Season of Spring

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At the farmer’s market this weekend I came across this year’s first batch of Stinging Nettles, or Urtica dioica. Nettles are one of those plants that remind me how miraculous the planet is. Just when everyone is suffering from allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) the plant that treats that symptom is ready for harvest. Nettles have many uses, but allergic rhinitis is what they are famous for. In Chinese Medicine we say that Nettles clear heat and leach dampness, making them suitable for treating phlegm-damp obstructing the nasal passages. Dry them and add them to your Chrysanthemum infusion for a great allergy treatment. They should be used with caution, however, in those with a yin deficient presentation, as they are diuretic (make you pee) and can be quite drying. Another use of the herb is Wind-Damp Impediment, such as arthritis, and historically they were applied topically as a counter-irritant for this purpose. Taken internally, they also treat arthritic conditions or painful, stiff joints.

The whole arial parts can also be cooked as a delicious spring vegetable. They have a very high mineral content making them an ideal food for those with anemia or for those concerned about developing osteoporosis. Here is a recipe for sauteed stinging nettles that I found on

  • 1 pound stinging nettles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • Wearing thick rubber gloves, clean the nettles by soaking them several times under cold running water, then drain. (Do not touch raw nettles with your bare hands. If you do not have rubber gloves, use tongs to handle the nettles.) Separate the tender leaves from the tough stems, discarding the stems. (Use scissors for this process if you don’t have protective rubber gloves.)
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes more.
  • Using tongs, add half of the nettles and the water to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the nettles have begun to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining nettles and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. (Add more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan becomes too dry.)
  • Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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A couple of years ago I posted this about Chrysanthemum tea. I wanted to revisit the topic, as I have been seeing so many patients lately suffering from Spring allergies which are causing itchy, watery, sometimes burning eyes. Chrysanthemum is the perfect herb for this symptom. It clears windheat (itching, burning) and enters the Liver channel, directly affecting the eyes which are ruled by the Liver. It is also useful for headaches caused by allergies. To brew a medicinal-strength infusion of the herb, put a handful of the dried flowers in a mug with about 8 oz hot water. Steep, covered, for a minimum of 10 minutes, preferably 15. This tea will be bitter and adding honey is fine. Another option is to infuse a larger pot of the flowers, then let cool and put in the fridge. Enjoy as a cold tea on warm spring days when allergies are in full effect.

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“It’s 5am and I’m sitting at the airport and am in complete amazement! I woke up with a full range of motion in my neck and not an ounce of pain. I haven’t even taken any advil yet.  I can hardly believe it! I am one happy girl.”

That is an email I received from a patient who had come in the day before with acute neck pain. Because she was flying the following day, she was desperate to get some relief from pain and the limited range of motion in her neck which had been plagueing her for 3 days. Advil took the edge off, but wasn’t giving her complete relief, and was doing nothing for her inability to turn her head to the right.

Upon palpation I found several very tight areas between her spine and her scapula on the right side, and also in the muscles on the right side of her neck. I did acupuncture locally, and also used a combination of points on her wrists and ankles on the acupuncture channels that traverse the upper back and neck.

The acupuncture certainly contributed to her quick recovery, but I think the key to treatment success in this case was the gua sha which I applied to her upper back following the acupuncture.

Gua sha is an ancient technique in which a smooth-edged tool, usually a ceramic soup spoon, is scraped along the skin in one area repeatedly. The technique stimulates blood flow and produces heat which releases toxins and helps muscles to relax. The feeling is one of a strong massage, and can leave reddish marks referred to as “petichiae”. Using gua sha on the muscles of my patient’s neck and upper back were the key to her relief from pain and return to normal range of motion. I use gua sha quite a bit in the spring when neck pain and spasm are a common phenomenon.

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This time of year I hear a lot of patients talking about how their kids are coughing constantly. When children catch colds, they often get coughs, sometimes dry, sometimes phlegmy, and especially at night. These episodes are miserable for everyone. Western cough syrups are very strong drugs and many parents don’t want to use them but resort to them so that everyone can get some sleep.

There is a wonderful Chinese Medicine alternative. Blue Poppy Herbs makes a pediatric formula called Lung Qi Jr. that works wonders on those pesky coughing fits. I have been giving it to my children since they were infants whenever they had colds with coughs. Not only does it help to calm the coughing, it has several herbs in it that fight the infection at the source of the cough. It is one of those formulas that I think anyone with kids should have in the medicine cabinet. It comes in a liquid form and contains vegetable glycerin to sweeten it up so that it is more palateable to young tongues. I squirt it directly into my children’s mouths, but it can also be added to juice, milk, yogurt, or anything else.

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Postcard front fall 2009

Until January 31, 2010 I am offering 10% off cough syrups, Yin Chiao, Yin Chiao Jr., and Gan Mao Ling to current patients and to new patients who make an appointment for acupuncture.

Don’t forget that acupuncture increases immune function and that these and many other formulas can be used preventatively during this cold & flu season. I have a pharmacy full of herbal remedies to stop colds and flus in their tracks, and at the very least, shorten their duration and the intensity of many symptoms including cough, chills, fever, nasal congestion, headache and fatigue.

There many things we can do to help support our body’s natural immune function. Certainly getting enough rest, fluids, and quality fresh food is essential. Acupuncture is also a good option, since one of the proven effects of this therapy is increased immunity, even when this isn’t the focus of treatment. Regular acupuncture helps bring our bodies back into balance, and a body in balance has the ability to fight foreign contaminants such as bacteria and viruses. In Chinese Medicine terms “expel uninvited guests” such as wind cold, wind heat, wind damp, etc.

Aside from acupuncture, many Chinese herbs, including mushrooms, have been proven to increase immune function in several ways. There are herbs that are simply antibacterial and antiviral, helping our bodies to stave off infection when we come in contact with these agents. There are also herbs which increase the number of Killer T and Natural Killer white blood cells which attack microbes preventing us from getting sick, and helping us to recover from illness.

One of the key immune enhancing herbs in Chinese Medicine is Huang Qi, or Astragalus. The root of this plant tonifies the qi and blood of the entire body, especially the Spleen and increases the Wei, or Protective Qi. There are several classic herbal formulas that contain Huang Qi which can be used to prevent illness. There are also formulas, which when taken at the early stages of illness help the body recover quickly and decrease the severity of an illness. These formulas are important to have on hand in order to provide a quick means of protection. That way if you find yourself around people sick people, or if you will be traveling on airplanes, or simply have a tendency towards decreased immune function, you can give your body as much support as possible to keep from getting sick.

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stamets_7_extractMedicinal mushrooms have been a part of the Chinese Materia Medica for several thousand years. These mushrooms, including reishi, oyster, maitake, shitake, and many more, have a strong effect on increasing immune function.  For instance, Ling Zhi, or the reishi mushroom, has been studied for its immune enhancing effect, and has been found to increase T cell function. Classically, it is said that Ling Zhi tonifies Lung qi, transforms phlegm, and stops cough and wheeze. Additionally, it has been found to have a carcinostatic effect, meaning that it stops the growth of cancer cells. Nutritionally, mushrooms provide fiber while being low in fat and contain several groups of vitamins, particularly thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, biotin, ascorbic acid and Vitamin D.

Eating raw mushrooms is not advised, since some are toxic uncooked, and most do not break down enough in our digestive systems to offer much benefit this way. Mushrooms should always be cooked when used as food. A stronger concentrated extract (either capsule or liquid) will give you the most benefit for immunity.

Fungi Perfecti is a locally based producer of medicinal mushrooms and is considered the best source of organic, high quality mushroom extracts by most experts, including Bastyr University and Dr. Andrew Weil. Fungi Perfecti has a number of extract combinations that address a number of immune issues. A popular, general immune tonic is their Stamets 7 formula.

fungi perfecti

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Several years ago Jake Fratkin, OMD (Oriental Medicine Doctor), made waves throughout the pediatric community by declaring on a radio show that the cause of ear infections was antibiotics. Since that time, several studies have been done which indicate that he was right. The likelihood of a recurrent ear infection during the first six weeks after taking antibiotics is significant. Not only is a child more likely to get another ear infection within six weeks if they are given antibiotics, but the recovery time from an infection is the same whether antibiotics are given or not. Even the Washington State Department of Health has issued a statement that most ear infections clear on their own and that overuse of antibiotics leads to drug resistant bacteria. So why are medical doctors still giving antibiotics to children with ear infections? In some cases, they no longer are. More and more doctors and medical institutions are reserving antibiotic administration for extreme cases of infection as a last resort. Here in Seattle, Dr. David Springer of Wallingford Pediatrics received an award from Premera Blue Cross for his use of “evidence-based best practices” in avoiding and limiting antibiotic use for ear infections.


So if antibiotics aren’t the answer, what do we do for ear infections? Chinese Herbal Medicine is an excellent choice for the prevention and treatment of ear infections. There are two key formulas which, when administered correctly, can alleviate pain within hours and eliminate the infection within only a couple of days. They are safe, they are effective, and they are easy to administer. Several companies have created liquid extracts of these classic Chinese formulas adding a touch of glycerin or stevia to mask the bitter flavor of the herbs so that they are more palatable to children. I have used them with my own children and have avoided any antibiotic use so far. In addition to Chinese formulas, I have used garlic ear drops, which kill microbes and dry fluid when placed directly into the ear canal, and probiotics which help the immune system fight the infection. All three can be combined and your Chinese Medicine practitioner can help you determine the best course of treatment so you can avoid unnecessary, and potential harmful antibiotic overuse in your children.

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red shoes

Season: Spring

Direction: East

Climate: Wind

Yin Organ: Liver

Yang Organ: Gallbladder

Emotion: Anger

Sound: Shouting

Color: Green

Flavor: Sour

Movement: Upward

Tissue: Tendons

Virture: Kindness


In Chinese Herbal Medicine, the small fruit of the Burdock plant is used. The root, however, is used in both Chinese Nutritional Therapy and Western Herbalism and this part of the plant can be used in cooking. Western Herbalists use Burdock root to treat skin conditions that are dry, such as dry eczema, psoriasis and dandruff. This root can be found in many asian grocery stores. It needs to be peeled, and soaked in a solution of vinegar or lemon juice to prevent discoloration (1 tea white vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup water). Use this root chopped in stir frys, soups, or roasted with other root vegetables.


Stir-Fried Burdock and Carrot

from the book The Japanese Kitchen by Hiroko Shimbo

makes 4-6 servings as a side dish

2-3 Tb veggie oil

5 1/2 oz burdock, peeled, julienned in 2 1/2-in lengths (about 2 cups) and soaked in 1 c water and 1 tea vinegar

2 oz carrots, julienned in 2 1/2-in lengths (about 2/3 cups)

2 Tb sake (rice wine)

1 Tb mirin (sweet cooking wine)

1 Tb sugar

1 Tb shoyu (soy sauce)

1 tea tamari

2 Tb white sesame seeds, toasted

1/3 tea shichimi togarashi (seven spice powder) or red chili flakes

In a wok or skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Drain the burdock, and cook it, stirring, until it is well coated with oil. Add the carrot and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add 3 Tb water, the sake, mirin, and sugar. Cook the mixture until almost all the liquid is absorbed, stirring all the time. Add the shoyu, and cook for 30 seconds. Season the mixture to taste with tamari. Add 1 Tb of the sesame seeds, add the seven-spice powder or red chili flakes, and give several large stirs. Transfer the vegetables to a platter, and let them cool to room temperature. The dish tastes better after a few hours, and can be kept in the refrigerator, covered, for a day. Serve at room temperature or chilled, with the remaining 1 Tb white sesame seeds.

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