food, health, herbal medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Uncategorized

Do you know these herbs and spices?

Sri Lanka AHG cardamom tea
Cardamom black tea

So a lot of us use a range of herbs and spices in our cooking and medicines and yet we may not have a clue what they actually look like when they’re growing on the bush or vine or tree. (I also know some of you grow an extensive range of herbs in your gardens and very much know what they look like and how to use them.)

By definition herbs are plants of a particular type (soft, succulent and mostly grown from seed) but this doesn’t truly capture all of the plants we use as herbs. Broadly speaking, herbs can be any plant we use in medicine, food, flavouring, for fragrance or even as a dye.

While I was in Sri Lanka late last year I wanted to visit as many Ayurvedic herbal gardens as I could to learn more about these medicinal plants. Here are some photos I took at the Ananda Spice Garden (near Koggala Lake) of some herbs you may use on regular rotation in your kitchen or even in a medicinal brew:

Sri Lanka AHG aloe vera
Aloe Vera
Sri Lanka AHG cinnamon
Cinnamon
Sri Lanka AHG ginger
Ginger
Sri Lanka AHG red ginger
Red ginger
Sri Lanka AHG vanilla
Vanilla

Aren’t they gorgeous?

And if you are interested, here is a east-west fusion (read: not Classical Chinese Medicine but still really interesting) of the Five Elements of herbs I found in one of my favourite, old herb books – Isobell Shiphard’s How can I use herbs in my daily life?

Isabell Shipard 5 element herbs

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to balance the Five Flavours perfectly in a meal

The more colours the better! Vegies for the omelette.
The five flavours in fruit and vegetable form.

In Chinese Medicine we class every food according to its temperature, affinity with different parts of the body and its flavour.

There are five key flavours and a food may fall into more than one category. Each flavour has a different effect on the body, as follows:

  • Bitter (Fire element): drying and downbearing. Bitter foods are good for promoting excretion of excess fluids (dampness) and stimulating digestion.
  • Sweet (Earth element): warming, strengthening and moistening. Sweet foods give us fuel for energy and are particularly useful in times of weakness. They also nourish our body fluids.
  • Pungent (Metal element): aid circulation and promote sweating. Pungent foods help to move stagnation and tension in the body, as well as improving blood flow. These foods also push ‘upwards and outwards’ promoting a sweat which is why they are also used during acute colds and flu.
  • Salty (Water element): cooling, softening and moistening. Salty foods can alter fluid balance in the body and in some cases may promote bowel movements. They soften hardness (think of epsom salts in the bath).
  • Sour (Wood element): astringe and preserve fluids. Sour foods close the pores and promote an inward movement to nourish our body fluids and subdue anger. (Think of the face you pull when you eat a lemon – these babies’ faces say it all!.

While all of the flavours need to be consumed in moderation and then increased or decreased according to each person’s current health condition, sweet and salty foods should be particularly used sparingly in modern diets, unless a person’s health condition suggests otherwise. A Chinese Medicine practitioner can guide you in this area.

In the modern diet, bitter foods are eaten rarely and there is usually cause for most western people to increase their intake of bitter foods.

For a person in a good state of health we usually recommend a consumption of all of the flavours in moderation. Cooking in Asian cultures often pays close attention to the seasoning of dishes to represent a balance of flavours. A classic example is ‘pho’ (Vietnamese noodle soup) which is served with fresh chilli and mint (pungent), lemon/lime (sour), carrot and mung bean sprouts (sweet), green leafy vegetables (bitter) and fish and/or soy sauce (salty).

Here’s a western recipe (that I have blogged about before) which brings together these five flavours perfectly:

Mediterranean eggplant salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 large eggplants, cubed, salted, drained and dried
  • olive oil for frying
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon currants
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
  • 6 roma tomatoes, quartered lengthways
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 2 red chillies, sliced finely
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • handful of parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 preserved lemon, discard flesh and slice rind finely
  • a few handfuls of green leafy vegetables: baby spinach, cress and/or rocket leaves

Method:

  1. Warm olive oil in pan and fry eggplant until golden in small batches.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towel.
  2. In same pan, saute cumin seeds, garlic, currants and almonds until golden.  Add tomato and oregano until browned.  Remove from heat.
  3. Add fried eggplant, chilli, lemon juice, parsley, preserved lemon and spinach to the tomato mixture.  Season with black pepper.  Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes prior to serving.

Here is the breakdown of this recipe according to the flavours:

  • Bitter: oregano, parsley and green leafy vegetables.
  • Sweet: eggplant, currants, cumin, tomato and almonds.
  • Pungent: cumin, garlic, oregano and chilli.
  • Salty: preserved lemon, eggplant (once salted and rinsed).
  • Sour: tomato, lemon juice and preserved lemon.

Perfect balance. Enjoy this recipe. It’s delicious!

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

health, nature, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to live well this winter

Winter arrived right on cue this year in Brisbane. As I left the college I lecture at this afternoon the chilly air went straight through me. Note to self: I need to refresh my winter wardrobe.Winter leunig

But what about winter and your health? Winter has a bad reputation for ‘catching a cold’ and cops the flack for setting the scene for ‘flu season’.

Let’s think about winter. And here’s a classic to put you in the mood:

If you have time to notice that we have seasons you will have discovered recently that the days are getting shorter and the temperature is cooler. And if you don’t have time, make some.

In keeping with my other seasonal living guides (summer and autumn), here is your guide to living well in winter.

Winter is all about the Water element (in which we find the Kidneys and Bladder). It is when the Yang (hot, energetic Qi) is hidden by the Yin (cool, peaceful Qi) accumulation. And so we crave:

  • Comfort and being cosy
  • Embracing the indoors
  • Introversion
  • Getting more sleep (earlier to bed, later to rise)
  • Using the warm quilt and/or flannelette sheets
  • Getting crafty (crocheting or knitting? I heard they are the new yoga!)
  • Comforting foods – soups, stews, curries, apple cinnamon crumble 

Top tips for good health in winter:

  • Storing and building our energy for the spring. By reading the ideas above it certainly sounds like this is exactly what winter is for.
  • Keep warm. Not so warm you work up a sweat but enough to protect that Yang Qi. Think of it a little as you need to keep your internal furnace firing so that when you are out in the cold you can warm back up quickly again. Most importantly keep your feet and lower back warm. There is no place for a midriff top in winter! And if there is a cold breeze around wrap a scarf around your neck. Also keep your bed comfortably warm.
  • Get a dose of sunlight on a clear day. The far infrared rays will warm you on a cool day and boost your mood. Here’s a guide to sunlight exposure for vitamin D in the winter.
  • Keep exercising within comfortable limits. Winter may be a time to slow down and get indoors but we still need some moderate activity to keep us healthy and happy.
  • Wash your hands regularly. Being inside more often exposes you to more people’s germs in confined spaces. Wash your hands regularly and/or carry around some hand sanitiser to reduce your risk of catching a cold or flu.
  • Protect your skin and respiratory system from dryness. Find yourself a good natural moisturiser (no, sorbelene won’t do) to nourish your face and body. Use lip balm. Modify the humidity in your home if necessary. Increase the good oils in your diet.
  • Eat warm. Include some nourishing dishes made with seasonal produce in your diet. Make use of some warming foods and spices as described in my quick guide to eating well in winter. Chinese medicine likes to include some dark coloured foods too (eg. black sesame, black soy beans and brown rice). Now is also the time to partake in preserved foods. Salads, juices and smoothies are best left until the weather warms up again. And swap the muesli for porridge or congee.
  • A wee nip of alcohol in moderation warms from within. In fact a Ming Dynasty doctor recommended “Alcoholic beverages are bitter and acrid in flavour and hot in thermal nature. When consumed regularly and in the right amount, alcohol regulates blood flow, promotes Qi circulation, stimulates the mind and warms the body.” What is the right amount? Please read these guidelines.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Warming, curried butter bean and vegetable soup for chilly nights

curried soupWhoa Brisbane! What’s with the suddenly freezing nights and mornings? I thought we were done with the chilly temperatures. (NB. Yes, I am soft. I live in Brisbane and anything below 10ºC is unbearably cold to me! And here is how I use spices to cope and here are some general ideas for staying warm.)

To survive winter’s last hurrah in the form of this recent cold snap I made this delightfully fragrant and delicious soup.

The root vegetables, beans and spices gently warm and nourish the body and digestive system (Spleen and Stomach) and boost energy according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Even the yellowy colour of the soup supports these organs and their corresponding Earth element.

Curried butter bean and vegetable soup

Ingredients:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 red capsicum, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 3 cups pumpkin, diced
  • 1/2 cauliflower, diced
  • 1 cup of cooked butter beans (or 400g canned)
  • 1 1/4 litre vegetable stock
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • handful of green beans, sliced
  • coriander, chopped, to garnish

Method:

  1. Heat oil in large saucepan. Fry onion, garlic, carrot, cumin seeds and mustard seeds until browned and crackling.
  2. Add turmeric and curry powders.  Fry for a minute.
  3. Add potato, pumpkin, cauliflower, butter beans, vegetable stock, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft.
  4. Allow soup to cool a little, add half of soup to food processor and blend.
  5. Return blended soup to the pot. Add green beans stir over heat and simmer for another 5 minutes.
  6. Serve in bowls topped with coriander.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

acupuncture, emotional health, herbal medicine, mental health, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine for the broken heart

I’ve seen many a brokenhearted patient in my clinic. Traditional Chinese Medicine has much to offer in helping you through this tough time.

I have recently been asked to write on the topic for the Endeavour College of Natural Health’s Wellspring Blog.

Check out five heart-healing tips in Mending a broken heart with Traditional Chinese Medicine.

To book an appointment at the clinic or further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health.

Diet, emotional health, food, food allergy, recipe, Traditional Chinese Medicine

A heart warming curry and sweet tropical treat for Valentine’s Day

heart chilliThis week I leafed through a few of my vegetarian recipe books looking for inspiration for something interesting to make for a special someone.  Neither of us tolerate dairy well, so dairy-free was a must.  But really, I was searching for a menu that was flavoursome, fragrant and delicious.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine the heart is represented by the fire element.  The temperature of the fire element is hot – warming and spicy – it builds our Yang energy (our internal fire), think of chilli, onions, garlic, ginger and the myriad of spices we have at our finger tips in the modern kitchen.  Interestingly, the corresponding emotion is joy.  Have you ever felt grumpy when eating a perfectly spiced dish?

What first caught my eye was a recipe for dessert: tropical fruit sushi.  This sounds weird but looks divine, and was the perfect mix of sweet rice, coconut, spice and the last of summer’s mangoes.

Continuing with the tropical Asian inspired theme, I chose a vegetarian Penang curry for the main course and tweaked the recipe to suit my preferences, maximising produce from my very own balcony herb garden.

Okay, so these weren’t cooked and eaten on Valentine’s Day, but I thought you might like to take advantage of these ideas for a romantic meal (even if it’s just for you – I’m all for spoiling oneself!)

Here are the recipes:

Eggplant and tofu Penang curry

Ingredients

  • 2 large red chillies (seeded and sliced)
  • 2 lemongrass stalks (white part chopped into 1 cm pieces)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger (chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 400g cans coconut milk
  • 2 cups snow peas (trimmed)
  • 2 cups eggplant (cubed, salted, washed and dried)
  • 200g tofu (sliced and fried)
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons basil, sliced

Method

  1. Blend chillies, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, kaffir lime leaves, cumin seeds, coriander seeds and salt in a food processor until herbs resemble a thick paste.  Add a little of the coconut milk to help this process.
  2. Add the paste to a saucepan and fry a little until fragrant.  Add coconut milk, eggplant and tofu, simmer.
  3. When eggplant is almost cooked add snow peas.
  4. Season with soy sauce and maple syrup, stir well.  Cook just until snow peas are tender.
  5. Serve with steamed rice and top with basil.

Tropical fruit sushi

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sushi rice
  • 150mL coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 6 tablespoons caster sugar*
  • 1 mango
  • 4cm  fresh ginger (grated finely)

Method

  1. Boil rice with just enough water to cover it and allow to simmer for 3 minutes.  Drain.
  2. Then line a steamer with muslin, add rice and steam for 12-15 minutes, or until tender.
  3. Transfer the rice to a small saucepan and mix with coconut milk, nutmeg and 2 tablespoons of sugar.  Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 6 minutes and rice mixture is thick and creamy.  Cool.
  4. Line a baking dish (18 x 25 cm)with cling wrap leaving enough at the edges to wrap over the top.
  5. When rice is cool spread into the baking tray at about 2 cm thick.  Smooth the top.  Fold cling wrap over the top. Refrigerate.
  6. Slice mango thinly and cut into small rectangles (2 x 4 cm).  You’ll need 16 pieces.
  7. In a small saucepan combine remaining 4 tablespoons of caster sugar with 1/2 cup water to make sugar syrup*.  Stir over a low heat until combined, then bring to the boil for 2 minutes until syrupy. Remove from heat and add mango and ginger.  Cool.
  8. Slice rice into 4 x 2 cm slices.  Top each slice with a piece of mango.  Drizzle with ginger syrup on the serving plate.

*The sugar syrup can be made with stevia instead – here is a recipe although you’ll only need 1/2 cup so reduce the recipe to an eighth.

Another idea for a love inspired sweet are these red bean heart biscuits.

And if you are not feeling the love, maybe Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you find your happy heart again.

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.

acupuncture, emotional health, herbal medicine, mental health, motivational, Traditional Chinese Medicine

How to stress-less: create happy habits

Stress is something that we all encounter on a daily basis.  There is good stress (eustress) that promotes us to grow and change and bad stress (distress) which is counterproductive and wears us down in the long-term.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is not so concerned with ‘stress’ as such, but more about exactly how it affects you.  Does it involve:

  • Busy, anxious mind (maybe panic attacks) with disrupted sleep?
  • Dwelling on thoughts, obsessing and then loss of appetite or change in bowel function?  Often accompanied by bingeing on sweet foods.
  • Sadness and grief.  Perhaps a decline in your immune function as you pick up every bug going around.
  • Fearful of the future.  Often this type of stress is centered around job loss, financial concerns or fertility problems.  This stress can trigger intense fatigue, premature ageing and reproductive disorders.
  • Frustration and feeling stuck in a situation.  Your stress goes straight to your neck and shoulders, with the tension resulting in headaches and grumpiness.

Your exact type of stress helps us to discern an appropriate treatment for you, and each of these types of stress will have considerably different treatment plans.

So what can you do to manage stress – here’s a general stress buster plan:

  • Get good sleep – if you don’t already sleep well, get help to make this happen
  • Eat a healthy diet – no processed or high sugar foods, focus on whole foods (colourful vegies, good quality protein, good fats and whole grains)
  • Exercise – it’s an excellent stress buster – do a form of exercise that you like.  Where possible do it in a green space (outside in nature) – studies show it will make you happier.  By just adding exercise to your routine, you’ll find you’ll automatically improve other factors in your life, so it’s a nice place to start.
  • Lose bad habits – quit smoking and recreational drugs, quit or at least reduce alcohol consumption (if you don’t know what the healthy range is click here).
  • Find pleasure daily – do something that you really enjoy every day.  This can be a creative pursuit (e.g. dancing, dreaming, painting, writing, baking, playing or appreciating music) or other nice things (e.g. massage, acupuncture, take a bath, give yourself a facial, inhale your favourite essential oil, give someone a hug, laugh, cook for someone).
  • Enhance your relationships – a support network is your safety net and your source of giving and receiving which has shown to add to your happiness.  Actively develop your relationships with family, friends and/or people within your community.
  • Meditation – People who meditate as little as twice per week have been shown to have a better state of mental health than the general population.  Find a teacher, read a book, find a site on the net like this  or this, get a CD or download an app – but whatever you do, get started on reducing your mind chatter now.  In fact why not meditate in one moment like this:

A study on acupuncture side effects discovered that major side effects were extremely uncommon from the therapy but one of the most common ‘minor’ side effects was relaxation!

Herbal medicine also has a lot to offer people who are stressed.  It’s best to see a herbalist who can make up an individualised formula for you that can help to shift the way you deal with stress.  Some herbal medicines interact with medications so getting professional advice is recommended.

If you are really not coping and need help immediately then please contact Lifeline.

So, if you need some additional stress management help, you know what to do, pick one of the above mentioned tips and start now – seize the moment and release that pressure valve!

For further information on Chinese Medicine contact Dr Sarah George (Acupuncture).  Sarah is a practitioner of acupuncture (AHPRA registered), massage therapy and natural health at her Broadbeach clinic and is the Chinese Medicine Senior Lecturer at the Endeavour College of Natural Health Gold Coast campus.