I think the term “super food” can be really misleading, as if something as complex as health could just come out of a bottle. In reality, “super food” is a marketing term invented to increase sales. The fact is, promoting health and wellness is a function of an overall healthy lifestyle that involves good food, good sleep, good digestion, good elimination, adequate rest, and healthy mental attitude/culture. Good genes are a big bonus.

Having said all this, I would be the first to admit that there are some foods that definitely have specialized medicinal properties, and that by virtue of their being very high in some positive nutritional quality deserve the sobriquet “super food.”

In fact, the line between food as medicine and medicinal foods is quite porous in Chinese medicine. For example Ginseng and Dang Guy are in our Chinese Materia Medica as herbal medicines, and as such can be taken in extracted forms. But they can also be cooked with beef in soup. And in a way, beef is as much a super food as green tea! It is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B12 and a good source of selenium, zinc, iron, phosphorus and B vitamins. All in one food! Super!

For a weak cold person recovering from illness, or for a woman with heavy bleeding during menstruation, beef is excellent. I would cook it with Chinese herbs, or with dried fruits and spices, Iranian style. The problems associated in people’s minds with red meat are really not innate to red meat itself, rather they are problems of industrialized agriculture, and gluttony. Ayurveda is absolutely not historically an advocate of vegetarianism. Meat is a tonic food for building strength. We are hunter gatherers in evolutionary terms. But that does not mean it’s healthy to eat antibiotic and hormone contaminated meat from animals raised indoors two to three times a day 7 days a week. But eating free range, hormone free, red meat once or twice a month with vegetables and spices with all the 6 flavors can be really valuable for most people.

On the other hand, something as simple as the humble cabbage is also a miracle super food. Fermented into raw sauerkraut or kim-chee, it is full of “pro-biotic” healthy bacterias. Raw, steamed, or stir fried, it is very high in Vitamin C, high in some B vitamins, omega 3’s and minerals, a powerful anti-carcinogenic, and full of fiber that promotes healthy bowel transit.

Chinese nutritional therapy says that “grains are for energy, flesh foods for strength, and vegetables are to keep us clean.” Americans spend a gazillion dollars a year on laxatives, radical cleanses and detoxifications that actually weaken their digestive tracts over the long term. Some people bounce back and forth between unhealthy diets low in vegetables and high in alcohol, sugar, wheat and dairy, and “ultimate cleanse” type products that treat the digestive tract like a sewer. Actually your digestive tract is a finely tuned internal combustion engine. If you use clean gasoline, you won’t need to flush it out.

If you feel like you need a cleanse; change your diet instead. If you don’t need a cleanse; then don’t use one. See my next article on the anti-cancer properties of cabbage and other cruciferous vegetables for more details.

Just look at the Chinese. Even with all the flesh foods they consume, they have very high rates of health and longevity, with very low rates of obesity. What is the secret? Its not bear gall bladder or even ginseng. Just go to any Chinese or Vietnamese market and see the biggest aisle in the produce department—green leafy vegetables. Nature’s cheapest super food. And getting back to the issue of constipation, in Chinese medicine the laxative formulas are all designed for constipation caused by illness and aging. I think it’s really a rare problem in traditional Chinese culture for young and middle aged folk. Very different from in Europe and the USA.

What this suggests is that the healthier your overall diet is, the greater will be your health. What is missing in lots of people’s diets is regular consistent consumption of cruciferous and other vegetables, especially of the green variety. Does anyone know any grilled soy cheese vegans?

But I digress. This is supposed to be about tea. Tea is one of the super foods, in that it is very high in antioxidants called poly-phenols. (I have read, by the way, that poly-phenols are very time sensitive. That green tea, for example, loses most of its anti-oxidant value after only 30 minutes. So don’t kid yourself. That high sugar green tea drink in the bottle with the lizard is just another soft drink.)

In addition, all tea aids digestion. Oolong tea is used in China and Japan to clear the kind of stagnation out of the stomach that is associated with acne. All tea has natural fluoride, good for the teeth. The British, whose diet is no better and maybe even worse than ours, have less heart disease. It is posited that their may be a cardiovascular benefit to tea, as the Brits are famous tea drinkers.

But there is a kind of tea I would like to discuss that is only recently getting press in the west, and it is called Pu-erh in Mandarin Chinese, or Bo Le in Cantonese dialect.

Pu-erh teas are known in China as “medicinal teas”. They are harvested from the large leaf species of broad leaf tea trees found in Yunnan, China, where lots of Chinese medicines are grown, also. These trees are believed to be an older variety of the modern, smaller leafed tea bush that green and black teas come from. They grow to about 15 feet, and some pu-erh trees are quite ancient, evidently the oldest known tree is over 2000 years old!

Pu-erh leaves are processed differently than green tea leaves. They are double fermented and oxidized similar to an oolong tea, but not as long as black tea. The leaves are then dried loose or compressed into tea bricks, tea cakes or “Tuo chas” that look like bird nests. The tea cakes are often aged in caves to develop their particularly earthy flavor.

Pu-erh tea has yet to be researched to the same degree as green tea, but what we do know is that pu-erh tea has unique benefits that the other teas do not. It is thought that pu-erh tea’s unique double fermentation creates unique enzymes and microbes that may be similar to the healthy bacteria found in other fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt. In particular, pu-erh helps decrease blood cholesterol levels and improves fat metabolism.

In fact, Pu-er is a favorite traditional tea served at Dim Sum. That may be because it stimulates the digestion and helps digest the greasy food served at Dim Sum. Since Dim Sum tends to be warming and can create too much heat, Pu Erh is often combined with Chrysanthemum at Dim Sum. Next time you eat Dim Sum, when the waiter tries to give you the jasmine tea he expects a westerner to favor, ask for Bo Lay Juk Fa. That is Cantonese for Pu erh with Ju hua/Chrysanthemum.

Pu Erh is an excellent tea for coffee drinkers trying to cut down, as it is characterized by rich, deep, complex, malty, earthy flavors. One small Chinese size cup of pu-erh tea with each meal may even stimulate weight loss by stimulating the digestive fire and helping your body eliminate “dampness.” Try the “Pu-erh Diet”. Drink 1 cup with each meal for one month and decide for yourself.

There is an enormous variety of Pu-erh available on line in both loose leaf and compressed forms. The loose leaf is easy to measure and generally milder tasting. The compressed Tuo cha and brick tea are usually heartier tasting. They are my favorite, as they develop a real malty flavor the longer they sit. Unlike green tea they do not become bitter when left for a long time. In fact, using a small Japanese 4 oz. tea pot and one small 1 inch “tuo cha” cake, the first serving is a bit light, but then the second serving is rich and deep, as the third even more so. I even get a light fourth and fifth serving later on.

From the standpoint of Chinese Medicine, Pu-erh tea has a lot of “earth” energy. That in itself means that it builds or benefits the digestive tract and is grounding, as the earth energy relates to digestion and building of qi. I find green tea to be very “wood” in its nature: which gives it a sharp, cutting, quick moving qi. I love green tea after Sushi for that reason, but at other times I find green tea too sharp, and it can even affect me caffeine-wise worse than coffee. Pu-erh, through its aging with enzymes, has more earth qi, is mellower, easier to digest and beneficial for the “spleen/stomach/pancreatic axis.”

From the standpoint of Ayurveda, Pu-erh is good for all three doshas, but especially for Vatta and Pitta types that want to have their tea and drink it too. Whereas the Kapha type can handle and even benefit from that more sharp quality of Green Tea.

Here in San Diego, there is a lovely little tea shop in South Park named Halcyon Tea. All their tea is very fine, the service and atmosphere excellent, and their Pu-erh, which I have had, has a deep earthy fragrance, almost like clay. Their web site is http://blog.halcyontea.com/

There are a few on-line sites for buying Pu-erh tea that are good. One is Tao of Tea, which is sold on Amazon.com in tins, and also through their website (larger variety). http://www.taooftea.com/shop100Puer__Zhuan_Cha_Brick_Tea_Selections.html

Another excellent one is holy mountain tea company http://www.holymtn.com/tea/pu-erhtea.htm.

Thank You, and Bottoms Up!

Ayurveda, Acupuncture, and Chinese Medicine in San Diego

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