Tea Against the Cold

Korean red ginseng roots

Processed Korean red ginseng roots

As Nature manifests its power over us earthlings with fatal blizzards and cold fronts, paralysing many of our taken for granted routines and modern conveniences, and making many miserable, I feel I need to share some of my experience hoping that it could be useful for some fellow humans, at least those who can still make tea.

This topic has originally been reserved for later to be written with some scientific datas, but the condition is now too urgent to wait for formal references and citations.

I shall discuss two “teas” related to the cold in this article: ginseng ( technically not a tea ) & Phoenix oolong.

Properly processed red Korean Ginseng

Forget any alcohol, red ginseng from South Korea is perhaps the most efficient tonic to supplement the body for effective heat release. Unlike hard liquors or wines, which heat you up instantly but drain you of energy as quickly — leaving your body more vulnerable to virus attacks, authentic red ginseng raises all yang bodily functions so you are actually building your health with each intake.

The only drawback though is that if you have already got a cold, a flu or any other ailments, this is perhaps too much for you. Red ginseng ( or most other similar ginsengs ) delays the recovery of colds and flus. In TCM terms, it traps the cold evils under its yang influence.

If you are free from sickness but just feel cold easily, or easily get tired, or not energetic enough, red ginseng is a great supplement, especially in this cold weather.

Asians love the root double boiled together with chicken or other white meats into a soup, or by itself as a decoction. Ask your herbalist to slice the root thinly for the purpose so you are getting most of the contents from the root. A good double boil usually takes 3 to 4 hours.

If that is too cumbersome for you, eat the sliced ginseng

A poster by a major Korean ginseng brand warning of counterfeits

This is a poster by a major Korean ginseng brand warning of counterfeits in the North American market. Notice the poster is in traditional Chinese. People of Chinese descent is a major market for Korean ginseng worldwide. In the inset pictures, the left one says authentic product, the right one says counterfeit.

A director from an established Korean ginseng brand taught me this. He was showing off to me the array of their products and asked me to try this and that. When he came to original processed red ginsengs, he asked me to taste the difference between two productions from different years. The slice of hard woody root didn’t seem edible to me. He said I should put it on the tongues and suck it like a hard candy. So I did. The next few hours I could hardly bear wearing my jacket.

He said that was his usual supplement and explained to me the logic.

The effects of raw ginseng are compound and made readily available for the human body through intensive processing with a complex herbal formula. That is why the originally pale colour root looks red after the process. In another word, the red slices are each like a pill, containing the synergic essences of a host of various ingredients. Eating it is therefore the most effective way of intaking the woody herb.

Please note that other ginsengs do not have the same effects. If you need to buy it online, stay away from sites such as Alibaba that are notorious with counterfeits and bad quality. Buy directly from the sites of reputable established brands or truly knowledgeable and reliable herbal vendors.

For those who want to save the money for other use, slice a few pieces of ginger root and boil them in water for 3 to 5 minutes to drink with a pinch of salt or better yet raw sugar or wild honey. It is not nearly as good as red ginseng, but a good enough budget alternative.

If you already have symptoms of Colds or Flus

If you have already got a cold or flu, stay away from any ginseng.

As you may have heard so many time, there really is no medicine for colds and flus, only chemicals to reduce the symptoms. That applies, however, only to “Western” medicine. If there is a “good” TCM doctor in your vicinity, go to him/her for an herbal prescription that can really cure colds and flus. I have lots of cases to testify that. So do a few of my family and friends.

Baxian Dancong, Phoenix oolong

Baxian Dancong, aka the Eight Immortals, is a traditional Phoenix shuixian oolong in light baking, i.e bouquet, or qingxiang, style. 鳳凰八仙單欉

The key really is in whether that is a good TCM doctor. There are many practicing without thoroughly understanding the arts of diagnosis and prescription, TCM way. ( Same can be said of “Western” doctors, though )

Phoenix oolongs for colds and flus

In the process of recovery — whether or not you are fortunate enough to access a good TCM cure and strong will enough to boil that dark, bitter soup of dried twigs and leaves and perhaps bugs and sticky barks too — drink a lot to amply replenish your systems. Amongst all the honey lemon, warm milk and hot broths, prepare Phoenix oolong in short, consecutive infusions for small liquor amounts so you can finish each round while the tea is still hot.

If you have a small version infuser mug or a gaiwan, that would be the perfect way to do these short infusions. Doing such “gongfu style” is good also for you to take a break away from either your daily routine or your continuous idle if you can afford staying away from work for the cold.

Out of all tea categories and from all varieties, I recommend Phoenix oolongs not because of personal preference, but theoretically and empirically it works. This will be elaborated in another article, as said previously.

Let’s focus in some practical concerns here first:

Infusing tea in smaller quantity with the gaiwan

Preparing tea in the gaiwan not only allows you to use the gongfu style to steep large quantity of tealeaves for more of the health content, but also much shorter infusion time and a small cup that you can finish before it turns cold.

  • Like hot lemon, tea is not to be consumed 30 minutes before and one to two hour after TCM medicine, or any other medicine for that matter, including ginseng.
  • Stay away from any alcohol and greasy food, including soups or broths with excessive oils ( such those from chicken skin or other animal or vegetarian fats ).
  • Do NOT drink your tea when it has already become room temperature, particularly when you have a cold of flu. That applies as well to your “hot” lemon too.
  • Black tea, most green teas, shu cha pu’ers, Silver Needles, Taiwan and Minnan style oolongs, do not have similar effects.
  • Matured shengcha pu’ers work to some extent for people whose stomachs remain strong during this time.
  • VERY matured and amply baked Wuyi oolongs work to a lesser effect but more suitable for people whose stomachs are already very weak and would easily vomit.
  • Make sure you have good mood and good rests.

Like Korean red ginseng, there are many lookalikes and inferior quality Phoenix oolongs. Again, buy from a knowledgeable and reliable teashop. Quality makes a big difference not only in taste but also in effects.

I wish my sharing could be of help to you. In any case, let’s stay well and positive against the adversities. That’s how we have built our civilisations and how we have prevailed through the millenniums in the first place.

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