While large amounts of alcohol are considered toxic to both body and mind, the use of small amounts does have its place in TCM. The word ”yi” meaning medicine contains a pictogram for wine. The pretreatment of herbs with wine, extraction of herbs with liquor, and consumption of alcohol with a herbal pill have always been a part of TCM. Some form of alcoholwas first used as medicine for external injuries, and is still used today. Herbal wine infusions in compresses are placed on sore spots to improve circulation; the wine is a solvent for the herbs and penetrates the skin. Wine is mentioned in The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine for the treatment of meridian blockage, sudden fainting and ear problems, such as tinnitus. Wine is hot in nature, harmonizes blood and qi, opens meridians, is a tonic for yang, and expels cold. Two still widely used wines today in China are Carthamus Wine for gynecological disorders and Trichosanthes Fruit Wine for cardiac disease.
Therapeutic tinctures are often made by using alcoholic extraction to obtain the active ingredients of plants and allow them to keep for a longer period of time. Herbs are often steeped in rice wine, brandy, vodka or whiskey are used to treat a condition for short term use only. Astragalus in wine is a good immune system booster. Chinese hawthorn berries infused in brandy are beneficial for digestion of animal protein. A low alcoholic rice wine is most often used for problems of aging, such as blood stasis and meridian blockage. Infused medicinal wines are popular with the elderly to take during the winter months to treat cold conditions, coughs and asthma, arthritis and rheumatism. Although only a small glass is taken per day, this may be problematic for those who have a liver imbalance, hypersensitivity to alcohol, or who are also taking modern western drugs. In general, the amount of any kind of alcohol taken should be only sufficient to feel its effect. With men this is normally one glass, in women a little less.
Some Chinese medicinal remedies are more effective if taken along with alcohol instead of water. One famous remedy is Yunnan Paiyao. When used to stop bleeding the pills should be taken with water, but when used to vitalize blood circulation they are taken with wine.
While wine and hard liquor are considered hot in properties, beer is bitter and cool. It will clear heat, promote qi and blood circulation, stimulate the kidneys and clear damp and phlegm in the body. Made from hops and barley it is high in calories and vitamins. Because of its cold nature it is not recommended during winter months.
If you find you have overstocked your drinks cabinet this holiday season, why not try one of these therapeutic drinks?
Soak 7 oz of fresh shelled walnuts in 1 pint of vodka. Leave in a dark cabinet for a month, shaking the jar occasionally. Decant and store in an airtight glass bottle. Walnuts strengthen kidneys and lungs, and help keep skin smooth and moist in the dry winter months.
Goji berry wine
Put 4 oz of goji/lycii berries in a glass jar and cover with rice wine. Seal and leave for 2 weeks, then strain and decant into a glass bottle. Dilute one dessertspoonful in a cup of hot water and drink in the morning. Benefits liver and kidneys, and brightens the eyes.
Red date brandy
Clean and dry 7 oz of Chinese red dates and cover with 1 pint of brandy. Leave in a dark cupboard for a month, shaking the jar every few days. Strain and decant. This makes a good after dinner drink and helps to digest heavy meals. Use the discarded dates in cakes, fruits salads or meat dishes.
If you know your ayurvedic dosha, pay attention to the following:
Vata people are prone to addiction and should avoid large quantities of alcohol. Half a glass of wine diluted with water, with or after a meal is beneficial. They should avoid all wines with chemical additives. Beer is not as beneficial because of its yeast content, and hard liquor can be too intense.
Pitta people should avoid alcohol which is heating. An occasional beer may help them to relax.
Kapha people should avoid beer and drink only wine or diluted hard liquor.
For more information on medicinal wines see Bob Flaws’ book ”Chinese Medicinal Wines & Elixirs”.
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