Sunday, October 16, 2011

Jade Defense: the "Herbal Flu Shot"

Huang qi
Astragalus membranaceus root
Wu jia shen
Eleutherococcus senticocus root
Bai zhu
Atractylodes macrocephala rhizome
Fang feng
Ledebouriella divaricata root
California Spikenard -
Aralia californica root (fresh-tinctured)

Decrease in frequency and severity of colds and flu; strengthened immune response; increased energy; better digestion; regulation of stress response via hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.  You may find that immune-related chronic conditions like asthma and allergies, and even certain types of aches and pains, improve.

Three full squirts of the dropper, twice a day.  You can squirt the tincture directly into your mouth if you don’t mind the alcohol or the taste (personally, I like the flavor, mildly sweet and balsamic).  If you prefer, you can squirt it into a cup of freshly boiled water to evaporate most of the alcohol.  This will not diminish the therapeutic effect.  I suggest taking it before breakfast and before dinner, to get the herbs into your bloodstream without competition from food.  I also suggest starting out with a small dose (one full squirt), and increasing to two squirts and finally three squirts over the course of a week.  This will give your body a chance to get to know the herbs.  Everybody is different, and some people need far less of a formula than other people.  So if you felt great at two squirts  and not so great at three squirts, listen to your body – two squirts may be the perfect dose for you.  Note that this is a tonic formula that gradually strengthens your immune system over time.  Don’t be discouraged if you catch a cold early on in your Jade Defense regimen.  Just take a break from the herbs while you are sick, then start again once you are well.  This is not a formula to treat colds and flu (Virus Killer does this most effectively) but to prevent them.  I suggest taking it consistently for at least a month, and preferably through the fall and winter.  One two-ounce bottle is enough for two weeks at the full recommended dose.

Product Description:
A glance at the ingredients list for this formula will show that there is not even a fleck of jade in it.  And visual inspection will quickly determine that the color of this particular elixir is a cloudy brown, not a beautiful green.  So where does the name “Jade Defense” come from?  The original formula, consisting of the three herbs huang qi (astragalus), bai zhu (atractylodes), and fang feng (ledebouriella), was already ancient when the famous Chinese physician Zhu Danxi wrote it down about 700 years ago.  Because the formula had gained renown for its usefulness in fending off wind (i.e., colds and flu), it was given the name Yu Ping Feng San, or Jade Screen (for) Wind Powder.  Because jade in Chinese culture has since the earliest times been ascribed a near-supernatural power to protect, bless, and prolong life, the fact that it was given this name, and that it is to this day one of the most popular Chinese herbal formulas, tells us something of its value.

The original formula is very unusual in that it consists of only three herbs.  Chinese herbal medicine has evolved as a system of polypharmacy, in which herbs are used together in “teams” to maximize synergistic effects and prevent or reduce side effects. In Jade Wind-Screen Powder, the astragalus is considered to be the chief herb.  It strongly boosts the qi (vital energy) and stabilizes the exterior.  To switch briefly from ancient Chinese metaphors to Star Trek, astragalus “turns the deflector shields on.”  Atractylodes is considered the deputy herb.  It strengthens the effects of the chief herb, and whereas astragalus is said to tonify the lungs and spleen, atractylodes more directly strengthens the spleen. (Note: in Chinese medicine, “spleen” is shorthand for the digestive process, so a spleen tonic optimizes the process by which the body extracts energy and nutrients from the food that we eat).  Atractylodes is particularly good at tonifying that aspect of the spleen that regulates "dampness," which can show up in the body as phlegm.  Since dampness and phlegm in the spleen and lungs can predispose one to catching colds, the inclusion of this herb in this formula makes very good sense.  Ledebouriella root is the assistant herb.  It usually shows up in formulas that actually treat colds, as well as in formulas to treat pain.  Once the astagalus and the atractylodes have strengthened the vital energy, ledebouriella circulates it near the surface of the body to form a protective layer that wards off pathogens.

From a biomedical perspective, astragalus and atractylodes are adapatogenic herbs that regulate the immune system.  Astragalus is an extensively researched herb, and its polysaccharides, glycosides, and triterpenoids have been shown to increase interferon production and stimulate macrophages.  Atractylodes has similarly been shown to promote phagocytosis and antibody production and also exhibits hypoglycemic effects.  Ledebouriella is broadly antimicrobial, showing inhibitory effects against some influenza viruses as well as Shigella, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus bacteria species.

To the original formula, I have added two additional herbs: eleutherococcus senticosus (“Siberian ginseng”), and aralia californica (California Spikenard).  Eleutherococcus, also known as acanthopanax, is mostly prescribed in Chinese medicine for muscle pains and swelling, for which the root bark is most effective.  The whole root has been the object of much study by the Russians and Koreans, who use it as a general tonic to improve endurance, immunity, and memory, and to decrease pain.  Though I find the reports of its use among cosmonauts and Olympic athletes intriguing, what really convinced me of eleutherococcus’ usefulness over the years has been the varied accounts from all kinds of people who told me personally that it “just made them feel better.”  I believe that it synergizes with astragalus to provide a stronger immune-boosting and stress-relieving effect.

The second additional herb, California Spikenard, was picked at one of my favorite spots near the base of a waterfall in remote Big Sur.  Plants that grow in extreme environments tend to be higher in active components than plants growing in blander climes.  And let me tell you, this plant comes from a wild place!  In the winter storms it is thrashed and submerged by rushing torrents that fling entire redwood trees around like toothpicks.  Three years ago the Basin Fire raged around it, burning trees to black husks and unleashing a wave of erosion that permanently altered the contours of its narrow ravine home.  Yet, despite fire and water and tons of sand and rock, this stand of aralia is thriving.  It took me the better part of an hour to dig up the thick aromatic roots that over many years curled their way around large stones.  The root, looking like a large mandrake or a ginseng, fairly cries out “I am good medicine!”  I chopped and moistened it with pure alcohol the day it was picked, then blended it the next day and did a percolation with additional alcohol.  This plant, like the eleutheroccus, comes from the family Araliaceae, which is rich in medicinal plants – Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng), American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Devil’s Club (Oplopanax horridus) of the American Northwest, the excellent Chinese blood herb san qi (Panax pseudoginseng) are all in this family.  And, like its relatives, it too demonstrates immune-enhancing effects.  But, more so than most of its cousins, aralia has a direct antitussive and expectorant effect on the lungs.  I suspect this is due to its distinctive sticky oleoresin, which the body excretes at least partially through the lung lining.  Like other aromatic medicinal resins (redwood and osha spring to mind), its outgassing into the alveoli serves a stimulating and disinfecting purpose in the primate who ingests it, encouraging throat and bronchial secretions, treating cough and (in this case proactively) viral infections, and generally promoting the health of the lungs.  It is the dissolved oleoresin that makes this tincture slightly cloudy – the oleoresin was well-dissolved in pure alcohol but is less well “carried” by the water-alcohol mix that was used to extract the remainder of the formula, so the mixture creates a a “louche” or microemulsion much like absinthe or ouzo does when it is mixed with water.

As you can tell, I’m pretty jazzed about this aralia.  I think of it as the “secret weapon” of this formula.  Also, generally speaking, I like to include at least one fresh-extracted local herb in most of my formulas.  They “brighten” the formula, much like a fresh salad or salsa adds a splash of pizzazz to a cooked meal. Despite the relatively small amount of aralia in this formula, it is definitely the dominant flavor note.

Production Notes:
1.5 kilograms of ground-up herbs produced 3.5 liters of tincture.  To this was added about 500 ml. of fresh aralia tincture, starting mass and water content of the fresh root unknown.  Estimated strength of final tincture is about 1:2.  The first kilogram of herbs was extracted by percolation after moistening for 48 hours in a mixture of water (60%) and alcohol (40%).   The same ratio of solvents, chosen to maximize polysaccharide extraction, was used for the percolation.  The resulting tincture was refluxed over low heat in the Soxhlet Extractor so that a second extraction was achieved.  Preferring the taste of the no-heat first extraction to that of the low-heat second extraction, I performed a second percolation of another 500 grams of freshly-ground herbs and added it to the original tincture, with no second wash-through.  Finally, the fresh aralia tincture was added, particulate matter in the final formula was allowed to settle, and then the formula was bottled.

Other Things You Can Do To Stimulate the Immune System:
Spend Time Outdoors:  I believe that when we spend too much time indoors, our defensive qi deflector shields stop working and we get sick more often as a result.  By spending time outdoors, especially in conditions that are at the edge of our comfort zone (like wind, cold, and rain), we challenge our immune systems to rise to the occasion and work harder to protect us.  By regularly working out the immune system in this way, we get stronger and pathogens find it more difficult to penetrate our defenses.

Moxibustion:  The burning of mugwort fuzz, or “moxa,” is a healing art in its own right.  In Western Japan where I was born, there are moxibustionists who treat all manner of illness entirely by burning small cones of moxa at strategic acupuncture points.  Naturally, doing it the traditional hardcore way (burning the cones all the way down to the skin) hurts!  I suspect that the administration of micro-burns causes the immune system to launch a retaliation to this perceived assault at the body’s periphery, and that increased immunity to viruses and other pathogens is a kind of side-effect of this self-repair and self-protection mechanism.  If you are interested, I can burn you or show you how to burn yourself safely at home.  There is also a less hardcore method in which you let the cone burn just until you feel the burn, at which point you yank or flick the cone off.  This sort of penetrating heat therapy is actually quite pleasant once you can relax and get over the fear of getting burned.

Steam:  Although I knew theoretically that steam inhalation could attenuate or kill viruses, I never really gave this method a fair shake.  That is, until my friend, the immunologist Martha Zuniga, explained to me in detail the scientific basis for this method and convinced me to buy a home steamer.  For $35 I purchased one of these devices at CVS (produced by a company called Kaz [!], since taken over by Vicks), and steam for 15 minutes whenever I feel like I might be coming down with something.  It works like a charm!  The key is to strike early, and to repeat once more over the course of the next 24 hours.  I have stopped colds in their tracks using this method, and even when I was too late to truly nip it in the bud, the steaming seems to make the cold lose its oomph and peter out faster than it otherwise would.

Other:  Needless to say, eating healthy whole foods, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, etc., are the most important factors in staying healthy so that your immune system can work like it’s supposed to.

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