In Korea, Job’s tears “barley” (Coix lacryma-jobi in Latin, YiYiRen in Mandarin Chinese, Hato Mugi in JapaneseUiin in Korean)– is cooked in with rice during the hot, humid summer months to help alleviate the effects of the hot weather and to remedy the excessive things we sometimes do to cool off from the heat.

In Summer our digestion is actually weaker than in winter.

This seemed counter-intuitive to me, until I studied Ayurveda. Ayuveda explains that in winter, our digestive fire increases, in order to protect us from the cold.

This would explain why the best time to take thick cloying Chinese herbs that reenforce the Kidney Qi is in the early winter. We make heavy stews in Winter because they warm us, but also because we can digest them then.

On the other hand in Summer our body’s energy has risen up from its deep Winter/Kidney Qi roots to the more superficial and surface layers of the the Heart, the muscles and the skin–we sweat a lot, we are more athletic, we make friends easily. It is as if our energy has left the “Spleen and Stomach”–shorthand for digestion and assimilation–and been shunted to the muscular, circulatory, and integumental systems. And because it is so hot, and because they are in season, and refreshing, we eat more cooling fruits, sometimes to excess.

Too much Cold and Sweet Weakens the Digestive Fire and Assimilation

Fruit is great in summer–it is refreshing, sour, sweet, cooling, full of anti-oxidants and vitamins, and replenishes the fluids lost by sweating. The problem is, like any other delicious thing, it is easy to overindulge. Too much of a good thing. What happens?

Too much cold food and too much sweet food has the natural effect of weakening the digestive fire (Agni in Ayurveda, Spleen and Stomach Qi in Chinese Medicine)and in summer the digestive fire is already less strong. If you don’t believe me try overeating watermelon or figs and see how you feel. Look at your tongue the next day.

Weakened Digestive Fire Leads to Pathological Dampness in the Interior Landscape, A Root of Many Diseases

Back in the 1st century C.E. the Chinese classics warned against the excesses of too much sweet fruit in summer, (as well as the importance of engendering good digestion)and described how the weakening of the digestive fire leads to the accumulation of pathological damp conditions in which the body’s ability to separate the “pure from the impure” is impaired.

Now instead of clear extraction we are left with turbidity, manifesting in signs like a greasy tongue coat or swollen enlarged tongue. Symptoms include sluggishness, edema, difficulty losing weight, bad skin, constipation, lymphatic congestion.

The classics also described the direct link between dietary indiscretion in summer and colds, allergies, and asthma in autumn and winter. If you weaken your digestive fire over and over again, come the cold weather, and your furnace cannot fire up as well. And there is toxic sludge everywhere, called Ama in Ayurveda and damp accumulation in Chinese medicine.

Of course nowadays there are far more pernicious evils than too much fruit, like “big gulps” and refrigerated salads consumed year round without any regard to the season. This consistent chilling of the interior landscape of the body is a very significant factor for a wide array of health issues from menstrual pain to sinus problems to acne to autoimmune disorders.

Job’s Tears–Cleansing, Strengthening, Cooling

In Chinese medicine Job’s tears are considered bland and cool, but not cold. Most bland herbs have a diuretic effect, so they rid the body of excessive dampness directly. But Job’s tears also “strengthen the spleen”, which is shorthand for improving the process of digestion and assimilation.

The great thing about Job’s tears is that in addition to improving digestion and assimilation directly, it also works to eliminate the excess sticky dampness that “gums up the works,” and that impairs the function of the furnace of metabolism, called the “triple burner” in Chinese Medicine which includes the lymphatic system, digestion, absorption in the intestines, and intracellular communication itself.

Cold and Food Stagnation

Often, when there is too much cold damp food one develops “food stagnation.” Because the stomach is warm it then overheats. Bad breath can be an important symptom here. Job’s tears cool bland draining cleansing nature help alleviate this problem.

Other medicinal uses of Job’s tears are to reduce inflammation in damp swellings, arthritis and urinary problems; to stabilize blood sugar, and to help control bacterial and fungal infections. It supports radiant skin and is in many herb prescriptions for acne and eczema. All of these indications are a function of Job’s tears bland cooling nature, and its unique properties as an individual herb/food.

Chemically speaking in addition to containing amino acids and B-1, job’s tears have two unique “active ingredients”, coixol and coixenolide.

Job’s Tears in East and South East Asian Deserts

Job’s tears are used a great deal in South East and East Asian desserts, as well. If you go to the Vietnamese market you will see it in some of the plastic cup deserts with things like grass jelly, mung dal, coconut milk, and other Chinese medicinal/Food herbs like Lotus Seed. Traditional Asian deserts tend to be high in nutritional value, and were eaten according to the season. I bet in the past when sugar was not such a cheap commodity, they were not so sweet, either.


To make the Shalom version of Korean style summer rice, (you can just make it plain, which is what I do sometimes).


1 cup short grain brown rice

1/4 cup Mugi/YiYiRen/Uliin/Job’s Tears

1 small 2″ piece Kombu Sea Vegetable or a handful of Hijiki sea vegetable

2 slices fresh ginger root

4-5 previously soaked dried Shitake Mushroom

2.5 to 3 cups water

Wash the rice and barley well and then soak for an hour or overnight.

Discard soak water.

Combine all the ingredients in a pot, bring to the boil, and cook with a lid on a medium flame till done.

Season with

– a dash or two of Ume plum vinegar

– 1 tsp or more shoyu or wheat free tamari soy sauce

– some white or black pepper

– a tablespoon chopped scallion

Note: I always eyeball the water; depending on your pot and stove you may need more or less. The rice is done when it is well cooked, you can press a grain between your fingers and it does not resist, the inside is creamy. The job’s tears will be chewy.

Serve With

Miso Soup

Broiled Salmon or Mackeral, Sashimi, or Broiled Tempeh.

Tofu is also very good cooked in with the Rice.

Steamed Dandelion Greens or any Chinese green

Stir fried bean sprouts

Job’s Tears in Soup.

Job’s tears is excellent in soups, too. I like using it in place of normal barley in Jewish style Mushroom Barley soup. It is also excellent, for the same reasons it is good in summer, with heavy warming Winter soups involving meat; it helps digest the heavy meaty oily food.

Job’s Tears in Porridge or Juk

Shi Fan, or “Rice Water” porridge is called Juk in Cantonese and i believe Jo in Korean, or not. Porridges are served for breakfast in China and have a huge adaptablility for combining with other grains, like Job’s tears, and with other herbs and meats and vegetables. Years ago, when I taught Eastern Nutrition at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, everyone in my class had to prepare one Juk dish for the final exam. It was amazing the array of dishes brought in, about half of which were really excellent.

Bob Flaw’s Blue Poppy press has a book called The Book of Juk, full of recipes and some of the history of this dish.

It is typically made with rice, but, for example, someone with bad skin could make Rice porridge with pearl barley and oolong tea with ginger for breakfast. For protein you can eat it with some egg, or cook it with soy milk or goat’s milk. Much much better than cold cereal with cold milk.

Where to Buy

You can buy non-organic grown in China Job’s tears at any Chinese, Japanese or Korean market. You may find an organic version, but even the organic ones seem to be grown in China. If it is a good certification authority, then I would tend to trust it. I would not eat anything non-organic non-tested grown in China these days, due to both pollution and adulteration. I only sell herbs in my clinic that are grown in China if they are tested on this end and I get to see the reports myself.

According to the Eden Foods website (Eden Foods is an excellent food company whose products I generally trust).

“Job’s tears is one of the few non hybridized grains available today. It has excellent nutritional composition, high in carbohydrates, potassium, protein and fiber and low in fat. A commercial domestic crop of Job’s tears has not yet been developed and as a whole grain it has limited availability in the U.S.

Hopefully one of these days organic farmers will grow this, but there is so little demand of yet.

I have seen Eden organic job’s tears at the health food store, and Gold Mine Foods in San Diego also ships online Organic Job’s tears are ridiculously expensive, I think Gold Mine is appropriately named because the owners must own one; it is a great natural foods source but at insane prices. But its still worth getting as you don’t need to use that much at a time, and the benefits are great.

I have a feeling that ambitious gardeners could grow their own. Here is an excerpt from a website that seems to suggest Thomas Jefferson and plenty others grew it here in the U.S.A. But were they grown for food or decoration? There is someone in Hawaii growing her own and selling, again, for necklaces. Hmm.

This tropical Asian grass was introduced into Europe by the late 1500s and illustrated in Gerard’s Herbal (1633). Job’s Tears is listed in Philadelphia nurseryman Bernard McMahon’s 1806 American Gardener’s Calendar and was considered old-fashioned by the end of the nineteenth century. Hard, shiny, bead-like clusters of seeds from at the tips of the stems, which can be strung for necklaces. Prefers full sun or light shade. Plant after last frost in spring.

copyright eyton shalom, san diego ca august 2011 all rights reserved use with permission

Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego

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