Happy Holidays

© 2010 Laszlo Ilyes (http://www.flickr.com/photos/laszlo-photo), under a Creative Commons attribution license.

This comes to you from the Caribbean. (My office will be closed thru 12/29.)

Happy Holidays. Give gifts. Steal kisses. That is, if you follow the mistletoe tradition.

There are several stories on the origin of kissing below a mistletoe. They may come from mythology, Druidic history, or the musings of horny men of the 19th century.

The 19th century was a time when we were friendlier with our neighbors. It was the age of salons. Not salons–full of aerosol sprays, gum popping, and tribal girl talk I don’t understand. But salons, where both genders gathered for social interaction and intellectual stimulation.

Salon folks, gathering cheerfully during Christmas season, would pass wreaths, trees and mistletoes being sold plentifully along the streets. On these mistletoes were berries. In the salons were women. Most were not family members but rather friends and neighbors. Why not kiss them all (family not included)? The (gentle)men decided the mistletoe berry was the ticket to do so–pick one berry, get one kiss.

I admire the resourcefulness of 19th-century men.

That’s the short story of mistletoe and kissing. Now, for mistletoe and medicine…

Medicinal Use for Mistletoe

mistletoe for high blood pressure

© 2013 coniferconifer (http://www.flickr.com/photos/conifer/), under a Creative Commons attribution license.

In China, the medicinal use of mistletoe was recorded in a text–Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing–written around the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE). It was traditionally used for pain in the lower back and knees, as well as numbness and weakness. This tradition endures to now, where the herb is commonly combined with other herbs.

A modern use of mistletoe is for the treatment of hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Self-Care and Mistletoe Tea

For mild hypertension, several cups daily of mistletoe tea may help regulate your blood pressure. More clinical studies are needed to verify this. However, it is safe to try it this season–with or without kisses. If pregnant, consult a qualified herbalist prior to use.

You can find organic mistletoe at Mountain Rose Herbs (I am not an affiliate).



How To Self-Treat Thanksgiving Bloating

by Carl Balingit on November 26, 2013

in Acupuncture

Torso di Livorno

© 2013 Balingit Acupuncture, adapted from the original “Torso di Livorno,” Sailko (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Sailko), under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license

Thanksgiving is not only a time to share thanks but to also share food. While some of us are better at moderation than others, overeating could be an issue this festive time of year. If so, an immediate side effect may be bloating and gas.

If you experience this, here’s a quick self-care tip to help your gut process all that stuffing:

Massage acupuncture point, Ren 12 (Zhong Wan)

Ren 12 is located on the centerline of your abdomen, midway between your sternocostal angle and umbilicus. The sternocostal angle is the notch below your breastbone.

Reference the illustration above to help you with point location.

Basic Technique:

  • Apply finger pressure at acupuncture point Ren 12, while “stirring” that finger in a small clockwise motion

Finger pressure should be firm, but relaxed.

Advanced Technique:

  1. Breathe using your diaphragm (i.e. abdomen should expand with inhalation, and shrink with exhalation)
  2. Apply finger pressure at acupuncture point Ren 12
  3. Hold steady resistance on the point as you inhale. (Pressure at Ren 12 will increase due to abdominal expansion.)
  4. Exhale. As you do, your abdomen should relax and shrink.
  5. Follow the collapse of your abdomen as you exhale by pressing deeper at Ren 12, while “stirring” the pressing finger in a a small clockwise motion.

Finger pressure should be firm, but relaxed.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Give thanks and enjoy your celebrations!


Recipe – Black Sesame Soup

by Carl Balingit on October 31, 2013

in Chinese Medicine, Food Therapy

Black sesame soup

“Homemade Black Sesame Soup” © 2009 by Seth and Alexa Andrzejewski (http://www.flickr.com/photos/sethandalexa/), under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

Though I wrote about the side effects of sugar in my Halloween newsletter, that does not straightaway mean that we should eliminate the sweet flavor from our diet. Sweetness is one of the five flavors, each of which offers a different health benefit. Sweet foods tend to nourish fluids and relax muscles and tendons.

The side effects of sugar are due not only to excess consumption of it but also to its refined form (i.e. white sugar, brown sugar). This is because refined sugar is removed from a whole food and stripped of nutrients. In contrast, unrefined sugar (Sucanat) is not stripped of nutrients. When it is used in moderation and in the context of a healthy diet, you can enjoy its sweetness without side effects. However, diabetics should always be vigilant of any sugar intake to effectively manage their blood glucose levels.

Below is a recipe for sweet and nourishing black sesame soup, replacing white sugar with unrefined sugar in a 1:1 exchange. This dessert is similar to congee (porridge) in that it also contains an equal portion of rice.

Bonus: you can benefit from both the healing effects of congee and black sesame.

Congee (porridge) is traditionally made using white rice. It builds qi and blood, benefits the mucous membranes, and strengthens digestion. These basic properties can be enhanced by the addition of other healing ingredients. Since congee is bland, it is a good base for infinite food modifications depending on your needs.

[If you choose to substitute white rice with another grain, the nutritive properties will vary. A good reference for differentiating grains is Healing with Whole Foods.]

Black sesame seeds (Chinese herb: ‘hei zhi ma’) are grown throughout China. They are used in Chinese medicine to treat numbness, dizziness or blurred vision due to blood deficiency. It also treats constipation due to blood or fluid deficiency (i.e. dryness of the intestines), and is commonly used to prevent premature graying of hair. Its medicinal properties are characterized as sweet (nourishing) and neutral (no effect on body temperature).



  • 1 cup grain of choice, soaked 8 hrs (or overnight).* It is traditionally made with white rice. But you can have fun experimenting with healthier grains like millet, barley, buckwheat, brown rice, amaranth.
  • 1 cup black sesame seeds, soaked 8 hours (overnight)*
  • 7 cups water
  • 3/4 to 1 cup unrefined sugar (Sucanat), depending on the sweetness of your tooth. (I think 3/4 is plenty.)
  • optional: add in walnuts, or other nuts

Preparation (based on this recipe):

  1. Drain rice, or chosen grain. Add to blender, and blend thoroughly with 3 cups water. Remove from blender and set aside.
  2. Drain sesame seeds. Toast in frying pan on low-medium heat, 1-2 minutes, until fragrant.
  3. Add seeds to blender with ~3/4 cups water, and blend thoroughly.
  4. Add rice mixture back into blender (along with optional walnuts) and mix thoroughly.
  5. Transfer mixture to a pot, combined with sugar and the rest of the water (~3 1/4 cups).
  6. Bring to a boil, then simmer on low until thickened (5-8 minutes). Stir frequently to prevent sediment from sticking to bottom of pot and burning. Add more boiling water to adjust thickness, if desired.

Enjoy it warm. It will nourish you. It is intended as a dessert, and we should remember that even unrefined sugar should be eaten in moderation. Note that if you are eating in moderation as you should, this recipe yields many, many small portions. So either reduce the ingredients proportionately, or share the recipe–as is–with plenty of friends and family, or freeze leftovers for sweet enjoyment over time.

Above is the basic recipe for black sesame soup. It does not include black sesame balls (Tang Yuan), as shown in the image above. There are different fillings for tang yuan, but I prefer black sesame. Here’s a recipe for tang yuan, with an option for eating it with ginger syrup(!).


* Notes:

Soaking grains, nuts and seeds is essential for nutrient absorption. The wise folks at the Westin A. Price Foundation wrote a great article about this necessity and the detriment of phytic acid in grains and seeds. Fallon and Enig wrote:

Untreated phytic acid can combine with calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and especially zinc in the intestinal tract and block their absorption. This is why a diet high in improperly prepared whole grains may lead to serious mineral deficiencies and bone loss.

The above is also included in their excellent book, Nourishing Traditions, where it goes on to explain that whole grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. All of these “antinutrients” can be neutraliezed by soaking whole grains (as long as you discard the soak water).

Another good reference on soaking nuts and seeds is by Marie-Claire Hermans over at Ravishing Raw.



Benefit of Herbs to Invigorate Blood in Cancer Therapy

September 9, 2013

While visiting the hospital at the Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in 2005, it was interesting to witness the heavy use of blood invigorating herbs in cancer therapy along with chemo and/or radiation. It was interesting because 90% of cancer deaths are due to metastasis, in which cancer cells migrate and invade distant tissues via vascular and lymphatic circulation.

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Autumn and Regional Impact on Dietary Advice

September 2, 2013

Climate impacts our health, and food may be used to counteract any adverse effects of environmental conditions. Low relative humidity can lead to dryness of our skin, and mucous membranes along our respiratory pathways, as the air draws moisture from our bodies. In Chinese medicine, the lung system is not only related to respiration but also to the functioning of our skin. Traditionally, autumn is considered arid, thus calling for foods that moisten dryness and benefit the lung system.

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Book Recommendation — ‘Chinese medicine in early communist China, 1945-63: a medicine of revolution’

June 9, 2013

‘Chinese Medicine in Early Communist China’ is a monograph of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). The word ‘traditional’ in TCM misleads. For it suggests that the tenets of Chinese medicine (particularly, acupuncture) have remained essentially unchanged throughout the millennia. However, this unchanging nature is an ostensible characteristic. Taylor’s book explains how ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ is—more succinctly—a political term, coined by the Communist party in the years after it seized government control in 1949.

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How Old Is Old? — In the Time of Acupuncture

April 10, 2013

There is some confusion—even among acupuncturists—over just how old acupuncture really is. To understand the origins of acupuncture, we must see the difference between using the nearest sharp object to poke people where it hurts, and practicing acupuncture based on an organized medical system.

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“Old Chinese Doctor” and Quality Healthcare

March 31, 2013

I like Bob Flaw’s interpretation of lao zhong yi, “old Chinese doctor,” in his blog post on the development of modern Chinese acupuncture. To paraphrase, the acquisition of this title is not dependent on age, but rather on the doctor’s practical skills and his insight on Chinese medicine. It is a level of maturity that requires considerable effort in discerning the clinically valid points within volumes of conflicting information.

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Desert Medicine — Ephedra

March 3, 2013

On a recent trip to Sedona, I saw ephedra viridis (aka Mormon tea) growing 25 miles south at the Montezuma Well—an area inhabited by the Sinagua people until about 1425 AD. Ephedra is an herb that has been traditionally used by several cultures–including the Sinagua–to treat a variety of diseases. However, the use of ephedra in dietary […]

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The Chinese Medicine of Pork Vermicelli

July 16, 2012

Pork is an animal protein. Therefore—in one sense—it can be considered a yang-natured food. However, compared to red meat, it has a yin-nourishing quality. So in the grand scheme of meats, it can be called yin. But when you marinate it in some wicked flavors, and then BBQ it… it becomes mostly yang.

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