Health Alchemy: How to Regenerate Your Body From the Inside Out With Powerful Chinese Herbal Medicines
BY ANGELO DRUDA
its absolutely possible to regenerate your body—after all every cell within it is replaced every 7 years. the proper use of chinese herbal medicine can speed that process greatly.
The Regenerative Power of Chinese Herbs
The relationship between plants and humans is as deeply intimate as it is utterly unique. The great mother of human life, plants have nurtured and sustained us with their essences and energies for as long as we have lived on Earth. Whether it be through the foods and herbal medicines they provide, or theirrole in maintaining the air we breathe, plants are essential for our very existence. They are also central to rejuvenation: The perfect mediators of yin and yang, plants, especially Chinese herbal medicines, are full of the qualities and substances that make the regenerative life possible.
As Michael Pollan wrote in his excellent book The Botany of Desire, our evolution is closely woven together with that of plants. Over the many millennia of human history, plants have grown and changed in order to fulfill all kinds of basic human needs and desires: our yearning for sweetness, beauty, and health, even our desire for intoxication. Remarkably adaptable, medicinal healing plants can change their programming and processes from generation to generation in order to give us exactly what we want. We live from the bounty of a garden alive with living, serving plants.
This is not to say all the Earth’s plants are sweet and benign—it is not all papayas and apples out there. But even the deadliest plants, when properly prepared, can serve life. Most of us know the old tale of the Chinese herbal medicine doctor who sends his students out into the countryside in search of substances without medicinal value: The wisest students, despite their best efforts, return empty-handed. Everything on the Earth can have medicinal value for someone, sometime.
This profound diversity—not to mention the untold wonders we have yet to discover—makes the rapid and unchecked destruction of the Earth’s eco-systems all the more worrying. As our exploitation of the Earth’s resources pushes the Earth’s systems further and further out of balance, our happy symbiotic relationship with healing plants has begun to suffer. Many of the most helpful and useful plants and Chinese herbs are becoming harder and harder to find. As the world becomes more polluted, the very properties of the Earth’s medicinal herbs are beginning to change.
Still, wherever we find healing plants thriving, we can be assured that the regenerative chemistry of the Earth is thriving there too in some form or another. Even the homeliest plant growing in the harshest land contains the whole genetic pattern and chemistry of its own survival struggle. (And often, the harder this struggle is, the more potent the plant’s healing energy: The healing oils of the lavender plant, for example, actually improve in poor-quality soil.) Ultimately, this regenerative chemistry of which herbal medicine is such a rich source is all around us. We find it in the oxygen-rich air and the invisible water vapor that plants feed upon, in the dripping, yin-rich essence of the roots, and in the tough protective bark that protects trees as they grow.It is all there, pushing out of the ground in the regenerative manifestations of sunlight and water, soil and air. Plants—feeding, transmitting all of it—just help make it palatable. And among the hundreds of thousands of healing plant species on Earth, there are some that offer the virtues of this chemistry in uniquely regenerative ways—many of these are considered sacred in the Chinese herbal medicine tradition.
There are certain healing plants in nature that are particularly rich in the qi, chemistry, and essences so fundamental to human life. Each of these plants serves the body in different ways, offering us an almost infinite wealth of remedies and combinations for every kind of imbalance and dysfunction. We will be looking at the specific medicinal Chinese herbs that serve the strength and function of the body’s organs and how, through natural means, we can serve each organ throughout the various stages of life to ensure our health and longevity.
The organs, as we have seen, are the body’s machinery, doing the hard work that keeps the body running. They reflect all our stresses and excesses, which means they are often the first part of the body to show signs of imbalance and disease. Thankfully, nature offers us plentiful means to nurture and sustain our organs throughout life: There are many healing plants recognized in Chinese herbal medicine for tonifying the liver, plants that purify the lungs, and plants that nourish the heart. These medicinal herbs, which can be taken in the diet or in the form of herbal concoctions, minimize wear and tear on our organs, helping our bodies to head off the imbalances and degeneration that accelerate aging and bring on disease, keeping us healthy and vital well into old age.
Medicinal Herbs, the Esoteric Diet of Man
The regenerative chemistry of the body requires a broad range of nutrients, each in their proper proportions, in order to awaken and thrive. While we can satisfy most of these needs through eating an abundance of fresh, clean healing plant foods, there are times in life when, for whatever reason, our dietary intake is inadequate. Enter Chinese medicinal herbs. Full of essential energies, essences, and nutrients, herbs are nature’s great healers, perfect for restoring the balance we need for well-being, healing, and rejuvenation.
Years ago, while traveling in the Far East, I took pity on a fellow traveler who had been nauseated and vomiting for days, giving him a couple of doses of a traditional Chinese herbal medicine I had thrown into my luggage as an afterthought. The digestive system, as this poor fellow was discovering, is delicately balanced. When we eat, the spleen raises up the extracted qi from the food while the stomach pushes the leftovers down through the organs to be processed. There is a lot that can go wrong, especially when we come into contact with substances the digestive system is not familiar with. The traditional formula I offered the traveler, known as Pinellia Combination, brought both these spleen and stomach functions back into harmonious play almost immediately. Within an hour, the man was transformed, his bodily chemistry completely restored simply by taking this formula of six finely balanced Chinese herbs. Since that day, I have not left home without it!
Medicinal herbs are uniquely powerful things and should not just be kept for when we are sick: If you are already in good health, the right use of herbs can open us up to higher possibilities of well-being and rejuvenation. While Chinese herbs can and should be used at any stage of life, the best time to really learn how to draw on their natural energies is after we have begun to adapt to a regenerative diet, when we have started to observe the patterns in our bodies and begun to notice what exactly serves our own constitution, lifestyle, and good health. Using our own observations and the help of a trained and qualified herbalist, we can then begin to discover which energies and essences are most restorative in our own case, finding these in nature’s rich bounty of medicinal herbs as well as the foods we eat.
The observation of our own patterns and how our systems respond to what we put in our bodies is key to taking charge of our health. The more we learn about the workings of the body and our organs, the more we become able to read the details of whatever imbalance is at play in our bodies. As we begin to see the patterns that affect us, we can start to take responsibility for them, responding with changes in diet and the use of Chinese herbal formulas, becoming more and more self-sufficient in our health practice. Over time, we can go deeper into an understanding of our own health and sustenance, even eradicating the deeper, underlying patterns that cause imbalance in the first place.
Finding and Treating the Imbalance Naturally
Long before a pattern of imbalance begins to damage our organs, it is operative at a superficial level of the human machinery. In other words, if we ask the right questions in the early stages of an imbalance, the body will tell us what the problem is, allowing us to develop an herbal treatment and head off any problems before they develop into serious illness or disease.
For all its remarkable machinery, Western medicine’s diagnostic tools are poorly equipped to pick up these early signs of imbalance and disharmony in the body. Most can only detect bio-cellular damage once it has already occurred and the patient is seriously unwell. The “low-tech” diagnostics of Chinese herbal medical systems, on the other hand, are designed to read these superficial energetic patterns of imbalance before they can do any serious harm. This skill—born from viewing the body as a whole rather than the sum of its parts—goes partly to explain why these ancient forms of herbal medicine remain so popular.
As any doctor versed in Chinese herbal medicines will tell you, the best time to treat an imbalance is long before the cells start to die. At this stage, the treatments are usually relatively simple. While healing and rejuvenation are certainly possible after some organ damage has taken place, treatment becomes more difficult and complicated the further the damage has been allowed to proceed.
Chinese herbal medicine has a number of non-invasive ways to make a detailed diagnosis of any patterns in play in our bodies: Doctors can palpate the pulses, observe the tongue, and test the muscles, among many other kinds of tests. The information gleaned from these tests allows the practitioner to then determine the nature of the imbalance and develop a treatment particular for that person’s needs. With this in mind, it is important to get a check-up several times per year—even if you are healthy—so that you are always on top of any imbalance. Staying in touch with your doctor also helps you develop a right-life regime that is flexible enough to be adjusted and changed long before any pattern can become pathological.
Underpinning the whole traditional Chinese herbal medicine system of diagnosis and treatment is a sophisticated and subtle form of palpation known as pulse diagnosis. Pulse diagnosis is based on the understanding that the primary vibration of the human body runs along our arterial system, crossing through a number of points that relate to the function and health of the different organs in the body. Simply by putting their fingers on the points where the energy pulses, doctors can feel the health and strength of the organs through their fingertips, allowing them to pick up any imbalances and determine the best course of treatment.
chinese herbal medicine offers hundreds of plants with a wide array of borderline miraculous healing properties.
The older we get, the more we need to draw on the more powerful herbal energy and essence tonics that nature has to offer. While each of our bodies and constitutions is different, most people over the age of thirty-five greatly benefit from adding a medicinal healing plant formula to their regular diet. As we enter our mid-thirties, the hormonal excesses of youth begin to subside and organ liabilities begin to show themselves. The right Chinese herb formula can address the subtler details of the imbalances the body commonly shows at this age, preventing them from taking on more chronic forms as we get older.
As we enter our mid-forties, reproductive hormonal activity begins to decline, with the greatest shift taking place after we hit fifty. In our fifties and beyond, an increase in the combination and dose of Chinese herbs we take goes a long way to improving our health and longevity. The proper combination of twenty or thirty potent medicinal herbs allows us to keep our regenerative chemistry optimized as we move into our later years.
As we get older, and our bodies start to undergo their natural changes and transitions, it pays to learn how we can use natural means to keep the body’s machinery strong and vital. Ultimately, aging is nothing more than each of the body’s organs becoming deficient over time, as the body’s various parts weaken and compromise the whole. If we can learn a little bit about how to serve each organ with healing plants, how to respond to their signs and symptoms in natural, benign ways through Chinese herbal medicine, we prevent ourselves from becoming a powerless witness to the body’s degeneration as we get older and avoid the cycles of invasive treatment deep patterns of organ imbalance often require.
Practical Organ Alchemy
To most of us, our organs, those tireless workers that make our lives possible, are still a mystery. We have some sense of what each one does, but recognizing signs of each one’s stress and dysfunction, knowing what each one thrives on, is usually beyond our knowledge. We know smoking damages the lungs, and we know drinking hurts the liver. But there is so much to each of our organs, so much more than even the technical functions commonly associated with each of them. Certainly, organs help us circulate our blood, digest our food, and get rid of toxins. But they also reflect our entire lives: what we breathe, how we feel, our patterns of imbalance, and our potential for higher growth. Each has different needs, different peculiarities, and different links to our emotions and our everyday functions, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophy. Let us take a look now at each major organ and discover how we can serve its health and function through simple, natural herbal medicines.
Regenerating The Liver
Primary Regenerative Principles in Chinese medicine:
+ Do not burden the liver with excess toxicity.
+ Keep the qi and blood flowing freely through the liver.
The liver, as most of us know, is the body’s defense system, purifying the blood of the many toxins that make their way into our system. When a toxin finds its way into our bodies, the liver secretes substances that bond to it, converting it into a substance that the body can get rid of. Each time we have a glass of wine, for instance, the liver transforms the alcohol into a substance called acetaldehyde, which the body can then flush out.
On a physical level, keeping the liver healthy and unburdened is a matter of not burdening it with too many toxins. If we make the liver do too much, it starts to become weak. Unable to cope with the workload, it lets the toxins out into the bloodstream, where we have seen the damage they can do. To keep your liver healthy, make sure your diet consists of fresh foods and medicinal herbs with plenty of good quality water and is light on the alcohol and sweets.
As well as being the body’s great cleaner, the liver is closely associated with the etheric body according to Chinese herbal medicine philosophy, which makes it a big player in regulating our blood, qi, and emotional life. It is also a key organ in our reception of the fundamental Light. One of the most sensitive organs, the liver registers all the emotional shocks we feel as we go through life, from the tiniest insult to the deepest wound of loss. Though we can minimize the negative bodily effects of emotion through medicinal herbs, each of us feels a level of emotional shock simply by virtue of being alive. Even when life is at its best and we are at our happiest, we are always still dealing with the underlying threat of mortality itself, the stress that everything we love, including ourselves, will one day come to an end; and our liver feels it all. The great teachers of pulse diagnosis used to tell their students that this stress, this fear of ending, is the reason they would never take a perfectly healthy liver pulse: The low-grade stress of a mortal life, they said, is always there to be felt.
When the liver registers a physical or emotional stress, it tightens and contracts, trapping energy and blood inside itself. Reactive emotions, which are often at the root of these stresses, also tend to inflame the liver, stagnating the qi and blood flow in the body. When this stagnation becomes chronic, the inflammation begins to move across the body, eventually moving into the heart channel. This is why Chinese medicinal herbs are so essential; along with poor diet, this pattern of stress inflammation, rooted in the liver, is one of the primary causes of heart disease and a reason so many people struggle with their cardiovascular systems as they get older.
Fear and its attendant bodily tension particularly impact the liver. When the body is under threat, the muscles, fascia, and even the bones tighten and clench inward. This tension and contraction greatly impedes our energy and blood flow, constricting our air passages and flooding the liver with damaging fear chemistry. When the liver becomes tight and contracted, as it does when our bodies are reacting to fear, we become cut off not only from the flow of qi and blood that sustain the physical, but also from the ascended energies and Light on which our higher growth depends, according to Traditional Chinese Medical philosophy.
So how do we serve the optimum functioning of this complex organ in our everyday lives? First, as much as we can, we need to encounter and transcend any chronic and unconscious patterns of emotional reactivity that are shutting us off to what is above. A good way to get started is by engaging in conscious, loving activity, which has an immediate positive impact on liver congestion. Selfless service to others, in which the inward, self-serving gesture is released, helps to open the liver and restore free flow by counteracting the tendency towards bodily recoil and enclosure.
Qi Gong is another great means for releasing liver stress. In the practice of Qi Gong, the liver is softened and its tension released through the opening of the liver and the torso. Gently expanding and opening the arms, we relax and release our emotional and physical tension into the infinite feeling space in which we exist.
In early Buddhist orders, monks understood this need to release and open as an essential preparatory practice, one that helped to establish the proper disposition for receiving healing and Grace. As part of their routine, the monks would regularly perform full bodily prostrations, ceremonial enactments of humility that prepared them to receive what is greater than their own self-enclosure. Similarly, Adi Da Samraj instructs his devotees to begin each period of meditation with the practice of a specific opening and expanding mudra, or gesture—the offering of oneself to the Divine—and then a full prostration. This practice allows the devotee to open and release any self-consciousness and to physically animate the surrender we need to receive the Divine transmission. Such a disposition directly works the liver, heart, and the emotional, feeling being.
Anything that serves the release of contracted emotion and stress will help the liver to relax and soften, whether it is conscious exercise, sex, meditation, massage, acupuncture, or happy, loving times with intimates and friends. The right combination of Chinese herbal medicine can also have a great detoxifying and softening effect. The practice of relaxing and opening the liver, like all regenerative practice, requires us to find the most effective means in our own case. And once we do, once we allow the liver to easefully control its functions again, the body’s native intelligence comes into play, naturally restoring both its free flow and our reception of what is greater.
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following foods as regenerative for the liver:
+ Bitter green and leafy vegetables
+ Chlorophyll-rich foods like cereal grasses, watercress, parsley, kale, chard, bean sprouts, seaweed, mung bean sprouts
+ Excess alcohol
+ Poor quality/rancid fats and oils (as found in hydrogenated products and most fried junk foods)
+ Highly processed foods
+ Excess sucrose
+ Most synthetic drugs
+ Toxic chemicals (as found in industry and in the home)
Liver Herbal Medicines
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following herbs and plants as regenerative for the liver:
+ Milk Thistle
+ Gotu Kola
+ Artichoke leaves
+ Yellow Dock
+ Citrus peel
Regenerating The Heart
Primary Regenerative Principles in Chinese medicine:
+ Keep the circulatory pathways in the heart open and unobstructed.
+ Keep stress and inflammation off the heart.
With heart disease still the leading cause of death in the West, it appears that for all our knowledge, for all the sophisticated treatments and medicines we have developed, and bountiful Chinese herbal medicines, we are still not really sure how to take care of the body’s most important organ. Heart disease is a completely preventable condition and a tragic sign of a world that has lost touch with its natural rhythm.
In physical terms, the underlying cause of most heart disease is obstructed blood flow. When we do not exercise the body enough, and we allow too many undigested fats to put pressure on the heart, it eventually gives out. On a purely physical level, preventing heart disease is really a no-brainer: simply by choosing regenerative, medicinal Chinese herbs and maintaining a regular, restorative exercise regime—one that helps to flush out the system while nourishing the heart tissue and qi—we can quite easefully head off the patterns of imbalance that result in heart disease. Counteracting the damaging stress chemistry that arises from our emotions and lifestyle altogether, however, presents more of a challenge.
In a world becoming more negative and destructive by the day, the heart can be subjected to some major punishment. We eat toxic food, breathe toxic air, think toxic thoughts. We do everything at a frantic pace, even when we are supposed to be relaxing. In such a hectic world, most of our hearts, weakened through stress, unhappiness, and lack of care, give out before their time. All our hearts wear out eventually, but they are designed to permit more longevity than most of us get, according to Traditional Chinese Medical wisdom.
The heart, for all its esoteric magnificence, is subject to the same laws as any machine: If we do not take care of it, constantly forcing it to work at high speeds, the heart wears out before its time. Each of us, on average, gets around 2.7 to 3 billion heartbeats in a lifetime. The more we rest the body and consciously exercise the breath, as India’s ancient yogis so ably demonstrated, the more we get out of the heart’s lifetime, greatly improving the quality of our lives in the process.
Stress, anxiety, hate, anger, worry, concern—all negative emotions exact a toll from the heart, forcing it to work harder. In the more extreme cases, these emotions can even be felt as a kind of trauma, setting off toxic chemical reactions that injure and weaken the heart muscle. Anxiety, for instance—a more and more common ailment these days—tends to irritate the kidneys, the seat of life in Traditional Chinese Medicine, causing a secretion of adrenal stress chemistry that directly impacts the heart’s rhythm and rate according.
But it is not only the obviously negative emotions that can disrupt the heart’s natural balance. Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine philosophy teaches that even too much joy can damage the heart. This “joy” they are talking about, though, is not the warm, happy feeling you feel when you are in love or are enjoying time with friends. It is, rather, the kind of agitated, hyperactive excitement we seek in our search for distraction and entertainment, the kind that stimulates our nervous system and hypes us up. It is a joy free of equanimity, free of true feeling. And in the end, it wears us out.
The heart thrives on the greatest qualities of human life: love, peace, and happiness. These qualities heal the heart, keeping it strong. The heart relaxes in the contemplative life, thriving during times of meditation, deep relaxation, massage, and conscious exercise. If we want to protect the heart, we must build periods of deeply quiet time into our life and take Chinese herbal medicines regularly. If we conform ourselves too much to the superficial entertainments and stressful motivations of the TV world, as Pundit Acharya writes, our movements, lacking feeling, become a series of automatic, “jerky actions” that break the natural rhythm of the heart. So turn off the insanity of the daily news, and let the mind and body relax in contemplation of its natural state. Let the brain and nervous system cool. Let the heart relax, rejuvenate, and smile. The more we learn to do this, as Pundit Acharya explains, the more we help the body release its natural soma: The surest cure of all heart trouble is the smile of happiness. This smile is not the smile of a salesman, or of a social butterfly, to coquette the other fellow’s heart, so that the other fellow will be beguiled and give a sweet response.
This smile must come out and rise out from every nerve cell and muscle cell of the body and the mind. This smile must be an explosion of the “Amiya” (the Nectar) in the cells of the body. Here one must learn, once and for all, without any question or suspicion of inquiry or analysis, how to feel the thrill that one gets out of these smiles of the cells of the body. Cell smile and cell happiness will save your heart trouble.
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following foods as regenerative for the heart:
+ Green vegetables and salad greens
+ Brown rice
+ Adzuki and mung beans
+ Brussels sprouts
+ Excess alcohol
+ Fried foods
+ Saturated fats
+ Excess fats
+ Excess dairy products
+ Excess red meat
+ Excess sugars
+ Overly spicy and rich foods
Heart Herbal Medicines
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following herbs and plants as regenerative for the heart:
Regenerating The Kidneys
Regenerative Principles in Chinese Medicine:
+ Keep the water and the fire of the kidneys strong and in balance.
+ Keep the lower part of the body free of inflammation.
The mysterious play of fire and water that creates human life has its roots deep in the kidneys, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. The body’s furnace, the kidneys contain both our basal metabolic yang life-fire, which is the foundation heat of our very existence, and the watery yin, which is the rich, living essence of life. It is this play between yin and yang that makes our lives possible: The yang fire brings to life the otherwise dormant yin, allowing it to engender our blood, lymph, and reproductive fluids; while the yin prevents the yang from consuming us whole. Together, the two create the steam, or qi, which allows us to live and move.
As with all our organs, bodily balance is critical for the kidneys. When we are healthy, and our body’s systems are rightly aligned, the adrenal glands secrete the right combination and amount of hormones, ensuring the yin and yang are balanced and that the basal metabolic process that is our life is in harmony. The more consciously we maintain this balance with Chinese herbal medicines and the like, the stronger our regenerative chemistry. If one side becomes too dominant, if we have either too much water or too much fire, then our bodies will show the imbalance.
In Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, the law of aging is simple: The yang consumes the yin. In other words, as we age, the fire of life eventually consumes the body’s yin essence; and when this reaches a critical point, we die. The strength of our essences, then, is critical. We all inherit certain characteristics of yin and yang from our parents, some of us ending up stronger than others. But life is the great leveler, and it is our practice and choices in life that really determine the health of our kidneys and how the aging process manifests in our case.
By the age of fifty, as our reproductive chemistry starts to slow down, everyone begins to show some level of significant kidney deficiency. A half-century of living in this world takes its toll on all of us, especially if, for whatever reason, we have not taken as good care of our bodies as we might have liked. Still, no matter how old we are or how much we have subjected our kidneys to, there is always a lot we can do to keep them healthy and strong with Chinese herbal medicines and more.
Thousands of years ago, Chinese herbal medicine doctors noticed that when we enter into deep sleep every night, our body participates in a mini-rejuvenation retreat. As our bodies slow down and come to rest, so too does our functional machinery. Free of the demands of action, the body’s energies and native healing powers are free to circulate, restoring us while we dream. There is no cheaper and quicker way to rejuvenate the kidney yin and yang—and the organs altogether—than high-quality deep sleep.
As profound as it is, though, sleep cannot do it all. As we age, we need to supplement our diet with natural Chinese herbal medicines and essences. No matter how regenerative our medicinal diet has been, foods alone simply cannot maintain or restore the primal aspects of the body’s deepest organ. As we have seen, the most powerful form of natural help for the kidneys is tonification therapy. Kidney tonification serves to easefully keep the life-force vital and strong well into old age and should be part of everyone’s health practice as they enter their later years. Contact your herbalist or naturopathic doctor to consider the treatment that is best for you.
Yang Supporting Kidney Foods
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following foods as regenerative for the kidney yang:
+ Black beans
Yin Supporting Kidney Foods
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following foods as regenerative for kidney yin:
+ Mung beans
+ Kidney beans
+ Sesame seeds
Yang Supporting Kidney Herbal Medicines
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following herbs and plants as regenerative for kidney yang:
Yin Supporting Kidney Herbal Medicines
Chinese herbal medicine philosophy recognizes the following herbs and plants as regenerative for kidney yin:
+ Asparagus root
This article on Chinese herbal medicine is excerpted with permission from The Tao of Rejuvenation: Fundamental Principles of Health, Longevity, and Essential Well-Being by Angelo Druda.
About The Author
Angelo Druda practices Oriental Medicine in Cobb, CA. He is a member of The Australian Natural Therapist Association and the founder of Traditional Botanical Medicine. His seminars on health, rejuvenation and the death process have been offered all over the world. He is the author of The Tao of Rejuvenation, and numerous articles. He has been a staff writer for Natural News and DharmaCafe and is the host of The Easy Death Webinars. Visit his website traditionalbotanicalmedicine.com