Friday, November 15, 2013

Bing Han Ginseng Powder

If you read this blog long enough, you know I love convenience. Maybe because I am lazy. I like to think that I like shortcuts to health.

Anyway, for the past 4 months I have been taking this product that I feel has been doing me good, despite its hefty price tag. 

But first, a little introduction is in order. 

It's a product from Taiwan called Bing Han Refined Ginseng Powder and it's made from panax ginseng. 
bing han ginseng powder from taiwan
Bing Han Ginseng Powder from Taiwan
It is water soluble. Which means I can dissolve it in water and drink it up. In my books, it's always a good thing right? Sheer convenience. 

I had heard of the miraculous things people have said about ginseng. When my late grandmother was alive, she was given Korean ginseng and her white hair started turning black! 

Anyway, Chinese folks love their ginseng. It's a well-known fact. I had a friend who used to drink ginseng soups when she was pregnant. Her two children do have beautiful skin! 

But the thing about ginseng is this: most people are cautioned about taking ginseng especially Korean ginseng for fear of being too "heaty". Which is why American ginseng, a more "yin" ginseng, is often taken as teas and in soups. 

So I was a bit hesitant when I learnt that I had to take a spoonful of this powdered ginseng daily, as a warm beverage (dissolved in warm water, upon waking up). I had the same thoughts - "Would this be too heaty for me?" (The spoon is not your average teaspoon. It's a tiny plastic spoon which gives about half a teaspoon.)

My friend who sells this ginseng powder did warn me that I would have vertigo reactions - or what is called side effects for the first few weeks as the body cleanses or detoxifies itself - when I drink this on a daily basis. As she sells this, she tells me to drink at least 3 times a day, once before breakfast, once after lunch and once in the evening before dinner. 

Another friend who is taking this ginseng powder told me that it's OK to just take it once a day. After all, one jar (150 gm) of the powdered ginseng costs RM 570. It's not as if it is a RM 57 product. Her rationale is that we're healthy folks and we just need ginseng for "maintenance". 

bing han refined ginseng powder health benefits
150gm of ginseng powder for RM570 
It has been used for cancer patients and they finish one jar about every 3 days! No kidding. I heard these cancer survivors tell their stories - they recovered by taking intensive doses of this product. But then again, psychologically people think you can't get well from cancer. Yet I heard these living, breathing souls emotionally recall how their lives were saved with this product. Believe it or not. 

In the first 2 weeks of taking this ginseng each morning, I did experience some odd symptoms. I felt very thirsty and kept gulping water like a fish. I also had a terrible sore throat. And I started coughing and coughing up whitish phlegm too. It was like my body was doing some major overhauling. I felt warmer than usual. 

According to the pamphlet, these symptoms mean I have an acidic physical constitution and my lungs were weak. A friend who drank this ginseng told me she would feel extremely sleepy in the first two weeks too. All of us, it seemed, had something to be expelled before recovery could happen. 

I would also feel terribly hungry in the morning after drinking the water soluble ginseng. I was given a tumbler to mix the powder with 300 ml of warm water but you can even eat the powder on its own if you like, though it might be more palatable as a drink. 

What I did experience after 30 or so days of imbibing this product is that my period came after 30 days. I have issues with my menstruation cycles. Sometimes it's 30 days, other times 35 days. It fluctuates. So I was very pleased when my period arrived on the dot. When it did, I had less cramps and less blood clots. I felt more energetic too. 

I am still taking this ginseng and I just finished a jar and ready to order another jar. I do feel better when I take this powder but then again, ginseng has always been a beloved Chinese herb. 

The company says that only 6 year old ginseng cultivated on their own farms in North Eastern China are used. Whole ginseng is used where it is washed, dried and made into powder - and it is supposedly 4 times more concentrated. 

Due to its treatment, the ginseng is neutral in its properties (not heaty nor cooling) and can be taken by everyone, babies included. 

I think it has something to do with its low temperature processing (28C) compared to the conventional high temperature processing (128C). One other thing is that the company invites you to visit its processing plant to see for yourself how the ginseng is processed. While its ginseng is grown in China, I believe the HQ is in Taiwan. 

The box and its can are tacky in their design and screams "Chinese" on all fronts (and that's the other thing which bothers me other than the price). They do include a quality and batch assurance certificate with each box you buy. 

I would overlook my overly enthusiastic friend's egging and continue to take a spoonful a day, if only to feel rejuvenated and healthier. 

Plus I have this secret dream that if I continue taking ginseng, maybe when I reach 80 years old, I will still look like I am 50? (I know. I would have to eat a lot of ginseng and live till 80 to find out if that's true. Still, at least I am not swallowing antibiotics or pills.)

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Easy Mutton Stew with Carrots, Onions and Tomatoes, Asian-Style

This definitely isn't a soup. It's a stew but it's such a robust, hearty stew that I have to share it with you.

First of all, eating mutton was not part of my childhood. My mom never cooked mutton, noting that mutton was tough and had a gamey sort of smell. 

When I was a teenager, I got it into my head that I won't eat mutton or beef. ( hell with teen ideals...I happily eat both beef and mutton now. I have a long way to go to be a vegetarian!)

mutton stew with carrots, onions and spices
Mutton Stew with Carrots and Onions

As I grew older, I started trying out all types of cuisine and I most loved Indian mutton curry especially mutton varuval. Oh how I loved my mutton varuval. It was spicy and yummy and all the things the cardiologists never want you to eat.

When I was growing up, I always had cold feet especially if it was a week before my menstruation. This was part and parcel of PMS together with awful headaches, bloatedness and breast tenderness. Yes, I had the whole bloody works of PMS. It was like a gang turning my life upside down before the dreaded aunt flow arrived.

I read that eating mutton or lamb helped in reducing having chilly feet. Maybe that's not the real reason why I succumbed to my desire of chomping on mutton but it justified my food cravings.

If you cook mutton with "dang gui" like a stew, it's even better. It warms you up inside and makes you fearless of the cold, any cold. You will never fear rainy days or air-conditioning. (The other typical Chinese warm-me-up stew is Bak Kut Teh or pork ribs herbal stew....another classic dish!)

So I started buying mutton from Tesco - not cheap, mind you - but I was all raring to try cooking mutton. I didn't want to cook mutton with "dang gui" though I could. I wanted something like a stew and I found the perfect mutton stew recipe!

This is my go-to mutton stew recipe whenever I feel the need to eat something that makes me connect to my carnivorous cave-woman side. The stew tastes gorgeous the next day and especially if you dunk baguette bits into the stew to soak up the deliciousness.

If you have a slow cooker, you can just chuck all the ingredients into the pot and leave it to simmer for a few hours till the mutton is as tender as a rosebud. I'd recommend buying mutton with some fat as the fat renders beautifully into a sloppy mess of goopey stew.

I cook mine in a claypot which is great as claypot retains heat well and cooks stews beautifully.

Easy Mutton Stew with Carrots, Onions and Tomatoes, Asian-Style

2 tbsp oil
2 cloves garlic
mutton chunks
2 carrots, cut into chunks
2 tomatoes, cut into wedges
2 large onions, cut into wedges
salt and black pepper
300 ml water or stock
2 cloves
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise

1. Heat up a pot and add oil. Fry garlic and onions with cloves, cinnamon stick and star anise.
2. Add mutton chunks. Sear the meat for a few seconds.
3. Add the rest of the vegetables and water.
4. Bring to a boil and then cover to simmer with low heat for 30 - 45 minutes until the mutton is tender.
5. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
6. Let the stew "rest" for 30 minutes or so before you dish up to serve with crusty bread or baguette slices. You can even eat it with white rice.

* If you are using a slow cooker, just place everything in the inner pot and let it cook on Auto for 2 hours or until the mutton is tender.

To continue my story about eating mutton and not having cold feet, actually it proved to be true in my case! I find that lamb and mutton warms up my body and I don't have chilly feet now. I have a friend who is always feeling cold (she even wears a cardigan to the supermarket as she gets cold faster than anyone of us) and she loves cooking lamb. I have not seen that warming effect on her despite her eating more lamb than me.

For some people, lamb or mutton is TOO warming so please go easy on mutton or lamb. Don't eat this stew weekly. Try it once a month first and see what happens. I don't want you to have nose bleeds!

(Nose bleeds as my mom used to tell me, was all about being too heated up inside. My youngest sister back in those days used to have nose bleeds off and on. My mom cured her of the nose bleeds with some soups made with black beans. I shall have to ask her what recipes those were.)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Lemongrass & Palm Sugar Drink

Sorry for the lack of posts. It's not that I have not been making soups but life and business intervened. Business, clients, family, life. 

Whenever I get tired or bored, I'd head to the kitchen. I'll try a new recipe and a lot of people find cooking tedious (especially in my case when it's just my husband and me). Some people ask me, "Isn't it far easier to head out to the hawker stalls or a coffeeshop and get dinner over and done with?" 

After all, I am living in Penang. The island with the most lipsmackingly delicious street food. 

I admit that cooking small portions can be tedious BUT as I said, cooking and tinkering in the kitchen is my escape from a world that gets too hectic (at least for me). 

Cooking and gardening are my escapes. 

So this blog post is inspired by what's growing in my tiny patch of garden. 

I've been growing serai or lemongrass in a pot in my garden. It's been thriving happily. But at times I forget to use the serai in my cooking (or rather I have not been cooking dishes which need serai!) so the serai grows and grows. 

Serai is so easy to grow - it needs water and plenty of sunshine. It tolerates neglect well and you don't need to do any trimming except if you want to cut or dig some stalks out. Be careful though when you're digging serai as the leaves can be sharp. I always wear gardening gloves when I am pulling out serai. 

One day I thought I should get some lemongrass to make a beverage. I don't cook with it but at least I could make a drink out of it. 

So I did. And it is refreshing on a humid day. 

Lemongrass stalks and palm sugar - 2 simple ingredients for a healthy Asian beverage

All you need are a few stalks of serai or lemongrass and some gula melaka or palm sugar. Bring about 1 liter of water to boil and add the sliced up stalks of lemongrass. Add about 100gm of palm sugar and let the whole concoction simmer for 20 minutes on low heat, covered. 

You can drink it warm or you can store the excess in the fridge. I prefer mine chilled as it is lovely and refreshing. You can adjust the amount of sugar depending on how sweet you like your beverages.

Besides being a lovely fragrant drink (and much better than Coca Cola or any other fizzy drinks), lemongrass has a host of health benefits. 

It's actually strange that we only use the white parts (near the roots) of the lemongrass and technically no leaves of the plant is used. I once saw Martin Yan, that famous Chinese chef on TV, do the unthinkable on one of his cooking shows. He sliced up the green leafy bits of the lemon grass instead of using the white stalks! Even chefs get it wrong! 

WedMD notes that lemongrass is useful for "digestive tract spasms, stomachache, high blood pressure, convulsions, pain, vomiting, cough, achy joints (rheumatism), fever, common cold, and exhaustion. It is also used to kill germs and as a mild astringent."

It goes on to say that lemongrass might help to "prevent the growth of some bacteria and yeast. Lemongrass also contains substances that are thought to relieve pain, reduce fever, stimulate the uterus and menstrual flow, and have antioxidant properties."

I do know that drinking this lemongrass beverage made me pee a whole lot more. It was probably flushing out my kidneys. 

The other effect I felt was that my menstruation cramps were reduced when I had my period (I drank the beverage about 2-3 times a week BEFORE my period. I don't recommend drinking cold drinks when you're having your period. Call me utterly traditional but I believe cold drinks as well as cold baths are no-no's if you want to preserve health.)

If you can get it, lemongrass liniment or oil is good for massage and muscle pain. I have a bottle of lemongrass oil for those aches and pains that sometimes assail me if I've been hunched over the laptop too long. 

Do not confuse lemongrass or serai with the other mosquito-busting plant from the same family. Both look the same - long and tall grass-like leaves. I have both plants in my garden. 

I also read that lemongrass is good for getting rid of uric acid as well as excess fats and toxins. Plus because it's so good at detoxification, if you have problem skin with acne, drinking lemongrass will help you clear the skin issues up. 

And finally, everyone loves a herb that helps battle cancer - yeah, lemongrass contains anti-cancer properties. 

So there you have it - the wonders of lemongrass in a drink that's far healthier than guzzling Coke. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Herb For The Heart

You know how it is with herbs. You don't really pay attention to it until you need it.

Which is precisely what happened.

Nic was complaining of a dull ache near his heart a few weeks ago. He was worried, I could see. After all, having a heart problem is no laughing matter.

He is 40 years old but he has been physically fit most of his life. In fact, I am the one with the aches and pains. I am the one with knots in my shoulders (from hunching over the laptop no less) and need my fortnightly reflexology or Thai body massage sessions.

He attributes his good health to cod liver oil which he took as a kid. This is not the first time I heard of the cod liver oil theory. I had heard it before from my ex-boss about a decade ago (that was when I was still working for others). He said the same thing. He said his daughters never had a cold or flu after taking cod liver oil.

Nic is not a believer in Western medicine. He thinks it's a load of crock especially when doctors these days often recommend surgery for any ailment, acute or otherwise. I am not so much against doctors as I am against the medication. I don't like taking antibiotics and I certainly don't think the medicine help with the root of the health problem. Most times, it's like putting a bandage on a wound - you don't see the wound but it's still there.

Maybe that is one reason why I am passionate about herbs and Chinese medicinal herbs. Chinese medicine is about balance and getting to the root of the issue. Of course Chinese medicine does not work as quickly as Western medicine.

When I used to visit the Chinese doctor or "sin seh" for my prolonged cough (most of the time due to wind heat) about 8 years ago, he'd prescribed packets of bitter, herbal powder. Each packet had to be taken with some water about 4 hours apart. When I was taking this Chinese medicinal powder, I could not eat fried or spicy food, dairy and poultry. Oh, and no tea or coffee. Just plain water.

During the course of  treatment,  I ate only white bread, simple stir-fried vegetables, rice, porridge and a little meat (mostly pork is allowed). This "diet" is difficult to adhere to but if you wanted to get well on one course of the herbal powder (which I had to take for 5 days in a row), you had to grin and bear it. It's not easy to stop eating one's favourite foods. But that's Chinese medicine to you. It works slowly but it gets down to the crux of the illness.

Chinese medicinal treatment requires self discipline. You won't see instant results. But over time, you will see a much healthier you with less coughs, colds and flus. Even if you do fall ill, you recover much faster. Food and soups are meant to preserve and maintain good health. I believe that it's a more delicious way to eating your "medicine" than popping paracetamol or taking antibiotics.

Anyway, I decided to find out what herbs I could use to help Nic with his heart issue.

I remembered Dang Shen, touted as the Poor Man's Ginseng. It is also a herb that is good for the heart and for blood circulation.

Dang shen root & dried red dates

I made a soup with dang shen in the first round and a few days after that I brewed a dang shen and dried red date tea.

Buy the best quality dang shen you can find (ask your herbalist). Then place some into a slow cooker with pitted dried red dates. Add enough water for 2 persons (usually I add boiling water). Turn it on to "Auto" and let it simmer for about 3-4 hours. Drink warm. We each drank a mug of this at night before we turned in. The next day, I re-used the dang shen to make yet another 2 more mugs of weaker dang shen tea. No point wasting the herb!

Nic told me that his heart pain seems to have been reduced after all that dang shen! I am still monitoring him as he refuses to see a doctor.

Even if you don't have a heart problem, making and drinking dang shen or "tong sum" tea with dried red dates is an immunity booster for the whole family. It's mild enough for everyone, young and old.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Tea You Must Take With You On Your Travels

hor yan hor gold herbal tea packet malaysia
Ho Yan Hor Gold Herbal Tea ...the tea I take on my travels! 

Here's one of those quick Chinese herbal remedies that I always carry around with me, especially if I am going to go on a trip.

It's Ho Yan Hor Herbal Tea.

Unlike some bloggers who are paid to tout the benefits of a certain product (and review the product but say all sorts of super nice things about the product), I hereby declare that I am not one of them. I don't know any of the directors of this company, I am in no way linked to them and I am not getting any commission for spreading the good word about their herbal teas.

I am writing as an avid drinker of their Chinese herbal teas.

While most people will take flu medicine, Panadol and all matter of tablets and pills on a trip, I will bring along a few packets of this tea.

Travelling (even domestic travel) can take a toll on the body. Sometimes you drink less water, eat more (or shall I say, gorge more since everything looks fabulously delicious when you're on a holiday) and sleep late. Or you're up early and walking the entire day and forget that that's not your usual routine.

Sometimes the weather turns chilly. Or turns warmer. All these get my body up in arms. My body doesn't like it when I travel so I prepare the most natural remedy to "balance" out my body constitution. Hence, I bring along a couple of these instant herbal tea packets.

It's been a lifesaver for some friends too. Once I travelled with a friend and her husband and he ended up having a flu the day we reached the hotel. Luckily I had some of this Ho Yan Hor herbal tea packets.

Ho Yan Hor & I Go Way Back

I've been drinking Ho Yan Hor since I was a teenager.

When I was in my teens, I had lots of problems like gastritis, migraine and worst of all, bouts of awful flu. Ho Yan Hor used to be my "tea" of choice back then.

I also had issues with "heatiness" all the time (I wonder why) so Ho Yan Hor used to be my companion. I was once so heaty I developed typhoid fever.

Of course Western-trained doctors would pooh-pooh the idea - why would heatiness cause typhoid fever? But if you've been brought up in a Cantonese household with a grandma and a mum who believed in Chinese cures for ailments, heatiness it was!

That would be another interesting story to tell because one of the remedies for the early stage typhoid fever - at least according to folklore and my grandma - was to roll a peeled, hard-boiled egg over the body to get rid of heat.

The other remedy is to "gua sa" where my grandma would use a Chinese porcelain soup spoon to "scrape" the back of the neck and shoulders to remove heat. Having typhoid fever is no fun because one is sleepy, tired all the time, heated up plus have no appetite.

That is why I am now very careful about balancing my diet and eating with the season (not that there's much of a season in Malaysia - it's a regular tropical climate all year).

Why I Need My Herbal Teas & Herbal Soups

But when the weather's blistering hot, I avoid deep-fried food and I drink lots of cooling teas like chrysanthemumself heal tea, dried sugar cane tea and Buddha fruit. On days when I have no time to boil these cooling herbal teas, I resort to the convenient stuff like Ho Yan Hor tea.

(Or try lotus root soup, watercress soup or old cucumber soup if you have the time and inclination to make some homemade soups.)

Ho Yan Hor tea is produced in Ipoh, Malaysia so don't you believe some silly articles telling you that Ho Yan Hor is from Korea. Korea my foot.

The company, Hovid, is today a listed company involved in pharmaceuticals besides manufacturing Ho Yan Hor tea (available in Gold, Regular and Night). Ho Yan Hor Gold is a little pricier than the regular Ho Yan Hor. A little market segmentation I suppose catering to people who want a premium product.

According to their website (which I can't help but critique as totally unprofessional with unclear images and lacking quality information and that's the website content strategist in me coming out), Ho Yan Hor is a formulation of 24 herbs by Dr. Ho Kai Cheong to "relieve body heatiness, nausea, indigestion and waning appetite". In those post-World War Two times, this was probably the easiest means to keep one's body healthy.

If you check the supermarkets, there is also a Ho Yan Hor Night Tea which are in blue packs instead of green. Cooling teas should never be drunk at night so if you're going to imbibe some herbal tea, drink them in the day, such as in the afternoons. Some people may also have difficulty falling asleep if they drink teas in the evenings. I, for one, have no such issues as I can drink tea and fall asleep. However, I suspect Ho Yan Hor Night Tea has a different herb combination.

How To Brew Ho Yan Hor Tea

Ho Yan Hor tea can be a tad thick once you immerse the whole bag into a mug of boiling water. I usually reuse the tea bag for a second, more diluted round of tea. Or you could put the tea bag into a small kettle. Drink it throughout the day but don't overdo it.

The tea is more palatable and smoother now, thanks to R&D over the years. Originally it had a little bitter aftertaste as with most herbal concoctions but as any good old fashioned Cantonese will tell you, the more bitter the tea, the better it is for your body.

I grew up drinking bitter teas so bitterness is part of my tongue's vocabulary now. (You know those Chinese pushcart stalls which sell Chinese herbal teas? Whenever I felt a little under the weather, I'd go and order a glass of herbal tea made with this bitter powder. I'd feel instantly better when I gulped down the entire bitter drink. Yes, I am a bit mad like that.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grandma's Soups

I was away for a while because my paternal grandmother passed away on 2 February.

We were busy with the funeral a week before Chinese New Year.

Technically speaking, this year I am not really allowed to celebrate the Lunar New Year or give angpows. Of course the funeral director says that as a grand-daughter who has married, I am "following" my husband so I am allowed to celebrate.

I couldn't. So it was a low-key Lunar New Year for me. You know how it is when someone you love passes away. Who would be in the mood to celebrate?

My grandma was all of 95 and had been rather sickly, refusing to eat. My aunts were perplexed. They finally resorted to using a syringe to feed her porridge.

She had been bedridden for sometime now but we always thought, nah, Grandma will always be around. She couldn't recognize anyone - not her children or her grandchildren - but she was always that unifying force, someone who made us all return to the big old house again and again. Like a light, she was Grandma.

And Grandma decided that she had had enough of living.

On 2 February, she breathed her last in the wee hours of a Saturday morning at the Penang General Hospital. 

I managed to see her the night before, but I could not hold back my tears. She had difficulty breathing. In fact she seemed like she was gasping for air even with the respirator switched on. 

This was my Grandma, the one who instilled in me the love of soups.

She was the one who taught me how to love and enjoy soups. 

She made soups the old-fashioned way, on a charcoal brazier, fanning charcoal so that the embers would gently simmer the soup. 

I often have childhood memories of waking up to the fragrance of soups especially when we visited her each school holiday. 

My Grandma cooked Toi Shan and Cantonese dishes with aplomb. She made the best salted steamed chicken but it was her soups which I find truly comforting.

When I was in university, I would often go back to the big old house on weekends and there'll always be soup in the kitchen. Even if there wasn't any more food or dishes on the dining table, I can be sure there'd be a pot of soup in the kitchen.

"Yum tong" was a catchword in our family. 

Just lift the lid and inhale the soupy goodness. 

A bowl of soup would make me a happy girl.

That is why this blog means a lot to me. It isn't just about soups as food, it is about soups as a memory and a way to remember family. 

A bowl of Grandma's soup made life bearable, even if you were hungry for rice.

A bowl of soup spelled utter bliss and comfort.

A bowl of soup represented the love that us stoic Chinese do not know how to express. (We're getting better at this, this generation of ours.)

A bowl of soup at the end of a work day, no matter how tiring, would lift the spirits and satisfy the tummy.

That is why this is a tradition I continue till this day. That is the reason why Soup Queen blogs about soups all the time. 

It's my heritage.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Anti-Aging Soup with the Vine that Ate the South

Clockwise, from top: fresh corn, dang shen, goji berries,& kudzu root

Quite an intriguing title for today's post right?

I was introduced to this soup by the auntie in the Lip Sin market. She's a regular grandma in her 60s but she operates a vegetable stall in the market and she's often my source of recipes, particularly soups.

Last week, she introduced me to fresh kudzu. See that blob above in the photo that looks like a turnip or "bangkuang"?

She told me it's called "fen kok" in Cantonese. I have never come across it before.

I am particularly excited when I come across ingredients I've never used. This was no different. So I asked her what I could do with this "fen kok". She told me that it's good for boiling soups. She even told me that I should boil "fen kok" with some fresh corn, goji berries and "tong sum" (Cantonese) or "dan shen" (Chinese sage or salvia miltiorrhiza) and of course some pork bones or chicken bones.

And me, being a soup adventurer, decided that yes, that was fabulous. A new soup recipe always perks me up!

I rummaged through my fridge and found a packet of "tong sum" which I'd bought and stashed. (All my Chinese herbs go into the fridge. This Malaysian weather is too unforgiving with such perishables!)

I also soaked about 2 tablespoons of goji berries. Then I blanched about 600 gm of pork bones.

But Wait....What Is Fen Kok?

But first I had to cut up the "fen kok". Initially I had no idea what it was called in English. A quick search on Google told me it's called Kudzu.

Kudzu vine actually. This turnip-like thingy was its root.

In fact, in the US, the kudzu vine (pueraria lobata) is considered a weed. A nuisance weed. That is why it is called the vine that ate the South (the southern states of the USA).

According to my handy little book "Secrets of Chinese Herbal Medicine", the kudzu vine is a member of the pea family.

It was introduced into the US from Japan in 1870s because they thought it was a good source of "food, fodder and fibre crop". In fact, farmers were encouraged to plant kudzu. The vines then self-seeded and spread all over across farmland. Now it is considered a tough and nasty weed, growing all over other plants and spreading over the landscape.

I believe I have seen this kudzu vine growing near the walkways going towards the Penang Botanical Garden. Only then I didn't know it was kudzu!

The root of the kudzu vine, called Ge Gen and its flowers, Ge Hua, are used medicinally.

The root is used to encourage sweating for feverish colds and to relieve measles and neck pains. It is also used for reducing high blood pressure while its flowers are used to relieve alcohol poisoning, in fact, it is believed to be useful to counteract alcohol addiction. People who take Ge Gen extracts have been found to reduce their alcohol intake.

Ge Gen can help clear various types of toxins too. It can raise Yang Qi, relieve the body of skin eruptions (hence useful for measles), cool the body and disperse wind-heat and wind-cold.

Of course, one other thing that is not mentioned is that Ge Gen is great for women especially if you're into youthfulness and anti-aging. Read on and you will see why.

As you can see, I was experimenting with angles when taking photos with my iPhone.

For Preventing Menopausal Symptoms 

Further digging got me to the website of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

It's a truly comprehensive list of herbs (Western and Eastern/Chinese) with accompanying research and studies.

Perhaps why it's good for women is that Kudzu intake "may improve symptoms such as hot flushes and night sweats in perimenopausal women and cognitive function in postmenopausal women".

As you can see, most researchers stay away from claiming Ge Gen prevents hot flushes or night sweats or improve women's memory.

However, no one can dispute that Ge Gen or Kudzu contains isoflavones - in fact, the roots of kudzu are a rich source of isoflavone O- and C-glycosides.  Isoflavones is very similar to estrogen in the human body. Besides kudzu, the most popular sources of isoflavones can be found in soya beans and tempeh.

So the thing is, when a woman is middle-aged and menopause hits, the body's natural estrogen drops. So eating foods high in isoflavones can help reduce those menopausal symptoms of hot flushes (is it flushes or flashes) and night sweats.

I suppose this is where the anti-aging bit comes into play.

Anyway, if you live in a place where you can't possibly find fresh kudzu, then go for dried kudzu slices available at your Chinese herbalist. There's a ton of information on kudzu or pueraria.

So, yes, back to my soup. I made soup with this fabulous root-herb.

What Kudzu Root Tastes Like

I had a tough time peeling off the tough kudzu skin and even chopping up the kudzu root into chunks took some time. It was really solid!

Then as always, bring 1.5 liter of water in a pot to boil. Add the corn (break off into 3 chunks), kudzu chunks, goji berries and "tong sum" together with the pork bones. Bring to a rolling boil - about 10 minutes uncovered. I found that some scum still floated so I spent some time skimming off the scum before I put the lid on the pot and turned the fire to a mere simmer. I simmered this for 2.5 hours, adding about 2 - 3 teaspoons of salt almost at the end. Let the soup rest for about 30 minutes before serving. I find that "resting" my soup gives it a more rounded flavour.

Kudzu chunks in the soup wasn't very edible; it was still a challenge to eat and tasted like a starchy potato but with none of the creaminess of a potato. In the end, I gave up. I was just going to drink the soup, forsaking the chunky bits of kudzu. After 2.5 hours simmering, all the kudzu goodness would've gone into the soup!

But the soup tasted absolutely divine due to the corn which imparted a delicate sweetness. The "tong sum" wasn't overpowering at all.

A soup that's worth making again!

Bust Firming and Enlargement...No Kidding!

Did you know that there's also pueraria tea?

And pueraria mirifica (wonder if eating pueraria lobata gets the same effects?) is also used in breast enlargement and bust firming creams, bust enlargement soaps, bust enlargement puddings and cookies.

Don't believe me? Google it up and see the kinds of stuff that has pueraria as a key ingredient!

Plus it prevents vaginal dryness. So kudzu really is a vegetable-herb that's good for women.

The Thais call this Kwao Kreu Kao and supposedly theirs is a much better specie than regular old kudzu. And it's used predominantly for bust enhancement skincare!

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Open Sesame, Black Sesame, White Sesame

Happy New Year everyone!

I took a long break for Christmas and finally we all survived the Mayan prophecy but Nic asks in an almost sinister manner - How do you know if we're not all walking zombies? What if we all died in our sleep on 21 Dec and we're now in an alternate universe but we are unaware of it?

My retort to that is: if I were a zombie, I'm still a zombie with my old personality - that is, I still want to look good, age well and eat well.

Ah so.

But this zombie has promised to write about my other discovery on getting hair to become black.

See, vain zombie this is!

Of course besides dyeing my hair with henna (something which my hair stylist, Desmond absolutely does not like but hey, it's my hair OK and my brain and I certainly don't want chemicals seeping into my brain cells for an hour), I have attempted to adjust my diet to include more hair-friendly ingredients.

Just the other day when I was back home in Banting, my 34 year old sister was complaining that she can't stand her white hair and it's not just on her head! LOL. Lest I sound weird, yes, hairs down south can also turn white!

And of course my best friend who is my age (38) also started telling me that she has seen some white hair on her head.

So you see, call me vain or call my sister or best friend vain but white hair is quite ugly especially if they're popping up in places the sun don't shine!

Anyway, my recent discovery is black sesame seeds.

There's nothing new about them as they've always been highly regarded in Chinese food.

Every Chinese household has a bottle of sesame seed oil.

Every Indian household also would have a bottle of sesame oil.

But herein lies the difference. Chinese sesame seed oil is made for cooking. Indian sesame seed oil is made for slathering on the hair and body!

I found out one day when my other best pal, Jana, told me she wanted to do a body massage for me but she need oil. Sesame oil. So we actually drove all around George Town and stopping at each Indian Muslim roadside stall to ask if they sold Indian sesame oil for massage.

Indian sesame oil is made for massage because of its nourishing and detoxification properties. When I was in Kerala some years ago and was given a full body oil massage, I wish I had asked the tiny Indian girl if she was using warmed up sesame oil. The massage was wonderful but the oily residue wasn't (despite the powdered herbal wash I used afterwards to get rid of the oiliness!).

Now don't you go substituting with Chinese sesame seed oil because the Chinese cooking version is made from toasted sesame seeds. You will smell like Chinese food if you do!

Anyway, black sesame seeds are considered more potent than the regular beige sesame seeds (of which Chinese sesame oil is made with).

Black sesame seeds contain linoleic acid to lower cholesterol and Vitamin E to keep skin smooth and nourished. Plus it contains iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium, zinc, copper, phosphorous, vitamin B1, vitamin B6, unsaturated oleic, protein, and folic acid.

And if you can't stand drinking milk (like me), eating sesame seeds is a substitute for milk as it contains a good amount of calcium! (That's why I also like eating ikan bilis, another good source of calcium. So you see, you don't need to drink milk if you're not the milk-drinking sort.)

Eating black sesame seeds nourishes the blood, improves eyesight, prevents constipation, encourages milk flow in breastfeeding women, promotes hair growth and best of all, slows down aging!

If you are dizzy, have ringing in your ears, high blood, coughs, grey or dry hair, this humble looking seed is the food you should be eating regularly (as the seeds target the liver, kidneys and spleen). It is considered neutral unlike some foods which can be either warming or cooling.

That is why Chinese love their black sesame seed dessert or paste - now I get it. It's for nourishment of the body and hair and the elderly are encouraged to take this dessert from time to time.

For a couple of easy peasy recipes using black sesame seeds, go to Jodie's kitchen.

How to use 

Black sesame seeds should be toasted lightly without oil in a pan and cooled before you use them. However I've just eaten them raw. I chew them by the handfuls when I watch TV.

If you can't stand eating raw sesame seeds, you can sprinkle them over your salads or rice. Or you can whizz them in a blender and make tahini. I've never made tahini with black sesame seeds, only white. The white tahini can be used with garbanzo beans - just blend them with some olive oil and salt and lemon juice to make a luscious hummus. (Here's a great way to make a Chinese style white sesame paste.)

So there you go....I presume that eating black sesame seeds is part of the overall discipline but as all food tonics go, effects won't be immediate. Besides eating foods like these, I also buy herbal hair oil from the Indian shops in town and give myself a hair massage once a fortnight with the oils. And as you know I have recently turned to henna to dye the ugly white hair.

Speaking of hair, did you know that mint leaves and kaffir limes are great for scalp and hair? I could do an entire ebook on hair remedies, given my fascination with how to get my crowning glory looking spiffy and pretty without the artificial gels, sprays or fumes.

(Another food that is great for turning white hair to black is Korean ginseng. Potent stuff, that. My 94 year old grandma's hair started turning black when my aunt fed her minute amounts of Korean ginseng. And I could see the changes in her hair. That's how potent Korean ginseng is!)

What hair darkening remedies or folk remedies have you heard about? Do share ;-)