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In the US, people often eat chicken soup when they’re sick. In the UK, no matter how bad things get, a ‘cuppa’ somehow brings balance to the world again. We often use the expression to put a ‘bandaid’ on it, as an express to solve a problem. It’s fair to say that none of these things actually ‘cure’ anything, but give us comfort and may ease some of the symptoms we have.
The idea of a ‘cure-all’ 包治百病 (bāo zhì bǎi bìng) exist in many cultures, including in Chinese culture and has done so for thousands of years. I’ve talked before about the body’s ‘qi’ and how what you eat can affect your physical health, but in this post, I’m going to take a deeper dive into some of those more specific foods, dishes and medicines consumed by the Chinese to cure all things, from the common cold to eyelid twitches!
Hot Water 热水 (rè shuǐ)
Hot water is the ultimate cure-all in Chinese culture. Whether you have an upset stomach or a fever, you must ‘drink more hot water!’.
Hot water alleviates inflammation and helps with circulation, but water, in general, is something we should all be drinking more of! When we have a cold, we’re often told to drink more fluids, although we don’t often drink warm or hot water without anything in it. There have been lots of studies on which temperature is better, cold or room temperature, but it seems that the results are still inconclusive and depends on your daily activities.
Hot water can help with the following:
- Cold/flu 感冒 (gǎn mào)
- Menstrual pain 痛经 (tòng jīng)
- Diarrhoea 腹泻 (fù xiè)
- Alleviate inflammation 消炎 (xiāo yán)
White / Snow Fungus Soup 银耳汤 (yín ěr tāng)
Snow fungus soup is probably similar to chicken soup in Chinese culture and is often homemade when someone is sick. It contains many Chinese ‘superfoods’ and can help with many ailments, including:
- Dry skin (from the fungus) 皮肤干燥 (pí fū gān zào)
- Aid kidney function and digestion (lotus seeds) 消食 (xiāo shí)
- Stimulate the immune system (jujube) 免疫系统 (miǎn yì xì tǒng)
The snow fungus 银耳 (yín ěr), also known as ‘silver tree-ear fungus’ has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for at least 2000 years.
You can follow the recipe to make your own Snow fungus soup here.
Mung Bean soup 绿豆汤 (lǜ dòu tāng)
Mung bean soup, or green bean soup, is often eaten during the summer months in order to cool down the body. According to TCM however, those who suffer from bad circulation in the hands and feet should not eat mung bean soup. Mung beans are a great source of fibre and vitamin C and can also help preventing anaemia.
Ginseng 人参 (rén shēn)
Ginseng has a long history in Traditional Chinese Medicine and “has long been thought by the Chinese to contain the essence of the earth in condensed form”. It was said to enlighten the mind and increase wisdom and for ‘restorative’ powers. Its name in Chinese 人参 (rén shēn) was given because of its human-like form. It’s often found in a tea, but also comes in powders, capsules and added to food.
- Improves mood 神经衰弱 (shén jīng shuāi ruò)
- Reduces inflammation 消炎 (xiāo yán)
- Weight Loss 减肥 (jiǎn féi)
- Sexual dysfunction 阳痿 (yáng wěi)
- Lung function 肺功能 (fèi gōng néng)
- Lowers blood sugar level 血糖 (xuè táng)
- Boosts immune system 免疫系统 (miǎn yì xì tǒng)
Congee is a Chinese ‘porridge’ made from rice that is said to have been invented by the Yellow Emperor over 4000 years ago. During the Han Dynasty, Zhang Zhongjing a famous TCM suggested that congee should be consumed after taking medicine to help with digestion and for the medicine to take effect.
Brown sugar provides minerals like calcium, potassium and iron, whilst ginger has antioxidant properties.
Both rice congee and brown sugar and ginger tea can help with the following:
I wish I had known this when I was younger! Ginger or orange peel can be used to prevent motion sickness 晕车 (yùn chē) in Chinese culture. Ginger is often taken as a tea to prevent nausea, however, it can also be taken fresh and chewed on the journey to prevent sickness. The suggestion is to take orange peel and breathe in the orange smell an hour before travelling. Additionally, make the orange peel into a tea and sip after a journey to prevent nausea from car travel.
Medicated ‘Magical’ Oil 风油精 (fēng yóu jīng)
风油精 (fēng yóu jīng) is an essential balm made of menthol, eucalyptus oil etc and is often used as a mosquito repellant and to soothe bites. However, similarly to Tiger Balm, it can be used to ease aches, pains and itches.
Feng you jing can also be used for the following:
- Stuffy / blocked nose 鼻塞 (bí sè)
- Sore throat 咽峡炎 (yān xiá yán)
- Dizziness 眩晕 (xuàn yūn)
- Motion sickness 晕车 (yùn chē)
- Diarrhoea 腹泻 (fù xiè)
- Inflammation 消炎 (xiāo yán)
- To ‘refresh the mind’ 提神醒脑 (tí shén xǐng nǎo)
Po chai pills 保济丸 (bǎo jì wán)
保济丸 (bǎo jì wán) translates literally to ‘defend and aid pills’ and although they are more frequently found in Hong Kong than in the mainland, this is a ‘cure-all’ found in most families medicine cabinet.
Chinese Home Remedies
The following remedies came from Chamcen and her family and friends, so some of these are not used by everyone and are probably the equivalent of ‘old wives’ tales’ in the west.
Stir-Fried Egg with Sesame Oil 香油炒鸡蛋 (xiāng yóu chǎo jī dàn)
Eating a stir-fried egg with sesame oil is a home remedy used by some to cure a cough 咳嗽 (ké sou). Alternatively, stewed pear with crystal sugar and loquat leaf 冰糖炖雪梨枇杷叶 (bīng táng dùn xuě lí pí pa yè) can be used instead.
Chrysanthemum Tea 菊花茶 (jú huā chá)
When your eyes feel dry 眼睛干涩 (yǎn jing gān sè), drinking chrysanthemum tea will help hydrate the eyes! Perfect for those like me who wear contact lenses.
Uncooked Green Onion with Soy Sauce 生吃酱油葱白 (shēng chī jiàng yóu cōng bái)
Before the season changes to winter, eat the uncooked white part of a green onion with soy sauce to guard the body against cold and flu 换季的时候预防感冒 (huàn jì de shí hòu yù fáng gǎn mào).
If you want to learn more about Chinese cure-alls, listen to episode 113 of the Two White Chicks in China podcast, Chicken Soup for the Chinese Soul.
Have you tried any of these cure-alls or remedies or know some other interesting Traditional Chinese remedies? Share them with us below!