In the West, we often think of the prevention of disease as simply going to the doctor for routine tests, eating a balanced diet, and exercising three times a week. But in Chinese Medicine, prevention of disease involves the daily consumption of herbs or “medicinal foods” that are in accordance with one's particular body type or “constitution.”
In the old days, wealthy families consulted an herbalist to plan the meals for each family member according to their general health condition. Certain herbs in Chinese Medicine are also considered to be foods, and are regularly added to meals to promote optimal health and longevity.
Here are 5 of the most ubiquitous herbs used as foods for optimal health:
Ginseng is a powerful adaptogen, which is a specific type of herb that balances the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, sympathetic nervous system, and other systems of the body. For instance, if a person has a condition of hypoglycemia, an adaptogen such as ginseng will raise the blood sugar; if a person has hyperglycemia, ginseng will lower the blood sugar.
Similarly, people who are chronically fatigued can experience recovery of their energy by consuming ginseng regularly, while those who suffer from chronic insomnia may experience better sleep when they consume ginseng before bed. In Asian cuisine, ginseng root is steamed and added to soups and stews. It has a texture similar to other root vegetables.
Ginger is a warming, pungent herb that is often added to stir-fries as well as soups and stews. It aids in digestion of heavy meals to prevent bloating, heartburn, gas, and general digestive discomfort. Ginger tea or simply fresh ginger can treat nausea caused by motion sickness, pregnancy, or food poisoning.
Adding a couple of slices of ginger to your meals can also alleviate various pains, including headaches, menstrual pain, joint pain, and arthritis. Daily consumption may prevent the common cold, the flu, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
Goji berries are believed to have powerful anti-aging properties and to promote a long and healthy life. They're added to many different Chinese herbal formulas, as well as everyday meals. Specifically, goji berries are used to prevent gray hair, hair loss, sagging or wrinkling of the skin, and diabetes.
They are said to alleviate low back pain, knee pain, fatigue, low libido, dry eyes, and poor eyesight. You can find dried goji berries in the bulk food section of most health food stores. They are tasty added to trail mixes, cereal, homemade energy bars, or steeped in teas.
Lotus root is a good source of B vitamins, iron, and electrolytes, and is known in Chinese Medicine to promote healthy blood and fluids. Commonly added to soups, stews, and stir-fries, it may help relieve stress, insomnia, irritability, and nervousness. Lotus root may also be helpful for treating a cough, fever, or congestion. Unlike most root crops, lotus has a slightly crunchy texture when cooked.
Garlic is added as a condiment to a variety of foods in Chinese Medicine, and is often used alongside ginger to increase the digestibility of heavy dishes. Garlic can fight bacterial and viral infections, as well as yeast overgrowth, fungal infections, and worms. Daily consumption of garlic may prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, cold and flu, nasal congestion, chronic inflammatory conditions, allergies, and weight gain.
For optimal health, try adding at least one of these foods to some of the meals you eat every day. You may start to notice an effortless shedding of excess body fat, enhanced muscle strength and endurance, less incidence of pain and illness, and overall health improvement over the longterm.