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Chinese Herbs for Health
Since the early days, the Chinese have learnt that good health has to be cultivated and nurtured. To them, the way to prolong life is to cultivate life, build up health and prevent disease. The Nei Jing or the Yellow Emperor Internal Classic delved a great deal on the subject of health preservation. In a nutshell, we need to eat right and lead a healthy lifestyle to stay healthy. The Chinese laid out four basic requirements to good health.
1. Cultivate a mind of peace and tranquility to enable the qi to
function harmoniously and the essence and vitality retained.
2. Adapt the body to the changes of the natural environment thus
avoiding attacks by exopathogens.
3. Pay attention to the diet and lifestyle.
4. Emphasise physical training or exercise.
Often, many of us take good health for granted, thinking that it comes to us as a matter of course or it is our birthright. And, when we feel sick we make a dash to our doctors wanting to find out what has gone wrong. The doctor may check and pronounce that there is nothing wrong that he can see or hear. We come home with a good feeling after being given a clean bill of health. Sometimes, this visit to the doctor may simply turn out to be a false assurance. Soon after, the illness manifests itself in a tangible way - like a lump, laceration or high blood count, etc. That is when we know that we are really sick. To the ancient Chinese, the illness has reached its late stage. It would be wiser if such illness is arrested when it has just started. Chinese medicine aims at doing just that, while western medicine tries to cure illness when it has manifested itself. According to the Nei Jing, to treat illness after it has set in is like digging a well when one is thirsty. Doing this is to practise inferior medicine!
Dietotherapy is a branch of medicine that originated a long time ago in China. It was recorded that there were four kinds of royal doctors in the imperial household, one of which was the dietetic doctor in charge of diet preparation, health care and preservation.
According to the ancient Chinese, food and herbs are the same. Indeed, this is true! Many of us use herbs in our cooking and yet are ignorant of their medicinal values. Take, for example, ginger. This is the most commonly and widely used herb with numerous medicinal properties. The next time you go for a Chinese dinner, take a closer look at the dishes served. They may contain some herbs. They are being used because of the deep-rooted Chinese belief that herbs help nurture health.
One outstanding Chinese physician, Sun Si-miao, wrote that a good doctor will use food to treat any illness by correcting the imbalance to restore health. It is only when this fails that more aggressive or potent drugs are used to cure it. This concept goes against what we learn in life. We take drugs whenever we are sick and we also take drugs to avoid being sick. We know nothing about cultivating and nourishing health to correct imbalance!
In our biochemistry lessons at the university, we learnt that all matter is made of chemical constituents. To the chemist, food or herbs have certain active ingredients in them. These active ingredients are the chemical agents that gives them the potency as drugs or medicine. Nothing else is important or matters! So the very first question always asked is: what is it in an herb that makes it works? There is this obsession to find the active ingredient!
Many of us are told to take certain types of food because they contain this and that vitamin or mineral and they are required by the body. Others tell us to take food in certain amounts to fulfill the caloric requirements of our body. So, they come out with a formula of a balanced diet. Unfortunately, such people think that the active ingredient, vitamin, mineral or caloric content in a food or herb is all there is to it. Indeed, we agree to this scientific aspect of such an analysis but we have also learnt that this is only one aspect of reality, and that by knowing this, we are still far from knowing the whole truth.
Food and herbs have life and energy within them. When these vibrate in resonance with our human energy they energise and heal us. This is one aspect of thinking that science has ignored or missed out. Food, the herb or our very own human body is not just a pile of dead chemicals. The chemical constituents seen by chemists are the tangible expression of the biological energies within matter. Cutting-edge physics has now come to sing the same song as the ancient, mystic sages, saying that energy determines matter and not the other way around as is still being taught in schools even today!
To the Chinese taking food and treating disease with medicine share the same principle. The Chinese, since ancient days, have identified a number of herbs that can supplement and tonify qi, blood, yin and yang. The wise use them to help maintain their health.
To the Chinese taking herbs as food is either to treat diseases or to build up health and prevent diseases in healthy people. In this booklet, we discuss some of the commonly used herbs that are good for health.
The wise are not learned, the learned are not wise.
Ch'ng Beng Im and Chris K. H. Teo