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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/.

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