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Traditional winter tonic for springtime tiger-slayers
By Zhang Qian

Traditional Chinese medicine holds that only by restoring sufficient energy in winter can a plant sprout vigorously in the spring. That principle applies not only to agriculture, but also to the basic health maintenance of the human body.

The Chinese say that if a person takes a good tonic in winter, then he (and today, presumably, she as well) can kill a tiger in the spring.

Chinese people traditionally to change their diets and routines with the season. In cold weather, the big task is preparing for the coming year.

Jin bu (进补), or reinforcing therapy, is very popular. It typically comes in the form of gao fang (膏方), an herbal paste sold in jars as congealed jelly or liquid in handy pouches. Millions of Chinese people choose this tonic every season.

The jelly paste is rendered from a herbal medicine containing dozens of ingredients and animal parts. Honey, brown sugar and yellow rice wine improve the taste and smell. Other ingredients can include ginseng, deer antler velvet, tortoise undershell, donkey hide, ganoderma fungus (ling zhi 灵芝), cordyceps (caterpillar fungus), which are among the most costly.

Rejuvenating herbal paste first appeared in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). It was widely used by royal families in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Modern gao fang is very popular in Shanghai, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong provinces and it has spread to other regions, such as Beijing and Yunnan Province.

Last year, Shanghai Yueyang Hospital prescribed gao fang for around 20,000 people; similar numbers are reported in other Shanghai TCM hospitals.

The cost of 2,700 grams is 2,000-3,000 yuan (US$329-493).

Though herbal paste can boost energy, strengthen the immune system and provide an array of health benefits, it is not a cure and cannot replace medicine itself, according to Dr Zhang Teng, chief physician of Internal Medicine Department at Shanghai Yueyang Hospital. It can be used by most people with chronic health problems and those who are “sub-healthy.”

“For most people in Shanghai today, taking gao fang is not as much about reinforcement, as it was in ancient times, but adjustment and balance, since most people suffer health problems today because they eat too much rather than too little,” says Dr Zhang.

He writes a prescription for each patient, based on their particular energy-balance and needs.

The main strategy is to reinforce deficient energy (yin or yang) and dispel the excessive energy, which depends on the person. Blindly taking patent tonic can aggravate energy imbalance and cause problems.

“One man’s meat is another one’s poison. You cannot be too careful in prescribing in TCM,” says Dr Zhang.

Observing the complexion, inspecting the tongue color, taking the pulse and asking about general health and problems in detail are part of the diagnosis. Yin deficiency accompanied with excessive “fire” (overly-active yang energy) is common among many Westerners in Shanghai due to their diet habit, Dr Zhang observes.

People with yin deficiency and excessive “fire” may suffer problems like sleeplessness, sore throat, thirstiness, constipation and frequent ulcer.

Since the body is supposed to be in tune with the universe, the optimum time for gao fang is from the Winter Solstice (Dong Zhi 冬至, a solar term, usually between December 21 and 23) through Spring Begins (Chun Fen 春分, usually between February 3 and 5).

Shanghai Yueyang Hospital 岳阳医院

Address: 110 Ganhe Rd, Hongkou District

Tel: 5561-0579

44 Qinghai Rd, Jing'an District

Tel: 6253-6300

Other TCM clinics

Zun Ran Hospital 尊然中医

The hospital on Zhanghong Road in Minhang District set up its International Department last year to let more foreigners know about TCM culture. It is also provides treatment using Chinese medicine for foreigners who like Chinese culture.

The International Department will serve all foreign friends from 8am to 5pm (excluding weekends and holidays). Medical expenses are the same as for Chinese people. A complete TCM treatment is 300 yuan (US$49.41).

Zun Ran Hospital is also part of the MediLink-Global Network Hospitals. The VIP can enjoy cardholder medical treatment. Call 6468-0752 to make an appointment.

Zun Ran Hospital has more than 30 Chinese medicine experts.

Open: 8am-5pm

Address: 123 Zhanghong Rd, by Wuzhong Rd, Minhang District

Tel: 6468-0752

United Family Hospital and Clinics 和睦家

Services provided by the Department of Traditional Chinese Medicine at Shanghai United Family Hospital & Clinics include:

• Pain management ranging from muscle pains, unidentified sources of pain (e.g. headache, menstruation cramping) and sports injuries;

• Hormone-related imbalances such as irregular menstruation, menopause, thyroid conditions and infertility;

• Sleeping disorders, stress and ringing of ears.

Address: 1139 Xianxia Rd, Changning District

Appointment: 400-639-3900

Hotline: 2216-3999

Website: www.ufh.com.cn

Chong Jing Tang 中经堂

Jointly established by the Science and Technology Center of the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine and the Shanghai Association of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chong Jing Tang uses traditional Chinese medicine with industry standards.

They gather experts in meridian study from all over the country (such as Beijing and Shanghai) as well as the heirs of folk meridian recuperation skills.

They provide overall health solutions for people with long-standing sub-clinical states or chronic diseases with traditional recuperation methods such as moxibustion, cupping, physical and breathing exercises and medicated bath, which harmonize the body and stimulate self-healing.

Address: 767 Huangjincheng Ave (near Gubei Rd), Changning District

Tel: 6219-5126, 6219-5628

Website: www.chongjingtang.net

Shanghai DeltaWest Clinic 上海德西门诊部

The TCM specialists of Shanghai DeltaWest Clinic will make a professional diagnosis for your condition via inspection, auscultation and olfaction, inquiry and palpation. They are skilled in performing acupuncture, moxibustion, massage, cupping, and herbal medicine. TCM treatment approaches are also highly individualized.

Address: 5/F, Bldg B, 2558 Yan’an Rd W.

Tel: 2213-9777

Website: www.deltahealth.com.cn

Tips on taking gao fang

Most healthy people should take 30 grams (a spoonful) of gao fang twice a day on an empty stomach. It can be eaten straight, followed by warm water, or dissolved in warm water. It can be drunk directly from little pouches.

People with digestion problems should eat gao fang five to 10 minutes after meals.

After taking gao fang, avoid irritating and hard-to-digest foods, including seafood, greasy and spicy food. Avoid alcohol, strong tea and coffee since they interfere with absorption of gao fang.

Don’t drink milk, juice or other beverages with gao fang — wait half an hour.

Do not eat turnips after gao fang, as turnip will weaken the reinforcing effect of herbs like ginseng, fleece-flower root and di huang (radices rehmanniae 地黄) in gao fang.

People should stop therapy if they are ill with a bad cold, cough or flareup, such as rheumatism.

Pregnant or menstruating women should avoid gao fang.

Store in the refrigerator at 0-10 degrees Celsius.

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