions about one’s family history, symptoms, general state, thirst and appetite, feelings of hot or cold, energy level, elimination, and mood. One big difference between TCM and Western medicine is this reliance on patient input. Another is the use of the pulse and the tongue as diagnostic tools.
According to Chang, the tongue’s appearance (its coating, thickness, and color) changes daily. As the tip of the digestive system, the tongue reflects what is going on in the body. The pulse gives information about various organs and bodily states. “To a Western doctor, the pulse is either rapid or slow, erratic or steady,” he says. “A Chinese doctor might describe the pulse as ‘bounding’ or ‘flat,’ ‘thin’ or ‘watery,’ ‘a shallow brook,’ or ‘a rough ocean.’ It’s a matter of reading individuals very closely.”
Individualized diagnosis springs from a crucial difference between the Eastern and Western idea of the body. In the West, certain facts about human anatomy and physiology are seen by practitioners as immutable: The heart is a pump, the kidneys a filter, blood is made of red and white cells, and so on. To understand TCM, says Chang, it’s important to abandon the preconceptions we have about the body and its organs. In TCM, the heart is seen not as a pump but as the seat of the emotions; the kidney is seen as the stronghold of the will. Furthermore, blood is considered not as red cells, white cells, and platelets in TCM—blood is the fluid that nourishes and moisturizes the body. It also houses the shen (or spirit) and aids in the development of clear and stable thought processes.
There are also extra “basics” within the body. Qi (pronounced “chee”) is translated as “vital energy,” the energy that underlies everything in the universe. In the body, qi is the source of activity and movement. If the qi becomes deficient or blocked, decreased energy, decreased resistance to disease, and an inability to keep warm will result. Another vital basic is “jing,” which is translated as “essence.” Jing is crucial to the development of the individual throughout life.
The concepts of yin and yang are also fundamental in TCM. The Chinese character for “yin” translates as “the dark side of the mountain.” It represents dark, cold, stillness, passivity, and interior. The Chinese character for “yang” translates as “the bright side of the mountain” and represents light, warmth, activity, and exterior. In TCM, the healthy state is achieved by maintaining a dynamic balance between the yin and yang aspects of the body.
In TCM, not only does each patient receive individualized diagnosis, but treatment is individualized as well. It is believed that each person possesses an inborn harmony or balance between all of the organs of the body and the other basics: blood, qi, jing, and bodily fluids. The organs are connected by channels. Says Chang: “These are not anatomical channels, they are `virtual’ channels or meridians through which energy flows. When external factors affect this flow, throwing off the four duality pairs of yin/yang; surface/interior; heat/cold; and vacuity/excess, the body becomes ill.”
Treatment consists of the ingestion of herbs and other natural materials, and sometimes the application of acupuncture, to do one or more of the following: clear heat, expel dampness, release exterior, dissolve phlegm, tonify, reduce stasis, calm the spirit, or expel wind.
Chang cautions against the Western love of the quick fix when it comes to using herbs as medicine. He does not approve of pill popping, even if it’s an herbal pill. “There is a reason for using hot water with the herbs, bark, or roots: Essential oils are released, and the treatment is better digested,” says Chang. But many of us are not as likely to spend the time measuring and brewing raw herbs (some herbs take up to ten hours to decoct) as we are to swallow a pill. Chang admits that many people object to the taste of herbal decoctions, many of which, he says, can be “pretty nasty.”
These objections may be the reason that more Americans choose acupuncture over Chinese herbalism. In China, herbalism is used by 90 percent of the public; only 10 percent use acupuncture. But Americans like to see procedures being done, Chang says, and acupuncture is a procedure that often brings immediate results. Chinese herbalism is a more measured sort of treatment than most of us think we have time for. Chang believes emphatically that the extra time is well spent.
Nancy Allison is a frequent contributor to Herbs for Health and The Herb Companion.
A recent clinical study showed that an herbal oil formula was just as effective as conventional anesthetic ear drops in easing the pain of acute otitis media (ear infection) in children older than six. The herbal formula, a combination of garlic (Allium sativum), mullein (Verbascum spp.), calendula (Calendula officinalis), and St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) in olive oil, is a classic treatment that has long been used by traditional herbalists for childhood earaches.
For the double-blind study, 103 boys and girls between the ages of six and eighteen were randomly assigned to two treatment groups. The first group received treatment with the herbal oil formula and the other with standard anesthetic ear drops, both at a dosage of five drops three times daily. After treatment was initiated, patients and parents assessed pain relief at home using a ten-point “Pain-O-Meter” evaluation scale specially designed for children, and the doctors conducted phone interviews with the children on days one and two of treatment. Treatment was deemed successful if the child experienced a reduction in ear pain of at least 75 percent after forty-eight hours of treatment and if there was overall improvement in the child’s appearance, activity level, and sleep patterns.
The two treatments were equally effective in relieving ear pain. Because none of the children were treated with antibiotics, the researchers made a point of noting that all of the children recovered without antibiotics and that there were no complications due to the lack of antibiotic treatment. “Decreased use of antimicrobial agents might delay the development of antimicrobial resistance in both the individual child and the community,” the researchers observed. “Herbal extracts have the potential to meet all the requirements of an appropriate medication that could be used routinely in the pediatric population.” For children older than six, they suggest, antibiotic treatment for otitis media might be reserved for use only if herbal treatment proves ineffective.
According to the researchers, childhood otitis media is a generally self-limiting condition that accounts for more than 31 million doctor visits each year, making it the most common condition for which children are seen by doctors. 8
Sarrell, E. M., et al. “Efficacy of naturopathic extracts in the management of ear pain associated with acute otitis media.” Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine 2001, 155(7): 796–799.
The Green Nations Gathering, which will be held September 13–15, 2002 in the Catskill Mountains of New York, is in its fourteenth year of operation. In 1989, when we first began the conference, we were a small group of about sixty people gathering to learn about edible and medicinal plants, gather native wisdom, and to learn how to live more sanely on the earth. Now we are 400 strong and we come together each year to learn from each other, to network for the planet, to play, and to renew our commitment to live in beauty and walk in harmony on the earth, our partner.
The Green Nations Gathering offers many workshops on diverse topics for both the beginner and advanced student, ranging from assessment and natural treatment of cardiovascular disease to plant spirit medicine. Among the well-known teachers are Ryan Drum, Jeannine Parvati Baker, Stephen Buhner, David Winston, Matthew Wood, Donnie Yance, Amanda McQuade Crawford, Deb Soule, William LeSassier, and Kate Gilday. Our special guest this year is Elena Avila, a registered nurse, poet, actor, curandera, and author of Woman Who Glows in the Dark (Putnam, 2000). With wit and wisdom, Elena draws on her deep understanding of indigenous healing ways and modern Western approaches to weave a complementary web of healing for the whole being. Elena’s Saturday evening presentation will be “The Heart of Healing: Marrying Medicine and Spirituality.”
In addition to the regularly scheduled one-and-a-half-hour workshops, there are eight intensives, which are more in-depth and are four hours in length. The Green Nations Gathering is more than just an herbal conference. Throughout the weekend, purification lodges will be conducted in a traditional native manner by Ruchatneet of the Tuscarora Nation and Rainbow Weaver of the Mohawk/Seneca Nation.
Throughout the weekend, you may browse through the emporium and find books by your favorite teachers or wander through the 1,000-acre campus with a trout stream, lake, and wildflower-studded trails. All of this is complimented by excellent vegetarian meals (with meat options for those who want it) and lots of camaraderie. If you register by July 10, you can attend this extraordinary event for only $185 (does not include room and board). For further information, please visit www.partnereartheducationcenter.com or call (802) 293-5996.