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.)