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Herbal Explorations

Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By: JK DeLapp

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Feed me a good meal,
And I will love you!

Summer is here! Bursting forth in the beginning of all of its glory, the Vision of the Spring and the Joy of the Sun is upon us! OK, OK...maybe I´m feeling just a little poetic.

I´m not sure how sensitive others are to the change of the seasons, but it´s truly a miraculous thing for me to regard what is happening both in the world around me and in my body. Studying this medicine is wonderful, as it draws our focus to become acutely aware of the changes in and around us. I have always been aware of changes in the seasons, but this year, I noticed for the first time how just explosive my chest felt as the Season of Fire, the Reign of the Emperor entered the stage. Did anyone else out there feel it, too? Maybe I can blame it on El Niño and the amplification it is giving the weather this year...but it was none-the-less spectacular! So full of love!

Summer is a time of charcoal cookouts, hamburgers on the grill, strawberries and blackberries, peaches ripening on the branch, and trips to the beach. The very things, I dare say, that make us all American!

It is also a time of movement, of maturity, of our visions coming to fruition, generosity and sharing, joy, expression of the Inner to the Outer, and my favorite...Intimacy. Intimacy with our friends and family, intimacy with ourselves, and if you´re lucky–a little "summer lovin´, havin´ a blast"! Summer is all about connecting with the Divine within us, becoming fully involved in Life, and the distribution of warmth that the season brings. Summer is truly a time for friends and family...and what better way than to do that over a meal!

Summer is the season in which Qi and Blood tend to be vigorous in the body, and the entirety of our bodies tends to be that of a state of movement. External Heat can be a problem, leading to everything from diarrhea to sunstroke. Fortunately, food can support the Heart and help cool and moisten the body.

Sour and Salty flavors can help ease irritability and insomnia due to excess sweating. Fruits and vegetables, especially bountiful during this season, can help to provide the body with sufficient fluids and aid in digestion.

Foods to keep in mind for this season, especially on hot or humid days: ocean fish, bean sprouts, coix (Job´s Tears or Yi Yi Ren), lotus root, watermelon, mung beans, tomatoes, seaweeds (especially kelp), and soymilk (**not something I generally recommend people consume, since it is not properly prepared in this country–so try to get freshly made soymilk, or learn how to make your own). White wine is less warming than red. And Japanese Plum wines provide just enough of the sour to help with sweating. Not to mention...it´s delish! These foods will help cool and moisten our bodies, as well as gently eliminate the dampness that is often accompanied with the Summer.

Foods to limit during the hot and damp months to come: beef, lamb, and goat (a day of eating here and there will not hurt you–otherwise, they are too warming for the average person), oily and fried foods, and foods that are too hot or acrid (things that are too spicy or "hot"). Avoid warming or hot curries. In general, it´s best to eat light foods–things that don´t weigh down the Body or Spirit too much. Otherwise, we are sure to be visited by rashes and skin problems, restlessness, poison oak and ivy, sleep disorders, and difficulty with digestion and elimination.

Knowing full well that, as Americans, we will be eating meats and cooking out, some Bao He Wan would be great to have on hand. Making Shan Zha tea (Hawthorn Berry), either hot or iced (I know...I said iced!) will help with meats and fatty foods, and is also great for lowering high cholesterol.

A word about Sunburn
Sunburn is one of those funny things...it´s as if we are over consuming liquid joy! Some are more sensitive to the sun on their skin than others. For very photosensitive patients, I suggest nourishing Qi, Blood, and Yin, especially that of Liver Blood and Yin. Taking 2-3 doses a day of Liu Wei Di Huang Wan along with Ba Zhen Tang is a great way to do this, as well as getting adequate sleep. I often find Liver Blood deficient people burn worse than anyone else. It is also thought that red headed individuals tend to burn more, as well. However, if you consider that most red heads tend to run on the warm side (I mean, they have red heads, for crying out loud!), it will make more sense that the added Heat from the sun would act as an external pathogen and cause them to burn.

Personally, I think it has less to do with the pigment in your skin, and more with your body´s ability to "digest" the sunlight, along with keeping adequately moistened and cool. Western medicine speaking...it is your Liver that converts the liquid sunshine into Vitamins A &D, which both actually function as hormones. Funny...it is your Liver that governs much of your endocrine system.

As we all know, sunburn is an issue of too much Heat in the skin, consuming Fluids and damaging Skin. What we don´t think about is that the Skin is also referred to as our Third Lung. Keeping that in mind, you wont be too surprised at what I say next...

Sunburn can actually damage your Lungs! One of the best remedies for sunburn is Bai Ren Shen–Chinese White Ginseng! Xi Yang Shen–American Ginseng, is also a great remedy. To be honest...I can´t tell which one works better!

We have my friend and fellow herbalist Nathan Hart to thank for drawing my attention to this unique use of Ginseng. The way to prepare and apply it will be listed below with the recipes.

From the Readers
Some of our readers were also curious to begin learning about a few herbs that could be incorporated into any of the meals that we make. We forget that many of the herbs in our pharmacopeia are also food herbs, and were first discussed at length in the old manuscripts in the context of daily meals. So I think I will begin discussing a few herbs that can be used in just about anything that you feel you might wish to conjure up in your kitchens. Please do keep in mind that some herbs may be more suited to one season than another, as is the case with this month´s herbs–but in general, these herbs should be safe to use for your general palate.

Chi Xiao Dou–Adzuki Beans
Sweet and Sour in flavor, and Neutral in temperature, Adzuki beans enter the Heart and Small Intestine channels to drain Dampness and relieve Toxicity. Add them to soups or rice dishes, or great in congee. Need to be soaked–so follow the proper preparation directions. Commonly used as a food for patients with Xiao Ke (what we might call Diabetes).

Ku Gua–Bitter Melon
Bitter in flavor and cold in temperature, Bitter Melon enters the Stomach, Heart, and Liver channels. A perfect vegetable for the summer months, it clears Heat, addresses thirst from warm diseases or Summer Heat, and treats visual problems with redness or pain in the eyes. True to its name, Bitter Melon is BITTER. If you have not cooked with it before, I suggest you refer to an Asian cookbook (such as "Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen") for proper preparation techniques. It´s not difficult–do don´t be afraid! When prepared properly, this vegetable is delicious–and is a very effective vegetable for the warm and damp months! Check your local Asian market to purchase this fresh.

Gou Qi Zi–Goji or Wolfberries
Sweet in flavor and neutral in temperature, Goji Berries enter the Liver, Lung, and Kidney channels to nourish Liver Blood and Yin, benefit the Essence, and improve vision. A great ingredient for building Liver Blood to treat menstrual bleeding issues due to blood deficiency, vision problems, aging, and dryness of the skin and hair. It´s also red–which is the color of Summer. As it is nourishing the Liver, the Mother of the Heart, Goji Berries indirectly nourish the Heart to treat insomnia and heavy dreaming due to Heart Blood Deficiency. Rarely eaten uncooked in China, add these berries to soups, stews, congee, and rice dishes, or simply add a handful to a cup and cover with boiling water for a pleasant cup of tea. You can add some Ju Hua (Chrysanthemum flowers) to help clear Liver Heat. Remember to avoid overly red berries, as these commonly have dyes added to them, especially when purchased at a market. Eat the berries when you´re finished, of course!

Ge Gen–Kudzu Root
Sweet and pungent in flavor and cooling in temperature, Kudzu Root enters the Spleen and Stomach channels to dispel Wind from the Exterior, release the muscles, clear Heat, and generate Fluids. A destructive pest where I am from in the South, yet a prized and cultivated food in the East. Commonly substituted for thickening agents, Kudzu Root is a simple ingredient to incorporate into your cooking. Used to treat headaches, fever, stiffness or pain in the neck and shoulders, hypertension, Heat-related diarrhea, and alcohol addiction. I commonly use Ge Gen in soups and rice dishes, or on hot days just for it´s cooling and moistening properties. Very easy to use as a thickening agent, as well. If you remember, this ingredient was called for in last month´s seafood recipe.

Sang Shen–Mulberry Fruit
Sweet in taste and cold in temperature, Mulberries enter the Heart, Liver, and Kidney channels to nourish Yin and Blood, promote generation of Fluids, and moisten the Intestines. Sometimes found on the shelves of natural grocery stores (the best common products coming from Turkey), or purchased through an herb dealer, this makes a great addition to rice, congee, soups, or tea to treat prematurely graying hair, tinnitus, insomnia, constipation (due to Heat), dizziness, and blurry vision. I actually like to add these to red wine, just uncorking and adding a handful or so after drinking a little of the wine to make room, recorking, and letting it set for a day or two. Also quite tasty when cooked with rice.

Now let´s talk about some food!

Historically, meat was consumed the least during the warm summer months, as meats and poultry tend to be warm to hot. In general, meat supplements Qi, builds Blood, and stimulates Yang. Ideal for counteracting fatigue, quickly replenishing stamina from physical exertion, childbirth, or illness, and are invigorating for the weak or lethargic. However, excess consumption of meat can be detrimental, especially during the hotter months of the year. Go figure...what could be more American than eating a huge steak right off the grill!

All meat is warming to some degree, but listed from coolest to warmest:

-Duck, pheasant, quail, and other game birds are the coolest of the meats. These make for great summer dishes. Also great for Xiao Ke, or diabetes.

-Pork, which moistens and nourishes the organs to address dryness and thirst.

-Chicken is the most "neutral" of the meets (with Turkey being only slightly warmer) is particularly good for weakness of the elderly, postpartum recovery, and your average summer day.

-Beef is considered to be the quickest and strongest acting to replenish spent energy, and is particularly good for tendons and bones, as it also nourishes Liver Blood, as well as warming the Stomach and increasing the appetite. Avoid for those with excess hunger or hot Stomachs.

-Lamb and goat, which is especially warming and well suited to the winter months and cooler days of Spring dispels Cold and arouses the Yang. It is particularly suited for those dealing with Interior Cold, cold extremities, and those commonly falling prey to Cold, and not Heat-related colds. In general, avoid during the warmer months as it may be too warming for most people.

This Month´s Recipes:

Sunburn Remedy

Especially good for: Long lazy days at the beach, pool, or out in the backyard, 4th of July Cookouts, too much yardwork, or any time you are over consuming the warmth of this season!

Clears Heat from and moistens the Wei and Qi levels of the body, as well as nourishing Fluids.


2-3 fingers worth of either Bai Ren Shen (Chinese White Ginseng) or Xi Yang Shen (American Ginseng) **Or go a little crazy and use some of both!


1. If possible, soak the ginseng in water for a few hours to maximize the extraction from the root. These suckers are hard! If not possible, no worries.

2. Boil the roots in 4-6 cups of water for 1-3 hours. **You will need more time if you were not able to soak them. Either way, cooking them will pull more of the goodness out.

3. Allow the liquid to cool, and then apply directly to your sunburned skin.**If you´re feeling really decadent, you can draw yourself a bath and add it to the bath while still hot.

4. Drinking a cup of the liquid is also quite helpful.

**Either eat the ginseng root when you are done, or reserve and add to some soup–or with the bones from the recipe below!

Cucumber and Lemonade

Especially good for: Hot days, as an athlete´s sports drink, or for a relaxing day at the pool, beach, or on the patio.

This drink moves Liver Qi and cleanses the Liver, regulates sweating, clears Heat, and nourishes Fluids.


Several (3-10) Lemons, preferably organic, and scrubbed to remove any waxes. **Limes can be substituted for the lemons

1 large cucumber, peeled

Honey, to taste–preferably something local and unpasteurized


1. Squeeze the lemons into your pitcher. One of the lemons can be sliced and added to add color and flare, for those of you with a taste for the theatrical. For a more tart drink, add more lemons. Use fewer lemons for a milder beverage, or simply slice 2-3 lemons instead of squeezing for the juice.

2. Peel and slice the cucumber. Add the slices to the pitcher.

3. Fill the pitcher with fresh, filtered or spring water.

4. Add honey to taste.

Watermelon Peel (Xi Gua) Salad

Especially good for: Oddly, I´ve always enjoyed eating the white rind more than I´ve enjoyed the actual flesh of the watermelon. My mother always used to poke fun at me. Haha...love ya, Mom. I was thrilled when I learned that watermelon rind is cooling, and drains dampness. Growing up in hot and humid Atlanta...it all makes sense, now!

Watermelon peel quenches thirst, relieves irritability, dispels Summer Heat, promotes diuresis, and detoxifies. The red (or yellow–an heirloom which also tonifies the Spleen) flesh of the watermelon does all of this as well, but to a lesser extent.

Great to great sores, dry mouth, Summer Heat irritability, Stomach Heat, bloody dysentery, jaundice, edema, and difficult urination. Watermelon also helps with alcohol metabolism and detoxification.


500g-watermelon peel (the white of the rind)

1 tsp. Sea salt

20g minced garlic

½ tsp sugar, to taste

2 Tbsp sesame oil

3 tsp vinegar (I prefer Plum/Ume Vinegar, for the added astringent properties...and the taste! But any vinegar will do)


1. Cut the white portion of the watermelon peel and cut it into 2 x ½ inch strips. You can reserve the watermelon flesh to consume now or later.

2. Combine the strips and the sea salt in a bowl. Mix by hand for 3-5 minutes, and then rinse under cold water to remove the salt. Place the peels on a paper or kitchen towel to dry.

3. Combine the minced garlic, sugar, sesame oil, and vinegar in a bowl. Whisk to mix. Add the watermelon peel and toss evenly. Salt to taste, and allow to marinate for 1 hour before serving.

Chicken Wings

Especially good for:
By scale the most neutral in temperature of meats, chicken is particularly good for weakness of any form, for the elderly, for children (as it is not too warming, especially during the Summer), and for postpartum recovery. Be sure to eat the skin, as it is also full of collagen, and is great for your skin. The wings also nourish the Sinews.

Chicken wings are an inexpensive way to make large quantities, especially for a quick and easy snack or meal, or for larger parties and cookouts. Can easily be made in the oven or on the grill.

It is best to get your hands on pastured meats. Check with your local farmer, or at the farmer´s markets. Available at almost any grocery store. At the very least, opt for organic or hormone-free and "free range" wings.

KEEP THE WING TIPS! Some people request they be cut off, so they don´t pay for something they aren´t eating. However...you want to eat the wing tips! They nourish the Yang, and are full of gelatin, nourishing the Sinews...and are extremely tasty when all toasty!

This recipe is a favorite of my mother´s that I showed her how to make ages ago–it´s so simple and delicious! I find myself, as a student, making this every so often, as it is inexpensive and quick to make. And kids and adults alike LOVE these!


2-3 lbs. of chicken wings (more for larger families or parties)

Sea salt, to taste

Pepper, fresh cracked

**If you are into marinades or sauces, feel free to be creative here. But this simple salt and pepper recipe is a winner every time!


1. Preheat your oven to 400°F, or fire up your grill.

2. Using baking sheets, pie plates, or large cast iron skillets, display the wings, making sure they are not touching and are somewhat stretched out. If they are too cramped, they will not crisp properly, and will steam, instead.

3. Crack fresh pepper and sea salt, evenly covering the wings.

4. Place the sheets of wings into the oven, or place them directly on the grill.

5. Cooking time is approximately 20 minutes, but really, just keep an eye on them. You want the skin to crisp and brown, for the perfect texture and taste! They are ready when they are cooked to your liking.

**If you´d like, reserve the bones and simmer in water for an hour, strain, and reserve the liquid for a simple chicken broth that can be drunk or used in soups, rice, etc. More bang for your buck...or rather, cluck!

Is there something that you would like to be learning about specifically as we journey through the season? Are there any types of foods or dishes that you would like to be learning more about? Any questions and queries that you may have-nuherbs Co. and I would love to hear about them.

Please do send up an email–we´d love to hear what you have to say: herbalexplorations@nuherbs.com