How to Use Chinese Herbs

Think it's too difficult for you? I think you're wrong. File this post away under the "if I can do it, you can do it" series. Unfortunately, this practical how-to post is the result of someone actually needing to use raw Chinese herbs to feel better--and that someone is me.

Remember that whole "damp-heat in the gall bladder" thing from a couple of weeks ago? Yep, me too. Turns out, I still have that going on. Yes, I self-diagnosed and self-treated in near silence. Did I say I was good at this? I'm sorry. No. I'm a student. I know close to nothing. In my defense, upon an actual visit to the NUHS AOM clinic to exercise my student-access-to-free-care privilege, I learned that I nailed my diagnosis and was only one off in my acupoints selection plan.

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Ingredients for Treatment

I was indeed on my way towards getting back to normal, but not quite there yet. No. What I needed was a boost -- a big powerful boost in the health direction. I needed herbs from Dr. Cai. After showing my tongue and displaying my pulsating wrists to the masses of interns, I left the clinic with my trusty sack of Chinese herbs. At Dr. Cai's request, I also needed to add in a slice of fresh ginger and three red dates with each batch, which I happened to have on hand.

Many people would peer into this bag thinking, "What the heck do I do with this pile of roots, bark, mushrooms, berries, and other unidentifiables? Technically, there could be geckos and cicada shells in there...shudder. In fact I refuse to look up everything in the formula shown on my receipt just in case therearegeckos and cicada shells in there.... So, here it is--your pictorial step-by-step guide to using raw Chinese herbs in a decoction. This is the instruction sheet that goes home with the patient.

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Instructions for Cooking Chinese Herbal Formula

What this is trying to say is dump one batch of the herbs into a pot, soak it, bring it to a boil, then simmer to reduce the liquid to a drinkable amount. Now, you'll want to find the perfect balance between "disgusting taste" and "effective dose," and that isnoteasy. You know you want to concentrate the liquid for potency, but you also know that you're increasing the taste by the same stroke.

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Before Cooking and After Cooking

Most herbal decoctions do not taste good. Face it. Most of us are damp. We eat dairy and fried foods (mmmm...fried dairy), and we end up with damp-heat. Thus, we need bitter herbs much of the time. Who's the lucky fella who gets a simple Spleen Qi deficiency diagnosis that results in a sweet licorice and berries formula to take home? Not this guy!

So, I soak my bitter herbs, I boil my bitter herbs, I simmer my bitter herbs. I drink my powerful decoction, and I go to sleep to let my body do its thing. I wake up a little better, and I know I have five more nights of chugging down my "bedtime tea" before my tongue can register just how gross it really tastes.

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"Bedtime Tea"

I could avoid much of the "hard work" in this process by requesting my herbs in granule form (like a dusty powder that you stir in warm water to dissolve). But then I'd lose a little potency. I could avoid all the work and the taste by requesting a patent pill formula, but then I'd lose even more potency. No thanks, weak sauce. I need the most full-strength option known to man -- ancient Chinese man, specifically. I need to decoct my raw herbs!