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A Herb a Day Keeps Doctors Away

Chinese people have relied on plants for staying healthy and treating illness for centuries.

Thousands of medicinal plants have been recorded in Chinese medical literature from the earliest known Shennong Bencaojing, a classic text on herbal medicine of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220), to the more contemporary Chinese Materia Medica.

People's dependence on plants for medical interventions continues today. Medicinal herbs are being accepted and used increasingly by the general population as medicine or dietary supplements.

Hongjingtian, or rhodiola crenulata, for instance, has been used by the Tibetan people as a powerful revitalizer and medicinal agent since the beginning of Tibetan civilization.

Known as "plateau ginseng," the plant grows on the Himalayas more than 4,500 meters above sea level under extremely adverse conditions, with dry air, insufficient oxygen, strong ultraviolet radiation and a huge day-and-night temperature variance. Its adaptability to its environment and its vitality are seldom found in any other plants.

Over 1,000 years ago, Tibetan people had been known to make the drink - by extracting rhodiola in water or wine - to overcome fatigue from heavy physical labor and to boost energy levels so they could complete extraordinary physical tasks.

Pharmacological experiments and clinical research show that rhodiola is also an ideal herbal supplement for the modern world.

The major agents in the plant are salidroside, tyrosot and volatile oil, as well as 35 biologically active trace elements and 18 amino acids needed by the human body.

Since it can improve endurance and mental capacity, including the memory, it is a superb tonic and energizer for those into physical fitness as well as for those stuck behind a desk or at a computer terminal for long periods of time.

In addition, the plant now has been used by people with cardiovascular disease, pulmonary tuberculosis, pneumonia, tracheitis, lung congestion and coughs.

Shaji, or sea-buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides), is another widely used herb in China which has proven health and nutritional benefits.

Sea-buckthorn berries combine nutritious agents usually only found separately. Its list of vitamin C, vitamin E and carotenoids reads like the label on a pack of multi-vitamin pills. All of these components are classified as natural anti-oxidants, which form a vital part of the body's defence system.

Since the discovery of the nutritional value of sea-buckthorn, hundreds of sea-buckthorn products made from the berries, oil, leaves, bark and their extracts have been developed.

China has become one of the largest producers and consumers of sea-buckthorn products in the world.

Fruit drinks were among the earliest sea-buckthorn products developed in China. They have rapidly gained a reputation as both a satisfying drink and a nutritional beverage that enhances stamina and vitality.

(China Daily October 27, 2003)

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