White gourds and cucumbers were the earliest gourds used to treat diseases. As early as Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD), Zhang Zhongjing, a famous ancient physician, used white gourd seeds to treat intestinal abscess and cucumber root powder to treat disturbance of menstruation and leukorrhagia. In the classical medical work, Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold for Emergencies, Sun Simiao of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) mentions a treatment for babies from 1-5 months old with chills, fever and thirst using white gourd juice. In the Song Dynasty (960-1279), white gourd was widely used to treat diabetes mellitus, edema and reduction of urination.
In the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, the therapeutic value of gourds was studied and discussed in detail. Li Shizhen, a great medical scholar of the Ming Dynasty said, "Watermelon and sweet melon can injure the spleen and produce dampness pathogens in the body, because they are cold food, although they taste sweet and delicious. A patient with eye disease was cured by daily administration of watermelon dried in sun, because it can clear fire pathogens from the body by its cold nature." And, "The overeating of pumpkin may cause Jiao Qi (beriberi) and jaundice." Zhang Shiwan of the Qing Dynasty said, "Watermelon can expel heat pathogens from pericardium downward through the small intestine and urinary bladder, and relieve thirst in patients with Taiyang and Yangming syndrome or severe thirst in patients with febrile disease, so that it can produce the therapeutic effect of Baihu Tang (White Tiger Decoction)." Wang Shixiong said, "Sweet melon has a sweet taste and a cold nature. Therefore, it can relieve annoyance, thirst and hunger to treat summer dysentery." And, "In autumn, the pumpkin vine is cut into pieces, and soaked in water for preparing an extract to treat consumptive diseases in patients with endogenous heat pathogens." It was held that gourds can clear heat, relieve thirst, promote urination, and release annoyance, because they have a cold nature.
Nowadays, gourds are widely used to treat diseases of various medical branches, as a result of the development and application of the useful experiences of ancient physicians. For example, cucumber is used to treat sore throat and burn injuries; pumpkin is use to treat oligogalactia, whooping cough and intestinal parasites; oral administration of bitter gourd can relieve stomachache and pain in the eyes, and the external application of bitter gourd can treat pyogenic infections of the skin. The application of gourds in clinical practice has been much enriched and spread recently.
The therapeutic effect of fruits has been known in traditional Chinese medicine for a long time. For example, the date is recommended as a common herb to tonify the spleen and stomach and to adjust there function in the Yellow Emperor's Internal Classic, an ancient classical medical book; and grape, longan, sesame, lily and walnut are presented both as food and as herbs in Shen Nong's Herbal Classic, the first herbal book published in China. There is much useful information about the therapeutic value of fruits mentioned and recorded in these ancient medical books.
As mentioned by Sun Simiao of the Tang Dynasty in his book Ocean of Famous Prescriptions: "One dark plum, 2 dates and 7 almonds are pounded together for oral administration with wine for men and with vinegar for women to effectively prevent and treat pain in the heart." As mentioned by Zhu Danxi of the Yuan Dynasty: "Abdominal pain in women due to retention of lochia, and occipital headache in children can be treated by drinking the warm decoction of one hundred haws with cane sugar before a meal."
Physicians of the Ming Dynasty were more interested in the use of fruits in clinical therapy. According to Li Shizhen: "Because the tough meat of cold chicken can be easily boiled to cook a tender meat dish by using haws, the latter can be used to treat stagnation of meat dishes in the stomach." Since then, haws have been used as an important herb to promote digestion of meat and release stagnation of food. As mentioned by Miao Xiyong: "Dark plums have a sour taste. They can clear heat pathogens, relieve annoyance and tranquilize mind by inspiring air down to the lower energizer. Dysentery is due to failure of the large intestine, and dryness of the mouth after repeated expectoration of saliva is due to upward flaming of deficient fire and deficiency of saliva. Therefore, sour plums can constrain deficient fire, produce saliva, safeguard the intestines and cure dysentery."
In the Qing Dynasty, the use of fruits to prevent and treat diseases was further developed and spread. Wang Shixiong published a book called Suixi Ju's Cookbook containing his studies of the therapeutic value of fruits. As mentioned in this book: "Pears have sweet taste and a cool nature. Therefore, it can moisten the lungs, clear heat from the stomach and heart, stop convulsions, resolve phlegm, relieve coughing, tonify Yin, rinse dryness, release stagnation, promote bowel movement, cure carbuncles and cellulitis, relieve extreme thirst and eliminate poison. Grapes can enrich Qi, kidney fluid and liver Yin, strengthen muscles and bones, relieve thirst and safeguard pregnancy. Sugarcane has a sweet taste and a cool nature. It can adjust the stomach, lubricate the intestines, clear intoxication, kill ascaris, resolve phlegm and enrich body fluid. Apples can moisten the lungs, improve the mood, produce saliva, improve the appetite and clear intoxication. Tangerines have a sweet taste and an even nature. They can produce phlegm and cause accumulation of rheum in the body. Therefore, patients with cough and sputum caused by wind-cold pathogens should not this fruit." Huang Gongxiu says, in the book Identification of Herbs: "Arbutus can relieve annoyance and thirst, clear heat and eliminate poison. But too much may cause disturbance of the blood circulation and nasal bleeding." The above authors made strong recommendations concerning the indications, contraindications and limitations of intake of various fruits.
Modern physicians of traditional Chinese medicine have further developed the adoption of fruits in the treatment of diseases. For example, dates are used to treat allergic purpura and hypercholesteraemia; haws are used to teat hypertension and coronary heart disease; and apples used to treat colitis.
Records of treatment of diseases using vegetables can be traced back to the Qin and Han dynasties. The seeds of leeks and stems of green onion were used to treat diseases at that time. As mentioned in Plain Questions: "The seeds of leeks can tonify the lower energizer and correct deficiency of the meridian. Therefore, it can be used to treat incontinence of urine, impotence and emission of semen in men, and leukorrhagia in women." As mentioned in Shen Nong's Herbal Classic: "The white stem of green onion can be used to treat Shanghan (infectious febrile diseases) with chills, sweating and edema of the face and eyes."
In the Tang Dynasty, following the popularity of a vegetarian diet, the adoption of vegetables to treat diseases was further developed and spread. As mentioned in a special chapter about treatment with vegetables in Prescriptions Worth a Thousand Pieces of Gold for Emergencies: "Decoction of mustard leaf can be used to treat lacquer sores with itching." "The application of the juice of a leek into the ear can remove insects in the ear meatus." "Turnip flowers are collected in April and dried in the shade. After grinding and sifting, seven small spoonfuls of the powder are orally administered to tonify the liver and improve the vision, but overeating of this herb may cause abdominal distension." Meng Shen, a specialist in herbs, says in the Herbal Diet: "Caraway can promote digestion of food." Su Song, in Jiayou's Illustrated Herbal Classic, says, "Red amaranth has a slightly cold nature, and it can be used to treat dysentery with bloody stool. But purple amaranth does not have a cold nature or toxicity, and it can be used to treat Qi deficiency." This shows that amaranth of different colors have different effects.
Following the important development of traditional Chinese medicine in the Ming and Qing dynasties, the knowledge of vegetarian therapy was greatly improved. Vegetables are well represented among the 2,000 herbs included in Li Shizhen's Compendium of Materia Medica. He says, "Radishes with the leaves left on are pounded for external application to treat wounds of external trauma with ecchymosis on the skin, although not torn. The powder of dry leaves of eggplant is orally administered in a dosage of 6 gm with a thin rice gruel to treat discharge of blood from the intestines." Wang Shixiong, in his Suixi Ju's Cookbook, says, "Radishes can be used to treat cough, hoarse voice, diseases of the throat, CO intoxication and eggplant poisoning." Fresh radish juice is still used to treat CO intoxication in China. According to Huang Gongxiu, in his book Identification of Herbs: "Mushrooms can adjust Qi, resolve phlegm and treat diseases of the stomach and intestines." Discussions on treatment using melons, fruits and vegetables can be found in many other books.
Thus it can be seen that the therapeutic value of melons, fruits and vegetables was praised highly by physicians in successive dynasties in China. Following further scientific investigation, their therapeutic value will be further exploited and utilized for human welfare and health.
(Source:Diseases Treated with Melons, Fruits and Vegetables, Foreign Languagues Press, 2002)