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The Practical Herbalist

Food Therapy

During my second of four years in graduate studies of herbs as medicine. One of my Instructors taught an interesting class. The class was on the subject of food therapy in Chinese Medicine. This break from the rigors of complicated herbal remedies reminded us that herbal medicine evolved out of culinary concepts.

Herbs are just extreme foods mixed in much the same way as a chef would craft a fine dish. There are rules of how you cook a meal and these rules are firm yet flexible. There are firm rules like if the toothpick comes out of the cake gooey, it is not done. Then there are things that are flexible, like if I don’t have black beans, kidney beans should make a good substitute. Herbal medicine is much like that. There are concepts of the dynamics of herbs that a fixed. Like not giving a formula that disperses energy to a person who is already deficient in energy. There were things that were always variable to the situation, like when American ginseng could be substituted for the Asian variety and when it should not, also when the the much cheaper Dang Shen, would do just as well.

The class made all of us focus on the fact that what we were really trying to do was not to be a technician using fancy tools from exotic lands. Our job was to look at a patient and find what is best for them. I thought about a question I was posed, If I needed surgery, would I go to the surgeon with a razor blade, or would go to a plumber with the latest high tech computerized laser scalpel. As much as I may want the surgeon to borrow the scalpel, I know in the end I want the surgeon.

Through the class we began to see how the foods of various cultures made sense in the context of the lifestyle and geography in which they lived. We saw how understanding that base was important for understanding how the base foods could be modified and used as medicine. It was not the specific food or herbs that were important it was the understanding of their relationship to the patient that was important.

At the final exam our instructor, dressed as a waiter, seated us in pairs at tables. Each person was given a list of symptoms which you were then to describe to your partner. The waiter would then randomly hand you a real menu from a collection of menus from area restaurants. It was your job to order an appropriate meal for your partner off the menu, describe any modifications you would like the chef to make, and explain why you chose that meal. The burger joint menu I received reminded me that as much as I would like my patients to eat better, that just like our distant hunter gatherer ancestors, we tend to eat what is available.

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