Thursday, October 30, 2014

Chicken Pox Season Or So It Seems

Hey there everyone. Hoped you are having a good week. 

I had a bunch of appointments planned for this week but had to cancel them as Nic also known at The Husband came down with of all things, chicken pox!

It was one of the most surprising things ever. 

Firstly, he said he already had chicken pox. When he was 5 years old it seems. He remembered wearing a pink cardigan/sweater? My memory is pretty selective. It doesn't go back THAT far. I just recall bits and pieces of my very young life but there you go. Some people have deep memories. 

I had chicken pox when I was 20. I remember it well because it was my first week on campus - the actual first week of classes after orientation week - and I got the damn pox. I missed 2 weeks of classes and I recuperated at my late Grandma's house. 

She took care of me - forbidding me to eat anything that was made with beans or any seafood. Pork was allowed. But I had pretty bland food. A lot of soupy rice noodles and vermicelli. Not exactly exciting food. 

When I got back onto campus, I was told to stay away from seafood (prawns, fish etc.) and soya sauce. Apparently if you eat anything with soya sauce, your chicken pox scars remain.

Anyway, I think I adhered to that diet for all of 30 days. It's hard figuring out what food has soya sauce. Most food is cooked with dashes of soya sauce. 

Nic got it right after he returned from a trip to his hometown in Kuching. Either he got it on the plane home or he got it there. 

And for the first 2 days, I thought he had a bad case of allergy to something. Red spots appeared on his face and body. I didn't think anything of it. 

One night, he started scratching and he felt the spot burst! Even until then we went, nah, he has had chicken pox as a kid, he couldn't have a second attack, could he? 

You know, my husband is as strong as a horse. I'll be the one with all the strange health issues - from nose bleeds to headaches to god-knows-what (recently I had some weird acne on my butt and I still can't figure out if it's from sitting on public toilet seats...I know, eeuuuwww or from trying on clothes at Uniqlo!). I'll go out in the mid-day sun for a bit and get all heaty inside. He can walk in the sun, hat-less and never suffer a blip. I'm a bit of a princess when it comes to things like these. 

I can't sleep too late - sleeping at 1 am kills me for the next day I will be like a zombie. 

So you see, I could not believe it when he got chicken pox. So unlike him! 

When we eventually figured it out, we went out to drink herbal tea. If you get chicken pox, it means you're heaty inside and drinking herbal tea helps expel all the heat. We went to the regular uncle who operates a mini van on the roadside behind the Sunshine Square supermarket. Even asked for 24 Herb Tea with bitter powder. It's superbly bitter. On most days I am able to  stomach bitter teas but even last Sunday I was remarking to the uncle that the tea is crazy bitter. He says I should be fine if I can taste the extreme bitterness of the tea; the ones coming down with flus won't have such sensitive taste buds!

Despite Nic drinking this herbal tea and Hor Yan Hor, he did erupt in more spots which later filled with a clear liquid. 

So two days ago, I dragged him to the Chinese sinseh or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner which is just 10 minutes from our home. He confirmed that it was chicken pox. His wife, a cute little old lady with eyes lined with eye liner, started assembling herbs for us. I was curious - as I always am and watched her weigh the herbs. She made 2 packets of the dried herbs. This was in addition to tiny little envelopes of powder which were to be taken once every 4 hours mixed with a little warm water. And two little capsules of something. 

The dried herbs needed to be boiled in a non-metal pot with 3 bowls of water. The sinseh's wife instructed that I bring the mix to a rapid boil before lowering the heat to simmer the entire contents of the pot until one bowl of liquid remained. 

Here's how the mix looked like. 




herbal brew for chicken pox - traditional chinese medicine


Here's how the dried herbs looked like - there are some dried bees or wasps (yes! it was just the insect shell though as the innards were already dug out I think), Jin Yin Hua or Honeysuckle flower, Lian Qiao or Forsythia Fruit, Gan Cao or Licorice Root. The only ingredients I couldn't figure out was the bunch of dried leaves and pieces of twigs or bark. If you know what those are, do let me know.

(Are the leaves Zi Hua Di Ding? Maybe!)



dried herbs for chicken pox - traditional chinese medicine


So Nic has been drinking this brew which he says is incredibly bitter. I believe these herbs are helping to clear toxins, dry up his pustules and abscesses and overall get rid of the heat in his body.


dried herbs for chicken pox - traditional chinese medicine

When friends heard Nic had chicken pox, everyone recommended a remedy or two. 

First was neem leaves. The sinseh's wife told me it was "demam bu" but I told her it's called neem. She says Indians would usually use the leaves to brush all over the body of a person with chicken pox to stop the itching. 

My best friend, who is Indian by the way, told me to line Nic's bed with neem leaves. She said the other method is to soak neem leaves with some turmeric in a pail of water. This pail is to be left out in the sun for 3 hours or so and used to bathe. 

So I went in search of neem leaves. I asked another Indian friend if her neighbourhood had any. She told me yes so off I went with her to this house in Batu Lanchang. Unfortunately the house owner wasn't in. Fortunately for us, the neem branches were low enough for us two to pluck. (Most neem trees are tall and their leaves are hard to reach, unless one stood on a ladder.) 

I took home 2 large bunches of neem leaves. Later as I was doing my evening walk around my housing area in Taman Sri Nibong I saw two young neem saplings. They were a bit too young to pluck even if I was in dire need of neem leaves! (Neem is truly an amazing plant. Will write more about this soon)

Just some information why neem is helpful for chicken pox:

"Neem leaves have often been used in India to treat viral diseases. Neem leaves extract, absorbs and eliminates virus. As a preventive measure, you can prepare a neem paste and apply on the affected area. It is very useful for treating warts, chicken pox, and small pox. This is because neem absorbs the virus and protects from entering the unaffected areas. Neem extracts, toxic to herpes virus accelerate healing." (taken from this website)

And then there was the other Chinese method of preventing chicken pox from spreading to other family members. First you take a chopstick (if you have chopsticks in a utensil holder). Next you find a piece of red paper - the kind that Chinese often have at home if they pray - where the red dye leaks onto your hands if your hands are wet. Poke the red paper with the chopstick a few times without other people seeing you do this. 

If you have chopsticks in a drawer (not from a chopstick or utensil holder), you take the end of the chopstick and poke the red paper multiple times. 

Apparently this prevents your other family members from catching chicken pox! 

I have no red paper. Nadda. If I were at home in my parents' house, I'd easily find the red paper as my mom prays and uses the red paper to wrap around oranges or nian gao. 

The cute little sinseh's wife told me that I should not be afraid of the pox. She recounted that when one of her kids had chicken pox, she wasn't afraid. The more afraid of catching it, the more you'd catch it. 

Sage advice from a little old lady. 

Still I told Nic - we need to sleep in separate rooms, just for the time being. I am going off to Chiangmai in a week's time and I simply have to be at my best. Not taking chances. I've been looking forward to my little trip with my 2 gal pals since we booked our air tickets back in January. 

Do you know that if you have had chicken pox before and if the virus (yes it is a virus) still lingers, you may get shingles later on in life? 

There's also this taboo that if you have chicken pox, you should not go near a pregnant woman or someone whose family member just passed on. I think logically it's because chicken pox is highly infectious. 

Also, no seafood, beans or soya sauce for 4 months! I doubt Nic is able to avoid soya sauce when he gets well. 

Do you have a chicken pox remedy or have heard any weird or odd taboos or superstitions? Do share! 







Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Shou Wu Chih or Essence



In my last post I wrote about dried Shou Wu slices which I bought from my regular herbalist. In this post I am going to let you in about a more convenient method of imbibing this herb especially if you find it tedious to boil your own brew. 

I read about Shou Wu Chih or Shou Wu Essence and went to a Chinese medical hall (not my usual herbalist, mind you) and asked about Shou Wu. The owner, a man in his 60s, recommended that I try this product. 

Here's what the Shou Wu Chih contains: 




It is more than just Shou Wu extract. It also contains ginseng, dang gui, chuan xiong and other herbs. 

The liquid is dark coloured and thick, a bit like cough syrup. 

The medical hall owner told me that this Shou Wu Chih can be taken nightly, using that given "cup" (which measures about 30 ml). 

Between me and the husband, we took about 7 days to finish the entire bottle of 300ml. We each took a 30 ml dose each night just before we went to bed. You can drink some warm water after you take the Shou Wu Chih. It's sweetish and palatable. 




We actually felt refreshed and energized when we woke up the next morning. Once our bottle finished, we stopped for a week (the week that we stopped, I bought dried Shou Wu slices from my herbalist from the Lip Sin market to brew a tea).

This Shou Wu Chih product is made in Malaysia so I felt a little bit safer! These days I get quite skeptical about China products. I used to love eating tinned fried dace and luncheon meat but now what with reports of fake food in China and their unscrupulous methods, I am a little more wary if I buy China products, especially manufactured products.

Of course, Chinese herbs still come from China. That is why I try my best to buy herbs from reputable sources (as an aside, I once heard that white fungus is also bleached to make them look whiter and lovelier for sale!). Also, learn as much as you can about the herbs. And talk to your herbalist. Read up books (not just websites).

If you want to know why I was drinking Shou Wu Chih, please read this earlier post about my hair fall issues. 

I managed to buy a second bottle of this Shou Wu Chih just last week but the medical hall guy told me that once my hair issues were resolved I should stop drinking this. Actually he thought Nic was the one with hair issues haha!

My hair stopped dropping. When I brush my hair, there is an occasional stray hair stuck to the bristle. When I shampoo, I don't see much hair dropping in the shower. In fact, if I may say so, my hair seems a little more healthy?

I am now waiting for the new hairs to grow, just to see if the white hairs are still popping out or will my hair be dark again! Ah, yes, vanity at 40. Then again, we're all vain, right?





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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