When you hear the term “Traditional Chinese Medicine” you may immediately think of acupuncture, cupping, remedial massage or Tai Chi. What you may forget are the many herbal remedies used in TCM, which are actually very common and accessible! Many of these everyday ingredients are likely already in your fridge or pantry at home. In this blog, we’ll talk about 13 of them, their properties, and how they’re used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Referred to in TCM as a natural antibiotic, ginger is considered a warming or yang food. Yang foods are generally sweet, spicy and pungent and are recommended during colder winter months to regulate warmth in the body. Ginger is said to aid digestion, reduce nausea and alleviate cold and flu symptoms. It can improve the spleen and raise Qi and yang energy in the body. One common usage of ginger is in tea, with the aim to create warmth and comfort.
2. Cinnamon (Gui Zhi)
Like ginger, cinnamon is considered a warming ingredient and is also used to strengthen yang in the body. It may ease pain, nourish Qi and assist with blood circulation. Cinnamon supports the kidneys and spleen and is even said to ease signs of early ageing. With its sweet and woody flavour, cinnamon is a wonderful addition to healthy desserts, especially those containing apples or pears.
3. Lemongrass (Xiang Mao)
Lemongrass is a cooling or yin food. Yin foods are generally bitter, salty and sour, creating a ‘refreshing’ feel in the body when consumed. Paired with warming ingredients such as ginger, lemongrass can be harmoniously balanced to promote a yin-yang duality in the body. It can be used to reduce inflammation, ease digestion and promote relaxation. Offering a subtly sweet and tangy flavour, this ingredient is commonly added to enhance soups and broths.
4. Garlic (Da Suan)
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, garlic is believed to detoxify and tonify yang in the body. It can be used to improve the immune system, kill parasites, reduce inflammation and aid cardiovascular health. Garlic is said to support the growth of good bacteria in the body. While garlic is an incredibly versatile kitchen staple, consuming raw garlic is said to be especially effective, particularly during colder months, and is often used in a variety of remedies to treat the skin and joints. If you would like to avoid garlic’s natural side effect — bad breath — it’s recommended to neutralise it with ingredients like lemon juice, green tea or apples.
5. Mint (Bo He)
Considered to be the strongest cooling herb, mint has a variety of calming properties, and shouldn’t be limited to only toothpaste and chewing gum. It may be used in TCM to treat headaches, reduce heat on warmer days and detoxify the body. A simple infusion of mint and lemon in water not only tastes good but can also aid digestion.
6. Basil (Luo Le)
Basil is another common, yang herb that has a number of healing properties. It can be especially effective for promoting blood circulation in women who have recently given birth and can also be used to treat kidney and stomach problems. As it is used in a variety of cuisines because of its fresh and sweet taste, basil can be easily implemented into most diets to support holistic health.
7. Sage (Dan Shen)
Perhaps one of the most commonly used herbs in TCM, sage may address symptoms of heat and inflammation and promote cognitive function. Interestingly, sage can be a heating or cooling ingredient, depending on what it’s needed for and how it’s used.
8. Oregano (Niu Zhi)
Containing a variety of antiviral properties, oregano is another popular yang herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It can be used to treat heat stroke, nausea, fever and respiratory disorders. It can be added to a number of salads and soups thanks to its subtle and pleasant flavour.
9. Thyme (Bai Li Xiang)
Known to tonify and move Qi in the body, thyme can be used to boost one’s immune system. Containing warming, yang elements, this powerful herb can also ease congestion during colder seasons and is said to clear mucus from the lungs to reduce coughing. Thyme is commonly added to vegetable broths containing earthy vegetables like carrots, potatoes and turnips, because of its complimentary flavour profile.
10. Spring onions (Cong Bai)
Spring onions are a popular addition to any stir fry or soup. Not only are they a great yang ingredient, capable of balancing these meals, but they’re also rich in vitamins and nutrients, as well as calcium, iron, magnesium and potassium. Considered a superfood, spring onions are said to relieve cold symptoms and aid digestion in TCM.
11. Fennel (Xiao Hui Xiang)
A great source of folate, fennel tonifies the spleen and lung Qi to alleviate digestive discomfort, support lactation and address respiratory issues. It’s a yang ingredient, which relaxes the muscles and can relieve cramping and bloating. Containing a more potent flavour, fennel seeds can also be used to season food and produce similar benefits.
12. Coriander (Xiang Cai)
Love it or hate it, coriander is a yang ingredient frequently added to soups, curries and salads to create a warming sensation in the body. It may promote digestion, detoxify the body and alleviate inflammation.
13. Parsley (Zhou Ye Ou Qin)
Rounding off the list is parsley, another versatile, yin ingredient used in a plethora of meals across the world. Parsley is a diuretic, which means that it helps to reduce fluid build-up in the body. It can also eliminate toxins and tonify blood. Parsley is linked to improving the stomach, bladder and kidneys. Added to salads and soups, it gives a peppery taste with a touch of earthiness, making it a great all-rounder ingredient in the kitchen.
While this list is not as comprehensive as it can be, it does demonstrate how simple, everyday ingredients are implemented in Traditional Chinese Medicine to improve holistic well-being. If you’re interested in learning more about TCM and how it can be applied why not check out the Sydney Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine? Contact us today to learn more about our Diploma or Bachelor level courses in TCM, or to make an appointment at our teaching clinic.