Saturday, October 11, 2014

Hair Darkening Tea

I don't know if I mentioned this but the past few months I have been experiencing some hair issues.

Granted, I have never had long hair - my hair is always above the shoulders. The only time I remember having really long hair was in my campus days. I had hair past my shoulder. After that, I have always worn my hair short and fuss-free (yes, if you read this blog long enough, you know I like things to be practical and easy).

 It could be stress or it could be hormonal.

After all I am 40 this year.

I think things change inside a woman's body when she hits the big 40.

On top of that, I have been stressed with a lot of things - some fun, some not so!

I was the head planner/tourist guide for my parents and sis when we went to Hong Kong for a week (and I was so majorly stressed that I started having nose bleeds in HK which scared the life out of me. I never have nose bleeds). I blamed it on the crazy hot summer weather of Hong Kong.

And then when I got back, I was back doing work - website projects, talking to partners, talking to clients, talking to everyone.

And then I volunteered myself to help facilitate a Lean In forum organized by the Penang State Government and that again threw me into a whirlwind of meetings, preparation and stuff.

To cap it off,  when we get busy, I skip cooking (also because I have no time to go the market to get fresh food) and we eat out.

Eating out in Penang is easy - sometimes TOO easy as food is plentiful and good (but not necessarily inexpensive). And sad to say, many eating outlets in Penang resort to using MSG to make their food tasty. I think all these - eating out, stress, sleeping late etc. did take its toll on me. Or rather my hair!

I got scared when hairs started falling out when I brushed my hair; hair started falling out when I shampooed my hair and even when I ran my fingers through my hair, hairs would also start dropping! It was worrying!

Initially I thought it was due to my new shampoo - I decided to buy an organic, sulfate-free aloe vera shampoo. I doubt it was the shampoo's fault but hey, I was looking for the culprit. In the end, I realized that it was my health that caused the hair fall.

It was scary I can tell you. The more worried I was, the more hair would drop.

I felt my hair thinning considerably. Though I have never been vain or super conscious about my hair, I started paying attention.

I also thought maybe it was the henna dye that caused my hair loss. I did read that henna could do the reverse - instead of helping hair grow lustrous and shiny, it could also cause hair to drop!

In the end, I decided I had to do something. I started to read up on the relationship between inner health and outer appearance. I always believe that the problems we see on our bodies is a reflection of what's going on inside our bodies.

While I could have gone and bought an anti-hair fall shampoo, that would be just a "bandage" - a temporary cure for what could be an insidious problem.

Hair that grows on our head is a reflection of our kidney (and to some extent, liver health).

If you wanted to improve hair growth or help your hair, you'd be better off eating foods that helped your kidney. Kidneys can be helped with black coloured foods such as black sesame seeds, black beans, black fungus, black rice etc. Apparently these foods nourish the kidney.

I also started reading up on herbs. One herb which kept coming up was He Shou Wu, which is the root of a plant called Chinese Knotweed or Polygonum multiflorum. Another name for this herb is called Fo-Ti though there really isn't any herb by that name (Fo-Ti is a supposed concocted Western name for this herb).

He Shou Wu seemed like a magical herb which is touted to help with anti-aging, reversing grey hair to black and can treat baldness or hair loss. It is also known as a longevity herb as it is claimed that a man who used the herb in China lived to 197 years old!

Other than that, He Shou Wu tonifies Kidney and Liver functions, improves Kidney essence, improves youthfulness and helps strengthen lower back and knees. (You can read more and find out the interesting studies done with this herb at http://www.naturalnews.com/026786_he_shou_wu_herb_liver.html)

It is also called Fleeceflower Root (info from my Eu Yan Sang herb book). Good quality shou wu is "hard, powdery, blackish outside but reddish brown inside, with cloud like pattern". It is grown in Guangdong Province and the root is harvested in spring. This is a bitter, sweet, astringent and slightly warm herb which influences the liver and kidney.

The book further advised that 20 gm is to be used each time.

It also notes that the herb is commonly processed by steaming with black beans and rice wine to enhance its properties especially for helping with graying hair. Unprocessed shou wu does not tonify but can relieve constipation and skin inflammation. (I forgot to ask my herbalist how unprocessed shou wu looks like! Must remember to ask the next round!)

The concentrate of He Shou Wu is used to treat high cholesterol problems.

Anyway, this Eu Yan Sang herb book offers 2 recipes using Shou Wu.

The first recipe is for strengthening the lower back and knees. To make this savoury soup, use shou wu root (30gm), lycium berries (20gm), achyrantes root (20gm) and eucommia bark (20g) and double-boil with 1 whole pigeon.

For skin problems, boil unprocessed shou wu (30gm) with self heal (60gm), licorice root (20gm) to make a herbal tea. Sweeten with cane sugar.

After reading so much about this herb,  I went to the market and asked for this herb at my regular herbalist. The young man weighed out about 100 gm of the dried root slices and told me to boil it with dried longans and black dates. (Shou Wu is quite reasonably priced. I paid about RM5 for the Shou Wu which can be used in 5 separate decoctions.)

Dried longans, says he, improves blood circulation. So that was how I simmered up a tea with these 3 ingredients in my trusty claypot. I simmered it for about 30 minutes and drank it as a warm tea, unsweetened (the dried longans gave the tea a briefest tinge of sweetness).

This herb is a mild tonic so it was all right downing 2 mugs of the tea.

He Shou Wu herb has a light, woody fragrance too.

But you must be asking "Did it help prevent hair loss or hair fall?" Actually yes.

But I also drank Shou Wu Chih for a week (this is how my herbal experiments go haha) but the Shou Wu Chih is coming right up as another post. So wait for that and that also gets quite interesting.

After drinking this herbal tea twice in the second week (I drank Shou Wu Chih in the first week), I realized my hair fall lessened. I was delirious with joy. See, little things like these made me so happy.
The combination of the Shou Wu tea and the Shou Wu Chih (or Shou Wu Essence) also made me more energetic, less fatigued and more alert.

It wasn't just me - even Nic felt that drinking Shou Wu did improve his energy levels and he wasn't even having hair loss issues.

The other question is, has my hair darkened? I can't say for sure because I do go to my regular Ayurvedic salon to get my hair dyed with henna on a monthly basis (or every 5 weeks, if I totally forget). If my hair has fewer white hairs, that would be a bonus.

As it is, I am just happy that my hair is no longer falling like crazy. However, I also found another herb which helps with hair too. Stay tuned to find out about this other fabulous and inexpensive herb.

After 30 minutes of gentle simmering in a claypot, this is how the Shou Wu tea looks like.
I stored the tea in a thermos flask to keep it warm. 





Clockwise from left: Shou Wu slices, dried longan & dried black dates. Did you know that black dates are the same fruit like red dates? The difference in processing makes the dates either red or black! 




See the reddish brown Shou Wu slices? It smells quite fragrant too uncooked. Store the slices in the refrigerator if unused. In fact, I store all my dried herbs in the fridge. Herbs get mouldy if left out in the open especially in our Malaysian weather!
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