Here is a great infographic explaining liver qi stagnation from our friends at Acupuncture Now Foundation:
Here is a great infographic explaining liver qi stagnation from our friends at Acupuncture Now Foundation:
Topics: Traditional Chinese Medicine
Stepping into the world of traditional Chinese medicine as a student or a patient calls for an openness in acknowledging how tradition and science overlap. Some aspects of traditional Chinese medicine can’t be easily reconciled to a specimen under a microscope, yet the scientific community is increasingly expanding its understanding of how acupuncture and herbal medicine affect the body.
As an intern in the student clinic at AOMA, patients routinely ask why I’m immersed in this field, what the needles are doing, and about this word “qi” that keeps coming up.If you find yourself asking these questions, or are considering a life dedicated to Chinese medical practice, I recommend the following resources to help build your understanding of this medicine before attending acupuncture school.
Dr. Robert Becker’s writing offers a somewhat-rare voice from the modern medical community that connects compassionate medical care to scientific theory—a connection resonating with many of those curious about Chinese medicine. An orthopedist, Becker, opens his book with a description of his medical school experiences in crowded wards before the discovery and application of penicillin. Exposed as a student to this widespread suffering, he explores what it means to define pain as an objective and subjective experience. So compels his subsequent lifework researching electromagnetism as it shapes and heals our bodies.
This text reads almost like an introductory course in Chinese medicine completely accessible to the Western lay reader. Beinfeld and Korngold describe their watershed introduction to Chinese medicine in the 1970s when it was first being introduced in the US. They quickly go through a stepwise comparison of Eastern and Western approaches providing a readable, informative explanation of Yin-Yang theory, the Taoist Five Phases, and tongue and pulse diagnosis—Chinese medicine concepts fundamental to every beginning student. Rounding out the last chapter is a collection of therapeutic recipes resting on the ubiquitous concept that longevity and vitality require keen understanding of “kitchen alchemy.” Anyone who wants to dive into the world of Chinese medicine through the personal voices of American authors should check out this book.
Like the previous selection, this book holds a place as a foundational staple for new students and curious patients of Chinese Medicine. The Web, however, dives into detail rapidly, quoting readily from classics in the canon of ancient Chinese medical text. It reads less like a personal narrative and more like a compelling cultural textbook. It moves beyond a basic overview of Taoist theory and digs into richer detail of TCM diagnosis, the zang fu (organ) patterns, and meridian system. This book is best appreciated as a cover-to-cover read, appropriate for someone wants to spend time delving into and ruminating on the broader implications of a life in Chinese medical practice.
Many of us who enter the field of Chinese medicine--or merely seek care from an acupuncture and Chinese medical practitioner—appreciate to varying degrees that ancient healing is a life practice and not just a 1-hr session of needles with a bag of medicinal herbs. Staying Healthy with the Seasons fastens a Western life to manageable ancient Eastern practice. It takes the Taoist Five Elements and expands them heartily into a guide for diet, exercise, meditation, and disease prevention. Not only does this book provide great introductory information but also is a bookshelf staple in the homes of wellness-seeking families
Dr. Keown commences his book by hitching together a functional definition of qi (“chee”) to the sheet-like bands of tissue under our skin called fascia. He continues in an explanation of how human anatomy develops prenatally, where acupuncture points emerge in this development, and how fully developed meridians course in the mature human body to connect these points. The book uses anatomical references to define more esoteric acupuncture landmarks. Any layperson can pick up this book for a concrete understanding of where and why major points in the body exist. If you have found yourself as an acupuncture patient asking about the where and why of the needling points, definitely check out this text!
Claudia Voyles, LAc, is the founder and director of Remedy Center for Healing Arts, an acupuncture and psychotherapy practice in south Austin. In her private practice, Claudia typically will treat about 10 patients per week who are recovering persons, as well as others with mental health diagnoses. “The goal of acupuncture is always to restore balance, flow, and maximum functioning.”
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a unique way of assessing physiology and psychology. One fascinating pattern in the assessment of addiction is called "empty fire," the flaring up symptoms, including emotions and behavior due to the loss of a calm center. Treatment then is designed to nourish the Yin aspect, restore balance, and support the recovery process by making the person stronger from the inside. Treatment is appropriate as support throughout the continuum of care, from pre-treatment or harm reduction through aftercare and recovery maintenance (relapse prevention). “‘Addiction’ is not a Chinese medical diagnosis. Sometimes we are supporting the withdrawal process, minimizing the symptoms and cravings. Sometimes we are working on the underlying complaints which can be triggers: stress, anxiety, depression, and/or history of trauma and abuse. People in recovery are eager to manage symptoms of chronic illness without medication whenever possible and often have chronic pain or other imbalances that will undermine their recovery and/or quality of life if not addressed."
The NADA protocol – Acudetox
The National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA) promotes the integration of acudetox, a simple ear acupuncture protocol with appropriate modalities of care. NADA is a not-for-profit training and advocacy organization that encourages community wellness through the use of a standardized auricular acupuncture protocol for behavioral health, including addictions, mental health, and disaster and emotional trauma.
Texas allows a limited set of treatment professionals to cross-train in the NADA protocol. This includes acupuncturists, social workers, licensed professional counselors, psychologists, registered and vocational nurses, chemical dependency counselors, medical doctors, and osteopathic doctors. “Acudetox is not a stand-alone treatment, and in my opinion is best provided by a clinician on a treatment team, not by an independent acupuncturist,” said Claudia.
AOMA Provides Acupuncture at Austin Recovery
Claudia is also a clinical preceptor at AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine in Austin, Texas. She supervises interns at a specialty clinic in behavioral health at Austin Recovery. Claudia is a NADA-Registered Trainer and co-chair or training for the organization. She also conducts continuing education programs at the acupuncture college and in the community.
In early 2014, AOMA interns began providing auricular acupuncture treatments (NADA protocol) at Austin Recovery’s Hicks Family Ranch, a 40-acre, in-patient addiction treatment facility in Buda, Texas. Austin Recovery serves between 800 and 1,000 clients each year, providing individual and group counseling, education about addiction processes, 12-step programs, life skills classes, musical journey experiences, and now acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
AOMA incorporates the NADA training into the Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program. At Austin Recovery, acupuncture students provide acudetox with the treatment staff for 10-25 clients, and then a full-body acupuncture clinic for eight. “We treat withdrawal--usually post-acute with that population--as well as chronic/acute pain, anxiety, stress, insomnia, digestive issues, libido/sexual function issues, etc.,” said Claudia. After a recent acupuncture treatment an Austin Recovery, a patient shared, "I have never breathed so deep before. I didn't realize I wasn't fully breathing." Restoring simple quality of life to recovering persons can be truly transformative.
Natalie Villarreal, a senior acupuncture intern at AOMA, feels very lucky to be able to learn and treat patients at ‘the Ranch’. “Austin Recovery provides a unique integrative clinic opportunity. The integrative team encourages a supportive environment, with acupuncturists and social workers working side by side. I love that we can get a better perspective on the experience of our patients through attending classes and meetings that they are going to. This advanced clinic epitomizes the true meaning of integrative medicine.”
This BBC documentary features Kathy Sykes on her trip to China as she discovers incredible demonstrations of the use of acupuncture - from a woman undergoing heart surgery with acupuncture as her only anesthetic to what needle stimulation looks like in the brain using an MRI.
Spring comes and goes fast in Austin. With summer just around the corner, what can we do now to strengthen our body and mind?
Here are AOMA’s traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) tips for staying healthy, happy, and in harmony with the season of spring.
◦ common cold
◦ nasal obstruction
◦ allergies and rashes, to name a few
Stay tuned for our tips to beat the heat of the upcoming summer months.
About the author
Lauren has lived in Austin since 2006 by way of Lake Tahoe, California. While pursuing her MAcOM at AOMA she continues to work with The American Cancer Society as a cancer information specialist. She counts ATX as her home with her husband and two Boston terriers. http://www.earthspringacupuncture.com/
First, I’ll tell you that 18 months ago I was established in a career while yearning to go back to school, expand my life practices, and further devote myself to meaningful professional change. Now, a current student at AOMA, I just finished my 5th term. At no point have I looked back, although I never would have predicted my life would take this path. In 2002, I graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree in English that included extensive studies in calculus and Flemish art history. I felt like the prototype of liberal arts major, qualified for everything in general but nothing in particular—or so I told myself.
It was 9 years ago when I first thought about studying Traditional Chinese Medicine. The thought lasted about 5 minutes, extinguished when I recalled that my science background consisted of contrasting types of volcanoes in my undergraduate geology class. I was intimidated by the natural science component included in acupuncture & Chinese medicine programs. My extensive knowledge of Renaissance poetry, for all its complexity, would not help me differentiate tendons in the wrist. My essays on the ethics of historical scholarship would not equip me to understand how a virus invaded the body. And somehow enrolling in the local community college at night to get my science prerequisites just to apply to a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) program seemed too daunting. At the time, it simply wouldn’t fit into my life, so I gave up hopes of being an acupuncturist.
For the next decade my career progressed in education business management and then teaching special education in public schools. While in these positions, I truly felt that I helped heal children as I taught. No matter what I did, I was a healer at heart. The nagging thought of practicing TCM returned. Finally, I visited AOMA’s website.
Reviewing the admissions requirements for the Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program showed me I did qualify to apply despite my limited natural science background. I realized the graduate program included all of the western medicine courses I thought I would need to complete in advance.
After looking on the school’s website, I scheduled a tour of the campus and talked to some current students. Within a few days I realized that this was the real thing, and I could do it. In fact, the liberal arts major in me realized that I could make a darn fine TCM student.
The biomedical sciences curriculum at AOMA is delivered by experienced instructors who have insight into anatomy and pathology that is particularly relevant to an acupuncturist. Dr. Joel Cone, who I met in my first week at AOMA, knew I needed encouragement and was very helpful.
My first term within the master’s program, I started taking anatomy and physiology. The biomedicine series continued and I took microbiology and pathophysiology. I spent a full year diving into the human body, the muscles, bones, organ systems, and microorganisms inside and outside of us. I began to walk around looking at everyone, imagining I could see the sinews and tendons underneath their skin moving in a choreographed dance as they walked. After that first year, I felt as though I had developed a magical power to see through skin to inspect everything on the inside. When my throat and lungs got irritated in in the winter, I imagined the tissues trying to expel pathogens rather than thinking about getting sick. The human body came to life as an amazing machine, and I experienced it as a new piece of scientific art that I inhabited.
Don’t get me wrong, every acupuncture student and practitioner must be able to name the tendons in the wrist and understand how a virus invades the body—along with all the bones, muscles, blood constituents, and more. This biomedical background is essential to a Chinese medicine practitioner who must know how to communicate with and build a treatment plan for patients with biomedical diagnoses. However, TCM is made of the desire to heal as much as the knowledge of science. I’ve tried to put my finger on that “thing” that drew me to this field of study and practice. Sure, it was easy to say that I wanted to help people, that it gave me a sense of satisfaction to help those who are sick feel better. But there is also something else. I had previously studied literature and art and TCM fit into an amazing framework of culture and philosophy that I found exciting at an academic and personal level. My knowledge of this framework in a more abstract unscientific view helped me see TCM embedded as a cultural orientation that fit my spirit.
With my liberal arts background, I realized I simply and beautifully had even more to integrate into my journey as a healer.
About Kate Wetzel:
Kate is a graduate student within AOMA’s Master of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine program. Prior to beginning her studies in acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine she completed a BA in English at Trinity University and worked as special education teacher for the Austin Independent School District.
I have had the most amazing past five months living in Nepal providing acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine at a healthcare clinic in a beautiful place called Bhottechour. Through the kindness and generosity of many members both in and out of the AOMA community, I was able to take off on an adventure of a lifetime and help many people in need.
I consider my volunteer service in Bhottechour to be a resounding success. Although I don’t have the exact numbers, I provided well over 600 treatments in the past five months to people with little to no affordable or accessible healthcare options. These treatments ranged from knee pain and general body aches from working long hours in the fields, to varicose veins, hypertension, stroke recovery, high uric acid levels, allergies, various unknown pathologies, and more. I witnessed people who experienced pain for years become 90-100% pain free in just two to five treatments. The smiles and appreciation were abundant.
As a member of the clinic staff, I got to engage in the day to day environment of the local people. I woke up to an amazing mountain view. I ate delicious traditional Nepali food consisting of a heaping plate of rice, a medley of spicy vegetables, and dal, a type of lentil “soup”. All of this I ate using only my right hand and with the unfettered joy of a child who plays with their food.
I took pride in my hand washed clothes and ability to use the restroom in a non-western toilet. My showers were few and far between, but I know my cleanliness was still greater than that of many of my patients.
Eventually, I learned enough Nepali to be able to get through a rough version of a patient intake without the use of my translator. And I finally became accustomed to the randomness of electricity availability.
Some of my most favorite moments were simply lying in the grass outside the clinic with other members of the staff just watching. We saw the millings of a small village where either a motorcycle or a bus passing was a rare event. People carried heavy loads on their backs full of grains and grasses to feed their buffalo and goats. Some stopped into the little shop at the end of our hill to enjoy a cup of tea and catch up on local affairs. We watched the neighbors plowing their fields by day and enjoying a campfire by night. Mostly, we just watched the view of the still mountains and the clouds drifting in the sky.
The air was clean and the daily activity simple. As the clinic is a 24 hour emergency facility, it was an environment where anything and nothing could happen in a day. Planning and expectation took on a whole new meaning. I fell in love with my friends and patients and all the dogs that followed me home.
The second part to my Nepal saga is manifesting daily. I now live full-time in Kathmandu with my partner in crime. We watch our future unfolding and we are constantly in awe. Currently, I have Sheng Zhen Gong classes to teach, acupuncture treatments to give, meditations and teachings to enjoy and spiritual practices of Tibetan medicine to research. I think it’s going to be great!
May each of you enjoy those things that fill your heart and free your mind!
From Nepal with Love,
Amy Babb, LAc, MAcOM
AOMA Class of 2012
Upper respiratory infections such as colds or the influenza virus are prevalent during the cold months of the year, but can be caught all year round. Typical symptoms are headache, coughing, sore throat, stuffy and running nose and body aches.
During hot climate seasons like summer, the pores of our skin are wide open. These pores on our skin are like the windows of our body. They can help with releasing the heat from our body and promoting sweating. When the weather gets cold, our body starts to close these ‘windows’ entirely, so it can prevent the external wind and cold from entering. The process of these windows closing, however, is slow and adjusted according to the weather changes. Therefore, if the temperature suddenly drops and the windows are still open, we’re easily vulnerable to a wind-cold pathogenic factor attacking us.
Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to help enhance the immune system and ward off illness. Its immunostimulating functions treat all types of upper respiratory infections -- including colds -- effectively, achieving a quick recovery without side effects. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) views colds and flus as pathogenic invasions that can easily be expelled using certain treatment points and herbs. This is called “releasing the exterior” in TCM.
Why do some people easily catch colds, but others not so often? In biomedicine, we often say those people who have strong immune systems are less likely to catch cold. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we say these people have strong defensive Qi (or wei qi). Their body has a quick adjustment to the environmental changes around them. In other words, they can close their windows faster, allowing their body surface to be sealed so wind-cold pathogens have no chance to get in.
When a wind-cold pathogen enters our body, it causes sneezing, itchy eyes, runny nose, body aches, and headaches. That’s when we say, “You caught a cold.” In this case, your acupuncturist would recommend some pungent herbs to help the body expel the wind-cold pathogen. For example: ginger, onion and peppermint are the most commonly used herbs in herbal teas for common cold.
A ginger bath can be very soothing and therapeutic when you are coming down with or already have a cold. Again, this helps to “release the exterior” and expel the pathogen. Take a large ginger root and let it boil in a pot of water until the water turns golden in color. Pour this into your hot bath and soak. You can also drink a cup of the ginger tea while you take the bath.
If caught in the early stages, especially within the first few hours of the onset of symptoms, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and qigong can be very effective at eliminating pathogens. Once illness has progressed beyond the early stages, Chinese medicine can be used as symptomatic relief and adjuvant therapy.
In the process of treating immunity, Chinese medicine also transports nutrients, improves circulation, balances the body, supports vital energy, and assists your body in maintaining its natural healthy state on its own. Several clinical studies have demonstrated that Chinese medicine reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections and shortens the course of illness.
The Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal remedy most often used for people with weak defensive qi is called Jade Windscreen Formula. It contains:
Radix Astragali Membranacei (Huang Qi)
Radix Saposhnikoviae Divaricatae (Fang Feng)
Rhizoma Atractylodis Macrocephalae (Bai Zhu)
It is suggested to take the formula 1-3 months before the cold season comes to help prevent the onset of the common cold and strengthen the defensive qi. While most Chinese herbal remedies require a prescription, there are certain brands that make the Jade Windscreen Formula that you can get without one.
You’ve probably heard someone describe the sensation of nervousness as having “butterflies in the stomach.” Perhaps you’ve referred to a person displaying restraint in the face of hardship as having a “stiff upper lip,” or a sensitive person as “wearing their heart on their sleeve.”
What about complimenting someone’s gallbladder when they accomplish something brave? Probably not, right?
This saying, often heard in China (and AOMA’s classrooms), has its foundations in the Traditional Chinese Medicine concept of the gallbladder as the source of courage and judgment. Attributing emotions, bodily manifestations, and physiological functions to organs is an important aspect of our medicine and an incredibly informative lens through which to view the body.
This practice is referred to as the Zang-fu system; it is a foundational tenant of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It builds upon Yin Yang theory as well as Five Element theory and is used as a launching pad for more complex TCM diagnosis. (If you need to brush up on Yin Yang theory and Five Element theory, read our Chinese Medicine School posts on the topics.)
The Zang-fu consist of eleven organs in total—five of which are considered Yin in nature and six of which are considered Yang in nature. The five Yin organs—Liver, Heart, Spleen, Lung, and Kidney—are referred to as the Zang. The Zang are solid organs and are responsible for the generation and storage of Qi, Blood, Body Fluid, and Essence.
Every organ has unique characteristics and functions. They are also said to “open into” certain body parts (thereby controlling that body part’s functioning) and manifest in others.
Opens Into: Eyes
Opens Into: Tongue
Manifestation: Facial complexion
Opens Into: Mouth
Opens Into: Nose
Manifestation: Hair of the skin
Opens Into: Ears
Manifestation: Hair of the head
Each Zang is paired with a Fu—one of the Yang organs. The Fu organs are hollow. They primarily receive and transport food and water throughout the body. These more active functions are the reason they’re considered to be more Yang than Yin. The organs and their pairings are listed below.
Fu: Small Intestine
Fu: Large Intestine
Zang: Pericardium (Though not always grouped with the five Zang organs, the Pericardium is considered the protector of the heart; it is also an acupuncture channel.)
Fu: San Jiao (also called the Triple Warmer and Triple Burner)
It is important not to conflate the TCM organ with the Western anatomical organ. For instance, the Spleen in TCM isn’t necessarily the organ that filters the blood. Some features do overlap—for example, the Heart being involved with blood —but it’s best not to think of the Zang-fu as literal organs, but rather consider them figurative entities.
Just as the Five Elements follow a generating and controlling sequence, the Zang-fu system can also be examined in this context. (For an overview of the Five Elements and to view the generating and controlling sequences, check out our blog post on the subject.)
These controlling and generating sequences are used to visualize the source(s) of pathological conditions and can be used to approach a treatment. For example, it is said in TCM that if an element (or organ) is in excess, an acupuncturist should “sedate the child.” So, if the Liver organ was hyperactive in a patient, the acupuncturist may choose to sedate the Heart.
The Zang-fu system is an incredibly important and consequential method of TCM diagnosis: It influences the diagnostic decisions, treatment plans, herbal prescriptions, and overall understanding of acupuncturists and herbalists the world over. The Zang-fu organs (including the Pericardium) also constitute the twelve primary acupuncture channels and are consequently used on a daily basis by most practicing acupuncturists. Take a moment to review the Zang-fu system and soon you will discover an entirely new way of viewing the human body.
When I started studying Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) I was overwhelmed with what seemed like the exotic nature of the plants we used. I developed a reverence for these plants and imagined they were somehow different, that they must be grown on the misty sides of mountains and tended by enlightened monks. I kept this notion for an embarrassingly long time, which was confirmed by my inept attempts to grow some of the herbs I thought would be able to take the Texas heat.
(protip: turns out you have to water and care for plants and just because the nursery sells it doesn’t mean it is a good match for my special kind of neglect.)
Fast-forward a couple of years and I had a nice little coincidence convince me just how wrong I was. We have to use the Latin names for herbs on our labels, so I started to get used to going back and forth between pin yin and Latin. Then I did a little work with the City of Austin invasive plant monitoring team, which involved a lot of pouring over lists of, you guessed it, Latin plant names. I started to see Chinese herbs everywhere and quite a few of them are considered invasive. So let’s go through a quick list of some Chinese herbs that you probably walk past almost daily.
Number one on the list of Central Texas invasive list that is also a Chinese herb:
This perennial aster long considered the scourge of the suburban lawn also has an extraordinarily long history of use as medicine and food. The common name dandelion is a corruption of the French “dent de lion” meaning “tooth of the lion” which refers to the toothed or lacerate leaf margins. The younger tender leaves are tasty in salads, the flowers can be used to make wine and the whole plant is used in TCM where it is listed as a Clear Toxic Heat herb and is one of the five herbs that makes the formula Wu Wei Xiao Du Yin so effective.
Harvest this plant when it starts to flower but before it goes to seed and dig as much of the long root as you can get. Let it soak in tepid water to loosen dirt and then remove any additional dirt with running water. Dry the whole plant on drying screens in the sun. You can separate the leaves and flowers as they will dry faster than the root and don’t need as much cleaning.
Hated is probably not too strong a word to describe how people feel about purple nutsedge. In fact, it is listed as one of the world’s worst weeds because it propagates vegetatively, is a perennial, and resists almost all control measures. It produces about inch long rhizomes, which is the part we want to use. The rhizomes can be separated from the roots and aerial portions of the plant, pressure washed and then put on a screen in the sun to dry. Xiang Fu is used in TCM as a qi-regulating herb mainly focused on liver qi stagnation.
Honeysuckle does very well in Texas. It can take the heat and is pretty drought tolerant. If you are out hiking around in a greenbelt in Austin and keep a sharp eye you are likely to come across some. The key way to identify the Japanese honeysuckle is contained in the Chinese name. Jin Yin Hua translates as “gold silver flower”. If it has coral colored flowers then it is L. sempervirens and not what you want although the nectar is just as sweet and there is something about sucking the nectar out of honeysuckle that just brings out the kid in you.
Harvest this flower right as it about to open. If it has already opened it is too late. Then, because this flower is delicate, you should dry it quickly. It would be hard to get any appreciable amount of product from a wild stand of L. japonica as you will work pretty hard just to get a couple of grams of dried flowers.
So let’s talk about some trees that are everywhere in central Texas.
This is so invasive that in just about any disturbed area near water you will find them, in fact unless controlled they can easily take over large stretches of mid-canopy trees in established forests. In the spring they have a very nice cluster of flowers that develops in late summer to a cluster of dark purple fruits. Each fruit contains one or two seeds and that is the portion used in TCM. Pick them when they are ripe, but you will have to beat the birds to them. Dry on a drying screen. You do not have to remove the seeds from the fruit to use as an herb.
In TCM Nu Zhen Zi is used as a Yin tonic and is frequently used in formulations for menopause.
This invasive is as likely to be found in disturbed park areas as it is to be in someone’s yard planted as a specimen tree because of its unusual and beautiful flowers. Both the flower and the bark are harvested but harvesting the flowers can be fiddly work. They are delicate and sticky and don’t all flower at the same time. They need to be cooled after harvest and then dried. According to Wilson Lau, president of NuHerbs, it takes 3 man-hours to properly clean half a kilo of He Huan Hua so that it looks like you are used to seeing it in clinic. Peg Schafer, author of The Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm harvests the flowers but recommends leaving them whole with the calyx and a bit of stem if need be, but to warn potential buyers that there are stems. The bark can also be harvested but, by in large, requires cutting down the tree or at least large branches.
Both the flower and bark of M. julibrissin are listed in the Calm Shen category of TCM herbs for constraint due to liver qi stagnation.
Sang Ye Leaves
Sang Bai Pi Root Bark
Sang Zhi Twigs
Sang Shen Zi Fruit
You are probably more likely to find M. rubra (red mulberry) here in Central Texas, but if you look closely you will find the species, M. alba (white mulberry) that is indicated for so many uses in TCM. If you do find one, what you have found is a runaway. M. alba was imported from China in an attempt to start a silk industry that was floundering because M. rubra, a sort-of native, was not the silk worm’s preferred species. That industry floundered further when they could not compete with the low wages paid in China and Japan. (Sound familiar?) However large stands of M. alba still can be found in the panhandle of Texas where they were also planted as windbreaks. Some of our runaways come from those too.
So what is the difference? Well, you can’t really tell from the fruit or the bark but you can see the difference in the leaves. Both M. alba and M. rubra have leaves that are anywhere from simple ovate leaves to ones that are deeply lobed but there are two distinguishing characteristics. M. alba has leaves that are really shiny on the topside and the leaf margins have teeth, but think molars (slightly rounded) and M. alba has duller topsides and its leaf margins have teeth but think incisors (much sharper) You are also much more likely to find M. alba in full sun and M. rubra is more shade tolerant.
This tree’s uses in TCM are varied, from dispelling wind heat, helping with cough, directing herbs to the shoulders and yin tonic. The most likely plant part you will be harvesting will be the leaves, which are frequently used. Pick them then wash in warm water and leave out on screens to dry. It’s just that easy. The twigs should be harvested from the higher parts of the tree, which can be dangerous over a certain height and will require some cutting and drying. If you want to prepare them the way the are prepared for use in China you will need some heavy duty cutting gear.
This is not a simple preparation and will require specialized equipment. However, the fruit doesn’t require anything but beating the birds, raccoons, and possums to it. Everybody loves mulberry.
So get out to the parks around central Texas and see if you can find all six of these Chinese herbs and if you do, think about processing them for personal use. Some things to think about when you are wild crafting is pollution, both air and water. If you are harvesting along Shoal Creek, say in Pease Park, think about where the water came from. It is largely rain runoff and it washes down oil, herbicides, and fertilizers just to name a few. Lamar Blvd. is a pretty well traveled street and every car that goes up and down it, is leaving behind combustion residue. The good news is that most of this stuff will make it into the soil where it often gets mechanically filtered and then bacteria and fungi in the soil go to work on many of the toxic substances. Of course, some of these chemicals are filtered out by the plants and not taken up in the roots and rarely make it to the leaves and fruits. As far as airborne pollutants go, washing the part of the plant you are going to use is a pretty good way to remove most of them.
About the author:
David Jones L.Ac., a graduate of AOMA, is one of the founders of The Third Coast Herb Co. where he is chairman of the board and the vice president of new product development, which is quite a mouthful so he prefers Chief Herb Nerd.
Illustration notes and credits
T. Official – Medicinal Plants – An illustrative and descriptive guide Charles F Millspaugh M.D. 1892
C. Rotundus – Flora of China
L. Japonica – Fleur de Jardiner 1836
L. Lucidium – Curtis’s Botanical Magazine vol. 52 1825
A. Julbrissin – Missouri Botanical Society
M. Alba – Saint Hilaire Arb. Pl. 44 1824