As it's the holiday season and time for drinking parties, we're
taking a TCM look at spirits - not only how to treat hangovers
(without alcohol), but also how to use Chinese spirits for good
health, writes Zhang Qian.
Around holiday party time, it's traditional to warn about
over-indulgence in drink. But let's talk about some of the good
things that the nectar of the gods can do (in moderation), from
promoting circulation to easing rheumatism.
We'll also tell you about maintaining the health of the liver,
the organ that processes alcohol, poisons and toxins. And if you do
imbibe too much cheer, TCM soups and teas (non-alcoholic) can help
you feel better.
Wine is an ancient ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine
(TCM) and many practitioners recommend 30-60 grams a day of yellow
Alcohol has been used medicinally for more than 5,000 years.
Using it as medicine was recorded 2,000 years ago in the "Huang Di
Nei Jing," the first medical book in China and the foundation of
It was 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 also considered a "guiding drug" in TCM, one which
enhances and reinforces other drugs, according to Dr Zhang Wei,
director of the Hepatology Department of Longhua Hospital attached
to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
"Wine is a great menstruum (solvent)," says Dr Zhang. "Many
herbs dissolve better in wine than in water. Wine itself can
stimulate blood circulation, which can reinforce the effect of some
herbal medicine. Besides, it is much easier to store herbal wine
than herbal soup."
China has many kinds of spirits: baijiu or white spirits (clear,
potent, distilled alcohol), brandy, yellow rice wine, millet wine,
red wine, fruit wine and beer, among others.
Beer made from barley and hops is sometimes called "liquid
bread" - it's high in calories and vitamins. But it is not
recommended by most doctors as "excessive nutrition" is a common
Huangjiu, or yellow wine made from millet, rice or sticky rice,
is a traditional Chinese wine. TCM theory calls for a little yellow
wine every day to stimulate blood circulation, dispel cold (yin),
soothe tendons, reinforce the effect of herbal medicine, and
relieve diseases of the heart and blood vessels.
Warmed yellow wine is especially good in winter.
Having a little yellow wine during the menstrual period can also
relieve discomfort, but too much wine causes excessive blood
Red grape wine introduced from the West is an antioxidant that
can relieve arteriosclerosis, and is believed to delay senility and
prevent some cancers.
White spirits, high-proof distilled alcohol, are more damaging
to the liver than the same quantity of wine. But they are also the
best menstruum for preparing a tincture of TCM ingredients such as
snake, ginseng, gou qi (wolf berries), jujubes, hairy antler, and
"Having 30-60ml of wine every day can help promote appetite,
stimulate blood circulation, and warm you up in cold weather," says
Dr Zhang, who warns of damage to liver, stomach and intestines from
too much alcohol.
One should never exceed 40 grams of pure alcohol a day, she
says, and people with liver problems, high uric acid, poor
digestive systems or serious diseases should not drink.
Although milk thistle extract is widely prescribed in the West
to strengthen the liver, it is not part of TCM, which treats
damaged and fatty liver in other ways. TCM treatments expel liver
heat and toxins.
TCM treatments for hangovers, if taken over time, also can
strengthen the liver of drinkers. Ready-made TCM medicines in
capsule form can also help expel liver heat and toxins. They are
known as "Hu Gan Ning Pian" (literally, "protect the liver pills")
and can be purchased at TCM pharmacies.
(Shanghai Daily December 4, 2007)