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The Practical Herbalist


Bamboo is known more as a building product rather than a medicinal herb. While it does show up in a few Asian kitchens, and some medicinal formulas, it is not a common herb. Bamboo does however provide an interesting lesson on the effects of various food products on the body.

Bamboo is a grass, and many grasses are seen in Chinese herbal medicine as cold to the stomach. This is why when a dog has an upset stomach from bad food, it will eat grass as a way to calm the stomach. The digestive system of mammals, (humans included ) is considered a hot environment. This is where warm acids break down food into energy and pass it on to the body. If the stomach is “cold” temperature wise or just is deficient in its functioning (which is referred to as "cold") then energy does not get efficiently processed and passed on to the body. This can leave a person feeling sluggish, and tired, and if it goes on chronically it leads overeating, lack of exercise and weight gain. Humans sometimes do this through the overuse of cold, raw and otherwise uncooked food. (it is no coincidence that Japanese sushi is served with hot and spicy wasabi and ginger to help the body digest the raw fish) Many would claim that these concepts are a little far out. They don’t see the cooling effect that "cold" engendering foods have on the body, because few people eat such a restricted diet.

Enter the Panda bear. Like us, the Panda is a omnivore mammal with a similar digestive system. Like all mammals they function on the production of heat from food. This heat (unlike reptiles) drives all functions from activity to reproduction. The Panda, due to where it lives has little to eat, and has adapted to eat only bamboo. A constant diet of a "cold" grass has some interesting consequences. The Pandas eat a lot of bamboo because there is very little nutritional value to the bamboo. They are often slow and heavy, and have a notoriously low sex drive and low reproductive success. In this extreme example we see the effects of the overuse of one type of food. The consequences follow the predictions of herbal medicine concepts.

The lesson is; eat a variety of foods. Cold drinks, raw fish, raw vegetables, frozen desserts, tropical fruit smoothies, and other “cold” foods are not the enemy. Cold foods however should be kept in moderation with other foods that better provide easy to digest heat energy to keep our bodies running efficiently. Understand when you need different types of foods. Cold foods can be very appropriate in larger quantities in the heat of summer, but are inappropriate in the cold of winter when we need more heat.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066