Monday, 1 November 2010

Chinese herbs in your home: Ginger root

My patients often ask me what the herbs in their formulas are. Usually quite a few are exotic and unfamiliar.  This is not the case with all of them however, and many commonly used Chinese herbs can be found in our kitchen cupboards or in our gardens. I thought that I would introduce some of them to you. 

This is in no way meant to be a guide to self treatment, just for my patients and readers interest. 

Hopefully it will bring Chinese herbal medicine a little closer to home.

To start us off I would like to begin with Ginger root, one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese herbal formulas.

Ginger is used in four forms fresh, the fresh skin, dried, and blackened/carbonated

Fresh Ginger (sheng jiang)

Pharmaceutical name: Rhizoma Zingerberis Recens
Botanical name: Zingiber officinale Willd. Rosc
Common name: Fresh ginger
Part used and method of preparation: The rhizomes are dug from September to November. After the fibrous roots have been removed the rhizomes are washed, cut into slices.

Properties and taste: Warm and pungent.
This is particular to Chinese medicine. A herbs property and tastes defines its therapeutic effect on the body, all herbs and foods have a property and taste. There are four properties (cold,cool,warm, hot) and five tastes (sweet, pungent, salty, sour and bitter). 
Pungent herbs are used to promote sweating and encourage circulation. 
A warm herb is moderately warming so can be used to treat cold illnesses but also should be avoided in warm or hot diseases.
  • used in the treatment of colds (to be avoided with any signs of heat such as elevated temperature, inflammation etc)
  • warms the digestion and eases vomiting
  • used to prevent irritation of the gastrointestinal tract by other herbs
The other forms of ginger used in Chinese medicine are:

Fresh Ginger peel (Sheng Jiang PI)
  • This is used to treat edeama and water retention

Dried/Baked Ginger (Gan Jiang) 
  • warms the middle (digestion) treats cold, for stomach pain etc.
  • warms the lungs and transforms phlegm (for thin watery sputum)
  • used to treat various kinds of bleeding when accompanied by cold symptoms.
This is quite similar to the powdered dry ginger we might use in baking or in curry powder etc..

Burnt Ginger (Pao Jiang)

Dried ginger is fried until blackened.
  • it can warm the interior,
  • stops bleeding and alleviate pain,
  • treats bleeding due to Yang and Qi deficiency which then fail to control the Blood. Such bleeding may be located in the Stomach, intestines or Uterus.