Monday, March 5, 2012

3 Spring Chinese Herbal Remedies

Photo Credit: SmartyGirl's Kitchen Rock Sugar and Fresh Pears
"No spells," says my German Lithuanian husband when he hears me opening kitchen cupboards and muttering in Cantonese about rock sugar, barley, green mung beans and bean curd skin.

He is joking. However, I can understand how my tonic making can seem a bit like sorcery. Sometimes the smell of dong quai, a bitter root can be overwhelming in the winter. Other times, he is intrigued by my red bean dessert soup and asks me to if I'd be willing to freeze the red bean dessert into popsicles for him. I am an anomaly but so was my grandmother who taught me these holistic remedies.

Though she was the daughter of a Western-medicine trained surgeon, my maternal grandma took an interest in Chinese herbal remedies unlike her siblings who became conventional doctors, nurses and hospital administrators. Originally she was on the nursing track because of her parents' wishes but they allowed her to become a teacher and later a businesswoman instead because she became woozy at the sight of blood.

Photo Credit: SmartyGirl's Herbal Therapy Rock Sugar Poached Pears
Sivia, my grandma, was interested in preventative health and herbal therapy. When I had nosebleeds as a kid, she'd make a simple syrup out of Chinese rock sugar, barley grain and bean curd skin to help me rehydrate. I don't fully understand why but it was more hydrating than plain water and more natural than Gatorade or Pedialyte. I enjoyed the taste too. She would chill it in mugs for me to drink after school. While others drank juice or versions of Kool-Aid, I drank my grandma's tonics instead.

Photo Credit: Flickr Jon Mountjoy Barley
I didn't share this with my junior high peers but I had a fondness for snow lichen in and dried scallops in the winter. As an alternative to Midol, I drank my grandma's dong quai and red date chicken soup.

Photo Credit: Flickr Oncetherewasagirl Fries
Disclaimer: Please consult a traditional Western doctor before using these recipes to treat any illness or injury. I am not a graduate from natural medicine school. I am merely relaying recipes of Chinese herbal remedies I enjoyed as a child.  

If you've eaten many heavily salted and fried foods, you might feel very thirsty and irritable. When I want to "cool down" my system, I rely on rock sugar dessert soups. I am not a Taoist but I have researched that Taosists would agree that pears and rock sugar are "yin" or cooling ingredients.

Fresh Pears Poached in Simple Rock Sugar Syrup
3 cups of water
1 ripe fresh pear sliced
1" cube of rock sugar

Dissolve lump of rock sugar in water by boiling on high for 10 minutes. Slice a fresh pear, leave the skin on and simmer for 8 minutes in the syrup. Serve warm or chilled. How is this different from canned pears in corn syrup? I can't give you the food chemistry explanation. However, I can tell you that corn products are from the other spectrum of "yang" or warming ingredients. Processed foods are "yang" also.

Photo Credit: Flickr _e.t Green Tea Ice Cream
You may find ingredients for herbal therapy at 99 Ranch Asian grocery or smaller shops in Vietnamese or Japanese stores. You are not limited to visiting a Chinese herbalist for ingredients. I think it's just a matter of time before Sprouts, Whole Foods and Trader Joes begins to carry dried roots and seeds for tonic making since mainstream consumers have accepted BBQ pork buns and green tea ice cream.

Contact me if you'd like to share your childhood stories of herbal therapy. 

Two other dessert soup recipes and Chinese herbal remedies can be found below:

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