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Ancient Chinese Secrets

Time-tested herbs to restore balance and reduce stress.

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Time-tested herbs to restore balance and reduce stress

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the whole of creation springs from the marriage of two opposite principles, yin and yang. Earth and sky, winter and summer, night and day, cold and hot, are manifestations
of this dynamic. Establishing harmony between these opposites means health, good weather, and good fortune, while disharmony brings disease, disaster, and bad luck. The aim of TCM, in all its methods, including herbalism and acupuncture, is to restore harmony, in the world and in the body.

In TCM, practitioner and patient work together to balance health. TCM excels at enhancing recuperative power and immunity. Western medicine heroically rescues us, but TCM protects and preserves our health every day. “TCM represents one of the most well developed, clinically oriented systems of herbal medicine in the world,” says Roy Upton, executive director of The American Herbal Pharmacopoeia. “And with its focus on individualistic treatments and wellness, it is a complete deviation from Western medicine’s focus on symptomatic relief and treatment of disease.”

There’s the prevailing idea that Chinese herbs are exotic or unusual because they come from China. Really, though, there’s nothing special about Chinese herbs compared to any other; they just happen to grow in Asian soil. Even so, TCM uses herbs in very specific ways. And TCM makes little distinction between food and medicine, so we might put herbs in food for taste, or mix food into herbs to make them palatable.


TCM excels in using herbs for stress, energy, and overall wellness, and it all starts with ginseng root (Panax ginseng). Millions of people take this root, known as the “King of herbs,” daily, and it is widely revered as a superior herbal medicine. Ginseng is used for a multitude of conditions, and is often taken daily to maintain general good health.

According to TCM, ginseng helps normalize the body systems under stress, replenish vital energy, strengthen the immune system, improve mental and physical capacity for work, stimulate blood circulation, increase learning and memory, replenish sexual vitality, and extend life span. This well-known herb contains compounds that have, in laboratory studies, improved learning and memory in rats. One theory suggests the herb may improve the delivery of blood and oxygen to tissues.

Ginseng is generally indicated for daily, consistent use in moderate doses for adults. It is not used in Asia by young people, unless there is a clear stamina deficiency. It can be safely taken as a tea or in capsules at 3 g per day over a period of years—and even decades.

Dong Quai

A superb tonic and very popular Chinese herb, dong quai root (Angelica sinensis), called the “Queen of herbs,” may be the most extensively used herb in the world. Half a billion women in China alone, as well as millions in other Asian countries, especially Japan, take dong quai daily as an all around health builder, as well as to regulate periods and “strengthen” reproductive organs. In Chinese, dong quai translates as “return to proper order.”

For an energy boost, particularly premenstrually, an Asian woman might cook dong quai into soup or rice dishes on a daily basis for several days. In TCM, it is recommended for high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, asthma, bronchitis, anemia, and increasing blood flow throughout the body.

Dong quai has a strong celery-like taste and smell. Use the root (5–25 g per day) in tea or food, or take as a supplement. Do not take during pregnancy.


The Chinese name for Schisandra berry (Schisandra chinensis) is wu-wei-tze, or “five flavor berry.” The skin and the pulp of the fruit are sweet and sour, the kernels are pungent and bitter, and the whole berry
has a salty taste.

Schisandra is essentially a general tonic, that is used to “prolong the years of life without aging,” similar to what ginseng is used for. Traditionally, athletes have used schisandra to increase endurance and fight fatigue under physical stress, and it is used as a male sexual tonic. Scientific studies show that mice taking this herb increased treadmill running time and working capacity. Schisandra berries are tasty, and they can be taken as a tea or in supplements. The TCM dose is 10 g per day.

Ho shou wu

Ho shou wu (Polygonum multiflorum) root, also called “fo-ti,” is considered a superior medicine in TCM. Ho shou wu is a tonic that promotes stamina and overall balance, and that is also used to support healthy cholesterol and strengthen the heart. It can be taken as a supplement or added to food at as dose of 5 g daily.


Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) is a powerful energy booster and immune system enhancer. In TCM, it’s used mainly for long-term disease prevention.

Astragalus assists in healing from chronic illness, increases stress adaptation, is antiviral, and amplifies the efficiency of just about every type of immune function. One animal study indicates that astragalus acts against Coxsackie virus, lending scientific support to the herb’s immune benefit.

Dried, sliced astragalus root can be found at most Asian grocery stores. It is also readily available as a supplement. Use ½–1 oz, dry herb weight, brewed, per day, or take as a supplement.