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Your Questions About Chinese Herbs – Hot & Cold

Posted Mar 24 2011 12:48pm

Ruth asks…

i’ve been on a course of accupuncture and chinese herbal medicine for a few days now and i have a question…..The herbal medicine is totally disgusting and i really have to force it down (but it seems to be working so i’m going to stick with it). I noticed that it tastes a whole lot better if i stew it up and then let it cool down to almost room temp as i can then drink it all in one shot – rather that prolonging the agony sip by sip! The chinese doctor gave me some instructions with the herbs and it doenst say if it’s important to drink it hot…..i wont be going back to her until the new year now so cant ask her, but what do you think? anyone got any experience? Thank you!

Sounds like your doctor has you brewing and taking a formula from raw herbs. Depending on the condition being treated, they can taste pretty bad. That’s one reason why I prefer the freeze-dried versions in my clinic. Anyway, it is perfectly fine to drink the “tea” at room temperature. Once the cooking process is complete, the extraction of the active ingredients into the water is done. Most people make up a day’s worth of their formula at one time, even if the prescription is to take it 2-3 times per day. You can even put the unused portion in the refrigerator, but it should be at least room temperature when taking the formula.

Steven asks…

My Chinese herbalist have me some herbal medicine to tonify my spleen and liver, but said I should be eating or drinking anything cold. Why is that?


The organ names in Chinese medicine have a much broader connotation than in a strict Western anatomical sense. I like to say that the Chinese organ name refers to a functional system, rather than a precise anatomical object. So, in Chinese medicine, the Spleen is associated with various activities, including the digestive system and immune system, even though your medical doctor would probably tell you they are unrelated. (Some Westerners trained in Chinese medicine prefer to say the “Spleen-Pancreas System” when referring to the Chinese meaning – that is probably a more accurate connotation, if not a literal translation).

Anyway, I’m guessing that your herbalist is treating digestive conditions, at least in part. We say that “Cold damages the Spleen,” which could also be restated as “cold food and drink is harder on the digestive system, and thus inhibits all the processes it is involved in.” It’s not that you can’t have anything cold while taking the herbal medicine, it’s that a cold-natured diet harms the system you are trying to treat.

Note that “cold” in Chinese medicine means not just cold temperature, but cold-natured foods. That would include raw foods in general. The preference would be lightly cook most foods so that they are easier to digest (the cooking begins the process of breaking the food down into components your body can use). Of course you can take this too far and cook your food into a low-nutrient mush. Moderation is good here!





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