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Acupuncture, Massage, Newsletter - January 2006 | Issue 17

In this issue you will find: Important PCOM Dates
  • January 29 – Chinese New Year: Year of the Dog
  • February 11 – Chinese New Year Celebration in San Diego & New York
  • February 25 – Chinese New Year Celebration in Chicago

Upcoming CEU Events in New York

  • February 4-5 -  Yefim Gamgoneishvili:  Orthopedics and TCM Series
  • February 18-19 - Magnolia Goh: Oriental Medicine for Facial Rejuvenation

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How to Cook a Chinese Herbal Formula

by Al Stone, L.Ac.

As is the case with many aspects of traditional Chinese medicine, there are many ways to get results. When it comes to the steeping of raw herbs for medicinal teas, there are many methods that all serve to draw out the therapeutic qualities from the herbs. The following represents a few of the possible methods for cooking your Chinese herbal formula.

This article should be secondary to the advice of your herbalist. He or she can likely answer your questions better than a page on the web since each patient has different needs. However, with the following information you will, at least, be able to ask appropriate questions.

The Kind of Container
The best container is ceramic. Glass is okay. It is important that your teapot has a lid. Materials to avoid include cast iron or metals. Chinese herbs can interact with these metals casing chemical reactions that can alter the therapeutic qualities of your herbs, or worse yet, have an unhealthy effect on whoever drinks the tea.
Stainless steel is better than the other metals. Teflon coatings are not as good as ceramic coatings.

In ancient times the source of the water used in the tea was an important issue. Some teas required water from a spring, others called for water collected during a rain. Nowadays, any drinking water is acceptable. The purity and cleanliness of the water you choose is a personal choice.

Soak the herbs. Place the herbs into the water. The water should cover the herbs by about an inch and a half. Let them sit for 15 minutes without turning on the heat beneath the teapot. Some sources suggest allowing the herbs to absorb the room-temperature water for one hour.

Bring water to a rolling boil. Then, turn down the fire to a low simmer.
Cook herbs for 20 to 30 minutes. There is a great deal of variation in the time necessary to cook herbs. It depends mostly on the kind of herbs you're cooking. The average is 20 minutes. Diaphoretics are cooked for no more than 15 minutes. Aromatics only get steeped for 5 minutes. For tonic herbs, 40 to 50 minutes is appropriate. There is more on timing further on in this article.

Don't lift up the lid, especially with aromatic herbs as the volatile oils can evaporate out of the mixture very easily.

Strain the tea
Drink it. If you find the taste disagreeable, then your tongue is working right. However, if you find the taste so unpalatable that you don't drink it, then you need to do something to make it more drinkable. We suggest watering it down a bit. This helps a great deal. Also, it seems that after time, the body begins to crave a certain formula, especially one that is well suited. The taste will become more and more attractive. Some people add a little honey to sweeten it. This should only be done with the consent of your herbalist. Honey can adversely affect the therapeutic qualities of the formula and so it should only be added when appropriate.

Re-cook the same herbs a second time. During the first steeping, the temperature energetic comes out of the herb. This affects the patient mostly at the Qi level. It is more superficial, more Yang in nature.During the second steeping, the taste energetics come out of the herb. This affects the patient more on the Blood level. These energetics have more of an internal impact. The Yin is affected more. It would be a good idea to mix the tea from both batches for drinking.

Exceptions to the above rules
Herbs cooked for longer than 20 minutes. Some herbs are made from substances that require more time to leach out their therapeutic ingredients. Examples of these herbs are Bie Jia (Turtle Shell) and Ci Shi (Magnetite). These herbs need to be cooked 20 to 30 minutes longer. Simply place them in the water and steep for 20 to 30 minutes, then add the rest of the herbs and cook for another 20 minutes.

Herbs cooked for periods shorter than 20 minutes. Aromatic herbs are often used to relieve the patient of what we, in the West, call the "common cold" and stuffed nose. Examples of aromatic herbs include Bo He (Peppermint) and Mu Xiang. These herbs contain volatile oils that come out very quickly, and evaporate out of the decoction if steeped too long. Hence, they should be cooked only for the last five minutes.

If you cook your herb packets twice, be sure to add a fresh portion of your aromatics to the second batch of tea in the last five minutes to get the oils out again.

Wrapped Herbs
Sometimes, herbs are made of very small substances such that they will make your water kind of dirty if they are let loose into the decoction. A good analogy would be coffee grounds. They are too small to strain out, so an herb of that size would be steeped wrapped up in cheesecloth or a tied up coffee filter.

An example of this kind of herb would be Xin Yi Hua. The fine hairs on this flower come off and float around in the tea. When drunk, it is harmless, but very irritating to the back of the throat.

Cooked Separately
Expensive herbs such as fine Ginseng can be cooked separately for longer periods of time. This allows one to get the maximum amount of therapeutic effect from the herb without overcooking the other herbs in the formula.

Some herbs are not supposed to be steeped for 20 minutes. One would simply add such an herb to hot water and let it melt. A good example of this is E Jiao.

Aromatic Herbs
Soaked Herbs that are very aromatic or volatile can be decocted by placing them in hot water without cooking on the fire. Just boil some water, take it off the fire, and let the herb steep. Hong Hua is an example of an herb in this category.

Powdered herbs
Some herbs come in powdered form. With these herbs, you simply add the appropriate amount to hot water, stir, and drink. Some herbs that are especially expensive are powdered to make more efficient use of their properties with the minimum cost.

When to take your herbs?
Generally, as a rule, it is best to take your herb tea one hour before eating, on an empty stomach. This provides the best absorption of the ingredients of the herbs.

If the herbs cause a little stomach upset, drink the herb tea one hour after eating, or
drink some fresh ginger juice before taking the formula, or eat some fresh ginger before the formula. Fresh ginger is the sweet little slices of root often served with sushi.

Tonification formulas are best taken on an empty stomach
Shen calming formulas (for insomnia) are best taken two hours before sleeping. Formulas treating ailments above the diaphragm are best taken one hour after eating. The food in the stomach provides the energetics of the herbs a platform from which to rise up to the upper part of the body.

Formulas treating ailments below the diaphragm are best taken one hour before eating so the energetics can descend unimpeded by contents in the stomach.

Formulas for heat syndromes can be taken at room temperature or chilled. If drinking an herb tea at room temperature tastes bad, it should be consumed warm. It is more important to drink the tea than to add to its function by drinking it cold.

Formulas for cold syndromes can be taken warm or hot
Mixing herbs with Western pharmaceuticals is not something we can comment on without knowing the specifics of what you're taking and why. It is a personal choice. Generally, it never hurts to get everybody's opinion including your M.D. and your herbalist to better decide which therapies to mix, and which not to mix.

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Pacific College Celebrates Chinese New Year

To RSVP, please click here

In celebration of Chinese New Year, Pacific College has planned free events on each of its three campuses.

Pacific’s San Diego campus will be hosting a free event for the public on Saturday, February 11, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.  Treat yourself to a complimentary 15-minute acupuncture treatment targeted for smoking cessation and stress reduction, or a 10-minute Tui Na massage.  This event will also include Tai Ji and Qi Gong demonstrations, an informational lecture titled, “The Profession of Oriental Medicine and Asian Body Therapy” and a student panel to answer questions.

Pacific College of Oriental Medicine in New York will also be hosting a free event on Saturday, February 11, 2006 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. An informational open house will be offered from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m, The afternoon celebration starting at 12:30 p.m. will offer complimentary community style acupuncture treatments for balance and stress relief are being offered as well as a Tai Ji and QI Gong workshop.  This event will also include an informational lecture titled, “Chinese Astrology: Year of the Dog”

Pacific’s Chicago campus will be holding a similar Chinese New Year celebration, Saturday, February 25, 2006 from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The campus will be offering complimentary acupuncture treatments focusing on weight loss, stress management and smoking cessation.  10-minute intensive massages will also be offered.  Additional activities include a lecture titled, “The History of Chinese Medicine” and a Tui Na and Qi Gong demonstration presented by the faculty.
Celebrations at each campus will provide refreshments and an open invitation to the public to tour the campus.  Staff and faculty will also be available to further attendees’ knowledge of Pacific College’s programs and the field of Oriental medicine. These events are free and open to the public.

For more information on any of our Chinese New Year celebrations please visit www.PacificCollege.edu or click here to RSVP.

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Chinese New Year: Year of the Dog

Welcome to the year of the Dog! The Chinese Lunar New Year is the longest chronological record in history, dating from 2600 BC. The Chinese calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the year being based on the cycles of the moon. Therefore, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere from late January to mid February. This year it falls on January 29, 2006.

A complete cycle of the calendar takes 60 years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. Each of the 12 years is named after an animal. Legend says that Lord Buddha summoned all the animals to come to him before he departed from the earth. Only 12 came to say farewell and as a reward he named a year after each one in the order they arrived. The Chinese believe the animal ruling the year in which a person was born has a profound influence on his/her personality. The Chinese Zodiac consists of the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog and pig.

In the Lunar Calendar, the Dog posses the best traits, having a deep sense of loyalty, and compassion, while inspiring others to have confidence in them. People born in the year of the Dog are incredibly attentive, honest and trustworthy people, ethically strong and morally kept.  The Dog’s mantra is, Live right, look out for the little people and fight injustice whenever possible.

The celebrations of Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, last 15 days and are some of the most festive of the year. Preparations usually begin about one month before the New Year. Homes are thoroughly cleaned to sweep away any traces of bad luck. Doors and windowpanes are given a new coat of red paint and hung with paper scrolls decorated with themes of happiness, wealth and longevity, a practice believed to keep away ghosts and evil spirits. Many traditional Chinese homes also have live blooming plants and flowers symbolizing rebirth and wealth such as peony flowers and kumquat trees.

Because it is believed that one's behavior during New Year's sets the tone for the rest of the year, words that sound like unlucky or undesirable events, such as death or poverty, are not to be spoken. Arguments, scolding children, crying and breaking things are also taboo. During this time, it is typical to wear something red as this color is believed to ward off evil spirits. Black and white are avoided, as these colors are associated with mourning.

On New Year's eve, traditions are carefully observed. An elaborate dinner with large amounts of traditional food symbolizing abundance and wealth for the household is prepared. Each of the nine to 12 courses signifies a good wish such as happiness, good luck, or prosperity. Nian Gao, the New Year's cake and the "prosperity tray", an eight-sided tray filled with fruit, snacks, cookies and cakes, are also served to guests. Each item of the tray represents a type of good fortune: red dates and lotus seeds bring prosperity, melon seeds bring proliferation, and oranges and tangerines bring wealth and good fortune.

After dinner, families stay up and visit together until midnight, when fireworks light up the sky and doors and windows are opened to allow the old year to go out. The custom of putting up red paper and lighting firecrackers began as a way to scare off Nian, a beast that preyed on people the night before the beginning of a new year. Nian destroyed the villages, injured the villagers, and took away the livestock and grain stored for the winter. One year as the monster appeared, it was scared away by the color and crackling sounds made by bamboo used in the villagers' fires. From this time on, villagers burned bamboo sticks to keep the monster away during the New Year. Today, firecrackers have replaced the burning of bamboo sticks as a way to drive off "evil energy" and attain peace and good fortune.

New Year's day is spent visiting family, friends and neighbors. A custom called Hong Bao, or "Red Packet", takes place. As a symbol of good luck, married couples give children, unmarried adults, and the elderly money in red envelopes. Performances of the dragon and lion dances can also be seen in the streets. Chinese consider lions to be good omens able to repel demons and evil and bring good luck. The dances are accompanied by loud music played on drums, gongs, and cymbals. When the dancers stop in front of a residence or business, it is thought to bring good fortune to the occupants. In return, the residents usually present the dancers with money as a thank you and reward. The Festival of Lanterns, a celebration with singing, dancing, and lantern shows, marks the end of the New Year. Often used to adorn temples, the decorative lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and depict animals, flowers, historical figures, and scenes from popular stories.

The Chinese use the New Year as a time to express their appreciation for protection and good fortune during the year. It is also a time of reconciliation when debts are paid and old grudges are easily cast aside. Although celebrations of the Chinese New Year vary, the underlying message is one of peace and happiness.

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Chinese Wisdom: Quote of the Day

“ He who tip-toes cannot stand; he who strides cannot walk."

-- Lao-Tzu (6th century B.C.), Legendary Chinese philosopher