(CHINESE) HERB NEWS
in this issue:
Chinese prickly pear
A Note From Dr. Leung
Modern Western medicine is great for emergencies and illnesses that require extraordinary measures, but is not so great when it comes to everyday problems like the common cold, flu, arthritis, allergies, and hypertension. It specializes in “sick” care and doesn’t seem to bother with true health care, even though our politicians keep talking about “health” care. Since the passage of the Dietary Supplement, Health and Education Act (DSHEA) of 1994, there has been such a resurgence of alternative and natural health care activities that it is reminiscent of the old Wild West. Opportunistic companies latch onto “scientific evidence” of anything and turn it into “new” or “breakthrough” products which they shamelessly market to gullible consumers. I know companies that have absolutely no herbal or chemical expertise, yet produce hundreds of herbal and nutritional products and market them to natural health-care practitioners and the general public. The only qualification of their in-house herbal experts is their filial relationship to the company owners.
Dr. Leung is author of the Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics (Wiley-Interscience), which was published in 1980 and revised in 1996. He is also creator of PHYTOMED, a prototype computer database on Chinese herbal medicine developed under contract with the National Cancer Institute.
This unique “qualification” seems to exempt them from any sort of training in the herbal field (e.g., an accredited degree or apprenticeship with a traditional herbalist). It also seems to waive the requirement to differentiate among simple herbs or chemicals, such as Asian ginseng and Siberian ginseng, or safflower flower and saffron, as well as enzymes and glycans, or sugars and amino acids. Yet, their product lines contain the latest “scientific” discoveries, produced under the utmost secrecy, as not even their major distributors or clients are permitted to visit their facilities. One can easily see their rationale behind this policy: If you didn’t know what you were putting into your product line or didn’t even have the fancy ingredients in your plant that were listed on your product labels, you wouldn’t want others to see your facilities either. Keeping this situation in mind, I have been “withholding” potentially valuable information for consumers and health practitioners alike. My main reason is that I don’t want companies like these to take advantage of the information and exploit the public. For example, if I had reported on results of single studies or clinical use of certain common tonic or food-herbs, showing them to have strong antiviral, antioxidant, anti-tumor, anti-allergic, vascular, or other hotly sought-after effects, the information would quickly be utilized to launch new breakthrough products. Another reason for me to “withhold” information is because I don’t want to contribute to the continued misuse of certain herbs that are generating big sales for many companies, big and small, ethical and unethical. Thus, if I had reported that mahuang had been used in China to treat bedwetting in children, companies would use this as justification for continuing to promote their mahuang products as daily supplements, safe even for children! I certainly don’t want to do that. It is a shame that such a useful treatment herb like mahuang (my emphasis to distinguish it from food herbs that can be used as daily supplements) has been abused and given a bad name in this country. There are just too many “hired guns” and few organizations that are free of indebtedness to marketers of herbal products to present an impartial and truthful picture on herbs, especially Chinese herbs (this Newsletter, Issue 1, pp.1-2; Issue 2, pp. 1-2; Issue 7, p. 1). The handful of popular writers who report on Chinese herbs don’t even read Chinese, nor have they the appropriate academic credentials, such as an accredited degree. Their information on Chinese herbs is based primarily on quotes from their Chinese contacts, which are often misinterpreted. Sometimes when they do have the truth, they cannot afford to tell it, because they are financially supported, directly or indirectly, by marketers of herbal products who have a self-interest to disseminate only information that is favorable to them. I think it’s time that genuine, honest professionals in the herbal and related fields banded together to get the truth out. I personally know many of these people. All that is needed is a sincere, energetic and capable individual, and an ethical information marketer (publisher, seminar organizer, etc.) to organize them and start disseminating truthful unbiased information. America deserves more than what it is currently getting.
Herb Tips - Herbal Remedies
Chinese herbal medicine is probably the only ancient medical culture that has been continuously maintained, updated, and expanded since about 1,100 BC, when it was first documented. Over the past 3,000 years, extensive documentation of herb use has resulted in hundreds of major works (including numerous famous classic herbals) describing the properties and uses of over 13,000 natural drugs as well as over 130,000 prescriptions. The most well-known classic records include the Wu Shi Er Bing Fang or Prescriptions for Fifty-two Diseases (1,065-771 BC), Shennong Ben Cao Jing or Shennong Herbal (100 BC-200 AD), and the Ben Cao Gang Mu or Herbal Systematics by Li Shi-Zhen (1590 AD). The Prescriptions describes 247 drugs and 283 prescriptions for diseases ranging from snake bites, wounds, skin ulcers, and hemorrhoids to male sexual problems and malaria. The Shennong Herbal was the first work devoted exclusively to drugs. It describes 365 drugs that are divided into 3 categories, viz., superior, medium and inferior, with the first composed of mostly tonics suitable for long-term consumption while the last composed of drugs that are generally toxic and are reserved for serious illnesses. Many of the herbs described in these two ancient herbals are still commonly used today; they include astragalus, licorice, ginger, qinghao, and magnolia bud (this Newsletter, Issue 7, p. 3). Li’s Herbal Systematics documents 1,892 drugs and 11,096 prescriptions and is probably the most famous herbal; it has been translated into numerous languages, including Latin, English, German, French, Russian, Korean, and Japanese. In addition to these classic herbals, there are many formularies (formula books) describing thousands of remedies for practically every disease known to mankind. In one famous formulary alone, the Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions for Healing the Masses), published in the 14th century, close to 62,000 formulas are described. Also, in a recent compilation, titled Zhongyi Fangji Da Cidian (Encyclopedia of Traditional Chinese Prescriptions), over 90,000 prescriptions with formula names will be described. The completed work will be in 11 volumes, with the last volume as index. Up until last year, 4 volumes had been published, documenting 38,876 prescriptions. The information in this compilation is based on about 2,000 published works over a period of 2,000 years. The editors estimate that there are over 130,000 published prescriptions during this period, although only about 90,000 bear formula names, which will be published in this new work. These formulas don’t even include the many thousands that are primarily used in diet therapy. With this brief background information, you can see that it is easy to come up with remedies for various conditions. For obvious reasons, I am only reporting remedies that are primarily food based (those for diet therapy), which will not do harm even if they don’t work, as well as some simple ones consisting of nontoxic or only slightly toxic herbs. I know many of you are not seriously into Chinese herbs. The main reason you subscribe to this newsletter is to keep tabs on recent developments in Chinese herbal medicine, both in China and in America. You are not the ones who would actually take time to obtain the herbs and cook up a storm in your kitchen, unless the herbs I report here are already in your kitchen and you don’t need to do more than boil them in water. For those who are more serious about actually utilizing some of the remedies, I expect you have already found your way around your local Chinatown and are able to obtain the herbs that are not found in your kitchen or major supermarkets. So, here they are:
Sterility/Infertility. A simple treatment for male sterility was reported in the last issue (p. 3) of this newsletter; here are some dishes that could also help in that department:1 (1) Stirred-Fried Shrimp and Jiucai (Chinese Chives; Allium tuberosum Leaves) - You will need about 8 oz (240 g) of fresh shelled shrimp and 3 oz (100 g) of jiucai (cut in inch-long sections). Stir fry the shrimp briefly in hot vegetable oil. Add condiments (dash of cooking wine, soy sauce, vinegar, fresh ginger, etc.) followed by the jiucai. Continue to stir fry briefly until the shrimp and vegetable are done but not overcooked. This is recommended for both men and women, to be eaten regularly, once or twice a week. (2) Hard-Boiled Egg With Yimucao (Chinese Motherwort; Leonurus heterophyllus Herb) and Danggui (Chinese Angelica) - Place 30 g (1 oz) of yimucao and 15 g (½ oz) of danggui in 2 bowls of cold water in a nonmetallic pan. Boil it down to 1 bowl and strain off the herbs. Remove the shell of 2 hard-boiled eggs, poke several holes in them with a toothpick or fork, and place them in the herbal liquid. Boil the mixture for a few minutes, which is then ready to be served. Drink the soup and eat the eggs. Do this 2 or 3 times a week for a month. It is said to normalize uterine function and ovulation to increase the chances of pregnancy. (3) Rice Foam and Stir-Fried Salt, With or Without Asian Ginseng or Dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula Root) - Prepare a rice soup by boiling 1 cup of rice in several cups of water. When the rice is about done, collect the surface foam along with about ½ cup of the liquid at the surface. Add an adequate amount of salt that has been stir-fried. Drink the foamy soup on an empty stomach. For better results, you can stir in a ½ teaspoonful of ginseng or dangshen powder. If consumed regularly, this recipe is said to help increase a man’s sperm count.
(1) Y. Feng and G.X. Huang, “Diet Therapy of Infertility/Sterility,” Zhongguo Shipin, (2): 10(1987).
Kidney Stones. In traditional Chinese medicine, there are many prescriptions for eliminating urinary stones without surgery. I can locate dozens of such remedies in my data files without much effort. However, they will be of little use to most of you because they usually are quite complicated and consist of numerous to many herbs, some of which would not be easy to obtain. Here are two simple ones: (1) Job’s Tear (Chinese Pearl Barley; Coix lachryma-jobi Seed) With Sugar - Simply grind up some uncooked Job’s tear to a powder. Twice daily, take 2 tablespoonfuls (30 g) of this along with a small amount of sugar, followed by drinking plenty of water. Physical exercise (especially jumping) is recommended for speeding up the passage of the stone(s). It is reported to take effect in 2 weeks and has a success rate of 80%.2 (2) Deep-Fried Walnut Meat With Sugar - Deep fry 125 g (4.4 oz) of walnut meat in vegetable oil until crisp. Remove the walnut and mix in 2-4 tablespoonfuls (1-2 oz) of sugar. Mash the mixture to a paste and eat it over the course of 1 to 2 days. It is reported to relieve the pain in a few days, followed by passage of the stone(s) in the form of milky urine. This and related remedies have appeared numerous times in the Chinese literature, including a major Chinese journal of surgery, as I had previously reported (this Newsletter, Issue 1, p. 2).
(2) L.B. Hua, “Clinical Application of Large Doses of Job’s Tear,” Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi, 22(2): 119-120 (1997); Leung, A.Y., “Walnut,” Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1984, pp. 167-168.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster). Shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. It is painful and itchy. Conventional treatment normally involves a combination of antipruritics (e.g., calamine lotion), analgesics, antibiotics, and antiviral drugs. The following are 4 simple remedies that may work, and only one of which contains a toxic drug: (1) Job’s Tear Soup - Boil 60 g (2 oz) of Job’s tear in water until tender, which would take about an hour. Eat the grains and drink the soup. Do this twice daily for up to a week. This remedy has been reported to be effective in all 50 patients treated, whose pain and lesions disappeared completely from 3 to 7 days.2 (2) Fresh Xiang Ren Zhang (Chinese Prickly Pear; Opuntia dillenii Haw.) - Prepare a mash from the fleshy inner part of the pads (flat stems) and apply it directly to the lesions. Pain will start to subside in 4 hr, and may even disappear after 6 hr. Continue to use this for up to a week, applying fresh cactus mash daily. It is reported to be effective in healing the lesions in 3 to 5 days.3 I am sorry I have no idea how you can locate a Chinese prickly pear plant in North America other than to give it a try at your local garden center. If any of you horticulturists or botanists have the information, I will pass it along to the rest. (3) Yunnan Baiyao (White Medicine of Yunnan) - It is a well-known topical hemostatic in China, which is also used internally. During the Second World War, Chinese airmen, as well as the Flying Tigers, used to carry a vial of it for bleeding wounds. Although it used to be beige or light colored, as the name implies, its color now ranges from light brown to brown, depending on where it is produced, due to certain ingredients now no longer readily available. Yunnan Baiyao is readily available throughout China and in many Chinatown herb shops in North America. Try to get the one from the original Yunnan Baiyao Factory. For treating shingles, make a thin paste of the powder with a small amount of white liquor or dry white wine and apply the paste to the lesions, 3 to 5 times daily. At the same time take 0.3 g of the powder, 4 times a day. It is reported that pain is alleviated and healing starts in 1 to 3 days, resulting in complete healing in 3 to 8 days.4 (4) Xionghuang (Realgar) Vinegar Paste - Realgar contains mainly arsenic disulfide and is toxic, not to be used internally for extended periods of time. It is an official drug in the Chinese Pharmacopoeia and traditional Chinese medicine often uses it for topical treatment of insect/snake bites and skin parasites. It has been successfully used in treating 82 patients (ages 5 to 72) with shingles.5 Simply mix realgar powder with an adequate amount of vinegar to form a thin paste and apply it to the lesions, once a day. Do this for several days. Among the 82 patients thus treated, 75 achieved complete healing in 4 days, and the rest in 5 days. Pain disappeared in most patients on day 2, with lesions starting to heal on day 3. No scars were formed after healing.
(3) Z.J. Chai, “Topical Applications of Fresh Xiang Ren Zhang Stem,” Shiyong Zhong Xiyi Jiehe Zazhi, 9(8): 506(1996). (4) W. Li, “Clinical Applications of Yunnan Baiyao,” Shizhen Guoyao Yanjiu, 8(2): 121(1997); (5) S.T. Chen and Q.B. Wang, “Topical Treatment of Herpes Zoster with Xionghuang Vinegar Paste,” Shizhen Guoyao Yanjiu, 8(2): 115(1997).
Migraine. This type of headache can be incapacitating; and modern medicine offers few cures, if any. The following 2 remedies should help. They are from the recent traditional Chinese medical literature.6,7 (1) Chrysanthemum Tea - The flowers usually come in 2 types: Large ones are about 1 inch in diameter while the small ones are half to one-third the size. If you are a migraine sufferer, simply steep 6-8 large or 15-20 small flower heads in 2-3 cups of boiling water in a teapot for 5-10 min. You may screen off the flowers before drinking the tea. Also, you may sweeten it with sugar or honey. Prepare and drink several pots of this tea a day, and make this part of your daily routine on a long-term basis. It not only will help migraine, but also hypertension if you happen to be suffering from this as well (this Newsletter, Issue 1, p. 2). This remedy was successfully used in treating 32 patients (ages 14-51 yr.; 9 males, 23 females) with migraine from 2 mo. to 17 yr. in duration, resulting in a total response (no recurrence after 1-year follow-up) in 23, and partial response (symptoms and recurrence rate reduced) in 9 patients; all responded to the tea between 15 and 60 days. Caution: If you are allergic to chrysanthemums or other flowers of the composite family (e.g., daisies and dandelions), handle the flower heads very carefully. And if you are allergic to sulfites, don’t use this remedy at all, because chrysanthemum flowers may have been treated with burning sulfur to preserve them. (2) Xue Xie (Dragon’s Blood; Fruit Resin of Daemonorops spp.) on Rheumatism Plaster - This was successfully used on a 32-year-old male with a 6-year history of migraine. The patient’s symptoms (right side of head) and frequency had intensified (4-6 times a month) 6 mo. prior to this treatment. Modern diagnostic techniques (EEG and CT) revealed no abnormal brain functions and modern drugs (ergotamine, propranolol, aspirin, diazepam, etc.) did not help. Three days after treating with above plaster, the severe pain, along with accompanying symptoms (nausea, vomiting, etc.), completely disappeared. No recurrence was observed on a 3-year follow-up. Method: Sprinkle 0.5 g (~1/16 oz) of Dragon’s Blood equally on 2 Rheumatism Plasters. Apply one to the right temple and the other to the most painful spot. Change medicine daily. For someone desperate, this certainly is worth a try. Both xue xie and Rheumatism Plasters (many kinds but basically similar) are common medicines in Chinese communities worldwide. They should be readily available in Chinatown herb shops.
(6) B.F. Liu, “Chrysanthemum Tea Alone in the Treatment of 32 Cases of Migraine,” Henan Zhongyi, 15(4): 234(1995); (7) X.X. Wang and W.P. Yang, “Topical Treatment in Curing a Case of Migraine,” Jiangxi Zhongyiyao, 23(1): 34(1992).
Colds and Flu. There are no truly effective modern antiviral drugs currently available. Most drugs for treating colds and flu are for symptomatic relief. Here is such a simple and safe treatment that it is downright unbelievable!8 Vinegar or Sodium Bicarbonate Solution (5%) - Simply prepare a 5% solution of either vinegar or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in boiled and cooled water. Use either one but not both. Apply 2-3 drops into each nostril every 3 hr, 6 times a day. Best results are obtained if started as soon as symptoms appear. The alkaline solution is superior to the vinegar solution.
This method was developed by researchers at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing who had reportedly obtained 92-97% efficacy rates over many years of use. It was first reported in 1980 at a national pharmaceutical conference, and later published in national pharmaceutical and health journals, as well as reported over national radio in 1990. The journal, Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi (Chinese Journal of Chinese Materia Medica), tried to publicize it in 1990 as a public service.8 However, since then, I have not heard anything more about it. Given such an easy and cheap way to beat the common cold and the flu, why has this method not been widely used by now? Could it be more than meets the eye? I will keep you posted when I find out.
(8) Anon., “Acid/Alkaline Therapy of Colds and Flu,” Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi, 15(5): 5(1990).
In traditional Chinese medicine, colds, flu, their associated symptoms (fever, headache, etc.), and what we now know as allergies (tearing eye, runny nose, etc.), are considered to be caused by exogenous “evils” such as “wind evil.” There are numerous herbs that have the properties of removing exogenous “evils.” These include fangfeng [Saposhnikovia divaricata (Turcz.) Schischk. root], zisuye [Perilla frutescens (L.) Britt.leaf], xinyihua or magnolia flower bud (Magnolia biondii Pamp. & other Magnolia spp.), niubangzi (Arctium lappa L. fruit), bohe or mint (Mentha haplocalyx Briq. herb), juhua or chrysanthemum flower (Chrysanthemum morifolium Ramat. flower head), jinyinhua or honeysuckle flower (Lonicera japonica Thunb.), lianqiao or forsythia fruit [Forsythia suspensa (Thunb.) Vahl], chuanxinlian (Andrographis paniculata (Burm. f.) Nees herb], and others. Most of these herbs have also been shown to have antibacterial and/or antiviral activities. There is definitely a correlation between modern antimicrobial effects and traditional exogenous “evils.” Hence, if you want to search for new antiviral compounds from natural sources, look into Chinese herbs that have “wind-evil-removing” as well as “toxin-removing” and “heat-removing” properties. Chances are preliminary reports of such effects are already in the Chinese literature. You just need to know where to look. Remember, it’s your money; watch out for self-promoting consultants (see this Newsletter, Issue 1, p. 1)!