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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Part 2: Open Sesame... Seed, That Is

In last week's Sesame post we gave some general information and described some of the effects that sesame seed (from Sesamum inidcum) has on the body. This week in part 2, as promised, we will delve into the traditional uses of sesame seed as well as some typical home remedies.

The sesame plant was introduced into China during the Han Dynasty, around the second century B.C. Its seeds have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for over 2000 years and are first described in the Shennong Herbal, where they are listed in the nontoxic category of drugs. They are considered to vitalize the internal organs, to be particularly beneficial to the kidney and liver, and to "moisten dryness", as in treating constipation. Black sesame seeds are regarded as superior to white sesame seeds in medicinal value and are the ones customarily used in Chinese Medicine. They are currently an officially recognized drug in the People's Republic of China, being listed in its pharmacopeia for the treatment of dizziness, blurred vision, and tinnitus (imaginary roaring noise) resulting from anemia, premature graying of hair, loss of hair after an illness, and constipation. Other uses recorded in traditional herbals include the treatment of lack of milk in nursing women, rheumatoid arthritis, paralysis, and general weakness after an illness. Sesame seeds are also used to treat insect bites, sores, and hemorrhoids. The normal daily internal dose is 9 to 15 g. (0.3 to o.5 oz.), taken as a decoction, pills, or powder. Externally, a decoction of the seeds is used to wash affected areas or the mashed seeds are applied directly.

Internal use of sesame seeds should be avoided by individuals with spleen problems and by those who have loose stools.

Although many recipes using sesame seeds for a wide variety of conditions can be found in traditional and modern herbals, by far the most common uses of the seeds in Chinese homes are as nutrients, tonics, and laxatives. All three effects can be obtained from a drink (perhaps more appropriately called a soup) made from sesame seeds and rice. When I was growing up in Hong Kong, my family would occasionally make this soup to treat constipation in one of us, as well as for the rest of the family. We children ate the soup because it tasted good. It is prepared the same way as "almond milk", replacing the almonds with sesame seeds. Briefly, the seeds and rice are soaked together in water. When well-soaked they are ground to a paste, followed by straining, diluting and sweetening to taste with sugar or rock candy. Like almond milk, the consistency of sesame seed soup varies, depending on the amount of rice and water used. This soup is often prepared by the Cantonese in Hong Kong during dry weather to soothe and lubricate internal organs, particularly the bowels.

In a recipe from an 8th-century herbal for treating aching limbs accompanied by swelling, five parts of sesame seeds are heated to remove excess water, ground, and mixed with one part of wine. After soaking overnight, the wine is drunk as needed.

In the same herbal, a recipe for treating kitchen burns and scalds calls for grinding sesame seeds into a paste and applying it to the affected areas. This paste can also be used for treating insect bites, especiallly spider bites.

To treat toothache with swollen gums, a 4th-century recipe calls for boiling one part of sesame seeds in two parts of water until one part of liquid remains. The liquid is then used for gargling. It is said to work wonders.

According to a recipe from an early 15th-century herbal, sores on the head and facial areas can be treated by simply chewing raw sesame seeds and applying the resulting wet mash to the sores.

According to Li Shizhen's Ben Cao Gang Mu, to increase milk flow in nursing mothers, sesame seeds are roasted, ground, and mixed with a small amount of salt.

Li Shizhen also gives a remedy for swollen and painful hemorrhoids: Boil sesame seeds in water and use the liquid to wash the affected area.

To treat unhealing sores and carbuncles, black sesame seeds are roasted well and ground to a paste, which is applied directly to the sores or carbuncles as a poultice. This recipe is from a 7th-century herbal.

Sesame seeds area readily available in grocery stores and supermarkets.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using sesame as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about sesame and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Forsythia fruit is the ripe fruit, with or without seeds, of Forsythia suspensa (Thunb.) Vahl. (Family Oleaceae).

Forsythia fruit is one of the most common components in Chinese herbal formulas for treating the common cold, influenza, and allergies (e.g., hay fever). With continuous documentation of at least three thousand years, it is traditionally considered a detoxicant for treating so-called "toxic" and "hot" conditions. These conditions correlate with modern inflammatory and infectious diseases, including viral and bacterial infections, as well as allergies. The properties and uses of forsythia fruit now appear to have considerable scientific support.

In recent laboratory studies, Chinese scientists have found its decoction (water extract) and other extracts (e.g., alcohol extract) to have antiviral, antibacterial, antiinflammatory, antypyretic, antiallergic, and antioxidant activities in vitro and in experimental animals. Chemical studies have revealed various active constituents, including relatively large amounts of oleanolic acid (0.73 to 2.28%) and other triterpenes, phenols (e.g. forsythol), sterols and flavonoids. Although oleanolic acid has antiallergic and liver protectant and forsythol antibacterial activities, they cannot account for the varied biological effects and total traditional properties of forsythia fruit. Again, this is nothing new when it comes to scientific investigation of herbs using the typical single chemical drug appropach, where researchers are only looking for a one-to-one effect. In herbal medicine, there is no such thing. At best you are looking at a rare occasion where a single chemical of an herb is responsible for one or two of its specific properties, such as ephedrine from mahuang (Ephedra spp.), berberine from huanglian (Coptis spp.) and quinine from chichona bark. However, these specific chemicals with specific effects don't account for the total traditional properties and uses of these herbs.

Like other scientists, I don't have a clear idea how forsythia fruit works in taking care of colds, flus and allergies. But based on personal experience with this and related herbs and after almost twenty years of intensive searching and accumulating traditinonal and modern Chinese herbal data, including a collection of most of the major Chinese herbals ever published and over sixty modern Chinese journals (quarterly, bi-monthly and monthly) on traditional herbal medicine, I can tell you that traditional Chinese formulas for treating "toxic" and "hot" conditions are superior to modern cold, flu and allergy medicines. Some of these formulas have been safely used for hundreds of years.

While modern medicines only offer temporary relief of symptoms (often simulataneously causing toxic side effects), the traditional Chinese herbal formulas take care of the virus ("evil") as well as strengthen the body, with many fewer toxic side effects, if any at all. My family and friends have been using two or three of these formulas with considerable success. I would be very upset if I were forced to use modern drugs by some biased and self-serving bureaucrats; so would my family and friends.

Extracts of forsythia fruit are now also used in numerous types of cosmetic products, including hair care (e.g., hair growth liniments and antidandruff shampoos), skin care (e.g., acne cream) and foot care (e.g., athletes foot) products for their antimicrobial and traditional detoxifying properties.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including forsythia on pages 30-32.

For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit www.earthpower.com.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Part 1: Open Sesame... Seed, That Is

Used extensively worldwide, sesame seeds are the seeds of a cultivated annual herb known scientifically as Sesamum indicum of the sesame family. In Chinese the sesame plant is called zhi ma or hu ma, meaning "oily hemp" or "foreign hemp". A native of southern Asia and now cultivated in Burma, China, India, Sudan, and many other tropical countries, the sesame plant is hairy and grows to a height of about 1 m. (3.3 ft). It has an erect stem with leaves that vary in shape and size from oval to narrow and oblong or palmately three-lobed, measuring 3 to 10 cm. (1.2 to 4 in.) long, with petioles 1.5 to 5 cm. (0.6 to 2 in.) long. The plant flowers from June through August. Its fruit is a capsule containing numerous seeds. Sesame seeds are harvested during the fruiting period (August and September) after the capsules have turned yellowish black. Whole plants are cut at their base and tied in bundles, with their tops together, and dried under the sun. After drying the seeds are separated by thrashing, and extraneous, non-seed material is removed. Further drying yields the sesame seeds sold commercially.

Two major types of sesame seeds, black and white, are derived from the black and white varieties of S. indicum respectively. The small shiny seeds are smooth, oval, and flattened. They are nutritious and contain about 55% oil (fats), 26% protein, and 9$ carbotydrates. They also containVitamin E, folic acid, nicotinic acid, and minerals (especially calcium). Sesame seed oil contains mainly oleic and linoleic acids (each about 43 %), 9% palmitic acid, 4% stearic acid, and small amounts of sesamol and sesamolin.

Sesame seed oil, also known as benne oil or teel oil, is obtained by pressing the seeds. There are two kinds of oil, one prepared from roasted, and the other from unroasted seeds. The former has a vrey fragrant aroma and the latter has hardly any aroma at all. Roasted sesame seed oil is a popular condiment in Oriental foods. On the other hand, unroasted sesame seed oil is used primarily in pharmaceuticals. It has similar properties to those of olive oil; it is used as a vehicle (carrier) in intramuscular injections and in other pharmaceutical preparations for its laxative, emollient (softening) and demulcent (soothing) properties. Roasted and unroasted sesame oils cannot be used interchangeably.

In Western countries, sesame seeds are commonly used on bread, crackers, and rolls. The white variety is generally preferred.

Experiments performed over the past few decades, mainly by Western scientists, have found sesame seeds to lower the blood sugar level but to increase the liver and muscle glycogen levels in rats.

Sesame seed cake, obtained after expressing the oil, when used as feed, was found to be toxic to domestic animals. Calves eating too much of this sesame seed cake were found to exhibit signs of eczema, hair loss, and itching.

To Be Continued.
Come back next week when we will discuss sesame's traditional uses and reveal a few home remedies in part 2 of "Open Sesame... Seed, That Is".

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using sesame as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about sesame and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Medicine from Marigolds

You may not think of medicine when you see a marigold flower, but that might change after you read this.

Two species of marigold are used in Chinese medicine - the big, or Aztec, marigold and the French marigold. Big, or Aztec, marigold is known scientifically as Tagates erecta and French marigold as Tagates patula, both of the composite family. In Chinese, Aztec marigold is called wan shou ju, meaning "long life chrysanthemum", and French marigold is known as xi fan ju, meaning "Western chrysanthemum", denoting its foreign origin. The whole French marigold plant, when used in traditional medicine, is called kong que cao, or "peacock herb".

Marigolds are strong-scented annual herbs, usually 0.3 to 1 m. (1-3 ft) tall. Aztec marigold bears flowers that range in color from yellow to orange and can reach as much as 10 cm (4 in.) across, while French marigold bears yellow to golden-yellow flower heads that are much smaller, only about 4 cm (1.6 in.) across and usually with red patches. Both marigolds are generally considered to be natives of Mexico. They are now extensively cultivated throughout the world, with numerous varieties.

Although both marigolds are commonly seen as ornamental plants in Western countries, Aztec marigold is quite extensively grown for its yellow flowerheads. The flower petals are used in chicken feed to give the skin and egg yolk of chickens the familiar yellow color. This practice has been going on for so many years, and western consumers have grown so used to the yellow color of the chicken skin and egg yolk, that most of them believe this color to be natural and actually consider chickens without a yellow skin and eggs without yellow yolks unnatural and undesirable. Marigolds also yield a fragrant volatile oil called tagetes oil that is used in perfumes and in many types of processed food products, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, frozen desserts, candies, puddings, condiments and relishes.

In Western folk medicine, the flower heads and leaves of Aztec marigold are used in treating intestinal worms and colic, as well as in promoting menstrual flow.

Scientists have found tagetes oil to have various effects on experimental animals. These include sedative, anticonvulsive, hypotensive, bronchodilatory, and anti-inflammatory effects. Tagates oil also has insecticidal properties.

As is typical in plants of the composite family, marigolds can cause contact dermatitis in some sensitive individuals. Consequently, if one is allergic to chrysanthemums, daisies, or other composite plants one should be careful about handling marigolds also.

The uses of marigolds in Chinese medicine are described only in modern herbals that are mainly of southern Chinese origin. Despite this lack of written record, marigolds have probably been used for generations as a folk remedy in some southern Chinese provinces, particularly Yunnan, Guizhou, Sichuan, and Guangxi. Both the flower heads and leaves of Aztec marigold are usually collected in the summer or fall and are used either fresh or sun-dried.

The flower heads of Aztec marigold are considered to have properties that dissipate heat (in fevers), expel colds, and break up phlegm. They are used to treat whooping cough, coughs due to colds, convulsions in children, acute conjunctivitis, dizziness, mumps, and mastitis. The usual daily internal dose is 3 to 9 g. (0.1 to 0.3 oz.) of dried flower heads taken as a decoction. Externally, the decoction is used to wash affected areas.

The leaves of Aztec marigold are used mainly for treating carbuncles, sores, and boils. The usual daily internal dose is 4.5 to 9 g. (o.15 to 0.3 oz.) of dried leaves taken as a decoction. For external use, the decoction is used to wash the affected areas or the mashed fresh leaves are applied directly.

The whole French marigold plant, also collected and dried in summer or fall, is used in traditional medicine. Said to dissipate heat, it is also used in treating coughs and diarrhea, with a daily internal dose of 9 to 15 g. (0.3 to 0.5 oz.), taken as a decoction or powder.

Recorded remedies using marigolds are few. Following are two that don't combine marigolds with other herbs.

To treat toothache or sore eyes, 15 g. (0.5 oz) of dried flower heads of Aztec marigold are boiled in water and the liquid is drunk.

To treat whooping cough, 15 fresh flower heads are boiled in water and the resulting decoction is taken along with red sugar (a type of crude cane sugar).

Marigolds are widely grown as ornamental herbs in home gardens and are also sold in garden centers or by florists.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using marigold as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about marigold and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit www.earthpower.com.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Giant Knotweed is Japanese Knotweed is Huzhang

Giant knotweed is a commonly used name for Polygonum cuspidatum Sieb. et Zucc. (Family Polygonaceae). The standardized common name for this herb in commerce is Japanese Knotweed. It also can be known by its Chinese name, huzhang. Parts used are the root and rhizome. Properties include antiarthritic, antirheumatic, analgesic, detoxicant, antitussive, expectorant, antibacterial, antiviral, and antioxidant. The most common traditional uses for giant knotweed are painful joints, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, cough with excessive phlegm, skin sores and boils, and traumatic injuries. More modern or recent uses include burns, acute viral hepatitis, and acute infections (e.g. appendicitis). Finally, huzhang has recently become a major source of resveratrol, a compound found in a number of plants and having a number of reported health-enhancing effects in research trials.

Originally native to eastern Asia, giant knotweed has escaped in North America and is now a weed found throughout New England and neighboring states and in Canada. Young shoots are edible. Despite its abundance here in America, the rhizome and root are not collected or used, and huzhang comes primarily from China.

Although huzhang is botanically very closely related to fo-ti and buckwheat, their major uses differ considerably. Whereas fo-ti (especially the cured form) and buckwheat have a long history of use as a tonic or food, the use of huzhang is limited to specific disease treatments. In recent years, the Chinese have been using huzhang in the treatment of burns and acute viral hepatitis with considerable success. Modern scientific studies performed by Chinese and Japanese researchers have found that some of huzhang's chemical components have antibacterial, antiviral, liver protectant and antioxidant effects.

The unique broad, traditional and modern properites of huzhang, which include detoxicant, antiburn, wound healing, astringent, antimicrobial and antioxidant, have been utilized in skin care cosmetics and environmental products. Its extracts are used in skin lotions, antifatigue, massage and cleansing creams. As mentioned above, it is used as a main source of resveratrol.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including giant knotweed on pages 38-39.

For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Alfalfa - Not Just Sprouts

Did you know that alfalfa is used for more than just sprouts?

Alfalfa, or Medicago sativa L. (Family Leguminosae) has diuretic, tonic, and appetizing properties. The parts used are leaves and flowering tops. It is traditionally used to promote appetite and weight gain, to stop bleeding, or to treat badder infections and fluid retention.

Alfalfa is rich in nutrients including proteins, antioxidant flavonoids, vitamins (A, B2, B6, B12, C, E, and K), amino acids, minerals, sterols, and fibers. It also contains saponin glycosides and coumarins. It is one of the commerical sources for chlorophyll production and is also a source for leaf protein production. Its extracts are used as flavor ingredients in many processed foods.

The popularity of alfalfa is quite recent, perhaps only a couple of decades. Although much chemical and pharmacological research has been performed on alfalfa, there is still no clear-cut evidence to support the benefits of alfalfa's advocated medical uses in humans. In addition, there is preliminary evidence that ingestion of large quantities of alfalfa (especially seeds or sprouts) may produce blood abnormalities and reactivate systemic lupus erythematosus in persons in whom this condition has been clinically inactive. Nevertheless, alfalfa does contain a wide variety of nutrients (both conventional and non-conventional) and ingestion of its leaves and sprouts in moderation can be quite nutritious. One thing to bear in mind is that nothing is absolutely safe, especially if done in excess. Also, it is your body, you know it best. Continue to listen to it.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including alfalfa on page 1.

For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Japanese Honeysuckle, Chinese Medicine

Honeysuckle is a collective name for numerous twining or trailing shrubs with opposite leaves and mildly to very fragrant flowers. The plants are known scientifically as Lonicera of the honeysuckle family. The Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is the honeysuckle most commonly used in Chinese medicine, but several other species are also used.

In Chinese, honeysuckle flowers are called jin yin hua, meaning, literally, gold and silver flowers. The term refers to the color of the flowers of Japanese honeysuckle, which are at first white but then turn to golden yellow. Honeysuckle stems or vines are called ren dong teng, meaning “winter-resistant vine”, which referes to the hardy nature of the vines.

Japanese honeysuckle is a native of Asia but now grows wild in many parts of North America, especially the northeastern United States. Its climbing or twining stem can reach as much as 9 m. (30 ft.) long. Its flowers are very fragrant.

Honeysuckle is widely used in traditional Chinese medicine. Japanese honeysuckle stems, leaves and flowers have been found to contain numerous constituents including luteolin, luteolin derivatives (e.g. lonicerin), alkaloids, tannins, inositol, loganin, secologanin, chlorogenic acid and saponins. Chlorogenic acid is believed to be the major active constituent. Among the most commonly used honeysuckle species, including Lonicera confusa, L. hypoclauca, and L. dasystyla, chlorogenic acid content ranges from less than 0.5% to almost 7%.

The flowers and the stems, with leaves, of the honeysuckle plant are commonly used in Chinese medicine and are produced throughout China.

Honeysuckle flowers are collected during May or June (the flowering season in China is May to July). Traditionally picked in the morning after the dew has evaporated, they are laid out in thin layers on straw mats and are sun-dried or air-dried in the shade. Harsh midday and early afternoon sun is avoided. The flowers are turned over occasionally to ensure even drying.

Honeysuckle stems (or vines) with leaves are collected in autumn or winter. They are tied in small bundles and sun-dried.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using honeysuckle as well as over 45 other herbs. Note: there is also an entry for honeysuckle in Dr. Leung’s encyclopedia, near the back in the section on cosmetic ingredients.

Learn more about honeysuckle and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit http://www.earthpower.com/.

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Also known as curcuma and Indian saffron, turmeric is a common spice used worldwide. It is an ingredient in curry, prepared mustard, pickles, and other well-known food products. It is used both for its yellow coloring effects and for its flavor. Turmeric is derived from a plant of the ginger family known as Curcuma longa or Curcuma domestica. The plant is a perennial herb with a thick rhizome from which large oblong leaves arise.

To produce turmeric, the rhizomes are dug up at the end of the growing season, which is usually in the fall or winter. They are washed, thoroughly boiled, and dried under the sun, yielding the turmeric sold commercially. Two forms, bulbs (main rhizomes) and fingers (branched rhizomes), are usually sold. India is the major producer of turmeric.

Traditional uses include removing blood stasis, promoting and normalizing energy flow in the body, and relieving pain. Major uses include treating chest and rib pain, amenorrhea, abdominal mass, traumatic injuries, swelling and carbuncles. Other uses include the treatment of hematuria (bloody urine), pain and itching of sores and ringworms, toothache, colic, flatulence, and hemorrhage.

Numerous recipes exist for using turmeric to treat various conditions. Most require the use of numerous other herbs/traditional drugs. Here is a recipe dating back to the 7th century. For treating pain and itching resulting from sores or ringworms, turmeric is mashed in water and the mash is applied directly to the affected areas.

This information is excerpted from Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs. This publication includes further information and home remedies using turmeric as well as over 45 other herbs.

Learn more about turmeric and read further about Dr. Leung and his writings! Visit www.earthpower.com.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


If you have never seen a Lycium berry before, then imagine a red raisin with skin that is not glossy, but flat/matte. These berries come from two different species of shrubs (Lycium barbarum L. and Lycium chinense Mill.), native to northern and eastern Asia, respectively.

Ripe fruits are collected in the summer or fall from both wild and cultivated plants, rid of stalk, left in a shady and airy area until skin is wrinkled, and then sun dried or oven dried until skin is dried but the whole fruit is still soft to the touch. Lycium fruit comes in numerous grades. Top grades consist of fruits that are large, bright red or purplish red, soft to the touch and taste sweet.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Foods, Drugs and Cosmetics, 2nd Edition presents technical information and traditional medicinal uses of Lycium berries, as well as similar info for about 500 other herbs.

The encyclopedia entry for Lycium fruit spans four pages (pp. 358-361).
For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit www.earthpower.com.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


Job’s tear (Coix lachrymal-jobi L. and C. lachrymal-jobi L. var ma-yuen (Roman.) Staph. (Family Gramineae) is commonly used as a food and a medicine in China. It is one of the most popular food herbs used in diet therapy of painful and stiff joints, either singly or in soup mixes. From all traditional accounts, it seems to work.

If you suffer from stiff and painful joints, try this: Cook 1-2 ounces of Job’s tear as you would regularly cook barley and drink the soup (or eat the whole thing if you like). Give this a week or two to work.

Many of the traditional uses of Job’s tear may have a scientific basis. Based on experimental animal studies, Japanese scientists have isolated numerous active chemical components from Job’s tear, including coixol (anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, muscle relaxant, fever reducing, etc) and coixans (sugar lowering properties). Job’s tear also contains the more common nutrients, known for their more subtle effects.

Dr. Albert Leung’s book, Better Health with (mostly) Chinese Herbs and Food discusses the use of 60 different herbs as healing foods, including Job’s tear on pages 49-50.
For more information about Dr. Leung and his writings, visit www.earthpower.com.