Magic in a cup: How to prevent disease with TCM drinks

Li Fei
The saying in TCM, "nurturing health before illness," comes from "Huangdi's Inner Classic" and TCM tea is an important part of that concept.
Li Fei
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Shot by Ma Xuefeng. Edited by Li Fei, Ma Xuefeng. Subtitles by Wang Xinzhou.

Sour plum soup has been embraced by young people, again, as a magical Chinese health drink.

The last time it was popular as a new trend was likely to have been during the Song Dynasty, about 1,000 years ago, as a traditional Chinese medicine prescription.

The ingredients of sour plum soup generally include dark plum, hawthorn, licorice, osmanthus, and sugar, with the the hero ingredient being the dark plum.

The dark plum first appeared as a traditional Chinese medicine in "Shennong's Herbal Classic," the first medicinal work in China, from the Eastern Han Dynasty, about 2,000 years ago.

Sour plum soup became one of Chinese herbal drinks during the Song dynasty, known for quenching thirst and helping to combat heat. Sour plums are also well-suited for autumn.

Today, we can still obtain many Chinese health drinks in traditional Chinese medicine pharmacies at an affordable price.

The saying in TCM, "nurturing health before illness," comes from "Huangdi's Inner Classic," and TCM tea is an important part of that concept.

Zhu Yuanhang, director of TCM Preventive Care at the Xiangshan TCM Hospital, Huangpu District, Shanghai, is an expert on the concept.

He explained the preventive approach to disease in TCM.

"Before people fall ill, they may have some small symptoms or precursors to disease," Zhu said. "When you feel uncomfortable, you can take some protection," Zhu explained. "Having TCM drinks is a good way to do that."

There are two ways to find a suitable drink.

First, choose drinks according to your constitution, which has nine kinds, such as qixu, yinxu, and tanshi. Qixu (deficiency of vital energy) generally refers to weakness, pallor, and shortness of breath. Yinxu (yin deficiency) shows as low fever, night sweat, dry throat, insomnia, dizziness, and tinnitus. The symptoms of tanshi (phlegm dampness) are coughing and phlegm, wheezing and coughing, chest tightness, nausea, and vomiting.

Through looking, listening, questioning, and feeling a patient's pulse, TCM doctors can determine their constitution.

The second is to choose a drink according to your needs, such as improving digestion or sleep.

There are some special drink offers for the autumn and winter at the Xiangshan TCM Hospital.

  • Lung-clearing and Pharynx-moistening Tea (清肺利咽茶): Comprised of ophiopogon, lily bulb, adenophora, tendrilled fritillary, and Poria cocos, it is suitable for individuals with chronic throat irritation, especially those fatigued from speaking or long-term smoking.
  • Dry Eye Tea (干眼茶): Made of dendrobium, ophiopogon, asparagus root, radix adenophorae, and mountain fraxinus, this tea is beneficial for those with dry eye syndrome or eye strain from prolonged use of computers and smartphones.
  • Heat-clearing and Dampness-eliminating Tea (清热祛湿茶): Composed of raw hawthorn, Baical skullcap, tangerine peel, and poria cocos, this tea targets individuals with damp-heat constitution and has the effect of invigorating the spleen, eliminating dampness, and clearing heat.
  • Rose and Fingered Citron Tea (玫瑰佛手茶): Consisting of dried rose petals, fingered citron, and monk fruit, this tea is suitable for individuals with qi stagnation constitution, and helps to regulate liver qi, nourish the liver and stomach, and alleviate pain.
  • Sore-throat-clearing Tea (如羽茶): Made from Baical skullcap, reed root, honeysuckle, bamboo leaf, balloon flower, licorice, peppermint, and tangerine peel, it is used to treat mild cases of lung and defensive energy invaded by heat, especially during summer warmth, wind-heat, dry-heat, and damp-heat.
  • Liver-cleansing and Intoxication-resolving Tea (清肝解酲茶): This tea targets internal injuries caused by alcohol and food, liver and gallbladder damp-heat, and related symptoms such as epigastric distention, bitterness in the mouth, dry mouth, difficulty in urination, constipation, and abnormal blood lipids.

If you are curious about TCM, a good way to start is by having a health drink.

Zhu recommended replacing daily teas or coffees with TCM drinks, help to prevent disease from occurring.

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