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!
Yes, I said "we." I'm
lumping you all in with me and almost everyone else I know. We're
wimpy. My sister said it best several years ago in a comment about
the "wussification of America." No, I'm not sure how to spell that.
She was speaking about the general wussiness of people these days,
and I'll see that new word and raise it to
another contextual use.
I'm sure you know what I'm talking about. If you have had a baby
in the past 10 years, you've certainly had to explain to a
grandmother (your kid's or otherwise) why baby has to ride in the
car seat for every little trip. "Yes, grandma, I know
we're just riding up the street to the corner store. Yes, she still
needs to be strapped into her car seat. Just because." Grandma
undoubtedly replies, "I never strapped your father into a car seat,
and he lived. He would ride all the way to Florida to visit Aunt
Ida every year and nothing ever happened to him." Then simply to
justify my own wussiness, I make up something about how I'll be
arrested if the police see me with my kid riding on my lap.
Some of you might not be
convinced about the car seats. They're important. Even I strap my
kids into those things just to ride up the street, and I don't
consider myself a huge wussy. Just start extrapolating this theory,
though, and you'll surely jump onto the "wussification of America"
bandwagon. We all drink light beer. Every kid gets a trophy. They
cancel school when it snows. I'm so hot walking the 10 feet from my
air-conditioned car to my air-conditioned office. I have to wait 3
whole seconds for my Facebook page to load on this old phone.
How does this relate to Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine? Well,
the wimps don't leave their wimpiness at the door of the clinic.
That is for sure. I can write this post without fear of offending
anyone, because I, myself, am a needle wuss. That's right. I don't
want to feel the needles. I'll needle you, but don't you
try to needle me.
Clearly I am not alone. Sure, you have a few patients who never
flinch when you insert a needle. They never complain that something
hurts or feels weird. These are the lovely "exception" patients,
and they are few and far between. Most of us recoil in pain -- pain
that is really just an unfulfilled apprehension of pain --
with the insertion of each needle. At first, I liked seeing this
reaction from patients, because it justified my own wimpiness. Now,
though, I've evolved. As I become less wimpy about needling myself
and letting others needle me, I think I subconsciously expect more
of my patients, too.
The people in Nicaragua
never flinched. We would jab those needles right into the sore back
or the tired feet, and the patient would hardly notice. Are
Nicaraguans simply a stronger people than Americans? Probably, but
I didn't stop there. No, what about the Chinese needling? So deep,
so hard, so scary for most Americans. Are they inherently stronger
than us, too? They want to feel that moxa until it burns a
blackened memorial into ST36. I would move to Japan, home of
"shallow needling," to avoid those 6-inch needles I've been told so
much about from the Chinese professors and clinicians.
No, I don't think it's
that Nicaraguans are freakishly strong or that Chinese people are
particularly masochistic. I just think Americans are caught in the
throes of the recent trends towards wussification. Be careful,
don't get hurt; don't let the sunshine get you! I reject
wussification insofar as I legally can, but I am still and will
always be one of the wimpy ones in the clinic when I'm on the
receiving end of that needle business. So, if you're afraid of
needles and therefore have not yet tried acupuncture, this post is
for you. If I can do it, you can do it.
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
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
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.
Once 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
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
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
I don't even like poetry, but this stuff is literally
So, 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
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!
Ladies and Gentlemen, put down your gardening gloves. Yes, it's
time to get outside and renew your direct bonds with the earth --
grow produce, plant flowers, trim bushes, etc. Just don't let me
see you wearing gloves while you do it!
I know it's seemingly natural to walk out to the garage and arm
yourself with the basics:
*Special note for #4. If you're going through the trouble of
making a garden, purchasing seeds, and caring for them all season,
go ahead and spend the extra 20 cents and spring for the organic
seeds. Seriously? You don't think it's "worth it" to avoid some
genetic modification and pesticide exposure for 20 cents? I'll see
you in the clinic.
So, why isn't there a #5? What about those gardening gloves?
Let's break down the reasons that most people purchase and wear
gardening gloves. First, you probably hate dirt, and you don't want
it on your beautiful hands. OK. Let's just stop there. The dirt is
your friend, and it would like to do you a service. Get out of its
Sink your beautiful bare hands into the dirt, and you could be
rewarded with Myobacterium vaccae, a friendly bacteria that
stimulates the release of serotonin in your body. This is awesome.
Serotonin is known as the "happy hormone," because of its role in
elevating mood and decreasing anxiety. Read more about the benefits
of dirt for your health in this article by Therapeutic Landscapes
Now get out there, toss your gardening gloves in the back of the
garage with everything else, and get your hands dirty. While you're
at it, take off your shoes, too, and plant your feet firmly and
comfortably on the earth. This is called grounding, and we humans
have been screwing it up by walking around with shoes (mostly
ion-reflective rubber-soled shoes) whenever we're outside lately
(say, for the past 100 years or so). Don't worry; you can still
wear clothes when you go outside -- just leave those hands and feet
• Jabbing Nerves with Needles
• Mission in Nicaragua
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