Herbs Work: The Chinese Explanation"
common between high-performance athletes and the rest of us is
that we all consume energy and we all need to replenish it....
The same herbs that enhance athletic performance are also
considered anti-aging herbs and immune tonics.
Chinese medicine relies on herbology, acupuncture, diet,
exercise, and mediation, all of which replenish and fortify the
body’s resources. Chinese herbs are a particularly potent
reestablishing and maintaining resistance, flexibility, and
endurance. The harmonious condition-which you might call ‘health”-is described in terms of yin and yang, life’s
and polar forces.
the body, yin refers to blood and essence, and yang refers to
vital warmth and qi, best defined as metabolic activity. When
are in their proper proportions, conditions are ideal for the
flourishing of mental and physical power. An abundance of qi and
blood ensures that a person will be able to ward off and recover
illness and be capable of prolonged and trenuous physical
and mental effort. Deficiencies or obstructions of either blood
can cause weakness, lack of stamina, and illness.
Each of the Chinese tonic herbs has yin and yang properties,
are thought to influence certain organs and functions in the
Yin tonics replenish the body’s resources, blood and essence;
yang tonics build the body’s capacity to use its resources and
covert them into energy-qi and warmth.
kidneys, called the “root of life’ by the Chinese, determine
person’s fundamental level of vitality, and even lifespan.
organs, they have both yin and yang characteristics. The yin is
stored, potential energy; the yang is active kinetic and
energy that is generated during strenuous activity, such as
athletics. Athletes are generally advised to take kidney yang
on days they compete, kidney yin tonics in the preparatory
and kidney yin and yang tonics during recuperation periods. -
ginseng Origin: The mountainous regions of China and Korea.
Ginseng root acts on the cardiovascular system, regulating blood
pressure and sustaining proper cardiac rhythm; it also regulated
the central nervous system, promoting relaxation and restoring
alertness; helps maintain adequate blood glucose; reduces
elevated cholesterol; and supports adrenal, thymus,spleen, and
thyroid function. Unlike many herbs, ginseng is often
traditionally used as a single-ingredient tonic.
The following is considered
and annual ginseng tonic, taken in the
middle of the winter (because the energy of
ginseng is very warm), and it can improve
energy for the whole year. Stream a whole
root to soften it, cut into slices, and place it
in a ginseng pot, a tightly covered pot that
eliminated evaporation; you can substitute
with an ordinary double broiler-either
ceramic or glass, since ginseng should not
be cooked with metal-with the lid tied or
weighed down so that no moisture
escapes. Add two cups of water.
SIX hours; drink a cup of the resulting tea
for each of two successive days. Start out
with White Chinese ginseng or American
ginseng, rather than Red Korean or Red
Chinese ginseng until you learn more how
the herbs affect you. Red ginseng is
processed in a way that enhances its yang--
heating and stimulating-properties. It can
cause discomforts in some people, includ
ing hot flashes, headaches, dehydration,
rapid heart rate, palpitations, and elevated
blood pressure (“ginseng abuse” occurs
mostly among people in Asia who overuse
-A carefully prepared annual ginseng tonic taken mid-winter
(one cup of the tea on each of two successive days) is
believed to improve energy for the whole year. Start with White
Chinese or American ginseng.
Origin: The mountainous regions of China and Tibet.
A sexual and respiratory tonic that enhances immunity,
invigorates reproductive capacity, and relaxes spasms of the
heart, bronchi, and intestines. Like ginseng, it is both
tranquilizing and strengthening.
Cordyceps is one of the safest and gentlest tonics, and a good
one with which to begin. In China, it is given to people no
matter what their age, gender, or state of health. It is often
cooked in soups or stews or prepared with such meats as duck or
chicken. For weakness, use once a day. For health maintenance,
use once a week.
Origin: Northern China and Mongolia.
Preparations of this root increase muscle mass, strength, and
endurance; protect the liver against toxicity and enhance its
ability to store and release glucose; improve the diuretic
function of the kidney; and reduce blood pressure by increasing
the elasticity of blood vessels.
: The root comes sliced in long, flat pieces that look like
tongue depressors. It is good to cook with meat, vegetable, or
mushroom soup stock. Cook an ounce of astragalus in a couple of
quarts of liquid. This makes a potent liquid food that you
Expert advice should be sought whenever there are serious
symptoms or special needs, says Beinfield. One of her
patients, for instance, was diagnosed two years ago with
multiple sclerosis. After six weeks of taking herbal tonics and
undergoing acupuncture, the patient has experienced
dramatic increases in energy.
Tonics sold in Asian markets and health food stores are not
usually isolated herbs, but rather formulations made up of
several herbs. “Chinese herbs,” says Natalie Arndt, who
teaches Chinese herbology at the Oregon College of Oriental
Medicine, " are given in groups in order to nullify the
effect of members of the group, and to achieve a synergistic
Put five together, and you’ll get ten times the
Arndt believes, however, that it can be difficult for people to
ascertain which formulations to use. “A kidney tonic may be
best for one person,” she says, “while others might need
spleens nourished or their liver qi regulated.”
Z.F. Linn, a physician who practices TCM, agrees that the
use of herbs should be based on individual characteristics. ‘We don’t treat just according to symptoms, because one
condition might have several different causes.” he says. “People should consult a Traditional Chinese Medicine
doctor, rather than try to diagnose their own conditions.”
Acupuncturist Patrice Peterson also believes that herbs
should be recommended by a trained herbalist. However,
she believes that athletes who are in good health can benefit
from over-the-counter formulations. “If herbs are taken as a
tonic,” she says, “some of the patent herbals for sports
performance can be helpful.”
A careful balance of kidney yin and yang tonics is
recommended for athlete customers by Roger Frummer, a
Chinese tonic herbalist and manager of the Tea Garden
herbal Emporium in Los Angeles. “You have to have yin,”
Drummer says, “because it’s your stored energy. But yang
is the spark. You can have all the fuel in the world, but
without a spark, you can’t use it.” -C.S.