Archive for tag: books

Essential Oils or Chinese Herbs

Are essential oils (EOs) the answer to the challenging questions of how to locate, transport, store, and prepare Chinese herbs? I'm starting to think so. The more I use EOs in everyday life, in everything from cleaning my kitchen floor to healing skin wounds, and even to give my beer that summery citrus flavor, the more I see the large overlap between EOs and Chinese herbs.

2014-07-28_booksAs a student of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM), mostly derived from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I respect and value the efficacy of a freshly decocted batch of raw Chinese herbs. I know they work, I've gained a basic understanding of why they work, but I struggle with the practicality of using them either for my family now or for a future patient population.

What are these challenges? First, there are a lot of "herbs" in TCM's Materia Medica (book of medical substances, whether plant, animal, or mineral derived). To stock a shoebox-sized amount of just most of them would require a very large storage room. Some need to be refrigerated, some need to be pulverized just prior to use, and some are illegal to use in the United States. No rhinoceros horn for you!

2014-07-28_shelvesFinding them--even the legal ones--presents yet another stumbling block. Should you order online, feign condition after condition to cache all the prescribed herbs you can squeak out of your clinician at school? Drive to Chinatown and take a stab at which shop has fresh, safe and affordable herbs? Sure enough, within a few days of making each trip to Chinatown myself I realize, "DOH! Now I need that other herb, too!" Back in the car....

After a year or so of engaging in this disorderly and expensive game of cat and mouse, I'd tried all (well, most) of these tactics--even growing some of my own! All legal, of course. Think "mint," not "ephedra." So, what's an AOM student to do? For the past year, this one's been exploring the way that high-quality EOs could fulfill many of the same needs as our Chinese herbs. How? Well, I'm not entirely sure that the properties translate exactly, but many sure seem to do just that. Let's take a look at our good friend, peppermint.

peppermint plantChinese name: Bo he. Common English name: Field Mint. Latin name: Mentha piperita. Same plant...same medicinal properties? I argue "yes." Most basically, peppermint is "cold" in nature. Both West and East agree on that. TCM goes on to add other attributes such as aromatic, acrid, and thus capable of dispelling the common wind-heat invasion (think: yellow snot and sore throat). My western manual of EOs describes peppermint as "anti-inflammatory, antibacterial and invigorating," with primary uses including "congestion, fever, influenza, heartburn." Sounds...pretty...similar!

Sure, the harvesting, processing, and distillation processes change, emphasize, or even exclude some of the chemical constituents, and the final usable product of dried bo he differs greatly in appearance from the bottle of peppermint EO. Does that mean they function differently, though? I used to harvest, dry, and lightly decoct my own bo he when I felt a wind-heat invasion coming on. It worked, as long as I was at home with my own garden and had some time to prepare it all. Lately, I've been easily reaching into my oils cabinet and tapping two drops of peppermint EO into a mug of warm water. Instant peppermint tea? Definitely. Instant medicinal answer to a wind-heat invasion? I say yes again, based on my own experiences.

2014-07-28_peppermintI'm not a chemist or a doctor, but in my experience and increasingly informed opinion, I'm finding that EOs can make a handy substitute for Chinese herbsin many cases. As with raw herbs, quality is of upmost importance when selecting an EO company. Storage, convenience and ease of use are all in favor of EOs, but they are limited in number. I haven't found one called "gecko" or "scorpion," or especially "Bear Gall Bladder," all of which are clutch entries in a TCM Materia Medica.

Conclusion: If you can manage to live and treat without the more exotic or illegal Chinese herbs, then EOs might be a practical substitute much of the time. Imagine the difference between handing a patient a bag full of raw ingredients, a pictorial instruction sheet, and a handshake full of hope that they can execute the cooking process effectively vs. handing the patient a small bottle of EO and the simple instructions to put two drops into a mug of warm water.

Extra considerations abound; this post cannot attempt to cover every angle or offer every comparison point. Granule or patent pills can make Chinese herbs more practical, while some EOs are quite expensive to purchase. Frankincense can easily run $100 per 15 ml bottle. Hey, if it's good enough for the Christ Child, you're going to have to pay up! There are also some pesky mind-blocks when trying to move seamlessly from one medical paradigm to the other. How could a TCM practitioner possibly use hot cinnamon bark and clove bud for a yellow-snot, sore throat sinus infection? Yet, that's exactly what the EO prescription is in that case. Homeopaths have no qualms with the theory of treating heat with heat, but that's not the plan in AOM!


For now, I'll chalk this entire idea up to just another piece of evidence that an integrated approach to healthcare is truly the best option. Taking what works from any and all medical systems offers our patients the most options for being well. I'm open to that...

I Want It Now

Over the past four weeks in my "Nutrition and Food Therapy of Oriental Medicine" course, I've been frustrated and slightly puzzled over the subject matter. I'm usually more a go-with-the-flow student in class; I'm sure the instructor knows what we need to cover and how to cover it. This time around, I still think he knows what we need to cover and how to lay it out, but I'm not as easy going about the whole thing for some reason.

Maybe it's because it's springtime, so my Liver wind is swirling and I'm irritable. Perhaps I'm overly critical because dietetics is my personal favorite element of oriental medicine. Maybe I'm just a jerk. I don't know. I want to study therapeutic properties of foods, and I want to right now!


Let me start by saying how much I like this professor and every class I've had with him to date. The theory behind where we stick these needles and which herbal formulas we recommend is absolutely mind blowing. He taught me two years ago that winter has a color and a flavor -- black and salty, for the record. Yet each week, we seem to review the basics -- flavors and temperatures of substances. The course title indicates that the focus of the classwork will be nutrition and food therapy within the framework of oriental medicine, so I keep wanting more -- more detail, more examples, more ideas of how to alter a person's diet in order to improve health.

As we approach the famed Week Five Quiz that now makes an appearance in most classes, I'm starting to second-guess myself. Have we been just reviewing the basics of five-phase theory, or did the professor slip pages of new detail into the lectures when I wasn't looking? I'm sure he worked new information into the framework so smoothly that my associate learning didn't even know what was happening.

My frustration with this class is that I love the topic so much that I can't reach a satiation point. I will never have enough detail about food therapy to be content. I want more, I want it now, and I want to share it with everyone I know...and some people I don't even know yet.

2014-06-04_teaOnce again, springtime has duped me. I'm irritable, I'm impatient, and my Liver is out of control. Feel my pulse, second position on the left wrist. Can you say "wiry?"

As I do from time to time, I realize now it's time to reread the Dao de Jing, or the Tao Te Ching. Same book. Oh, pinyin, you are a beast that cannot be pinned down. The point is that this book, this short, easy to read, little book, can save your sanity. Whenever I feel overwhelmed, overstressed, over Livery in any way, I know it's time to pick it up.

Look at this thing. Lao Tzu, you genius!

"Those who know do not speak.
Those who speak do not know."

I, and just about everyone else, could learn a little something from that eloquent one-liner (two-liner?).

"Rushing into action, you fail. Trying to grasp things, you lose them.
Forcing a project to completion, you ruin what was almost ripe."

I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally masterful.

2014-06-04_wordsSo, why I am frustrated in Nutrition class? Why do I want to rush it? Why am I desperately grasping at the next piece of information? It's that "forcing a project to completion" part, that part I love for personal reasons. My procrastination has been vindicated!

As a professor, I often wait until the deadline to return students' papers; as a student, I expect my professors to grade my paper today! Actually, I don't think Lao Tzu would like that part.