There are two major forms of herbal therapy: nourishing and cleansing. Many one-sided and over-simplified theories will focus on one of the two and attribute disease to either buildup of toxic excess in the body (which requires cleansing) or to nutritional deficiencies (which require nourishing therapies). In truth, every person could be seen to have some deficiencies and some excesses. This is why even in this moment you breath in and out (nourishing and cleansing with each complete cycle of the breath), why everyday you eat and eliminate (through urination, bowel movement, etc.). Many patterns of nourishing and cleansing are found throughout any individual’s life – one of which are the seasons. In the autumn and winter it is generally best to focus on nourishing. In the spring, cleansing.
Jing, or essence, is one of the Three Treasures of Chinese medicine. The other two are chi (vital energy) and shen (spirit). In Chinese medicine essence is associated with the Kidneys. While this is deep, somewhat complicated, and a foreign idea to most Westerners, I will attempt to explain it simply in two ways. First, the Kidneys are also associated with the reproductive organs and functions, and essence is believed to originate at the moment of conception. It is therefore, hereditary – a sort of ancient parallel to modern genetics. Second, Chinese medicine is built upon a system of correspondences that relate to five organs. The five primary organs (kidneys, liver, heart, spleen, and lungs) are associated with all of the other organs and bodily functions. They kidneys are where essence is stored.
Chi is nourished easily through daily breathing and eating, et cetera. Its cycles are more transient than the cycles of essence, which govern growth, development, maturation, and aging. In women, essence follows 7 year cycles. In men, essence follows 8 year cycles. For women the first stage of life is over at age 7 and menstruation begins at 14 (formerly, at least – today the exposure to synthetic hormones is shortening the cycle). At 21 women fully enter adulthood… For boys to become men, as anyone can see, the cycle is a bit slower: 8, 16, 24, etc.
Because of the depth and speed of essence, it is difficult to nourish and it is wise to also live in a way that conserves jing. Certain foods and herbs, however, can be used to help nourish essence in the body, particularly seeds and other deeply nourishing foods. Beans, especially black beans, adzuki, and kidney beans are good. Seeds such as sesame, hemp, and lotus are good. Green “superfoods” like spirulina, chorella, and wheatgrass are good. Pollens, such as bee pollen (collected by bees, of course, not produced by them), pine pollen, or cattail pollen. Reishi mushroom nourishes essence as do probably some other medicinal mushrooms. Herbal remedies for nourishing essence include American Ginseng and He Shou Wu.