The Beauty of Chinese Herbs (Feat. A Guest Artist!)

Hello everyone! I’ve talked a little here about Chinese herbal medicine, but it is sometimes a hard topic to condense into a blog post. However, with this glorious summer weather and all the lovely flowers blooming and growing, I started thinking about the very real beauty of some of our Chinese herbs. Chinese herbs come in a variety of different materials. The most common is plant parts (flowers, roots, leaves, berries, etc.), but herbal medicine can also involve the use of animal parts, bones, minerals, and more. Today we are going to explore three of the very beautiful flowers that we use in Chinese medicine.

I’m very lucky to be featuring a guest artist on the blog today- Lauren Bartkus (maiden name Robinson for those of you who know her from Westover!) is a friend of mine whom I have known for a very long time. She is a very talented graphic designer based out of Seattle, WA.  She specializes in responsive websites, logos and branding, and marketing material design for small businesses. For more information and more about her work, please visit her website. She has graciously volunteered to illustrate for us some of the flowers we use in Chinese medicine, and I am so excited to share her work with you.

Many times when we see Chinese herbs, they are either dried (so they lose some of their color and vitality) or they are in pill form, so you can’t see what they look like at all. This is a great peek into what these plants look like in real life, so you can appreciate the beauty of these immensely helpful healing plants.

Today I’m going to introduce and explore three flowers used in TCM. As a friendly reminder, when I talk about herbal medicine on this blog, this is not intended for you to go out and start taking these herbs. You should only ever take herbs under the guidance of a licensed Chinese medical practitioner who better knows your personal health needs and history.

I’ll give the name of the flower in Pinyin (a way of translating Chinese characters into English lettering) as well as in Latin and English.

Huai Mi (sephorae flos) (Pagoda flower)

(sometimes also known as Huai Hua Mi)

unnamed

Huai Mi is part of the category of herbs that regulate the blood. Broadly, this means that herbs in this category affect the circulation of blood in the body, especially if there is an issue of stagnation (blood not moving as it should) or abnormal bleeding. This particular flower is very good at both clearing heat and stopping bleeding. Its particular blood regulating function especially applies to bleeding of the intestines or for bleeding hemorrhoids (bet you didn’t see what one coming, did you? Pretty flowers can do pretty crazy things!). It can also be very useful for redness and irritation of the eyes. It’s even used for hypertension (high blood pressure).

Hong Hua (carthami flos) (Safflower)

unnamed

Hong Hua is another herb that regulates the blood. This is a really great herb for moving blood and reducing pain. It’s very commonly used in gynecological disorders such as painful menstruation. Hong Hua also has a variety of minor functions including moistening dryness, in certain dosages nourishing the blood, and helping stubborn rashes like measles come to the surface so they can be expressed and resolved.

Zi Hua Di Ding (violae herba) (Viola flower)

unnamed

This herb is part of the category that clears heat. This herb also is said to resolve toxicity (this does not mean “toxins” in the nonsensical modern use of how juice cleanses are said to “clear toxins”- this means it resolves infections).

The viola flower is especially useful for treating deep-seated or infected sores and accesses (yet another instance of the surprising power of a little flower!). It does this by both clearing heat and reducing swelling. It can also treat less serious instances of heat and swelling, such as in the eyes or throat.

I hope you all enjoyed this exploration of how some flowers can be used in Chinese medicine to treat all sorts of conditions. A huge thank you to Lauren again- I love her pictures of these so much, and I am definitely going to frame them for my office. I hope everyone has a safe and fun Fourth of July weekend, and until next time- be well!

Advertisements

Look For the Helpers

I’m really sad tonight. And since the best way I know how to express myself is through writing, this is my small attempt to share my thoughts on the terrible events of this weekend (and this week in general). As a straight, cis-gendered woman (meaning I identify with the sex I was born as), I have the immense privilege of not being targeted for my sexual preferences or identity. I’ve never had to fight to see people like me represented in media or to be treated equally in the eyes of the law. But I am still heartbroken over the events in Orlando this weekend.

I am sad and I am tired and I am deeply worried for the future. I am sad that intolerance and hatred are allowed to flourish. I am sad that violence is used as a tool to spread that hatred. I worry where this country, a country that I love, is headed. I look around me and all I see is angry rhetoric and name-calling. Regardless of your political views (and this is not the place to share either mine or yours), I don’t think anyone feels like we are in a good place as a nation.

I am sad too about the sentencing given this week in the Stanford rape trial. While this is a situation not on par with the act of mass terrorism that happened in Orlando this weekend, the sentencing itself and the statements of the rapist’s parents only emphasize that rape culture is all too prevalent in this country. This particular case merely drew attention to the massive injustices that plague victims of sexual violence. We still live in a place where women are taught how not to get raped, not a place where people are told not to rape.

So I am sad tonight. This week brings heartbreaking news, unfathomable loss, and fears for the future. And I know this blog is supposed to be about Chinese medicine but tonight I needed to share this with you all.

Fred Rogers (known better to us all as Mr. Rogers of that beautiful neighborhood) once said:

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am comforted by realizing there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world.

So look for the helpers. Look past the anger and the hatred and the violence. Be a helper yourself. Spread kindness and love and tolerance. Fight for your beliefs and fight to make this a better, safer, and more caring world. Stand up for those who cannot. Show your support for the marginalized and for the underserved. Hug your loved ones a little closer this evening- some may not get that chance again.

Look for the helpers.

The Great Outdoors (Literally)

Hi there! I hope you enjoyed my last blog post which was a little different from my normal type of post- I got some good feedback, and I always appreciate hearing from readers! Tonight’s post is going to be a quick one inspired by this absolutely beautiful weather we have been having here in Connecticut this week.

This is the time of year when we (finally!) get to spend time outside- sitting on the patio, going for hikes in the woods, and planting in the garden. This last weekend I finally got to get things started with my vegetable garden, although I have yet to construct the elaborate fencing system required to keep my chubby dog from eating my vegetables (which he somehow manages to do every year). It’s so nice to be able to enjoy the day outside without having to cover every inch of your skin in a down parka (or, if you’re like me, sulking in your car every morning while it warms up and cursing the day you left Southern California…)

This increased exposure to nature is actually very important for our health. A study done in Holland found that the more green space residents had around them, the higher they perceived their general health to be.[i] Other research has shown that being outside helps to regulate sleep patterns, especially in kids. This research also showed that being outside more helped children to become more creative and to feel less anxious. Another study found that exercising outside for as little as five minutes led to improved feelings of self esteem. And even more research has shown that being in nature improves mood, boosts your immune system, reduces stress, and increases energy levels, among other benefits. So, to sum it all up, being in nature can have some pretty darn positive effects on our health and well-being!

By removing ourselves from our constant engagement with screens, taking a step back from the technology that controls most of our lives, and instead engaging with our natural surroundings, we nurture both our body and mind. There’s something about being out in the world that reminds us that we are all part of a connected planet. I know that sounds cheesy, but it’s true- it’s very easy for us to feel separate from the outside around us. We wake up inside of a house, get directly into a car to go to work, where most of us sit inside for the majority of the day. If we are lucky, we might get to steal a few minutes outside at lunchtime or at the end of the day, but this is usually in a parking lot, which is not exactly Yellowstone. Then we go home, eat dinner, and watch TV before bed. Very few of us get to actually engage with our natural surroundings. By making an effort to instead spend some time outside, even if it’s just planting some flowers or chasing your kids around the yard, we get a chance to reconnect with a very different part of ourselves.

Being outside allows us to experience sights we only usually see on screens- streams and rivers, tall trees, and delicate flowers. We also encounter sounds we don’t often get to hear- actual birdsong, the wind in the trees, rain falling on puddles.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

-Lord Byron

So how do we best enjoy the health benefits of nature? I personally love to explore unfamiliar outdoor places every chance I get. Anytime I travel, I love to find a new outdoor activity to try or a beautiful new landscape to explore.

Your favorite acupuncturist at the Wisconsin Dells last fall
Your favorite acupuncturist at the Wisconsin Dells last fall

I’ve always been like that, even as a kid. I grew up exploring the woods, swimming in a lake, and climbing rocks that would have given my parents a heart attack had they seen the size of them. My mom and brother love to explore new natural arenas as well- I’ve been to Yosemite and the Grand Canyon with my mom and to Zion, Arches National Park, and the Grand Tetons with my brother. My dad was more of an indoor person (he loved a good AC unit), but he would take my brother and me fishing when we were young and would take us to baseball fields and the golf course to let us run around to our hearts’ content.

Traveling is obviously a great way to explore nature, but even at home and on a budget, there are so many easy ways to enjoy nature. We are lucky here in Connecticut that many people are within a short distance of hiking trails, parks, and nature preserves. Even just finding time to sit outside after dinner, going for a family walk on the weekends, or taking a picnic lunch to the park can help you engage with the natural world around you.

A beautiful photo from right in the backyard (courtesy of my talented mom)
A beautiful photo from right in the backyard (courtesy of my talented mom)

Even if you don’t live near a state park, nature preserve, or forest, you can still find small areas of natural beauty. More and more cities now are understanding that having green space is an important aspect of developing healthy communities. Even small local parks may offer a respite from the hectic nature of an urban environment.

So get out there and enjoy! Let me know your favorite place to get outside and explore nature! I hope everyone has a wonderful rest of your week, and until next time, be well.

 

[i] Maas, J., Verheij, R. A., Groenewegen, P. P., de Vries, S., & Spreeuwenberg, P. (2006). Green space, urbanity, and health: how strong is the relation? Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 60(7), 587–592. http://doi.org/10.1136/jech.2005.043125