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The Practical Herbalist


At the turn of the Chinese new year many people will give their friends a gift of an orange. The custom comes from an old Chinese tradition of presenting the emperor a tribute paid in oranges at the beginning of the new year. A gift of an orange represents a hope for abundant happiness and prosperity in the coming year.

The orange is a special fruit. As a medicinal herb it has some important qualities which are important in understanding the way we mix herbs in medicinal formulas. Oranges or more often the rinds of an orange, are classified in Chinese herbal medicine as substances that "move" energy. This gives the orange an important place in some formulas.

Most herbs can be classified into two broad simplistic categories. Those herbs that nourish or tonify some aspect of the body, and those herbs that disperse or in some way clear some aspect of the body. When we need to strongly tonify a person because they are deficient in some way we use the tonifying herbs. In large quantity those types of herbs can feel heavy on the body and cause blockage of energy. Dispersing herbs if added to this situation would help move the tonifying herbs but would also disperse some of the energy we were trying to get into the body. Oranges and a few lesser known herbs have the quality of moving energy without dispersing it.

For this reason I often tell elderly patients on heavy tonfying herbal formulas to wash down the herbs with orange juice, especially if the herbs feel "heavy" on their stomachs. Orange juice naturally cuts the bad taste from some of these herbs, as well as maximizing the effectiveness of those herbs. Too much movement however , can have some odd effects, such as feelings of being unsettled or not grounded. Normally this is not a problem despite the often high quantities of orange juice that some people drink. There are however anecdotal stories among herbalists about cases where there seemed to be a correlation between really high orange juice consumption and hyperactivity in some children. This would be hard to prove, however the effect is theoretically possible within the understanding of herbal medicine. A good rule of thumb in regards to many foods is to only eat as much as you would if you had to prepare the food. In other words drink only as much orange juice equivalent to the number of oranges you would be willing to peel and eat at a sitting. Remember there is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

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