Chinese herb is any herbaceous plant of Chinese origin that is cultivated mainly for culinary and medicinal purposes. These herbs play a major role in the traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). They have been used for several centuries and are used to treat several ailments related to body organs, bones, and tissues. The color, appearance, and smell help identify the herbs from each other.
Some herbs such as the mushroom plant, ginger, ginseng, garlic, coriander, and sesame are used in the Chinese cuisine and several Asian cuisines. Some popular recipes that use chinese herbs include Lingzhi lean pork soup, Ginseng chicken soup, wild yam miso fish soup, and tuckahoe brown rice.
The usage of chinese herbs reportedly dates back to 2800 B.C. when Shennong, a legendary Chinese ruler, lived. The Chinese tradition believes that Shennong passed on his extensive knowledge about herbs to the farmers. The book Shénnóng Běn Cǎo Jīng (written between 300 BC to 200 AD) is a compilation of information about these herbs and the medicinal uses of plants. This book reportedly classifies 365 species of plants, woods, roots, grass, animals, fur and much more into three usage categories. As time rolled by, more herbs have been researched, and several books have been written and passed on to generations. The latest of these is the compendium of Materia Medica(also known as Bencao Gangmu) written by Li Shizhen. This book contains information about 1892 herbs and is being widely used as a reference to date.
The Chinese tradition believes that herbs mixed with food has a better healing power than standalone herbal medicine. Chinese herbalists consider food to be the most effective way for delivering the herbs. While some of these herbs are used in day-to-day cooking, some are used as a tonic. Soups, stews, rice varieties, and even gourmet dishes are made with the Chinese herbs.
Popular Chinese Herbs and their Health Benefits
The following are some popular Chinese herbs:
Lingzhi - This mushroom is considered to be the king of herbs as it improves overall health, fortifies immunity, acts as an antioxidant, and promotes longevity.
Ginseng – The ginseng root is said to tone heart, lung, and kidneys and also have cooling properties.
Wild Yam – The Chinese wild yam reportedly induces appetite and treats conditions like asthma, diarrhea, diabetes, fatigue, and colic. It can also be good for treating menstrual disorders.
Tuckahoe – This Chinese herb is believed to have diuretic properties and eliminates excess body fluids. It also creates hormonal balance and calms the nervous system.
Astragalus – Astragalus reportedly protects the body against emotional and physical stress. It also boosts the immune system, lowers blood pressure, protects body cells, and also fights against bacteria from attacking the body.
Coptis chinensis – This herb is also known as the Chinese goldthread. The Chinese medicine believes that this herb relieves toxicity from heat, indigestion, diarrhea, toothache, insomnia and more. Scientific studies have also proven the pain-killing properties of this herb in irritable bowel syndrome.
Chinese motherwort – This herb is believed to regulate menstrual issues, reduce edema, lowers blood pressure, and increases blood circulation. Scientists also believe that this herb has the potential to fight against breast cancer.
Popular Recipes Using Chinese Herbs
- The Lingzhi lean pork soup is a popular dish made by using the Lingzhi mushroom. Other ingredients such as wild yam, red dates, wolfberry, and pork are also used to make this soup.
- Ginseng chicken soup is prepared using sliced up ginseng root, ginger root, chicken and red dates, which promote digestive health.
- The wild yam miso fish soup is made by soaking and mashing wild yam into a paste. The recipe also uses black pepper, spring onion, seaweed, and fish fillets.
- The tuckahoe brown rice is made with soaked and mashed tuckahoe, soy sauce, brown rice, black pepper, spring onion, wine, and shiitake mushrooms.
- The Astralagus chicken soup is made by using astralagus, wolfberries, red dates, and chicken. This soup is cooked slowly using a double boiler.
Chinese herb can be bought from Asian grocery stores, herbal medicine shops, and can also be bought online.
The FDA has been providing strict regulations related to the use of Chinese herbs. It has specifically warned of Aristolochia fangchi, a Chinese herb which possibly causes kidney damage and cancer of the urinary tract.
With the concept of using herbal medicine in foods, herbal cuisine restaurants have been gaining popularity across the globe.