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Herbal Explorations

Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By JK DeLapp

Someone asked the Dalai Lama what surprises him the most. His response:

"Man, because he sacrifices his health to make money. Then he sacrifices his money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, then he dies having never really lived."

The Dalai Lama speaks of a simple, yet profoud truth that many of us miss: Guard your health and you will live fully. This sentiment is probably not something our mothers or fathers ever emphasized to us while growing up, and definitely not something our American culture would have taught us anywhere. And yet—it´s so true!

As summer moves towards a close, we will be transitioning from the time of the Fire Element (Heart/Small Intestine and Pericardium/San Jiao) into the time of the Metal Element (Lung and Large Intestine). This period of dryness and heat brings with it the dreaded Common Cold and Flu.

Coincidentally, this season corresponds with kids going back to school. Hence, the big rave in the medical community urging us to, "Get your flu shots." I won´t even begin to argue whether or not these are necessary. Humankind has been around a very long time, that much I will say. I will also provide a few links for you to take a peek at:





Whether one decides to vaccinate or not is a decision that one must make for oneself, and a choice that each parent must make for his/her children. A decision that will, hopefully, be made by a fully informed adult. And hopefully still, it won´t be a decision a parent will make for his or her child 40+ times in the first 6 months of life without looking into it.

What I DO want to talk about is the question that I get from so many people, "What can I do to prevent me from catching the flu during flu season?"

A Word About Herbs:

Most over-the-counter remedies that you´ll find in the store address some of the symptoms of a cold or flu, such as runny and stuffy nose, sore throat, headache, and malaise.

As westerners, we generally associate these symptoms with an upper respitory infection (URI), usually attributed to a virus. Pasteur was fond of saying something to the effect of, "It is the terrain, not the microbe, that dictates disease."

As TCM practitioners, we know that Wind, Cold, Damp, and Heat are causes of disease—these are the terrains of which he spoke. By controlling the terrain, we don´t even need to worry about the microbes. "Raise the rent and eliminate bad tennants," as the old saying goes. Herbal formulas can help us to maintain internal homeostasis that is ripe for health.

There are generally three formulas I find helpful to be taken in conjuction with one another during this period of the year:

Ge Gen Tang
Addressing a Wind-Cold invasion which manifests as symptoms of fever and chills, muscle aches, and fever. This formula boosts Wei Qi, somewhat similar to saying it is an immunity booster.

Yin Qiao San
Addressing a Wind-Heat invasion which manifests as symptoms of fever, sweating, sore throat—all the stuff that is usually associated with the second stage of a viral infection. This formula reduces heat and the associated inflammation that occurs as pathogens are setting up their housing developments.

Er Chen Tang
As the internal environment begins to change, the proper metabolism of fluids is disrupted and begin to accumulate. A western doctor would say that the body is producting phlegm in an attempt to flush out the pathogens. We could say that an aspect of that is true. This formula addresses that situation by transforming phlegm, regulating the waterways, and draining dampness—therefore, breaking down the buildup of mucous.

Taking these three formulas together in light doses through the transition of the seasons can do wonders for your health!

Now let´s talk about some food!

Any football coach will tell you that the best defense is a good offense. If you attack your opponents, they will be so busy fighting off your attack that they will not be able to attack you. In our circumstance, the best way to do this is with the foods that we eat.

Foods that cool and moisten the Stomach, Lung, and Large Intestine, as well as foods that support the Wei Qi are fantastic to incorporate into your diet during this time of year. Immunity boosting mushrooms are also a great way to add some zest and boost to your dishes.

Ge Gen (Kudzu Root)
Kudzu is super easy to incorporate into your dishes, as it makes for a great thickening agent, and easily disappears into larger dishes and soups. Kudzu is great because it nourishes fluids and clears Stomach heat, vents measles and other heat rashes, and releases the muscles due to heat and dehydration-related muscle cramping.

Lu Hui (Aloe Vera)
Most of us will not be using the charred aloe in cooking (although you certainly can—I definitely have). What we have more readily available is the fresh plant growing in our own homes. I have several growing here in my house. They grow all over the place where the climate is mild. Aloe has a very cold temperature, and its bitter flavor helps to drain heat. Affecting the Liver, Stomach, and Large Intestine, this heat clearing herb is a fantastic one to add to your late summer/early fall kitchen arsenal. It is the perfect herb for the gastrointestinal tract. It relieves heat-related constipation and helps to heal stomach ulcers. It is great in dishes with a lot of liquid or in making a nice and tasty, cooling beverage.

Huang Qi (Astragalus)
This herb is very easy to incorporate into your dishes, if you are ok with picking out the fibrous remains once you´ve finished cooking. In TCM, we say that this herb raises the Qi, as it has a strong upward directional action. Some things you may not have known about Astragalus:

-Large dosages can lower blood pressure (vasodilation)

-Small dosages can increase blood pressure

-Has a prolonging diuretic effect (drains heat and dampness)

-Lessens proteinuria (benefits the kidneys)

-Improves endurance (raises the Qi)

-Protects liver function

-Regulates blood sugar

Add a few sticks or a fistful of them to dishes that have any liquid involved in the cooking process—everything from rice to soups to sauces. Give it a try!

A great formula to use during this period of time is Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang, which contains a large amount of Huang Qi, and is a great general immunity booster for heading back to school (and will help you think more clearly, as well!)

Ru Xiang and Mo Yao (Frankincense and Myrrh)
An odd combination, I know. I don´t recommend adding these to your cooking dishes (the taste is too harsh for that), but I DO recommend chewing on a piece of each together until they are gone. After a few rounds, you´ll actually appreciate the taste. This is a common practice in the Arab Nations and East Africa. These two herbs have tremendous anti-microbial properties, are great for your teeth and gums (and your Stomach), and are also agents of regenerating flesh. Simply chewing or eating them can help to repair your digestive tract, which in turn serves as a fantastic immunity booster!

A few culinary suggestions: Cordyceps (cultured, of course), Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Shitake (Lentinula edodes), Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

There is a vast list of goodies when it comes to mushrooms, and all of them have quite potent properties. In general, they are great for boosting immunity. We would say that they are great for dispeling dampness, eliminating phlegm and phlegm nodules (great for cancer), coursing Blood (lowers blood lipid levels—making it less sticky), and tonify the Zang Fu. Each mushroom has a set of unique properties, so I generally use 2-4 different kinds of mushrooms in my dishes for a harmonious blend.

I employ copious usage of mushrooms, both culinary and medical varieties, in my cooking. They find their way into soups and rice dishes, flavorings for sauces, and powdered to make tasty crusts on meat dishes. You are limited only by your imagination here!

This Month´s Recipes

Cooling Aloe Vera Drink

This is a tasty, cooling, and moistening beverage—perfect for the hot, dry days of summer´s end and the beginning of fall.

Clearing heat from the Stomach and Large Intestine is a great preventative step to combat both heat-bind constipation, and heat pathogens that lead to the common heat-dryness related illnesses of the season. Not to mention that it´s also quite tasty!

Sugar and honey both are moistening and cooling. Only add enough to mask some of the bitterness of the aloe, while lending their own beneficial properties. I like using organic, unbleached white sugar or organic, unpastuerized honey for this recipe.

½ cup of fresh aloe juice/gel or aloe juice from a health food store
Juice from ½ lemon
Organic sugar or honey, to taste


1. Add the first two ingredients to a pitcher and fill the rest with water, leaving enough room to add the sweetener.

2. Stir in the sweetener.

3. It´s ready to drink right away, or can be stored in the refridgerator for up to 3 days.

*If using fresh aloe, you can also cut up some of the inner pulp/flesh and add that to the drink to add an interesting jelly texture.

Mushroom Rice

As previously mentioned, mushrooms are great for boosting immunity. They are great for dispeling dampness, eliminating phlegm and phlegm nodules, coursing Blood, and tonify the Zang Fu.

I like mixing various medical mushrooms along with culinary ones, like porcini, button, and chanterelle. Two to four varieties should give you both a nice flavor, as well as a balance of their various properties.

There are various organic mushroom medleys available (usually dried), and most well-stocked health food grocers or Whole Foods will have both dried and fresh varieties of culinary and medical mushrooms to choose from. If you´re fortunate to live in an area where you can go wild-craft your own mushrooms, by all means! I´m quite jealous of people who live in wooded, moist areas where they can go cap-scouting!

This dish can be greatly varied by changing up the mushrooms used or adding in other vegetables, and can be served alongside practically any dish. I make varying versions of this dish often, and it has yet to get old. Plus—everyone seems to devour it!

Various mushrooms, minced (if dried, reconstitute in water for 30 minutes)
1 cup of Arborio rice (AKA Paella or Risotto rice)
4-5 cups of fresh-made stock or water

*Try this as it is, but as you make it more often, you can experiment with various spices to your liking, or try adding in other vegetables as it cooks.


1. Mince the mushrooms.

2. In a heavy skillet (cast iron is best)—sautee mushrooms in butter until they are golden brown.

3. In a separate pan, panfry the Arborio rice in butter until golden brown and a slight nutty scent is coming from the pan, making sure to stir the rice to get a nice, even browning.

*If prepping the rice and mushrooms simultaneously, just add in the mushrooms when the rice is ready. Otherwise, reserve the mushrooms in a bowl and then add them to the rice when ready.

4. Add the mushrooms to the pan and add your water or stock (4-5 cups).

5. Bring to a gentle boil, and then reduce to a simmer uncovered for approximately 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

6. When the liquid is almost absorbed fully, remove from heat and stir and let sit for a few minutes to cool down before serving.

Chicken Soup

Known affectionately in the United States as Jewish Penicillin, chicken soup is just good for the soul!

There´s literally a million ways that this soup dish can be prepared. It´s a very common dish in practically every Asian nation, and is often consumed throughout seasonal transitions, as it helps to prevent people from falling ill.

This is a lightly-herbed soup that will strengthen the Wei Qi.

When made in a crock pot, you can throw in all the ingredients and just let it cook with nothing to worry about!

This dish is great to make once a week. I keep a pot of this going almost constantly, as it´s great both for breakfast and as a snack, and is always ready when I want it—no prep needed, as I simply leave setting of the crock pot on "warm."

1 whole pastured chicken, giblets included (with head and feet is even better)
1 handful of Huang Qi (Astragalus)
1 handful of Shan Zha (Hawthorn Berries)
8-10 carrots, minced
1 onion, minced
2-4 varieties of mushrooms
½ cup of red or black Rice
Splash of fish sauce


1. Throw all of the ingredients into a pot and cover with water. That simple!

If being made in a crock pot, have it cook on high for about 6 hours.

If making this in a huge pot, bring to a boil, skim the scum, and then simmer for at least 4-6 hours.

*I keep this on "warm" after it´s done cooking in my crock pot until I finish eating all of it, usually taking about 2 days, just for me. No refrigeration necessary, although I´m sure you may be inclined to do so.

2. Just pick out the bones and Huang Qi as you run across it.

Mushroom-encrusted Steak or Chicken

This is a main course that is great for wowing your friends and family!

Finely minced fresh or dried mushrooms are mixed with Panko bread crumbs to form a crust on any pan-fried steak, chicken, or even hamburger.

This is a great way to encorporate mushrooms into a dish for a person that might otherwise not eat the mushrooms. They wont even know they´re there!

My mom used to cook something like this when we were kids. She called it "Cubed Steak." It was a pounded and breaded steak…and now my mouth is watering. Ahh, to be young again!

1 cup of very finely minced fresh or dried mushrooms
2 cups of Panko bread crumbs
Dijon mustard
Fresh ground pepper
Sea salt


1. Place each piece of meat in a large plastic bag or place between plastic wrap or wax paper, and pound each piece to equal thickness using either a meat mallet or the bottom of a heavy skillet.

2. Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish.

3. Pat the meat dry and season both sides with salt, pepper, and minced mushrooms.

4. Rub the meat with Dijon mustard.

5. Lay the meat in the breadcrumbs, turn it over and press it into the breading to coat. Lay on a piece of waxed paper.

6. Heat a large skillet (12 inches in diameter) over medium heat. Coat the bottom of the skillet with butter.

7. When the butter is hot, lay the meat in the pan, cooking in as many rounds as necessary so that the meat is not touching the other pieces.

8. Cook without turning until beginning to brown, about 2-3 minutes.

9. Turn and cook until equally brown on the other side, about 2-3 minutes or more depending on the thickness.

10. Repeat with the remaining meat.

11. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate to drain. Enjoy!

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