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Herbal Explorations

Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By: JK DeLapp

"April showers bring May flowers." For most of us around the country, we are beginning to experience Spring in its fullness. We have spent the last month or so "watering" our Livers—and hopefully, after all that nourishment, we are ready to begin "flowering."

Prior to our mid twenties, our body´s primary realm of growth is that of the physical. Somewhere around the ages of 24-27, the season shifts to that of emotional and spiritual growth. But the roots of that growth are still founded in very physical practices...yoga, the internal and external martial arts, religious faith, and my favorite—the religious martial art of Culinary Jiu Jitsu!

But before we begin wrestling on our kitchen counters, I´d first like to talk about a few formulas that I think during this period of the year act as very good "vitamins"—essentially, we can add these to our diets to supplement and amend our nutritional inputs.

Transitioning from Winter to Spring, we are in need of warming and arousing the Yang, strengthening the Liver and it´s regulation of Qi, as well as fortifying the body against external attacks of Wind. I find that throughout the Spring, these general principles need to hold firm.

A few formulas to think about:

Yu Ping Feng San, "Jade Wind Screen"

I generally like to see patients add just a dose or two of this into their diets daily. Especially effective when taken in the morning—it helps build the body´s screen against External Wind Invasion. More than any time of year, I speak with friends and overhear more people talk about their headaches, insomnia, and irritable moods during the Spring (and with this year being an El Niño year...I´ve been a bit pissier than I prefer to be. Extra dose for me!) It´s quite simple to take a prepared form of this formula and add it into your "morning vitamins."

Shen Fu Zhu Yu Tang, "Kidney Mansion"

Jin Gui Shen Qi Wan, "The Golden Book"

These two formulas are great at nourishing the Kidney, the Mother of the Liver, as well as gently warming the interior. After a season of cold, with the embers smoldering in the hearth and the fire beginning to burn a little low--with the additional outward movement of warmth during the Spring--there needs to be some thought about keeping the interior properly warmed. I find both of these formulas to be very gentle, and are an excellent support to the Liver. Anywhere from 1-3 doses daily, depending on the patient, do quite a nice job.

Cod Liver Oil

A word about Cod Liver Oil (CLO). CLO supplements both the yin and yang, as well as fills the essence and strengthens the kidneys. A traditional amendment that has been taken by various cultures through all of history, CLO is an essential addition to the diet, especially in Spring. It is "gas" for the Liver, so to speak, for the rapid period of growth and transportation that so characterizes the Spring.

A phenomenal article I suggest you all read on CLO:

Sourcing: There are ONLY two companies whose product I would suggest you consume. The reason for this is, it is "industry standard" to remove all naturally occurring Vitamin A and D and then add back in synthetic Vitamin A and D into the product to "standardize" it. And who wants fake??? The two companies that I am currently aware of that do NOT do this are:

1. Green Pastures: www.greenpasture.org They are also the sole maker of High Vitamin Butter Oil, which I would suggest you take in conjunction with the CLO. The fermented CLO is more warming than the unfermented. I find this is best for people with "cold Livers"—especially in women that I find tend to run a bit cold, and in patients who have muscular and tendon contraction or stiffness due to cold (and liver yin xu, of course). If you call to order, be sure to tell Dave I said hello =) The Green Pastures brand is available only by ordering.

2. Garden of Life: www.gardenoflife.com Their products can be found in most health food stores and in larger chains such as Whole Foods and The Vitamin Shoppe.

I like this brand as a great back up.

Back to Food! Eating fewer carbs to aid the Liver´s regulation of blood sugar levels is a fantastic idea during the Spring. I´ve found in myself that I am most sensitive to unnecessary sugars in my diet during the Spring. And since Western Medicine confirms that it is the Liver that regulates the body´s blood sugar levels (through glycolysis and the regulation of insulin) it seems only wise to me to curb your carbs during this season.

Instead, our focus should be more on eating copious amounts of vegetables and spring fruits. Foods such as:

Onions: which are very moving for the Liver—so moving, in fact, that in many Taoist practices onions and garlic were to be avoided, due to their "emotional stirring"! haha But then again, have you ever rubbed your eyes after cutting onions? Maybe they were on to something..

Leeks: goodness...sautéed in butter and added to just about anything, and you´ve guaranteed repeat customers at your table!

Yams: Shan Yao, of course—but there are so many others out there! Jeweled Garnets, and Japanese Sweets are two of my favorites. A recipe to come on this one...

Wheat: One of the few foods attributed to directly nourish the Heart-Mind. Ideally suited for growth and development, which makes it an ideal food for the Spring. Especially good for children, the frail, and the elderly. Try to stay with organic to help with allergies, and for especially problematic allergies, try using Kamut, which is a much older strain of wheat.

Cilantro: a favorite of Yibin Wang, one of my Chinese teachers, cilantro aids in digestion and strongly promotes Qi flow. I happen to think it tastes great in just about anything—so add it as a finish to your soups and your cooked vegetables, and feel that Qi flow!

Sprouts: very yang in nature, they are a great way to add some yang to your own Spring growth!

Leafy Greens: Green, the color of the Liver. Do we need much explanation, here? Sauteed in butter, lightly steamed, or "water fried" in a wok, they taste fantastic. Add some garlic, salt, and soy sauce to finish and you´ll be smiling all day!

Strawberries: Lubricates the lungs (great for a dry cough), promotes body fluids, strengthens the Spleen, and detoxifies alcohol intoxication. Hmm..."consume with a bottle of red wine" is how that should read. With a date.

Do try to avoid foods that are too sour during the Spring, which can bee too astringing at a time when the Liver (and hence, your tendons and sinews) need to be flexible and bendy. Foods in particular to take it light with are the lacto-fermented foods, such as Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kim Chee, and so forth. They can become a bit restrictive to the flowing nature of the season if consumed too much.

With that being said...let´s cook!

This Month´s Recipes:

Sauteed Beets

Especially good for:
Beets nourish blood, tonify the Heart, calm the spirit, lubricate the intestines, and cleanse the Liver. Although we do not wish to over cleanse the Liver during the Spring, a little spring-cleaning never hurts. Be sure to warn your guests of their bathroom experiences the next day...that´s not blood they´re seeing in there!


3-5 Beets
Butter, Ghee, or Bacon Fat (reserved from making a high quality bacon)
Sea Salt


1. Pre-heat your oven to 400 °F.
2. Halve the beets, and then slice to desired thickness. Too thick, and they wont cook properly, too thin and they´ll burn. Use your best judgment. I cook this dish OFTEN—so have faith in yourself...you´ll perfect it soon enough!
3. Grease your pan. I prefer cast iron (which is almost exclusively what I cook in—the old stuff, not the newer. It´s a great idea to head to an antique store and invest in a few skillets. Griswolds, if you can find them. Mine are all 80-120 years old...best stuff in the world! Probably a 3, a 5 or 6, and an 8 or 9 inch). Earthenware, baking sheets, or stainless steel skillets that can be placed in an oven will work just fine.
4. Layer the beets around the edges. Make a pretty design. Without space to "breathe", the beets will steam, and give the dish a bit of a different taste and texture.
5. Bake for approximately 40 minutes, give or take. Stir after about 20 minutes in the oven. **The beets should be slightly caramelized, and a bit sweet due to this cooking technique.
6. Salt to taste

Pan-roasted Potatoes and Garlic; AKA JK´s Potatoe Morning Glory

Especially Good For:
Happy relationships and full bellies. Haha I jest...but seriously. Both regular and sweet potatoes tonify Qi and strengthen the Spleen and Stomach. Sweet potatoes also clear heat and detoxify toxic heat. For this recipe, I prefer to use two different kinds of sweet potatoes, as well as purple "Prince Albert" potatoes, which move blood and dispel nodules.


2 different kinds of sweet potatoes, 1 of each
2-3 medium-sized purple potatoes
Fresh minced garlic AND/OR "Garlic Herb Bread Blend", made by The Spice Hunter
½ Stick of butter (or ghee) or equivalent animal fat
Sea Salt
*Optional: Rosemary (a Western herb that moves Liver Qi)


1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Can cook alongside the beets, if making both together.
2. Dice Potatoes, and add to a cast iron pan (hopefully a size 9 or 10), or any oven worthy pan that you may have. Be sure to add some butter or other animal fat to the pan to properly cook and flavor the potatoes.
3. Mince garlic and add, or use the Garlic Herb Blend. The more garlic you add, the better tomorrow´s "Morning Glory" will be.
4. Rosemary to taste, if desired.
5. Cook at 400°F for 40 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes. Potatoes are finished when done all the way through. May wish to broil for 5 minutes to add a nice crisp to the dish.
6. Salt to taste.

Chrysanthemum Tea with Huang Qi

Especially Good For:
Moistens dryness of the Lungs, relieves cough, protects against wind, Clears the Liver and brightens the eyes. Great for windy days, and anyone that easily catches a Spring cold.


30g Chrysanthemum
10g Huang Qi
1 L of Water


1. Place the chrysanthemum, Huang Qi, and water in a pot or herb pot.
2. Bring to a boil. Continue to boil for 2 minutes, uncovered.
3. Strain and allow to cool to a drinkable temperature.
4. Add honey to taste, smile and enjoy!

Oven Roasted Spring Chicken

Especially Good For:
Pastured, young, Spring chickens, especially heirloom breeds of chickens, are full of yang. Tonifying Qi, nourishing blood, strengthening the Kidney, and benefitting the Spleen and Stomach. Look for them at farmers markets, get them from a friend that raises them, or even try raising a few for yourself (they´re great yard pets)—otherwise, any chemical-free chicken from the store will do. Fantastic for providing the yang and nourishment needed during the Spring season, to tonify weakness in the elderly, and to strengthen weakness after illness, blood loss, or surgery.


1 Pastured, Spring Chicken (2-5 pounds)
*If you can get the head, feet, and gizzards...high five! Make soup stock and reserve to make rice or soup tomorrow
Rosemary (to move a little Liver Qi)
Fresh ground pepper (to stimulate digestion)
Sea Salt
A few pats of butter


1. Preheat oven to 350°F
2. Rinse chicken inside and out.
3. Place in roasting pan, and cover in coarse ground pepper, sea salt, and rosemary. Place the pats of butter on top of the chicken, or slice skin and insert on top of the bird.
4. Roast at 350°F for 1 ½ hours, or until cooked through.**The potato dish, above—instead of cooking separately, can be cooked in the roasting pan with the bird. Just do not add the additional butter/fat, and allow the juices of the bird to add the flavor and moisture.
5. When finished cooking, remove from oven, allow to cool, transfer to a cutting board, carve, and serve!