INGREDIENTS IN CHINESE MEDICINE
ginseng roots Traditional Chinese Medicine doctors say that Chinese medicine almost never uses individual plants or minerals. The most sophisticated part of Chinese medicine, Liu Changhua, a professor of history at the China Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences told the New York Times involves formulas of 10 to 20 herbs or minerals that a practitioner adjusts weekly after a consultation with a patient. And yet almost no research has been done on how these formulas actually interact with the body, he said.“ [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, October 10, 2015]
Herbs and plants used in Chinese medicine include black bamboo, whose juice is used to treat kidney ailments, prickly heat and bring down fevers; “dong quai”, an herb that reputedly stimulates normal menstrual flow and prevents cramping; and “ganoderma”, an expensive mushroom used in expensive anti-wrinkle creams. Licorice is a common ingredient in many Chinese medicine tonics.
The “Rauwolfia verticillate”, a plant native to China, yields reserpine, used to produce tranquilizers and drugs to treat both hypertension and schizophrenia. Usnea, a lichen similar to Spanish moss, is used as an antibiotic and a treatment for gynecological disorders in China. A substance found in Chinese cucumbers has showed promise as a treatment for AIDS.
Tamiflu, a popular drug used to treat all kinds of influenza, is derived from star anise, a common seasoning in Chinese cuisine. In 2009, sales of Tamiflu was over $2.9 billion. Capsaicin extracted from chili peppers grown in China is used to make a drug made by the company Bioglan Pharma called Zostrix. It relieves arthritic pain by depleting substance P, the brains pain messenger.
Snake Oil and Chinese Medicines Purported to Fight Cancer
Peter Gwin wrote in National Geographic: “Long synonymous with swindling, snake oil actually refers to a traditional Chinese ointment derived from the fat of the Erabu sea snake. Historians believe that such ointments were introduced to the U.S. during the 1800s by Chinese immigrants building railroads, who used them to treat aching joints and muscles. The substance acquired its shady reputation when American hucksters began selling mineral oil as Chinese snake oil. But here’s the rub: Studies have shown that fat in the Erabu sea snake, an ingredient in some traditional Chinese remedies, contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than salmon. Omega-3s are known to reduce inflammation and harmful cholesterol, improve cognition, and help alleviate depression. They are now used in several skin care products. In the 2000s Japanese scientists fed Erabu fat to mice and observed that their ability to swim and to learn their way around mazes improved. [Source: Peter Gwin, National Geographic, January 2019] Chinese “kombucha” mushrooms were once promoted as cancer fighters but they have caused a number of people to be hospitalized for conditions such as jaundice, headaches and nausea. Seaweed has also been heralded as cancer killer
The Chinese skullcap — known as Huang-Qin — is a member of the mint family and native to China. It has traditionally been used for liver and lung problems. The root is used in combination with other plants to treat fever. In 2016, the BBC reported: “ Scientists have discovered that the plant uses a special pathway to make chemicals with potential cancer-fighting properties. They say it is a step towards being able to scale up production to make new drugs. [Source: BBC, April 9, 2016] published in Science Advances.
“Prof Cathie Martin, of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, is lead researcher of the study, Working in collaboration with Chinese scientists, her team deduced how the plant, Scutellaria baicalensi, synthesises the chemicals, known as flavones. Flavones are found widely in the plant kingdom, giving some plants vivid blue flowers. "Understanding the pathway should help us to produce these special flavones in large quantities, which will enable further research into their potential medicinal uses," said Prof Martin. "It's exciting to consider that the plants which have been used as traditional Chinese remedies for thousands of years may lead to effective modern medicines."
“Previous lab research suggests that flavones have anti-cancer properties, offering hope that they may one day lead to effective cancer treatments. Commenting on the study, Dr Alan Worsley of Cancer Research UK, said: "This paper answers a very interesting biological question about how these plants are able to make particular molecules, but the study doesn't look at whether the molecules can be used to treat cancer. "Instead it looks at how this compound is made in nature, which may allow scientists to make more of it in the lab and be able to research its potential uses."
Endangered Chinese Medicinal Plant
ginseng plant Chinese goldthread (Neopicrorhiza scrophulariiflora) is a famous tradition medical herb in China. It has a long history of use in TCM and distinctive medical effect. As a result, it has great economic value. Wild Chinese goldthread has become very rare because of longtime and large-scale collection. Now, nearly all Chinese goldthread sold in markets is artificially planted.[Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]
Astragalus (astragulus membranaceu) is widely used in TCM and agriculture. Its rhizome immersed 10 times of water inhibits the the growth of the potato blight. A vulnerable species, it is mainly found in northern areas of China. Because of longtime over collection, the number of astragalus plants has decreased in the wild and therefore is grown mainly in plantations.
Dysosmatis is a common folk Chinese medicine. Its rhizome and root contain xylans like podophyllotoxin, dehydropodophyllotoxin, deoxypodophyllotoxin that inhibits animal tumors. However, these xylans are poisonous. Clinically, dysosmatis is used in treating snakebites, skin and external diseases and mastadenoma. Because of its unusual leaf shape, it is also used as an ornamental plant. Although the dysosmatis plant has a relatively wide distribution, it grows sparsely. Its rhizome and roots are collected only from wild dysosmatis, and as a result, both the areas in which it is found and its number have decreased sharply. The dysosmatis urgently awaits protection.
Tall gastrodia (Gastrodia elata) is precious Chinese medicine ingredient used to treat many diseases. Its honey fungus can also be used in medicine. As a saprophytic parasitic plant, it has some value to the study of the phylogeny of the orchidaceae. Tall gastrodia is now widely planted in farms. However, the natural resources of the gastrodia is quite limited, because longtime collection and over-logging has severely destroyed the natural environment of the species. In some areas, the tall gastrodia is under the risk being wiped out. The plant is mainly found on the fringes of glades in the broad-leaved forests or bamboo forests. Tall gastrodia is rarely seen in thickly-shadowed forests. It prefers a soil with moderate rainfall and thick a humus horizon.
Eucommia (Cortex Eucommiae) is the only member of eucommia family. It has great value to researches studying the phylogenetic evolution of the angiosperm and its bark is also a famous Chinese medicine. Due to over-logging, improper barking and poor natural regeneration ability, wild cortex eucommias are rarely seen. If protection of natural wildlife resources and forestation measures are not enforced and barking methods not improved, the eucommia may well become critically endangered.
Ginseng — a plant that grows primarily in China, Korea, Canada and the United States — is one of the most common Chinese herbal remedies and an ingredient of many traditional concoctions. Found primarily in forests, the ginseng plant grows from 8 to 16 inches high and has five-sectioned leaves red berries and yellow-green flowers. Medicines are made from the roots, which range in length from 10 to 20 centimeters (four to eight inches). Ginseng comes in two main varieties: 1) Asian ginseng, regarded as “hot” (a mild stimulant) in Chinese medicine; and 2) American ginseng, regarded as “cool” (a calming tonic) in Chinese medicine. Both contain compounds known as ginsenosides but in different proportions. These days the American variety is often more expensive than the Asian variety.
Ginseng has been used by the Chinese for over 5,000 years and has been called the “elixir of life." Its Latin name Panax quinquefolius means “cure-all.” Ginseng plants take six years to mature. When clusters of scarlet berries appear the roots are ready to be dug up. There are various grades of ginseng, with the best coming from wild plants. Single wild ginseng roots are sometimes worth tens of thousands of dollars. The value of ginseng is often determined by the shapes of the roots. Odd shapes that resemble human forms, animals or auspicious signs are the most valuable.
Ginseng is commonly served in tea or added to soups. One ginseng user in Beijing who says she drinks slices of the root in hot water when she I anxious or cannot sleep told AP, “It tastes kind of bitter but also sweet. I don’t take it all the time just when I think of it, and it seems to work. I often feel better the next day.” Another user steeps pre cut ginseng root in a bottle with grain alcohol and takes a shot in the evening to help him relax before bed.
Ginseng tastes like a bitter radish when it is eaten plain. It is sold as a powder, extract and tea and is an ingredient in energy drinks, tablets, tonics, creams and other products. Studies have shown that many products that purportedly contain ginseng have little or no ginseng in them. Many people feel nothing when they take ginseng. Others say they feel a lot. In 1713, a Jesuit missionary in China wrote, “I found my Pulse much fuller and quicker. I had an appetite, and found myself much more vigorous.”
Health Benefits of Ginseng
According to the Beijing government: Ginseng is a kind of plant from the rose family. It is found in the highlands where the altitude is above 3,700 meters. It is rich in protein and many kinds of amino acids needed by the human body, as well as vitamin B2, B6, C, A, and E. Its most outstanding characteristics over other foodstuffs are that it contains selenium, with organic selenium of 92.71 mg/g, 100 times higher than ordinary foodstuffs. It is the opinion of experts that the nutrition content of ginseng surpasses that of panax quinqueforlium. Selenium has bi-directional regulating functions: cancer prevention, anti-cancer, anti-senescence, detoxification, radiation prevention as well as vision protection. It can also prevent hepatitis B, and is conducive for fertility and growth in babies. [Source: chinaculture.org, Chinadaily.com.cn, Ministry of Culture, P.R.China]
Ginseng is said to promote virility, boost the immune system, help digestion, increase stamina, help users resist stress and make people live longer. It is used to treat drowsiness, upset stomachs, lack of sexual desire and is prescribed as a stimulant, an aphrodisiac, hangover remedy, fatigue reliever, and a treatment for about everything. It is sometimes prescribed to control the blood sugar levels of diabetics and regulate hormone levels. It also offers hope as a cancer treatment.
Some studies show that ginseng can increase stamina, endurance and resistance to stress but it can also cause high blood pressure. Other studies have shown it is no more of an energy inducer than sugar pills Yet other studies have shown it does have cancer-fighting “antioxidant properties” and can lower blood sugar in Type II diabetes. Ginseng stimulates the sex drive of laboratory rats and appears to prevent breast cancer cells from reproducing. It is believed to stimulate brain cells and endocrine glands in humans. According to studies done in Russia ginseng "increases sexual energy and has a general healing and rejuvenating influence on the body."
Books: “Ginseng: the Divine Root” by David A. Taylor (Algonquin, 2006)
Wild Ginseng and Farm-Grown Ginseng
Ginseng is a slow-growing temperamental plant that is difficult to grow and even more difficult to profit from because the most valuable roots are the oldest ones. In Korea it grown under plastic tarpaulins. Most ginseng produced in the U.S. is sold to China. Ginseng is found in the leaf mold of damp forests and is easiest to find in the autumn. Scientists are worried that too many ginseng roots are being dug for quick money before they have a chance to release their seeds.
Wild ginseng roots shaped like a man's body are one of the most expensive Chinese medicine, selling for as much as $20,000 an ounce. As a rule wild ginseng is much more valuable than farm-grown ginseng. In the mid 1990s the wholesale price of wild ginseng doubled to $500 a pound. At the time cultivated ginseng was selling for only $25 to $40 a pound.
Wild ginseng from North America is sometimes referred to as "green gold." It was discovered by a French Jesuit who lived among the Iroquois Indians and has been exported to China since the 18th century. The American root is said to have a more relaxing and less energizing affect than its Asian counterpart. Smoky Mountains National Park is a center of ginseng poaching in the U.S. In the early 2000s, when demand was high in Asia with price reaching over $2,000 a kilograms the plants are quickly disappearing from the North Carolina park. [Source: David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2013]
In West Virginia some ginseng harvesters have learned how to plant wild ginseng seeds and harvest the roots years later. In Virginia farmers guard their precious plants with surveillance cameras, motion detectors and shotguns. Almost 11,000 pound of wild ginseng root was harvested in Virginia in 1994 A lot is also grown on farms in British Columbia
A lot of Western ginseng is produced in Wisconsin. The roots from there are regarded as relatively high quality in part because the roots are short and stubby and the soil it is grown is uncontaminated with DDT. Of late Wisconsin ginseng has had problems as counterfeiters have slapped a Wisconsin label on inferior ginseng to boost the price. About 90 percent o the 300,000 kilograms of American ginseng grown each year is produced n Wisconsin. In recent years the bottom has fallen out the Wisconsin ginseng market. The number of farmers that grow it fell from 1,500 in the early 1990s, when the Chinese bought nearly everything they produced, to around 150 in 2010, when the Chinese where much pickier and demanding of good quality stuff. In that time the price has fallen from around $132 a kilogram to $52 a kilogram.
The term “Xinyang shen” (“Western ginseng”) has become a catch all term that includes Wisconsin root, Canadian imports and other varieties of American ginseng cultivated in China. Bottles of Western ginseng sell for about $44 a piece in Chinese medicine shop in Beijing. The American-Chinese ginseng trade dates back to at least 1784 when trading ships sailed from New York to Canton (today’s Guangzhou) loaded with 30 tons of ginseng roots.
“Ginkgo biloba” is an anti-toxicant that increases oxygenation and blood circulation by thinning the blood. It reportedly improves memory, delays progression of early Alzheimer's disease, lessens the effects of aging and helps poor circulation and impotence.
Ginkgo is oldest tree species (a form of the ginkgo first emerged about 300 million years ago). It once thrived along the Pacific rim but died out in the Ice Age everywhere but China. The gingko tree has lovely fan-shaped leaves that turn bright yellow in autumn and stay that way to early winter. Ginkgo biloba is sacred to Buddhist and a familiar sight at temples in Japan and China. The tree now grows throughout Europe and North America.
Ginkgo-based drug are widely used in Asia. Dried leaf extract made from gingko biloba is sold in tablets and capsules as a treatment for age-related memory loss. Americans spend more than $240 million a year for remedies made with ginko. Studies have shown that gingko has little effect on the memory and mental abilities on normal, healthy people but does help slow the rate of mental decay in people with Alzheimer’s disease.
Ginko biloba is being subjected to a careful study that involves 3,000 patients over the age 75 in four states in the United States to see if it slows the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. The study will be completed in 2010. Among the things revealed so far is that 75 percent of gingko bilboa medicines sampled had minimal amounts of the active ingredient.
Ginkgo may offer some help minimizing brain damage caused by a stroke in animals. Mice given daily doses of gingko biloba extract before having a laboratory-induced stroke suffered only about half the damage of animals who were not given it according to research at Johns Hopkins University. Mice give ginkgo extract immediately after a stroke also suffered less brain damage. This was significant in that generally little can be done to help stroke victims after they have suffered a stroke.
Gingko raises levels of heme oxygenase-1, or HO-1, which is an enzyme that acts as an antioxidant to protect against cell damage caused by “free radicals” — toxic oxygen molecules released by cells under stress.
Ma huang (Ephedra)
“Ma huang”, also known as ephedra, is an herb that contains the drug ephedrine, a mild stimulant that is used to increase energy, control weight and create a mild high. Derived from the leaves of a Chinese plant used for at least 2,000 years to treat respiratory ailments and breathing problems. Ephedrine is the main ingredient in many asthma treatments, is used in legal highs like Herbal Ecstacy, Cloud nine, Xtacy and can be used with other chemicals to methamphetamine.
In the United States, ephedra (Ma Huang) was banned when unregulated American Supplement makers promoting Ma Huang for a purpose which it was never designed for (Weight-loss). The "chinese medicines" themselves have not been banned. A specific herb has been banned: Ephedra ("Ma Huang"). But, there is an exemption in the U.S. Federal Drug Administration (FDA) ruling which exempts practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine from using it:
According to the final FDA ruling on Ephedra in "Traditional Asian Medicine": “Several Ephedra species (including those known as ma huang) have a long history of use in traditional Asian medicine. These products are beyond the scope of this rule because they are not marketed as dietary supplements.”
Qinghao (Sweet Wormwood) Malaria Treatment
Artemisinin, a drug developed by Chinese scientists from the extract of the sweet wormwood or “qinghao” plant, is the most effective new malaria treatment, curing 90 percent patients in three days with no significant side effects. Artemisia comes from a six-foot-tall plant that grows in China and Vietnam and originated from the Luofushan area of Guangdong Province in China. No one knows how it was first discovered. It was prescribed as hemorrhoid treatment in the 2nd century B.C. medical treatise “Fifty-Two Remedies” and described by Ge Heng (283-363), a Taoist priest preoccupied with the search for elixirs of immortality. In his Book of Emergency Medicine Ge wrote that patients suffering from high fever are advised to “take a handful of sweet wormwood, soak it in a sheng [about 1 liter] of water, squeeze the juice and drink it all.”
The Chinese first synthesized artemisinin in 1979. They had given the qinq hao plant to the Vietnamese who used it when they were fighting the Americans in the Vietnam War. The West first became aware of artemisinin in 1985 when Science published an article that described the drug’s success treating several thousand Chinese malaria sufferers. Even though China is the solo source of sweet wormwood, it sells the plant to Novarsis, who makes and distributes anti-malaria drug at cost, rather than developing drugs itself.
Angles Tranopet — China’s First Narcotic and Anaesthetic
Angles Tranopet (Darura stramonium linn) has been used as to create narcosis ( a state of stupor, unconsciousness, or arrested activity usually associated with narcotics) for at least 2000 years in China. During the Period of Three Kingdoms, based on medicines that make patients feel dizzy, the famous Chinese surgeon, Hua Tuo developed a medicine named "Ma Fu San" that he used in head operations. [Source: Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn]
All the anesthetic medicines used in ancient China are traditionally to have their origins in angles tranopet but documents before the Song Dynasty did not name angles tranopet but records and descriptions in ancient literature and documents appears to demonstrate that angles tranopet was the major ingredient for making anesthetics.
Angles tranopet has many other names. Its major contents are belladonna, scopolamine and small amounts of bit atropine. Its major effect is to relax the muscles, and to restrict the secretion of the sweat glands, hence its the ancient name "Meng Han Yao" (meaning to “control sweat”). Since the 1970s, the Chinese traditional anesthetics made with angles tranopet as the major material have drawn international attention and has been studied in more than 200,000 clinical cases.
Angles tranopet can also be used to treat illness. Its leaves, flowers and seeds have medicinal qualities but can also be poisonous. The flowers show promise mitigating pains and treating rheumatism. The leaves and seeds have been used instead of codeine to stop pain. Since the flowers of angles tranopet are quite poisonous, the Chinese government prohibits its sales. Angles tranopet grows in widely scattered temperate zone and the tropical areas and is found in all provinces in China.
Ganoderma is a genus of polypore fungi (usually grilled mushrooms that grow on tree bark. There are about 80 species, many from tropical regions but from other places as well. They have a high genetic diversity and are used in traditional Asian medicines. Ganoderma are also called shelf mushrooms or bracket fungi. [Source: Wikipedia]
Ganoderma lucidum (a kind of of Ganoderma), or lingzhi in Chinese, is one of most precious herbal drugs in Chinese medicine as it is believed to help the human body build up resistance to diseases. It is found in limited distribution in Europe and parts of China, where it grows on decaying hardwood trees. According to the Chinese government: It contains various amino acids, microelements as well as over 100 chemical components such as lingzhi amylase, three-terpene compounds, nucleotide, biological alkali and enzymes. In ancient times, lingzhi was classified as "superior herb" or "God's herb," since it could "grant people eternal youth and longevity." Modern medical experiments have proved that lingzhi is capable of improving immunity, memory, regulating blood pressure, protecting liver, relieving cough and delaying aging.
Specifically, lingzhi can improve: 1) cholesterosis, coronary function; 2) hyper and hypotensions; nervous tension, neurosis; 3) chronic bronchitis, hepatitis; 4) the leukocytopenia and reticuloendothelial systems; and 5) It is also effective treating numerous other ailments.
The three major killers these days are: cancer, coronary disease, and cerebrosis. The latter two have their etiology closely linked to the circulatory system. Related problems like stroke, heart blockages, and arteriosclerosis, are all tied to problems in circulation. And lingzhi can correct this imbalance and strengthen systems to prevent further deterioration.
Wild Chinese Grass Used as Food and Medicine
Cordate houttuynia is a vivacious herbal plant. It Chinese name means "fishy grass" because its leaves and stalks can give off the smell of fish after rubbing. Cordate houttuynia is found in widely scattered locations in the southern provinces of China. It can also be found in Northwest China, and parts of North China and Tibet. Because wild cordate houttuynia has a strong fishy smell, when people eat it for the first time they generally don’t like it. Commercial development of it has not had so much success. Among its proponents are doctors In Xishuangbanna, cordate houttuynia is a traditional medicinal plant. Traditionally Chinese medicine doctors say it has a cold nature, and has the effects of clearing heat, detumescence, and diurisis. It is often used to cure canker sores, to clear heat, and to cure dropsy and whites. It is also used to treat pulmonary and urinary ailments. [Source: Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net]
Studies of cordate houttuynia have revealed that peculiar fishy smell comes from a chemical in its volatile oil — decanoy acetaldehyde, which has a major antibacterial element. Clinical experiments indicate cordate houttuynia may help treat infections of the upper aspiratory cavity, bronchitis, arthritis, coughs, conjunctivitis and infection of the urethral channel. In addition, cordate houttuynia may improve the immunity of the body and the gulping capacity of the white cells; therefore, it may also has the effects for stopping pains, cough, and bleeding, as well as facilitating the regeneration of tissues, enlarging capillary vessels, and improving blood circulation etc. Cordate houttuynia can be planted as a vegetable. If it is further developed, it can also be used as medicinal materials for manufacturing Western and Chinese medicines; therefore, it may enjoy a broad market prospect in the future.
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Licorice as a Medicine
Licorice, a purple-flowed pulse native to Afghanistan and China, is a key ingredient to many traditional Chinese medicines and natural medicines. Seventy percent of the natural remedies sold in Japan contain licorice (kanzo in Japanese). Among other things it is said that licorice helps the body burn fat. China is the world’s largest producer of licorice. Since around 2000 the Chinese government has limited the harvesting and export of licorice. This has driven up prices. The production of it quadrupled between 2005 and 2010. Worried about supply cut offs Japanese firms have begin cultivating their own licorice.
The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: Japanese "companies making Chinese herbal medicine are stepping up efforts to ensure a stable supply of licorice, whose import price has increased by about 50 percent between 2008 and 2013. The price rise is due to tightened regulations on the harvest and export of licorice imposed by leading licorice producer China for resource protection reasons. Licorice is a kind of legume. It is the raw material in as many as 500 kinds of Chinese herbal medicine. Licorice is considered a "rare plant" for which high-volume cultivation is difficult. More than 90 percent of the licorice used for Chinese herbal medicine in Japan in 2013 was imported from China. In 2000, the Chinese government began controlling the harvest and export of the plant to prevent desertification and overharvesting. In Japan there has been concern that deteriorating relations between Tokyo and Beijing may adversely affect licorice imports. [Source: Hironari Akiyama, The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 14, 2013
Chinese herbal medicine makers are stepping up efforts to boost stockpiles of Chinese licorice. Tsumura & Co., one of the largest Chinese herbal medicine makers, has secured about two years' supply of the plant. A movement to grow the plant in Japan also has become active. Fukuoka-based midsize pharmaceutical company Shin Nihon Iyaku Corp. is aiming to grow its own licorice to use as raw material for Chinese herbal medicine on a large scale, following confirmation in February that the licorice it grew on an experimental basis in idle rice fields contains an important active ingredient. Leading construction firm Kajima Corp. developed a system in 2010 for growing the plant in an artificial cultivation facility. It has begun selling the system to pharmaceutical companies. In 2010, Japan's self-sufficiency rate for licorice and other raw materials for Chinese herbal medicine was 10 percent. A research team of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said the proportion should be increased to 50 percent by 2025 to secure a stable supply.
“One hurdle ahead of that goal is reducing the cost of domestic licorice, which is currently more than 20 percent higher than that of Chinese imports. An official of a major pharmaceutical company said it is technically unclear whether the plant can be mass-cultivated while meeting national standards on active ingredients for medical use. The size of the Japanese market for Chinese herbal medicine was 132 billion yen in 2011, or about 1.9 percent of the overall drug market. But the market has been growing in recent years.
Garlic as a Medicine in China
The price of garlic shot up during H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009 and 2010 as Chinese bought it as a putative cure and speculators bought up large quantities in hopes of making a quick buck. Many Chinese used garlic rather than getting a flu shot. The China Daily reported on a high school that bought 180 kilograms of garlic and forced students to eat it for their health.
Garlic was one of the best performing assets in China in 2009 and 2010. Its price was 15 times higher in November 2009 than it was six month earlier. China usually produces three quarters of the world’s supply of garlic but reduced planting areas by up to 50 percent in 2009 because of the global economic crisis, Supply and demand explains why prices would rise to some degree but not as much as they did. Speculators, in some cases gangs with large amounts fo cash and credit, were behind the stratospheric rise.
Explaining how the speculators operated, Jerry Lou of Morgan Stanley told the Financial Times, “You need warehouses, a lot of cash and a few trucks, Basically what you do is try to arrest as much supply as possible, then you bid up the price. Moving garlic from one warehouse to the other you make millions of dollars.”
Goji berries are said to improve sleep and athletic performance, among other benefits. Described as far back as the A.D. 3rd Century, they are called “red diamonds” for their purported anti-ageing qualities are now touted as hot, new superfood in international markets, where packets of the berries sell for up to $10,, around three times the price in Asia. [Source: Claire Turrell, BBC, February 28, 2020]
According to the BBC: Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have long believed that it has medicinal powers. The earliest record of this is in the Compendium of Materia Medica, a historical medical text written by the famed herbalist Li Shizhen in the 16th Century. Ms Zhang Ruifen, a TCM doctor for Eu Yan Sang Traditional Chinese Medicine Clinic that has locations in China, Malaysia and Singapore, said, “It is a very extensive, celebrated record and goji berry is recorded in that book. Li stated what each herb looked like and how you should use it.”
The goji berry is also called the wolfberry. The Chinese view it as a both a fruit and a herb, and the berry that’s packed with vitamin C, antioxidants, amino acids and trace minerals, is prescribed by TCM doctors to boost liver and kidney function. “Chinese mothers may say that you need to eat it as it is good for the eyes, as it contains carotene,” said Zhang, who studied Chinese medicine in Beijing. “I would prescribe it to help boost the kidney and liver system, of which TCM believes that the eyes are a part.”
When Zhang prescribes it to patients, she combines it with a potent combination of other herbs: “We usually don’t use a single herb for the whole treatment; it is a part of a concoction,” she said. However, there are certain times that as a TCM practitioner Zhang says she will choose not to prescribe it so it doesn’t exacerbate the patient’s condition. “If a person has a fever, inflammation or sore throat, which we call ‘heaty’ in Chinese medicine, I would advise the patient to stop taking goji berry during that period of time,” she said. “If they were also suffering from ‘dampness’ and diarrhoea, which we call spleen deficiency, we say that you shouldn’t take it as well. But when you are fine, generally goji berry is suitable for everybody.”
Goji Berries and Chinese Culture
Claire Turrell of the BBC wrote: Goji berries have long been part of Chinese culture. Legend has it that more than 2,000 years ago a doctor visited a village in China where everyone was more than 100 years old. He discovered that they all drank from a well that was surrounded by goji berries. And the theory was that, as the fruit ripened, it would fall into the well and its vitamin-packed contents would seep into the water. Tales are also told of a 17th-Century herbalist called Li Qing Yuen who ate goji berries every day and was said to have lived until he was 252 years old. If this wasn’t enough to encourage future generations to eat the traditional old fire simmer soups that were garnished with goji berries, Chinese mothers would tell their children that the berries would stop them from needing glasses to get them to finish their bowls. [Source: Claire Turrell, BBC, February 28, 2020]
But times are changing for this simple berry, including how it is consumed. The ancient goji berry, which has long been part of Chinese culture, is now being viewed as a superfood both in China and beyond. Asia’s younger generations are embracing the goji berry, but giving it their own twist. For example, members of Gen Z are now buying “wellness kettles” for their goji berry tea. Their parents might recognise these as traditional soup kettles that have been repackaged by brands such as Buydeem and turned a more Instagram-worthy shade of pink. A 2019 study by Agility Research & Strategy on Gen Z in China showed that this generation sees living a healthy life as a key priority, even over money, career, personal enjoyment and having a family.
The power of the goji berry doesn’t look as if it will dim anytime soon as there were a record number of goji berries (179 tonnes) sold in China during the recent Singles Day sales (China’s version of Black Friday). Asian trend spotters such as Amrita Banta, managing director of Agility Research & Strategy, has also seen young Asians embrace a healthier way of living: “After many years of Chinese consumers shunning everything made in China as old and unscientific, we believe there is in China a renewed pride in many traditional products and practices,” she said. “Yet, the popularity of goji berries comes on the back of a global awareness of their properties. Today, Chinese youth eat them because they are considered a superfood, not necessarily because TCM indicates that they treat eye, liver and kidney ailments. It is fascinating to see China becoming so proud of its past, yet so connected to the rest of the world.”
Goji Berries in Chinese Food
Claire Turrell of the BBC wrote: At home, Chinese men and women will sprinkle dried goji berries over homemade chicken, red date and ginger in their “old fire simmer soup” (a clear broth cooked over a low heat) or into a flask of chrysanthemum tea to give themselves a vitamin boost. [Source: Claire Turrell, BBC, February 28, 2020]
Young chefs in Asia are also using goji berries in their dishes to give them a little local flavour. It was the goji berry that Chef Anna Lim turned to when she was invited to make a limited-edition breakfast dish for fast food giant McDonald’s. The Soup Spoon owner created a savoury porridge with goji berries, and it became so popular in Singapore that it was added to the permanent menu. “Adding goji berries gives a natural sweetness to the porridge, and with the combination of the colours of the green coriander, white tofu and the red goji berries, it became an eat your colours meal, elevating a simple rice porridge to something that is nutritious and healthy,” said Lim.
While Lim is helping to introduce the fruit to a new generation, chefs such as Chef Chang Hon Cheong of the One Harbour Road restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong hotel is still giving people the chance to enjoy dishes as Asian families would have done in their own mother’s kitchens. Dedicating a page of his menu to herbal tonic soups, the goji berry features among his traditional ingredients.
Guests can take a seat in the Shanghainese mansion-style restaurant where Chang serves the double-boiled soups that he created with TCM in mind. Each day, Chang’s team methodically chops the health-giving ingredients and places them in a ceramic pot, which they immerse into a pot of boiling water. This slow-food process pays homage to TCM and to the farmers who have grown the produce. “Double boiling is a much slower and gentle process,” said Chang. “By double-boiling soup I can fully extract the nutrients and flavours in the ingredients.”
Beyond dining out, health-conscious consumers wanting to embrace the superfood as Asian families have done for generations, can simply throw some goji berries into their soup or tea, and enjoy the taste of the sweet raisin-like superfood that keeps Asia looking and feeling young.
Goji Berry Agriculture
Demand for the berries is pushing production into new farming areas, such as Qinghai in northwest China, where the berries grow larger. Falconers use sparrow hawks to survey fields and keep away birds feeding on the fruit during harvest from August to October. [Source: Peter Gwin, National Geographic, January 2019]
According to the BBC: High in the upper reaches of North-West China lies a land filled with riches. For it’s here, on the banks of the Yellow River and in the shade of the mist-covered Liupan Mountains that the people of the Ningxia region have been growing one of Asia’s most sought-after foods for centuries. [Source: Claire Turrell, BBC, February 28, 2020]
The goji berry is grown across China, but it’s Ningxia’s unique geology that has created the most revered version of the fruit. “It’s the combination of cool mountain breezes, mineral-rich soil and vines irrigated by the famed Yellow River that make the goji berries from the Ningxia region so prized,” said Evan Guo, sales manager for Ningxia Baishi Hengxing Food Technology Co, an organic goji berry farm.
The farmers in Ningxia still harvest the fruit in the same way they have done throughout history. From July to September each year, farmhands crouch in front of waist-high bushes laden with the plump tomato-coloured berries. They deftly pluck a handful of the sweet treats at one time from the vines before they drop them into a woven bamboo basket.
In times gone by, berries would be left to dry on large trays in the sun, though modern technology has sped up this process to meet the increase in demand. Ningxia Baishi Hengxing’s owner, Mr An Weijun, who was born to goji berry farmers, launched an organic farm eight years ago. He also built a state-of-the-art laboratory where his team can dry their berries and those of other regional organic producers in a fraction of the time.
The superfood price tag is encouraging farmers to make sure that their crop reaches the supermarket shelves faster. While the farmers in Ningxia pluck 180,000 tonnes of fresh goji berries each year from the vines, they sell most of their produce in dried form as the fresh berry’s shelf-life is short. The berries will ripen quickly in the hot summer sun, which means that farmers need to work quickly to gather their crop.
Image Sources: Wiki Commons; Tqnyc; All Posters com; ; Wikipedia; Compassionate Dragon Healing; Accupuncture Products; Iron Palm Arts; WWF; Ciao Su Nature Products; South Aquaculture, caterpillar fungus, Wiki Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated September 2022