Sunday, April 5, 2009

Introduction to Traditional Chinese Nutrition Featuring Fruits, Vegetables, Nuts

There are are a number of vegetables, fruits, and nuts which are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as a part of nutritional healing. Foods have been shown to be capable of helping the body to heal itself. A food that has special beneficial properties is generally very safe, because they have been used widely by many people. Some exceptions you may consider would be for persons with life threatening allergies to foods such as peanuts, or that honey is contraindicated for babies. In China you can go to a specialty restaurant in which you will be served a meal appropriate to your health pattern. The herbalist will check your tongue and pulse as a part of the standard intake, and then you receive an appropriate meal served for your condition. What is served for one person will be different for the next.

The best choice for foods to be used to promote wellness are those grown by organic methods with out chemical pesticides. The worst choice is fruits and vegetables grown outside of the US, such as Chile and Mexico, where regulations of chemical pesticides is less strict than the US. Another poor choice especially for raw fruits and vegetables are those that are genetically modified (GM). This topic is discussed in Jane Goodall's book Harvest for Hope. Wild and domestic animals both avoid feed from genetically engineered foods in favor of natural foods. While conducting experiments in the United Kingdom, Dr. Arpad Pusztai found that GM foods were less nutrient dense compared to non GM foods. Further he found that animals who were fed raw GM foods suffered immune deficiencies and internal tissue damage, specifically the thymus, spleen, brain, liver, testicles, intestines and pancreases, while animals fed the same GM foods in the cooked form remained healthy. Pusztai concluded based on his results that the process of genetic engineering itself was responsible for the organ damage and immune dysfunction. GM foods are unlabeled as such in the US, which is another reason to choose organic food.

Traditional Chinese herbs and foods are characterized by their flavor, temperature, the systems of the body that they act on, and their specific action on the body. Naturally sweet foods such as sweet potato, pumpkins and squash are said to act on the Stomach and Spleen to benefit the digestive system. Pungent foods such as onion and ginger can open the Lungs to help clear a head cold. Sour foods such as lemon and cider vinegar are often used to relieve irritability caused by stagnation and congestion in the Liver. The first way in which herbs and foods are described is by nature which includes: hot, warm, neutral, cool or cold. Second, they are described by flavor which includes: sweet, pungent, bitter, sour, salty, or neutral. Some foods are very easy to identify by taste, for example anyone could tell you that a lemon is sour. In this way the action of foods with a particular flavor was determined through observations by Chinese herbalists over time. The flavor of more subtle tasting foods has been determined by deductive reasoning based on their functions. Generally speaking the herbs and foods are said to act on one or more of the TCM organ systems partially in relation to their flavor. The TCM paradigm has it's own vocabulary which does not precisely correspond with biomedical terminology. Organs listed refer to the TCM organ system:

* Bitter foods act on the Heart and Small Intestine.
* Pungent foods act on the Lungs and Large Intestine.
* Salty foods act on the Kidneys and Urinary Bladder.
* Sweet foods act on the Stomach and Spleen (corresponds well with the biomedical pancreas).
* Sour foods act on the Liver and Gall Bladder

The following are a few of the more common fruits, vegetables and nuts used therapeutically in traditional Chinese nutrition with a brief description of their nature, flavors, actions and indications. These are foods that can either be grown or easily purchased in the Daytona area. Starred* foods indicate those which we plan to grow in the Fair Share Garden either this Spring or as Winter crops.


* Celery* is sweet, bitter, and cool acting on the Stomach and Liver. Celery is used in Chinese nutrition to clear heat from the Liver and promote urination to remove excess water from the body. Celery can help to relieve hypertension, vertigo, headache, flushed face, red eyes, boils and swellings.

* Pumpkin* is considered sweet, neutral and slightly bitter acting on the Lungs, Spleen and Stomach. Pumpkin has been used successfully in a Chinese clinical study for helping the body heal from simple bronchial asthma. The participants ate about a pound of steamed pumpkin mixed with honey and sugar each day. Seminole pumpkin will grow easily and prolifically in Volusia county. Seed is available at in Ft. Myers

* Purslane* (Portulaca oleracea) Purslane is considered sour and cool acting on the Spleen, Liver and Large Intestine. It is an amazing Florida wild food that grows easily from seed. It is a succulent and can be found in most neglected yards and waste areas. It will even grow in cracks in a sidewalk. Give it adequate water and it will grow quickly and easily. It can be eaten raw or added to scrambled eggs or salads. Purslane clears toxicity and inflammations, promotes blood circulation and reduces swelling. It is used in Chinese medicine in high doses for treating dysentery with blood and pus in the stool, for blood in the urine, for swellings and boils, strept infection of the skin (Erysipelas), and vaginal discharge. By western herbalists purslane is also noted for being rich in antidepressant substances. It is high in Omega 3 fatty acid, Vitamin C, proto-Vitamin A, Calcium, Potasium, Magnesium, Phenylalanine, and Tryptophan.

Pickled Purslane Recipe: Fill 2 pint jars with washed and drained Purslane stems. Boil together for one minute 1.5 cups of Cider Vinegar, 1.5 cups water with 1/4 t peppercorns, 1 crushed clove of garlic, and 4 T of sea salt, 1/2 celery seed, 1/2 t mustard seed. Leave 1/4 inch of head space and store in the fridge.

* Carrots* are regarded as sweet and neutral acting on the Lung and Spleen. Carrots are said to strengthen the digestive system to reduce slow digestion. They are served to reduce maldigestion and prolonged dysentery and cough.

* Green onions* grow wild in Volusia county. The green onion is smaller compared to the commercial varieties, but the properties still apply. Green onion is considered to be pungent and warm acting on the Lungs and Stomach. Green onions are most often used together with fresh ginger to treat common colds that have the following symptoms: chills, low fever, head ache or upper back & neck ache. It is also used for cold abdominal pain, constipation, urine retention, dysentery, boils, and swellings.

Green Onion and Ginger Brew for Common Cold with Headache, Body Aches and Chill:
Boil together a few slices of ginger and the white parts of few green onions sliced diagonally, and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar or honey in 2 quarts of water. Simmer for 30 minutes. Drink warm and wrap in a blanket to sweat out the cold. Regular onion can be substituted if green onion is not available.

* Mulberry Leaf* (Morus alba AKA Sang Ye) Mulberry leaves are cold, bitter and sweet acting on the Lungs and Liver. The leaves stop cough associated with common cold or chronic dry cough. This is a great herb to brew for lung troubles from smoke or heat damage. Brew up a 1/2 oz by weight of dry leaf in a quart of water and drink. These leaves are also cooked like spinach and served as a food to nursing mothers in China. It is also helpful for people with dry itchy eyes and is beneficial to menopausal women.

Nuts and Seeds

* Walnuts* are characterized as sweet and warm acting on the Kidneys and Lung. Walnuts (AKA Hu Tua Ren) are given as herbs in Chinese medicine in the following cases: asthma, moistening the intestines to relieve constipation, chronic cough, low back pain, impotence, and frequent urination.
* Peanuts are considered sweet and neutral in temperature. They are used to sooth and balance the digestive system. Peanuts can moisten the intestines for constipation due to dryness. They also are used for dystenary with pus and blood in the stool, as well as for treatment of boils.
* Sun flower seed* is also sweet and neutral in temperature. The indications are very nearly identical as those listed above for peanuts.


* Watermelon is sweet, cold and acts on the Heart, Stomach and Urinary Bladder. Watermelon is specific for preventing and stopping heat stroke. Watermelon reduces urine formation to help the body retain water. It is also helpful for people with difficulty urinating. Watermelon can also soothe a sore inflamed throat. It is high in Lycopene, a naturally occurring red plant pigment with antioxidant and anti-anticancer properties. Watermelon is high in Vitamins A and C, as well as Iron.
* Tangerine* is considered sweet, sour and cool acting on the Lungs and Stomach. The tangerine peel, known as Chen Pi, is used as an herb in TCM for digestive stagnation and phlegm. The juice is useful for relieving thirst, regulating digestion, stopping vomiting, poor appetite, dry mouth, dry or barking cough, cough with yellow persistent phlegm. Citrus including tangerine is normally not suggested for healthy babies under one year old because it can cause diarrhea. However it is used specifically in Chinese nutrition for helping relieve infants who are constipated. Tangerine is especially helpful for relieving constipation in people with dry lungs or dry stools. Tangerine may aggravate people who are prone to cancer sores; use with care.
* Banana* is sweet and cold, acting on the Lungs and Large Intestine. Bananas are used for clearing toxins and inflammation. It is useful for relieving thirst from diseases with fever, as well as constipation, and bleeding due to hemorrhoid. Bananas are also high in Potasium and Vitamin A. Bananas can aggravate the digestive system of persons with Spleen Qi deficiency which is characterized by gas, bloating, loose stools, and scalloped tongue edges.

Online resource Energetics of food chart

Kitchen Wall Chart with Properties of Foods

Suggested Reading: Healing With Whole Foods, by Paul Pitchford., Chinese System of Food Cures by Henry C. Lu., Recipes for Self-Healing by Daverick Leggett., Harvest for Hope by Jane Goodall., Healing Power of Minerals, Special Nutrients, and Trace Elements by Paul Bergner., Miracle Tree by Monica Marcu.
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