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Wellness from wild, wild weeds

WILD weeds are powerful medicine, loaded with cold or yin energy to dispel heat. Zhang Qian forages for the truth about pig's thigh, daisy, bracken fern, and field sow's thistle.

Wild greens (ye cai) are sprouting and this is the traditional time to eat herbs known since ancient times for their potent "cold" or yin energy.

China has around 6,000 wild herbs, many known for their medicinal uses, and about 100 of them are used in cooking.

As many of them are dark green, they are loaded with beta-carotene, anti-oxidants, lots of vitamins and micro-nutrients.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers these foods "cold" energy, expelling pathogenic heat (too much yang), reducing inflammation, expelling toxins (many are diuretics).

One meal alone won't do much for you, but eat sparingly as they can cause indigestion in people with "cold" constitutions.

They include pigweed (purslane), bracken ferns, daisy leaves and stems, shepherd's purse, pig's thigh, sow's thistle, and dandelion, among others.

This is the second part of the wild weed. (Part I can be found on C5, April 21.) Pig's thigh This herb has a fishy smell and hence is known as yu xing cao, or fishy small grass. It's also known as pig's thigh, heartleaf and houttuynia cordata.

Common in southern China, the plant with heart-shaped leaves (reddish purple on the underside so loaded with beta-carotene) is said to have sustained Gou Jian, king of the Yue in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-467 BC) during the first lean year after its defeat by the Wu Kingdom.

It's rich in carotene, protein, calcium, phosphorus and a special essential oil with a pronounced odor. The smell comes from houttuynine sodium bisulfite, an anti-microbial agent. It also can help treat respiratory and urinary tract infections.

Like other "cold" foods, it helps dispel pathogenic heat, expel toxins, it acts as a diuretic, relieves swelling and reduces suppuration, and promotes appetite.

Cold yu xing cao chips are popular in Yunnan Province. It can also be fried or cooked in soup. People with a "cold" constitution shouldn't eat too much, lest they get diarrhea.

Cold yu xing cao salad

Ingredients: Yu xing cao stems (300g), vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, yellow rice wine, sesame oil, chili oil as needed.


1. Soak stems in cold water for 10 minutes. Chop.

2. Dress with vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, yellow rice wine, sesame oil and chili oil.

Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, acts as a diuretic, relieves swelling and internal inflammation. Recommended (but without all that soy sauce) for those with high blood pressure and respiratory ailments due to excessive heat. Daisy The leaves and stems of daisies, (ma lan tou) are rich vitamins and inorganic salt, like spinach. Because it contains less oxalic acid than other wild greens, it does not interfere with calcium and iron absorption as much as spinach.

As a "cold" vegetable, it helps dispel pathogenic heat, stop bleeding, acts as a diuretic and reduces inflammation. TCM doctors recommend fresh daisy for sore throat and tonsillitis. Daisy soup can help prevent and relieve respiratory inflammation and conjunctivitis.

It can be fried, made into cold dishes and used as an ingredient in dumplings.

Cold daisy and sea kelp salad

Ingredients: Daisy (200g), sea kelp (100g), salt, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar as needed.


1. Separately cook daisy and kelp in boiling water for 10 minutes.

2. Chop.

3. Mix with salt, vinegar, sesame oil and sugar.

Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, protect liver, and regulate blood, and energy circulation. Field sow thistle Ku cai is slightly prickly and sticky with yellow flowers and a milky sap. It's fed to sows in the believe it will increase their milk yield. There's an old TCM notion of "correspondence" that eating something that looks like something will produce that something. So, crinkled walnuts look like the brain, so they're good for brain power. Similarly, eating milk sap is thought by some to produce milk in mammals.

The plant, not strictly a thistle, grows everywhere around northern China, from mountains to seaside, in all kinds of soil.

The leaves and stem are rich in protein and 17 kinds of amino acids, including arginine, histidine and glutamic acid used to treat infiltrating hepatitis.

As another "cold" herb, it dispels excessive heat, acts as a diuretic, treats suppuration, relieves coughing, blood stagnation and related pain. It's said to relieve sore throat and intestinal inflammation.

In northeast china, it's cooked and served with a thick sauce, and in the northwest it's used as an ingredient in dumplings.

Sow's thistle and pig's liver

Ingredients: Field sow thistle (250g), pig's liver (150g), salt, soy sauce, yellow rice wine, ginger, scallions and starch to thicken.


1. Boil briefly (blanch), chop.

2. Mix chopped pig's liver with salt, yellow rice wine, soy sauce, starch and water.

3. Fry pig's liver with ginger and scallion.

4. Add sow's thistle and fry a little longer.

Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, relieve inflammation, reinforce blood and energy, protect liver, and improve eye sight. Bracken fern The first spring sprouts of tender bracken fern (jue cai) are curled at the end like a child's fist, hence its nickname quantou cai (fist vegetable). The curled fronds are also known as fiddleheads.

It's abundant in southern forests.

Ferns are rich in vitamins, protein, organic acid, fiber, micronutrients and elements.

It can help expand blood vessels, thus easing high blood pressure, and relieve constipation.

Like many other wild greens, wild fern is "cold," helping to dispel pathogenic heat and wind, benefit stomach, act as a laxative, soothe nerves, treat insomnia and resolve phlegm. It's said to help ease arthritis.

The leaves and stem can be fried, cooked then cold dressed, added to soup. The root stalk can be made into sheet jelly or vermicelli.

Bracken should be boiled quickly, then soaked in clean water for one or two days to get rid of its harsh taste. It also should be soaked before it's dried or pickled.

Bracken fern and pork

Ingredients: Bracken (200g), peat (200g), ginger, green onion, salt, sugar, garlic to taste.


1. Fry pork, ginger, green onion.

2. Add fern when meat turns pale.

3. Fry over high flame for five minutes, lower heat and cover for five minutes.

3. Season with salt, yellow wine and sugar.

Function: Helps dispel pathogenic heat, soothe nerves andresolve phlegm.


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