Tea Cabinet – An Exploration of Herbs

A while ago, I was given this beautiful old cabinet originally used for holding Traditional Chinese Medicines, so that I can store all the varieties of my loose leaf tea collection. Each of these many rows of small draws have the names of a herb carved onto it. Before I put my leaves into it, I thought it would be interesting to find out a little about each of these herbs. 

红花 (hónghuā), Flos Carthami, Safflower.
Provenance: Henan, Shandong, Shaanxi, Sichuan Yunnan.
Properties: warm, pungent.
The flamelike petals look gorgeous, especially when they are on the verge of turning from yellow to red. The hónghuā (meaning “red flower”) is picked in the summer and then dried in the shade. In proper TCM terms, it enters the heart and liver channels, invigorates the blood and promotes circulation. I might just have to get some of this, as it helps with period pain. 

川楝子(chuānliànzi), Fructus Meliae Toosendan, Sichuan Chinaberry
Provenance: Gansu, Hubei, Sichuan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Japan, parts of south-east Asia.
Properties: cold, bitter.
The lovely golden oval fruits are harvested from the tree in winter and dried in the sun. The top-grade is considered to come from Sichuan, hence its name. It regulates qi and is mildly toxic, which is probably why it is effective against parasites, fungal infections, and why it is sometimes baked before use after drying. It enters the liver, stomach, bladder and small intestine channels. 

川乌 (chuānwū), Radix Aconiti, Aconite Root.
Provenance: Shandong, Yangtze Plains, Sichuan, Guangxi.
Properties: warm, pungent, bitter.
This plant is picked in the summer months and then dried. Its flowers are a lovely purple and distinctive shape, but the brown and root-like parts that are used medicinally, is my impression of what a Zhōngyī herb would look like. With interesting alternative names such as “Iron Flower” and “Five Poison Root”, Chuānwū enters the heart, spleen, liver and kidney channels and treats colds, joint pain by dispersing cold and damp. 

羌活 (qiānghuó), Rhizoma et Radix Notopterygii, Notopterygium Root
Provenance: Sichuan, Yunnan, Qinghai, Gansu.
Properties: warm, pungent, bitter.
This herb comes from the rhizomes and roots of the plant, and is usually picked during Spring and Autumn (the seasons, not the era). Entering the bladder and kidney channels, it relieves pain by dispersing cold and damp. It was interesting to find out that it can act as a conduit for other herbs used for related channels.  

天麻 (tiānmá), Gastrodiae Rhizoma.
Provenance: across West, Central and East China, other tropical and temperate world regions.
Properties: mild, sweet.
This herb comes from the tubers and is picked during the winter and spring when the plant is budding. It is then boiled or steamed and dried over a mellow fire. Both its exterior and sliced form reminds me a lot of ginger. Tiānmá treats convulsions and “extinguishes wind” (nope, not the kind that immediately comes to mind). 

半夏曲, Bànxiàqu, Rhizoma Pinelliae, Pinellia Rhizome.
Provenance: Sichuan, Hubei, Jiangsu
Properties: warm, pungent, bitter.
After the roots and cortex are removed, the bànxiàqu is sun dried, ground into powder, mixed with ginger, flour and water and made into these neat little cubes. Entering the liver, spleen and stomach channels, it is a warming herb, which is effective against coughs and phlegm. 

砂仁, Shārén, Fructus Amoni, Cardamom Pod.
Provenance: South China, South East Asia
Properties: warm, pungent.
Cardamom lends its fragrance to medicine as well as cooking. Entering the stomach, spleen and kidney channels, it regulates qi and treats bloating and abnormal bodily expulsions. Shārén comes in three varieties, the Yángchūnshā, of superior quality, named after the place in Guangdong where it grows, the Qiàoshā (“carapace cardamom”) from Hainan, and Suōmìshā from South East Asia.  

杏仁, Xìngrén, Semen Armeniacae Amarum, Apricot Kernel.
Properties: warm, bitter, mildly toxic.
After the apricot fruits are picked during Summer, the seeds are sun dried, then shelled. Often used with other herbs such as dāngguī, the xìngrén enters the lungs and large intestine channels. It treats coughs, wheezing, and its high oil content makes it an effective lubricant for the bowels. 

延胡索 Yánhúsuo, (also known as 玄胡, Xuánhú), Rhizoma Cordalis, Cordalis Yanhusuo.
Properties: warm, pungent, bitter.
Although it has pleasant pink tubular flowers, the stems are the parts that are used for medicine. Picked in the Summer just as it withers, it is boiled and then sun dried. Entering the spleen and kidney channels, the Cordalis Yanhusuo revitalises qi, improves blood circulation, and treats various kinds of pains such as abdomen, chest, bruising and some forms of blood clotting. 

沙参 Shāshēn, Adenophora Tetraphylla
Provenance: across many parts of China
Properties: cold, sweet.
Shāshēn have pretty purple flowers and are picked in the Autumn, the appearance of dried roots, the parts that are taken for medicine, look slender and elegant. With properties that disperses heat, cools the blood and enhances the Yin, shāshēn nourishes the lungs and is used to treat coughs and Tracheitis. It can also be good for certain cancers and tumours. There are many varieties found across China, the most commonly used is the Nán or Sìyè (“Southern” or “Four-Leaved”) Shāshēn. Others also have names I find rather poetic and evocative, such as the Kuòyè (“Broad-Leaved”) Shāshēn found in the north, north-east and central parts; the Liuyè (“Willow-Leaved”) Shāshēn from Sichuan, the Baihéyè (“Lily-leaved”) Shāshēn from regions further west.

This is a very rudimentary exploration for interest. If this tempts you to try out any of these herbs, please be sure to consult a TCM professional beforehand. 

Asanté Academy of Chinese Medicine Encyclopedia: asante-academy.com

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