Home » Resources > Herbal Explorations

Herbal Explorations

Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By: JK DeLapp

And that phrase "moderation in all things" is one of those I´d love to use for target practice when and if I take up shooting. Moderation in what? LSD? Crack? Hitting folks you don´t like? Driving recklessly? I think what they *really* mean is "obsessive behavior is irritating" or "the 80/20 rule".

Nature doesn´t work on "moderation", it works on a bunch of irritatingly exact rules which, if you break them, are often fatal. ~Heidi Jean

I thought Heidi makes an interesting point when it comes to the choices that you and I make as it relates to Chinese Medicine. We are advocates of a medicine that teaches that everything in life follows certain rules...even when we don´t always like to acknowledge their existence.

After my last article, I spoke with a woman here in San Diego who I know that has been reading the series. I always appreciate input, so I welcomed the exchange. She had some helpful words of insight, which I appreciated. She was curious how one could amass a chunk of knowledge regarding Food Therapy. To which I smiled, deeply. I wondered if a child could learn to understand gravity while jumping off the swing...

What I responded with is something that I think is my main goal in writing: to help share the knowledge that there are certain "rules" that food and our bodies obey. That eating this will have a certain action, and eating that will do something else entirely; that there is symmetry that is intrinsic in the things we put in our bodies, and with a little forethought magic can be made on our plates, happiness can radiate from our bellies, and we can live long and fruitful lives with fewer incidences of disease and dis-ease. Not to mention...who doesn´t like to eat?!

That is what I hope my readers are getting out of these articles–a little awareness of the power that is in the very basic foods we eat every day, and the power that you can wield in the lives of your patients and families by properly employing them. Yes, our bodies are resilient. Yes, there is plenty of flexibility in diet. But, at the end of the day...are we eating our way towards Balance?

For years I have been pouring over cookbooks and talking to as many people as I can to learn about food. It´s fascinating stuff! And unlike picking up carpentry as a hobby...even the occasional meals that are slightly off still bring lessons to be learned and warm smiles to the hearth.

I am hoping to bring awareness to the forgotten small things in life that are actually pretty huge influences in our health and happiness. As small as the rudder on a ship is–it turns the entire ship. It is my desire to see every captain at the helm, hands firmly on the wheel...regaining control of our ships as they sail the seas of daily life.

With that being said...let´s talk about some food!

I was in Boulder, Colorado a few weeks ago for my youngest brother´s college graduation. Ate our way through the week while I was up there...it was fabulous!

I was also rather proud to see the kitchen my brother has put together, and enjoyed listening to him talk about his quest for finding local and seasonal things to discover while in school. We had a fun walk from his house to the local Saturday morning Farmer´s Market...hard to believe a 22 year-old kid getting a finance degree would weave his way in and out of those stands, knowing where everything could be found. And from what his friends told me–he´s doing quite well learning his way around the kitchen!

Traveling anywhere and eating the local´s take on cuisine is always a treat–I hope you never pass up the opportunity to greet foreign lands tongue first!

Living anywhere in the Southern part of the US can give you a misconception of what the weather is doing in the rest of the country. That week gently reminded me of that...it was cold! We all experience the seasons, but at different rates. Let´s not forget that Spring is Spring–and that we might need to be a little more thoughtful about including some warming foods if you live in parts of the country enjoying a longer (and colder) Spring Transition than those of us in the South. With that being said...I raise a cup of ginger tea to you as I write!

We are now at the tail end of the Season of Spring, a time of upward growth, green, and shoots--a time to be strengthening our Livers and its regulation of Qi, as well as fortifying against external attacks of Wind.

We should be having a lot of emphasis on local and seasonal vegetables and fruits. Visit a farmer´s market or patron a grocer in your area that plugs in to the area´s local agriculture. It really is the best way to stay tied to the land...eat from that which you live. The French have a firm grasp of this concept, especially in regard to the wines that they drink. They call it "Terroire," or literally, "Taste the Land." It is a great feeling to be in alignment with the world in which we live...especially with a glass of wine in hand!

As the Spring Season comes to a close, it is my hope that we have all experienced abundant growth so that the harvest of this coming year will be joyously overflowing, and the winter storehouse will be sufficiently full–promising another year of nourishment, life, and celebration!

This Month´s Recipe:

I am borrowing a recipe from a cookbook that I recommend all of you purchase. It was written by two of my professors, Yuan Wang and Warren Sheir, along with Mika Ono–a talented writer and wonderful woman. I respect these three people very much...even more so now that they have put together this wonderful collection of kitchen magic!

Below is an excerpt from Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen, written by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mika Ono. I suggest everyone take a look at this informative book.

"In Chinese mythology, fish are a symbol of wealth and abundance, as well as a token of harmony, reproduction, and marital happiness. The ancient Chinese used small carvings of fish as good-luck charms, and pools filled with carp or goldfish to signify abundance and harmony. In Japan, the carp (and its ornamental variety, Koi), is symbolic of perseverance in the face of adversity, an association that probably originated from a Chinese legend about carp that would swim against the current up the Yellow River to become dragons.

In traditional Chinese Medicine, seafood is generally thought to strengthen the Qi, while being easier to digest than meat. Different types of seafood have different properties:

--Fish tend to strengthen the Spleen and Stomach, eliminate Dampness, and regulate Blood to help with conditions such as low energy, edema, and excessive postpartum bleeding.

--Freshwater fish are usually neutral and sweet, whereas ocean fish are usually neutral to cold and salty, like their natural environment.

--Shrimp, prawns, and lobster, which are considered warm and sweet, enrich the Blood and strengthen the Qi and Kidney Yang, addressing conditions such as weakness, impotence, and lower back pain.

--Crab, considered cold and salty, clears Heat, moves the Blood, and unblocks the Channels, benefitting the joints and helping with arthritis.

--Scallops, which are cold and sweet, benefit the five internal organs and nourish Kidney Yin, addressing conditions such as dizziness, hot flashes, dry mouth, weakness in the lower back and knees, nighttime urination, emotional upset, and insomnia.

Spring Seafood Stew

Especially good for:

Eating when the weather is changing from cool to warmer; also, serving to anyone with a cough, sore throat, or discomfort in the area of the ribs.

The dish strengthens the Qi, regulates Liver Qi, moistens the Lungs, clears Heat, and Calms the Spirit.


2 tablespoons oil (Author´s Note: I suggest ghee or olive oil)
1 lb assorted fish, shelled and deveined shrimp (AN: although, I prefer to keep the heads and shells on, if possible–more fortifying for the joints and Kidney Yang, if you do and can palate it, eat the entire shrimp), sea scallops, and/or other seafood. (AN: I prefer any white fish, and whatever is wild caught and least expensive–but there is much freedom here.) Cut into 1-2 inch cubes.

1-inch fresh piece of ginger, peeled and minced
3 medium-sized green onions, chopped into ¼ inch pieces, grouped into green and white parts, roots and tough tips discarded
½ lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces, tough pieces discarded
1 cup white wine (AN: or vermouth)
Pinch of sea salt
1-½ tablespoons powdered kudzu, arrowroot, cornstarch, or other thickener
3 tablespoons water
Fresh lemon wedges


1. Heat the oil in the pan, then sauté the seafood, ginger, and the white part of the green onions for 3 minutes, or until seafood is pleasantly browned.

2. Add the asparagus, wine, and salt. Cover, bring back to a boil, then simmer over low heat for about 3 more minutes, until the asparagus and seafood are cooked through.

3. Mix the kudzu (or other thickener) in a small bowl with a little cold water to avoid clumping, then add it to the pot and stir well. Add to the pan, stir, and cook for another minute so the thickener sets.

4. Sprinkle the dish with the green portion of the green onion, add salt to taste, and then serve with lemon wedges, if desired.

**Recipe reprinted with permission from Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen: Recipes from the East for Health, Healing, and Long Life Written by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir, and Mika Ono.

The last thing I would like to mention is actually a request to my readers. 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