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Great herbs from China

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2015 | 12:00 AMDr Tony Vendryes

TODAY 'MADE in China' is the common label that appears on a vast array of consumer products. But it would be short-sighted to think that this is just a recent phenomenon. Chinese goods and products have been in our lives for centuries. This is particularly true in the area of holistic health care.

Traditional Chinese medicine is a fantastic health system that integrates the use of many modalities like acupuncture and includes the widespread use of Chinese herbs. Today, I would like to highlight some of the Chinese herbs I myself have used and recommended for more than two decades.


Green tea


This is the most widely consumed herbal beverage worldwide and has been used by the Chinese for more than 5,000 years. Green tea is made from the leaves of the plant camellia sinensis that are specially treated by a steaming process. That makes it distinct from black tea, created by sun-drying the leaves.

Modern medical research has clearly demonstrated the many health benefits of green tea. Potent antioxidants found in the tea leaves called polyphenols have been found to benefit many conditions ranging from cancer, diabetes and hypertension to circulatory problems and high cholesterol. For example, Japanese research suggests that regular green tea consumption reduces the risk of breast and prostate cancer.

More recently, however, scientists have focused on another substance found only in tea leaves, a unique, amino acid called theanine. Theanine is the predominant amino acid in green tea and gives tea its characteristic taste.

Research shows that theanine creates a sense of relaxation in approximately 30-40 minutes after ingestion by two actions. First, it stimulates the brain to produce alpha brainwaves. This creates a state of relaxation and mental alertness similar to that achieved through meditation.

Second, theanine increases the levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin to produce feelings of well-being and relaxation. People may thus use green tea to alleviate the negative effects of stress without becoming sedated, as theanine does not cause drowsiness. In fact, theanine seems to balance the stimulation of the low levels of natural caffeine in green tea.




The name ginseng includes several species of plants that have fleshy roots. The English word ginseng derives from a Chinese term that refers to the forked shape of the roots, which resembles the legs of a man.

For more than 5,000 years, the Chinese used ginseng for its rejuvenating powers as a highly prized and expensive herb. It was only in the 18th century that American ginseng was discovered and became widely cultivated and exported.

Herbalists consider ginseng to be an adaptogen. It helps the individual regain balance and provides energy and prevents fatigue. Ginseng stimulates physical and mental activity, especially in people who are weak and tired.

In addition to providing an energy boost, both Asian and American ginseng lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, reduce stress, promote relaxation, and enhance sexual function in men and menopausal women. Korean research in 2002 revealed that 60 per cent of men who took ginseng noticed an improvement in their erectile dysfunction. One study from the Mayo Clinic revealed that ginseng specifically reduced fatigue in cancer patients.


Tang Kuei/Dong Quai


If ginseng is the premier male Chinese herb, then tang kuei is its high ranked female counterpart. This powerful root is famous in China for its amazing health benefits for all, but especially women. Tang kuei regulates the female menstrual cycle, works wonders for menopausal symptoms, helps to tone the female reproductive organs, and builds the blood in women who tend to be anaemic.

As it is also a good pain reliever, muscle relaxant and sedative, men also benefit from using tang kuei, especially in a tablet called Tang Kuei Plus where it is combined with another relaxing herb, chamomile.


Medicinal mushrooms


Traditional Chinese medicine has used mushrooms for thousands of years, and practitioners in China prescribe more than 200 species of mushrooms. However, three mushrooms - Shiitake, Reishi and Maitake have been most researched.

Shiitake mushrooms: The shiitake mushroom is one of the most popular medicinal mushrooms that Asians use as a stimulant to boost health, prevent strokes, and improve circulation. Shiitake mushrooms contain a substance called beta-glucans that has been shown to reduce the side effects of common anti-cancer treatments. In Japan, beta-glucans has been approved for use in cancer patients having chemotherapy.

Reishi mushrooms: Chinese medicine routinely utilises reishi mushrooms for their antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and immune strengthening abilities. Reishi mushrooms are considered particularly beneficial for heart and prostate health and for fighting cancer. Western medicine is now researching reishi mushrooms to treat hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, muscular dystrophy and prostate cancer. Reishi mushrooms also have a calming effect and promote restful sleep.

Maitake mushrooms: Maitake mushrooms are popularly used in the Orient to strengthen and improve general health and to manage emotional and physical stress. Modern research shows that the maitake mushrooms enhance the immune system, help stop tumour growth, and can make some chemotherapy drugs more effective and reduce dosage.

Additionally, maitake mushrooms may help individuals with high blood pressure, prostate cancer, HIV infections and diarrhoea.

I recommend the regular use of all these amazing health-enhancing herbs from China.

n You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available on his website