Many plants that are commonly grown in American gardens are also “herbs” in the Chinese herbal medicine Materia Medica. I put herbs in parentheses because not all of the “herbs” are truly herbs, some of them are roots, seeds, nuts, animal products and minerals.
In my own garden this year I am growing numerous plants. I have herbs: mint, cilantro, parsley, and basil; edible plants: raspberries, blueberries, apples, cherries, rhubarb, cucumber, kabocha squash, watermelon, zucchini, sugar snap peas, green onion, kale, chard, lettuce, asparagus, napa cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower; and flowers: aloe, peonies, petunias, iris, alyssum. While I did not plant the dandelion in my yard, this abundant herb that so many call weeds, I allow to grow wildly, and use for greens for my family, and for treats for my chickens. Just in my own garden and yard alone, I am growing seven Chinese herbs from the Materia Medica.
Aloe (lu hui) is in the herbal category of Downward-Draining Herbs, particularly used as a laxative. It is bitter and cold, it enters the Large Intestine, Liver and Stomach. Aloe relieves constipation, cools the Liver, and kills parasites. Aloe used as an herb is not the same as aloe vera gel. Aloe used in Chinese medicine is from the outer leaf of the plant. Aloe vera gel is the thin, clear and jelly-like material from inside of the leaves. These have different therapeutic properties. Many of us use the aloe gel for treating burns or acne topically.
Dandelion (pu gong ying) is in the Clear Heat herbal category. This common herb is bitter, sweet and cold, it clears heat, resolves toxicity, and facilitates urination. Dandelion can be used both internally and externally for breast abscesses. It is especially good for treating sores that are hard and deep-rooted. It is also helpful for redness and swelling of the eyes, for a painful throat, and for lung abscesses. With its’ widespread uses and general ability to “detox” it is a shame so many find it to be a pest
Green Onion (cong bai) is another herb in the category of Release the Exterior. It is acrid and warm, and is used to induce sweating in the earliest stages of an externally contracted wind-cold (common cold). It enters the Lung and Stomach channels and unblocks yang qi. Green onion is also used sores and abscesses when mixed with honey and applied topically
Mint (bo he) is in the herbal category of Herbs that Release the Exterior. It is cool, acrid, and aromatic. It enters the Lung and Liver channels in Chinese medicine. Mint clears upper burner wind-heat, cools and clears the eyes and head, soothes the throat, moves Liver qi and expels turbidity. It is good for patterns with fever, cough, headache, red eyes and sore throat. Used with other herbs, it has strengthened ability for exterior wind-heat patterns, Liver qi stagnation patterns and gastric disturbances.
Peony root (shao yao) is in two different categories dependent upon the color. Red peony root (chi shao) is in the category of Regulate the Blood. Red peony root is sour, bitter, and slightly cold, it invigorates the blood, stops pain and dispels blood stasis. White peony root (bai shao) is in the category of Tonifying Herbs. White peony root is sour, bitter, and mildly cold, it nourishes the blood, softens the Liver and nourishes Liver blood, stops pain and regulates menstruation. Both are frequently used for menstrual disorders. Red peony root is also used for other types of bleeding, including blood in the urine, and for red, swollen and painful eyes. White peony root is used for many deficiency conditions, including: dizziness, blurred vision, numbness of extremities, muscle spasms, flank pain, chest pain, or abdominal pain, and even night sweats.
Rhubarb root (da huang) is a Downward-Draining Herb, particularly as a purgative. It is used in excess conditions. Rhubarb root is bitter and cold, purging clumped heat in the intestines. It enters the Heart, Large Intestine, Liver and Stomach channels. It also removes blood stasis, and when charred, stops bleeding. This herb is very strong and can damage Stomach qi. It is used to treat constipation, diarrhea from a blockage in the intestines, and sores and abscesses.
Watermelon (xi gua) is in the herbal category of Herbs that Clear Heat. It is sweet, cold and bland. It enters the Bladder, Heart and Stomach channels. Watermelon fruit resolves summer-heat and irritability, stops thirst, facilitates urination and clears Lung and Stomach heat. In excess, watermelon injures the Spleen and increases dampness in the body. Watermelon rind has other qualities, such as being less cold, but superior as a diuretic, helping to treat edema.
The Chinese Materia Medica has hundreds of herbs and substances within it. Many of you may have even more Chinese herbs in your own garden. Other popular flowers that are used commonly in Chinese medicine that many of you may have adorning your yards are: chrysanthemum (ju hua), gardenia (zhi zi), honeysuckle (jin yin hua), and magnolia (xin yi hua). These beautiful and fragrant flowers have fantastic healing properties, clearing heat to treat the common cold and red eyes (chrysanthemum), opening the nose to treat nasal congestion (magnolia flower), treating fever and painful urination (gardenia), and painful sores and skin eruptions (honeysuckle).
Medicinal herbs and plants are all around us, helping us attain balance and health every day. There are many ways to learn about local medicinal herbs, from a quick internet search, to finding an herbalist or herbal school in your area. Discover what is growing in your yard today.
1. Bensky, D. (Ed.) (2004). Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, 3rd. Edition. Seattle, WA. Eastland Press, Inc.