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.
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.
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
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.
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!
Of course this just happened. It's springtime. Spring correlates
with the Liver and its interior-exterior partner in crime -- the
Gall Bladder. I'm unfortunately already prone to the ridiculously
difficult to eradicate pathogen known in TCM as "Damp-Heat." My
protective wei qi was still struggling to recover from the exotic
array of assailants it managed to fend off in Central America last
month. "Oh, Juli, did you get Dengue Fever again this year?" "Well,
not that I know of..."
The pathogenic stars had aligned. The signs and symptoms
appeared over the course of 2-3 days. First, it was just a
seemingly innocent wiry Liver pulse. OK, OK, it's springtime; I'm
irritable and I know it. No big deal. A quick tongue check in the
mirror confirmed that yes, of course, I'm teeming with damp heat in
the lower jiao. What would I be without my characteristic tongue
coat? (A healthier person, for one!)
I go about my day only to realize that by afternoon I'm starting
to feel weird. Really weird. There's no valid excuse for the sudden
and growing nausea, accompanied by an intermittent, unilateral
shooting headache that jumped around as if someone was sprinkling
headache pop rocks all over my temples, vertex, forehead, OWW! I
usually don't get headaches, and I'm not usually nauseous. I wanted
to vomit and get further down the road towards recovery. Then the
blurry vision started in, and I noticed I'd been ignoring a
hypochondrial pain all day. And, oh MAN, what is that strong bitter
taste in the back of my mouth? Did I just crack a filling and let
the poison ooze out? Gross. I'm getting dizzy and don't feel like
lifting the phone to call the dentist.
Aaaaaand it finally dawns on me. It's
all over me, from head to toe. I have Damp-Heat in the Gall
Bladder. As I run to the mirror for a tongue progress report, I get
all the confirmation I could ever dream of. There's the Damp-Heat
coating, yep, and now it's grown in size and had two long greasy
arms on display down the sides of my tongue. But, oh no, what…?!
You have to be kidding me. Are thosepurple spotsall over the sides
of my tongue, too? I mentally scanned the other symptoms I'd
noticed over the week, and realized it was true. I also had Liver
Blood Stasis. Great. Hey, it's not like I had anything else planned
for the next few days.
Why do I always get the stubborn pathogenic scenarios? At my
first visit with a doctor of oriental medicine, she struggled a bit
with my diagnosis. Was it yang deficiency? Or, was it yin
deficiency? Maybe it's both. She said I had Spleen deficiency and
Kidney deficiency. Don't forget the Liver Qi Stagnation! Seriously?
I know this is a first-time appointment, but isn't that almost
So, here's when TCM swoops in and saves my holiday weekend.
After doing the dangerous deed of self-diagnosing (never
recommended) on Thursday afternoon, I started in on an
individualized acupuncture treatment plan. Then I repeated it the
next day, too. What points did I use? Don't try this at home, but I
did: LV3, GB43, GB41, GB40, GB34, SP9, LI4, and LI11. Is that
right? Sure, in my limited opinion. Of course, there were more
difficult-to-reach points that I should have added in, but hey, I'm
needling myself here! And judging by the fact that I felt almost
normal again by Friday afternoon, I'm calling it awesome. Sure, I
also made some dietary changes to balance the Damp Heat and give my
overloaded Liver and Gall Bladder a rest from the constant
inundation of delicious fatty foods.
Yes, whole-fat dairy and meat is good for me, generally
speaking, but when my Liver boss and Gall Bladder assistant are
under siege, I have to abstain from the delights of my life. That's
right -- no buttery popcorn this week. Instead, I emphasized the
cooling foods like celery and watermelon, some beverages like green
tea, and I focused on eating really light for a couple of days.
That went surprisingly well, considering I had completely lost my
appetite from the Damp-Heat in the Gall Bladder thing. Western
natural medicine has noticeably compatible suggestions for altering
your diet during the spring to help cleanse and support the Liver
and Gall Bladder. They emphasize a diet of light, sprouty and
shooty foods; must avoid those heavy, greasy foods for a while!
Gall Bladder Springtime
By Saturday, the greasy coated arms of the Damp-Heat beast that
lives on the back of my tongue had receded, as did almost all other
symptoms. I beat you, Springtime. You got me good -- but this time
I was prepared to fight back. Sorry, Spring -- maybe next year!
• So What Is Chinese Medicine?
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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