TCM: What it Has to do with Tea
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a system of wellness and medical practice that is based on the holistic view of the human body operating within the energy of Nature. Therefore, its fundamental concepts of yin yang and the five elements are also those for understanding Nature and the cosmos. Beyond that, however, there is a complex system of knowledge of the physiology that is not based on anatomical physicality but rather energy and functional manifestations. Its unique diagnostic means, as well as its therapeutic approaches, such as Qi gong, acupuncture and use of herbs have been so developed.
It is believed that TCM has been in practice for millenniums. The world’s earliest existing clinical textbook, “Treatise on Colds and Fevers” was published around 200 A.D. by the influential physician Zhang Zhong Jing and is still being studied.
TCM is practiced widely in all Chinese societies alongside with modern medicine. It has substantial influence in healthcare in other East Asian countries such as Korea and Japan. Studies and principles of TCM are also utilized in many other fields to contribute to general medicine, health food, culinary arts, and even massage and other health spa processes, such as foot shiatsu (1). In some cities in the West, TCM is an alternative approach to modern medicine. It is becoming more popular because more people are beginning to see what it can do.
Bok choi & ginger: the meaning behind the pair
TCM is also a set of traditional common sense in healthy living, although it is getting less “common” in recent generations. Food is an important component in this tradition. The various ingredients are viewed no differently as those in herbal medicine; everything has its own medicinal character and should be consumed accordingly. A four-character saying sums it up — yi shi tong yuan — medicine and food are of the same source.
Here is one simple example to illustrate that good TCM understanding of food ingredients helps to maximize the benefits of culinary arts:
Bok choi (aka bai cai, pak choi, Chinese cabbage etc), a common leaf vegetable that belongs to the same species as broccoli, Brassica oleracea, and contain anti-cancer substances such as Indole-3-carbinol. It has a very high content of vitamins A&C and ranks second (after watercress) in Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables in nutrients density by the USA Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2).
After all, it is a delicious ingredient in daily meals for southern Chinese, used popularly in soups, stir-fry and steamed dishes. It is chilling in TCM nature; it promotes urination, clear breath, bowel regularity, anti-inflammatory function and immunization against respiratory infections.
Ginger, which is another daily ingredient, is also a common herbal formula component. It is warm in TCM nature and one of its key functions is to dispel the “wind” kind of toxins. It is often added to bok choi recipes to balance the vegetable’s chilling nature and add depth to the taste. A person who has a weak stomach or during a weaker condition caused by lack of fire energy, such as during menstruation, should avoid bok choi prepared without ginger or other balancing ingredients, or she will be “over-chilled” to contract other complications, such as dizziness, gastric gas, and loss of appetite and energy. This may explain why some people sometimes would feel sick after eating certain vegetables without a balancing ingredient.
The reader has to be reminded that different vegetables have different TCM characters. That is why a varying and balanced diet is important in the long run.
Tea: as varied as vegetables
Tea is a daily consumption item and because of the amount we normally ingest is regular and thus significant, it is to our benefits to understand its TCM nature in addition to all its other health promoting capabilities that modern science has discovered. Although we are by no means experts in TCM, a few concepts that we have used in this site are briefly listed here for the reader’s reference. To find out more about TCM, please do extend your reading beyond this site.
Tea is a much taken for granted item as much in the East as in the West. The different TCM nature of each of its great varieties is yet to be studied by TCM specialists. The TCM nature of each tea that we may discuss here is based entirely on our observation and experience. Although individual TCM professionals and even some medicine researchers from the West agree with what we understand, it is important that TCM scientists put in their efforts to make the understanding of tea a lot more complete.
Please be advised that, like tea, there are a lot of information out there of irregular quality, so is that for TCM. Unlike tea, TCM is a much larger conglomerate of various fields of knowledge and to understand it as a consumer, it does take a little effort. We have listed a few internet sites here that we think would be helpful for basic reading in the English language.
- An easy general reading by a healthcare company in Hong Kong (3):
- Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine, UK
- The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, US
1. Foot massage, which is more popular for commercial reasons, is a de-generation of foot shiatsu. The latter requires accurate and in-depth understanding of the acupunctural points of the foot and shiatsu experience to attain any desired health effects. Foot massage, on the other hand, is easy to learn but its effects much less obvious. Bare-foot pebble path, which is another re-incarnation of foot shiatsu, is popularly seen in Asian countries, such as recreational parks in Hong Kong. Practiced regularly, it can promote health quite effectively.
2. J Di Noia, Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach, Preventing Chronic Disease, Volume 11 — June 05, 2014, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, USA doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.5888/pcd11.130390
3. We are not associated or in any other way related to this entity. We simply cannot find that many sites worth reading in the English language on the topic.