Tuesday, July 31, 2012


Moxa, also known as Mugwort is a Chinese herb that is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Moxa is considered the mother herb and is very nurturing in nature. It is used to warm what is cold, free what is constrained and not flowing, to soothe what is frustrated or tense and to eliminate what is damp. On a basic level it strengthens the yang of the body; meaning the strong, powerful, warm and awake. Moxa also has the noted ability to ward off disease, is a very strong immune builder of the body.

Treatment with moxa comes in two methods, direct moxibustion and indirect moxibustion. Direct moxibustion is done on the skin and can be either scarring or non scarring, whereas indirect uses a medium between moxa and the skin. Indirect moxibustion is one that I'm more familiar with and the only one we experienced in class, thank Buddha! 

With indirect moxibustion, it can be burned on top of salt, garlic or ginger to individualize treatment; for example, garlic for immune system and ginger for digestive. There are belly bowls which can be used on the abdomen, when placed above navel it is helpful for digestion and when placed below navel it is good for uterine cramps, cysts or simply to tonify yang. Moxa poles or sticks are larger and can be used to follow over an entire meridian line. Moxa irons are usually used for low back area, to warm kidneys and tonify water element. There are also moxa cones that are small enough to place directly on acupressure points, perfect for making a path for your qi (energy) flow. :) 

As a student, almost graduate, here at Oriental Healing Arts Center I have had the opportunity to try moxa and have had a wonderful experience with it, using the belly bowl, cones and sticks. I feel very comforted while receiving the treatment. It's almost like the big moxa energy mom is giving me a hug! 

My favorite method by far is the belly bowl! When using it my abdomen is filled with warmth. At the end of the treatment, a yellowish brown resin is left on the tummy. It is suggested to rub the resin in...as long as you're not wearing white! I am grateful to have my own belly bowl at home so that I can continue moxa after this school year is over. 

While doing moxa treatments I felt myself more at ease and sort of in this comfort cloud. I remember sleeping deeply and having very meaningful dreams. One of the dreams was definitely linked to an inner wisdom of mine. I was with a little girl and being chased by a wall of fire. I told the girl to hide in the corner of the ceiling and as she did, I proceeded with her. I cocooned myself around her, protecting her from the fire. I can remember thinking, it's coming (the fire) then I woke up with a sinking/shocking feeling in my legs. I realized later that the little girl was my inner child and I was protecting her from an intense fire (heart feeling)...what am I protecting her from? The feeling in my legs screams water element, so there is a connection there that is locked in my consciousness, yet being freed by this warming experience.

So yah, moxa gave me some precious information for my journey of life. Am very grateful to it and look forward to continuing my work with the lovely energy mother herb, Moxa!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cleansing Vs. Building Foods

In 5-element nutrition consulting we see a lot of people who want to change their health, know that eating better is a way to do that, but find it really difficult to "give up" the food they love.

I know how attached we are to the food we eat, and most people, including me, won't change their habits unless there is a huge motivating factor - like a severe medical diagnosis (diabetes, heart attack) or an emotionally passionate reason (new romantic love, high school reunion).

Pasta is a Building food. Balance it out
by adding a mixed green salad
and cutting the portion size of the pasta.

Here's an easy 5-element nutrition tip to consider:  Foods are either building (Yin) or cleansing (Yang).

Building foods add to your body, make it larger.  These are most foods that are NOT fruits and vegetables. If you exercise a lot that might translate into muscle.  If you don't exercise a lot, we all know that it turns into the "other muscle", fat.  Building foods in moderation are great for someone who needs to put on weight.  BTW, regardless of what congress mandates, pizza is not a vegetable.

Cleansing foods clean your internal organs and make your body lighter. These are mainly fruits and vegetables. Which is better - cooked or raw? From a 5-element nutrition point of view, it depends on what you need, and we suggest both are important.

  • Cooked is going to be on the milder side of cleansing, better for someone who tends towards being weak, deficient, feels cold, or has frequent colds/flu.
  • Raw is going to be on the harsher side of cleansing, better for someone who tends towards being robust, loud, feels warm or hot, has high blood pressure from stress, and may tend to get gall or kidney stones.
The ultimate goal is to find an appropriate BALANCE between cleansing and building foods. An appropriate balance is different for each person, so it depends on what you need in order to reach your ultimate weight goals.

If you want to lose weight, or you love pasta and don't want to "give it up", start by realizing that pasta is a building food. Balance it with a cleansing food of equal or greater proportion and decrease the serving size of pasta you would normally have eaten. Cleansing foods are the only realistic way to lose weight, and you can use them in a way to still enjoy the food you love.

This is going to be the same for all other building foods. If you have pizza, maybe have just 1 or 2 slices and eat a raw carrot with each slice. Yes, that is a whole beautiful raw carrot with each slice.

Steak? Have a nice juicy piece no bigger than the size of your palm, cover it with a medicinal mushroom saute and fill the rest of the plate with lettuce and chopped raw veggies like radishes, broccoli, green peppers, topped with hemp oil and balsamic vinegar & fresh ground black pepper.

This is a good place to start, by adding some balance. Once you get used to doing this and enjoy it - which you will because your body and blood will love more balance - then take the next step and refine what you're eating a little more.  We like lasting changes that are enjoyable, not quick or extreme diets that you can't wait to end.

"Everything in Moderation, Everything in Balance"
~Taoist principle

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Blood Building Syrup - Herbal Recipe

If you like this recipe, also try our Blood Building "wine" for Spring and Eyes - it's a lighter version that is not so warming and invigorating.  The syrup below is better suited to Winter and colder months.

Back in March one of my Twitter friends posted this recipe, and finally today I spent a glorious morning making it!  I think it's worth sharing with you - enjoy!

Who needs this?
The original author, Todd Caldecott, lists from an Ayurvedic perspective that this is "an excellent preparation to help build up the blood in anemia, infertility, exhaustion, and immunodeficiency, or when recovering from chronic disease, medical treatments (e.g. chemotherapy) or surgery."

Additionally, from a Chinese medicine point of view I would add someone feeling weak and tired, loud creaky joints, after child birth, pale complexion and feels cold, very dry skin, poor vision, and chronic muscle pains that don't respond to massage.

To explain this very basically, blood is a major resource of our body.  It's one of the main substances that helps to re-build or re-generate our physical being.  We make blood from the food and drink we ingest, however if our diet isn't sufficient or we're so stressed and exhausted that our system is too tired to build blood we can get too low on our resources.  

It's a good idea to also drink lots of water - because our blood is made up of about 83% water. Herbs that build blood will require extra water, and they may even make you more thirsty to ensure you drink some. Please note I did not say drink more liquids, such as tea, soda pop, etc., I said water - pure and simple.

It's also a good idea to add some blood building foods into your diet, such as leafy greens, beets, cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.

Last of all, because this will help you to have more resources, you'll start to feel more energized, get more accomplished, have amazing motivation, and you might want to spontaneously dance or even just walk more outside in nature. Do it!

Disclaimer: It is not recommended to take herbs if you are also taking other herbs or medications, or if you question whether any of the symptoms above apply to you. Please consult a qualified health care provider before consuming this product.

After feedback from people who have tried this recipe, I wanted to make a video demonstration to show some of the nuances that make this really good.  I recommend watching the video first, then following the written directions below.  Enjoy!

Blood Building Syrup - click on title for the original site this is posted on, Food As Medicine

Step 1:  Gather the ingredients.  You will probably need to visit a Chinese herbalist (such as The Oriental Healing Arts Center, or your local acupuncturist), and maybe a specialty spice shop (such as Summit Spice & Tea) for a few items, so take some time to get it all together.

1/2 cup chopped dried figs

1/2 cup dried goji berries (Chinese herb: Gou Qi Zi)
1/2 cup dried prunes, also called dried plums
1/2 cup Chinese red dates (Chinese herb: Hong Zao)
1 oz. asparagus root (Chinese herb: Tien Men Dong, Ayurvedic herb: shatavari root)
1 oz. prepared rehmannia (Chinese herb: Shu Di Huang)
1 oz. astragulus root (Chinese herb: Huang Qi)
1 oz. American ginseng (Chinese herb: Xi Yang Shen)
2 quarts water
2-3 tbs ghee (Indian clarified butter)
2 tbsp Long Pepper, ground (Ayurvedic herb: pippali powder)
1 tsp cardamom powder
1 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp clove powder
1/4 tsp pink salt (Himalayan)
1 cup organic molasses (approximately)

This is the Long Pepper (Pippali Powder) I was
lucky enough to find at our local Summit
Spice & Tea. I just ground it to a powder in
a little electric spice grinder.  Taste is peppery,
but much milder and a little earthier than
black pepper.

Directions and my notes:
Dry fruit-herbs

Add the dried fruit and herbs (first 8 ingredients) to a pot along with 2 quarts of water, bring to a boil and simmer until it is reduced to a syrup-like consistency and the fruit and herbs are squishy. (NOTE: the original recipe says this takes about 1 hour, however it took me 2.5 hours - maybe because it's cold in Alaska?)
After reducing to a syrup
Allow the fruit-herb decoction to cool, then mix in a blender until smooth.  Strain the liquid through a mesh strainer into a measuring cup, taking note of exactly how much liquid you are left with.  (NOTE: Per original recipe I was expecting to have 1 cup liquid, however I ended up with about 2 cups still left after straining.  It was quite thick.)

Blended & Strained
In a separate pan, melt the ghee on medium heat and add the pippali, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and pink salt.  (NOTE: The ghee heated up so fast that I ended up turning the heat down to very low because it kept bubbling and popping up.)

MMM....spices - the large pile on bottom
left is the ground Long Pepper.

Spices cooking in ghee
Cook for a minute and then add the fruit herb decoction to this, along with an equal part molasses.  (NOTE: because the recipe called for approximately 1 cup molasses but I had ended up with 2 cups fruit herb decoction, I only added 1 full cup of molasses. When pouring, remember the saying "slow as molasses".... this is where it comes from.)

Cook on low heat for about 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently.  Pour into a clean, dry glass bottle, seal and store in a cool location.  Dose is 1-2 Tbsp twice daily, with warm water.

NOTE: Cooking this smelled herby and delicious! I took a dose when it was finished, and the taste is very spicy but pleasant - not really sweet at all the first day, but developed a really nice sweetness overnight.  The energy was warming, went to the center and spread out. Felt very nurturing. I'm really happy with this recipe!

Cynthia McMullen is certified in Taoist Herbology and teaches the 5-Element Nutrition Workshops at Alaska Institute of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture and Massage Therapy.  Follow her on Facebook TouchOfTao