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Herbal Explorations

Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By: JK DeLapp

"He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough." ~Lao Tzu

Fall is officially upon us.

Fall, to me, has always been a time of food and family. It contains some of the best memories of fun and food in my life. Fall is, for me, a time of nourishment.

I´m sure all of you have memories of Fall cookouts, snatching last moments at the pool or the beach, and trips to a farm or pumpkin patch in preparation for Halloween. All of this and more are squeezed into my memories from years past.

I have lived down in San Diego for two years now...and go figure–it´s been the coolest, cloudiest year we´ve had in...years! As a friend from school said recently, "the coldest winter I´ve ever experienced was this summer in San Diego!" Looks like I will be living vicariously through all of you this Fall season! Haha

As the last days of the Great Heat begin to subside, we will begin to see cooler temperatures and a decrease in humidity around the country. Leaves will eventually begin to dry up, and the weather we all long for–crisp mornings, and cool clear nights–will finally be here for the reaping.

Days will grow shorter, and the weather will become dryer–two simple challenges life will throw at us in our daily lives, as we bring our attention back to protecting ourselves against the elements. Moistening foods and a scarf around your neck should quickly become your best friends.

A Word About Herbs

There are a few basic things to keep in mind about the Fall...Shorter days; a last attempt at heat; and drying days as humidity begins to subside. Before diving into a few individual herbs to discuss for incorporating into your meals, I´d first like to mention what I like to call "Midnight Oil."

Midnight Oil

With the advent of artificial light came the onslaught of the lengthening of days. Back in yesteryear, if the sun went down at 5pm...it was awfully costly to burn oil lamps or beeswax candles--hence the phrase burning your midnight oil. The expense of it just makes you a dummy for doing it.

The amount of work that could possibly be done in any given day depended in large part on the season of which you were speaking, as days are longer in Summer, and shorter in Winter. More work done during the Summer...much less, if any, during the Winter.

We are past the zenith of this year´s daylight days, and are now moving into a period of shortening hours of sunlight. In Yin/Yang Theory, you would say we are moving into a more Yin time of year. Which makes it even more costly to be burning–since we´re now supposed to be storing it up.

Of course, I don´t see any of us–myself included–going to bed at 7:30 or 8pm (although it´s been done!). At least...not as Americans we wont. And certainly not consistently. It´s for this reason I grieve a little bit, as we are left with little choice but to burn our candles at both ends.

Do keep in mind that Midnight in the Fall and Winter is a MUCH later hour than Midnight in the height of Summer. Where one might be burning 3-4 hours of midnight oil to stay up until the middle of the night at the height of daylight...it´s not uncommon to be burning 7-9 hours at the height of twilight. Especially the further North one lives, as the days shorten even more as the season wears on.

Starting at this time of year, I generally recommend to friends and family to begin taking what I call–Midnight Oil.

It´s a simple combination of Ba Zhen Tang and Liu Wei Di Huang Wan. It combines building Qi and Blood, along with Yin supplementation and a slight draining of heat from deficiency (or in this case...Summer and modern life). I find this combination works wonders when I go out dancing (which happens more often than you´d think!) into the wee hours of the night, and is a great adjunct for the Fall months. (How do you like them apples for doing my research!?)

Easy enough to take as a tea pill–it´s a great way to replace the stores of burnt up midnight oil.

Now--what to put in my food?!

Bai Mu Er–White Fungus
Sweet and bland in taste and neutral in temperature, White Fungus enters the Lung and Stomach channels to Enrich Lung Yin and treat cough due to Lung Yin Deficiency. White Fungus also Nourishes Stomach Yin, Generates Body Fluids, and Beautifies the Skin. This is a perfect mushroom-like fungus that gives dishes more body and a nice, plump something to chew. I love adding these to rice dishes and soups, and prefer to crumble them before cooking so as not to have one gargantuan mushroom monster threatening to overtake the dish.

Hei Mu Er–Black Fungus
Sweet in taste and neutral in temperature, Black Fungus enters the Lung and Stomach channels to Nourish Lung and Stomach Yin, Moisten the Lungs, Stop Bleeding (presumably from Lung Dryness or Stomach Heat), and Generating Body Fluids. One might argue that Black Fungus also goes to the Kidneys to Nourish Kidney Yin, as well. Use individually or in combination with White Fungus–and don´t forget to crumble it before cooking. I love these two fungi in soups and rice dishes, and the unique crunch of these herbs also brings satisfied smiles and quizzical looks (what the heck am I eating!?) from friends and family that I am fortunate enough to feed.

Bai He–Lilly Bulb
Sweet and slightly bitter in taste and slightly cold in temperature, Lilly Bulb enters the Heart and Lung channels to Enrich Lung Yin, Drain Heat from the Heart, Stop Coughs (Dry and Lung Heat Coughs), and Quiet the Spirit. These can be purchased fresh at most Asian markets, or in dried form from your friendly herb provider. I like adding these to rice dishes and soups. You can even find this in a dried and powdered form to use as a thickening agent in soups...pretty cool! I´ve even sautéed fresh Lilly Bulb in butter to a caramelized, delicious side dish! Great on hot, dry days, or if you´re feeling a bit dry and coming down with a cough.

Lai Fu Zi--Daikon Radish (mature &/or the seed)
Acrid and sweet in taste and neutral in temperature, Daikon enters the Lung, Spleen, and Stomach channels to Transform Phlegm, Reduce Food Stagnation, and Promote the Flow of Qi in the Lungs, Spleen, and Large Intestine–aiding digestion and easing breathing difficulties. If using the seeds, add them to soups and rice dishes. When eating the mature radishes, use the same way as you would potatoes and turnips in soups and stews...I even like to sauté them with carrots and potatoes, along with some garlic–recipe to follow!

Now let´s talk about some food!

Generally speaking, we want to begin eating some foods that gently Clear Heat or are more neutral in temperature, as well as foods that Moisten the Lungs and Stomach–the Yang Ming pairing of organs. During this Season, especially, the Lungs and Stomach tend to run both Hot and Dry.

The earlier weeks of Fall are also called Indian Summer–so don´t forget that there needs to be an element of tonifying the Spleen and Stomach, as well. The Spleen and Stomach (Earth), remember, are also the Mother organs of the Lung and Large Intestine (Metal). Nourishing yourself properly (Earth) will bring great value into your life (Metal).

Lastly--Early Fall and Indian Summer are a time of Harvest and of Grieving. Take moments throughout your week to give thanks to those that came before you, making your life as you know it possible–and be sure to pamper yourself, as well, dispelling any spells of Grief in your life. Gelato, a nice cold beer, or a movie with a glass of wine with a friend or loved one are great ways to nourish your Spirit in this Season. I´m drinking beautiful Samuel Smith´s Organic Cherry Ale as I write this. Needless to say...I am smiling.

Summer Lovin´ may be the territory of Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsson–but Fall–Fall is a fantastic time to begin slowing down and romancing yourself. Grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea and a loved one--be it a friend, child, or significant other–and sit outside and cherish together the time, the weather, and one another´s company. If Fall is to be a Time of Harvest, then by all means–reap the benefits of love and camaraderie.

Never take a moment for granted, for–as the name of the Season: Fall, might suggest–we may be called at any moment to depart. Nourish yourself, and the lives of those around you, in the hope that the coming Winter Slumber might not be so harsh, and so that the Hope of Spring might be full of Growth and New Life.

And be sure to be getting plenty of sleep...God forbid you run out of Midnight Oil!

This Month´s Recipes:

Pop Corn: The Bombalicious Snack

Especially good for:

I haven´t found a precise description of "Popping Corn" in TCM terms–so my guess is that it is similar to that of corn in that it is cooling. I would imagine that it does not have the same moistening properties as cob corn does, since it is, after all...kinda dry. So let´s say it is slightly moistening, especially since you will be cooking this dish in butter.

Corn does, however, Stop Bleeding (presumably due to dryness), as well as Benefit the Gall Bladder, lower blood pressure, and detoxifies.

Something cool about corn is that it is actually native to the Americas...so you have the added benefit of actually eating a purely American Tradition!

I am a fan of always using organic and heirloom varieties of anything that you might be cooking. In the case of popcorn...it´s quite fun and colorful! Purples, oranges, reds, and yellows are all varietals of heirloom kernels becoming more readily available to the consumer. I like buying as many varieties that I can get my hands on and mixing them...it´s quite beautiful to look at!

One might surmise that the purple would be better for Moving Blood, the red for Building it, and the yellow for Nourishing the Spleen. The specifics don´t matter to me...you´ll be so focused on the taste!

Ingredients:

2-4 Tbsp of Butter, Ghee (clarified butter), Coconut or Sesame Oil
½-1 cup of popping corn
Sea Salt, to taste

**I like adding garlic powder or garlicky things (Like Spice Hunter´s Garlic Bread Powder), as well as white and black sesame seeds or Furikake (my fave is made by Eden), and maybe even some pre-cut seaweeds to my pop corn after it´s been popped...makes me feel more like a kid with so much funness!

Directions:

**I never cook with a microwave. This dish is intended to be cooked on the stove, so you will need some kind of a pot with a lid (so you don´t have a fireworks display on your stove!) to be making this. Takes only a few minutes, and you´ll marvel at just how much better it tastes!

1. Heat your stove to medium-high heat and melt your oil in the pot.

2. Add the popcorn and toss them in the oil, making sure that your kernels make a nice, even layer on the bottom. **Too many piled on top of each other in your pot and you´ll be left with a bunch of unpopped kernels...no bueno!

3. Place the lid on top, and let ´em pop!

**This only takes a few short minutes, so keep an eye on them lest you burn your snacky treasure!

4. When you hear the popping coming to a near standstill, dump your popped corn into one or two bowls large enough to accommodate, and then top it off with your favorite additions and munch away!

Daikon Radish, Carrot, and Potato Roasted Veggies:

Especially good for:

Phlegm Heat colds, cool nights, or any time you want a nice, hot, skillet full of goodness.

The carrots and potatoes Nourish the Spleen and Stomach, and also Tonify Qi.

The daikon Transforms Phlegm, Reduces Food Stagnation, and Promotes the Flow of Qi in the Lungs, Spleen, and Large Intestine–making this a great dish to aid digestion and ease breathing difficulties.

All told, this is a great dish for Indian Summer/Early Fall.

Ingredients:

6-10 Carrots
2-4 Potatoes
1 large Daikon
1 Onion
4-6 Tbsp of Butter or Sesame Oil
Sea Salt or Soy Sauce, to taste
**Minced garlic, if desired
**Can also use a Ranch or French Onion Soup mix for flavor. I suggest Simply Organic(www.frontiercoop.com) mixed in with some olive oil and spread over the top before baking.

Directions:

1. Cut your carrots, potatoes, onion and daikon into the desired bit-sized morsels. Many peel their root veggies...but not I. Puts more hair on your chest. Or so I´m told...maybe I should start peeling them before the monkeys find virgin forest...

2. Heat your oven to 450 °F

3. Throw all the root vegetables into a cast iron skillet (a size 8 or 9), a ceramic or glass pie dish, or other bake ware. Cast Iron or ceramic bake ware is perfect for this dish, as they also aid in tonifying their own elements–Metal or Earth. **DO NOT COVER–this will steam the dish, rather than bring it to a delicious crisp!

4. Cook for 15 minutes and then stir.

5. Cook for another 10-15 minutes, check for when everything is evenly cooked, and perfectly crisp. Then pull from the oven.

6. Sprinkle with a little sea salt to taste, and enjoy!

**This dish is actually in the oven as I write this...good God does it smell heavenly!

Zhi He Shou Wu Spare Rib Soup:

Especially good for:

Perfect for a cool, crisp evening–this soup is nourishing and delicious.

I think it tastes a little better with pork ribs, but beef ribs can be used if desired. Pork is slightly cold and sweet (whereas beef is warming). Pork Moistens and Nourishes the Organs, Tonifies Qi, and Strengthens Digestion.

Calming the Shen, Tonifying the Kidneys, Liver, and Heart, Moistening the Intestines, and promoting smooth, shiny hair and skin, this soup will hit the spot!

Ingredients:

½-1 lb of Pork Spare Ribs, chopped
10g Zhi He Shou Wu (Polygonum)
10g Da Zao (Zizyphus)
10g Bai He (Lilly Bulb)
10g Fu Shen (Poria)
Ginger, about a pinky knuckle´s worth
2 tsp rice wine.

**Makes enough for 2. Modify as needed for the number you are serving.

Directions:

1. Rinse the spare ribs thoroughly before chopping.

2. After cleaning the spare ribs, cover in water in a stainless steel pan and boil for 20-30 minutes.

3. In another pot, add enough water to cover the herbs and soak for 20 minutes.

4. Add the boiled ribs to the pot of herbs and bring to a boil.

5. Skim the foam and reduce to a low heat.

6. Stew over a low flame for an hour or so–until the ribs become tender.

7. Salt or Soy Sauce to taste–and serve!

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