At the White Crane Academy we are pretty passionate about the benefits of combining acupuncture and herbs and would like to share some information on herbs with you that you can safely and effectively incorporate into your practices.
Over the next few months we will be discussing topics like the therapeutic effect of tastes in foods and herbal medicines; how you can use commonly available herbs like Gou Ji berries (Gou Qi Zi Fructus Lycium barbarum) and Dang Gui (Radix Angelica sinensis); and how to apply ready-made herbal products such as the Zheng Gu Shui herbal liniment for musculo-skeletal trauma.
We will begin this journey with a bit of shameless spice…. Ginger.
Actions and indications
Fresh Ginger’s pungent taste gives it a dynamic and dispersing quality, whilst its warm temperature means it can dispel Cold. As it enters the Lung channel these properties give Ginger the ability to release the exterior, promote sweating, and dispel Cold when there is a Wind-Cold invasion. It can be used on its own as a home remedy or in combination with other herbs in classical formulae like Cinnamon Twig Decoction (Gui Zhi Tang). Here it is used together with the sweet tasting date, Da Zao, to harmonise the Ying and Wei Qi when their mutually regulating action has been disrupted by an external pathogen, leading to symptoms such as fever and chills that are unrelieved by sweating.
Ginger also enters the Spleen and Stomach and its warm and pungent nature disperses Damp and Cold in the middle burner and alleviates nausea and vomiting. It is a commonly used as a culinary herb / spice and it is able to simultaneously add flavour and also promote digestion. In herbal medicine it is seen as having detoxifying properties and it is used to reduce side effects from toxic herbs such as Aconite (Fu Zi) and may also be used to treat food poisoning.
One spice-four herbs
Whilst Ginger is a single cooking ingredient it becomes four distinct herbal remedies when it is prepared in different ways. In addition to the fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang) described above, it can be dried to produce ‘Gan Jiang’ which enhances its pungent and hot nature so that it can more strongly warm and disperse Cold stagnation in the Spleen and Stomach to relieve epigastric and abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and Cold-Damp related diarrhoea. If Ginger is dry-fried to produce ‘Pao Jiang’ it loses its pungent nature and becomes bitter and warm, and is used to stop bleeding in the digestive tract. Finally if we use just the peel of the fresh Ginger (Sheng Jiang Pi) this herb is considered to be pungent and Cold, with a diuretic action to promote urination and drain Dampness from the body. It has a gentle nature and is therefore commonly used to help treat pregnancy related oedema.
From seasoning… to solvents
Ginger demonstrates very well the subtlety and elegance of Chinese herbal medicine. Different parts of the same herb have different effects and the properties and actions of a herb can be transformed by how they are prepared. Whilst the ancient Chinese viewed this in terms of flavours and temperatures there is increasing evidence that the different ways of preparing a herb (e.g. stir frying it in honey, alcohol, vinegar or salt) provide specific solvents that release a different range compounds from the plant material.
We see this time and time again. Another lovely example is found in the use of Ma Huang (Ephedra sinensis) – the botanical source of ephedrine. Unprepared Ma Huang strongly promotes sweating and releases the exterior but if it is stir fried in honey (Zhi Ma Huang) the addition of the sweet taste moderates this dispersing property and the action of the herb changes to descend Lung Qi and relieve asthmatic wheezing. In addition whilst the aerial parts of this plant can promote sweating, the root of the plant has the opposite effect and is used to stop excessive sweating.
Back to Ginger…. what evidence do we have to justify using this herb in our clinics? Well, as with a lot of clinical research, there are conflicting findings. The most recent systematic review on the potential benefits of Ginger capsules administered during chemotherapy found there was preliminary evidence of a 60% reduction in acute vomiting and an 80% reduction in the likelihood of chemotherapy related fatigue (Crichton et al. 2019). There is also some interesting research (Nabilah et al. 2019, Zhao et al. 2011) supporting the use of Ginger as an anti-inflammatory agent in a variety of degenerative diseases including type-2 diabetes, to relieve migraine, reduce hair loss, and even to promote the size and frequency of egg laying in brown hens!
Ginger and you
So, Ginger is a great spice-herb. How can you use Ginger in your practice? Here are a couple of ‘home remedies’ you can use for yourself and suggest to your patients.
- In the early stages of a Wind-Cold invasion cook 3 slices of fresh ginger, 3 stalks of fresh spring onion, in 200mls of water for 3 minutes. Drink while hot and ideally go to bed to sweat the cold out.
- This is not for the faint hearted, but is a recipe / method passed down from my Japanese mentor and it really works well for the early stage of cold (both Wind-Heat and Wind-Cold). Grate a large quantity of ginger – at least 60g or even more with the skin on. Squeeze its juice out into a cup and pour hot water over it. You can sweeten it with honey. Now slowly sip it, it is pungent and burning to the sore throat, but keep going until you finish. Keep your neck wrapped up with a scarf and sweat the cold out!
- To alleviate nausea steep 3 slices of fresh ginger in hot water for 5 mins. Add a teaspoon of honey. Drink or sip small amounts of the drink throughout the day.
Ginger and chicken recipe to warm and strengthen the Middle
Ingredients (for 2 people)
- 4 chicken thighs with bones and skin on
- A piece of Ginger about thumb-sized, peeled, sliced and cut into match sticks
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed and chopped
- 5 spring onions, finely chopped
- 1 table spoon of sake or rice wine
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- A pinch of salt
Bring 700ml of water to the boil and throw in the ginger, garlic and sake, followed by the chicken. When it has come back to the boil, reduce the heat and skim the surface of any froth from the chicken. Add soy sauce and a pinch of salt and gently simmer for about 30 minutes.
When cooked, add sesame oil and the spring onions, and season with salt to taste.
This is a very simple yet wholesome soup and perfect for the winter. Chicken supports the Middle and tonifies the Qi. Add some black sesame seeds for a Blood tonifying effect. If you add cooked rice or vermicelli noodles, it is a complete meal in one.