Elixir of Youth and Other Mysterious Concoctions of China

By JD Allen

Concoctions of grass roots and bark, herbs and spices, dried bugs and eggshells, fruits and tea as well as flower buds and animal dung seem odd to most Westerns. But to Chinese clinicians and physicians, the ingredients are part of an ancient medical art called Traditional Chinese Medicine.

“Traditional Chinese Medicine is a concept of logic and culture,” said Zhang Wenzhao, a med-student at Beijing University of Chinese Medicine. “It is centered around healing the body from the inside out.”

Zhang explained how qi, or the body’s “biological electricity,” is the force that “motivates, not energizes, blood to float through the veins and helps pump the heart.” Qi helps reinvigorate the body’s natural heat and vital organs, said Zhang.

The following is a selection of concoctions and ingredients used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and sold in markets across China.

MAFEISAN is an ancient anesthetic, no longer used, a concoction thought to be created by mixing wine with herbal extracts that blocks pain receptors and renders the consumer unconscious.

Attempts to recreate the powder have yielded medicines similar to morphine or noxious alternatives. Hua Tuo, a Han Dynasty physician and the creator of mafeisan, destroyed the recipe after his jailer refused to spread his work to help the Chinese people.

YONGQUAN CREAM is applied to the acupuncture point just below the ball of the foot along the Shaoyin Meridian, or the kidney meridian. A meridian is a hypothetical line of qi that runs through the body. When an acupuncture needle strikes the qi point, qi travels along the meridian, healing the body. The yongquan cream is applied either on its own or with acupuncture to rejuvenate the qi in the kidneys.

BIRD NESTS are used to moisten the lungs and to increase the fairness and smoothness of the skin.

Some Chinese families want to attract birds so that they can collect and later consume the nests. Nests are made from twigs and other types of brush. The brush can contain honey as an adhesive that is a nutritious form of glucose, making the consumer feel revitalized, and working as a natural antihistamine.

MERCURY was thought for centuries in China to be the primary ingredient in an Elixir of Youth. Consuming mercury was believed to keep the skin fresh and bright looking, lightening the pigments. Mercury was also used to attempt to change the eye’s iris pigment by squeezing droplets directly into the eye, often causing blindness. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi, is rumored to have died drinking a serum made of mercury and jade fragments while attempting to achieve eternal life.

Today in China, mercury is used to kill parasites and counteract toxic pathogens. Mercury is only to be applied topically. Also, mercury is naturally consumed from fish oils.

ARSENIC (pi shuang) has been used for more than two millennia by Chinese clinicians to treat a variety of conditions including syphilis and psoriasis. Nowadays, Chinese researchers and Chinese Western medicine physicians use small doses of arsenic to treat cancer like leukemia.

SANGUIS DRACANIS (Resina Dracanis), derived from qi lin jie, a fruit found in Guangdong Province, is used topically to stop bleeding, reduce ulcers and regenerate tissue. It can also be consumed to calm pain, circulate blood and eliminate blood accumulation.

GINSENG ROOT is used as a stimulant to reinforce the spleen and nourish the lungs. Although ginseng is considered to invigorate qi, it isn’t for everyone: It can be detrimental to people with hypertension and can even cause insomnia.

AMERICAN GINSENG, REISHI, RED DATE AND WOLFBERRY TEA is a drink for those with anemia, hypertension, coronary heat disease, stroke and immunodeficiency from AIDS. This tea is said to nourish the spleen, stomach and kidney as well as strengthening immunity.

BEEF SHANK STEW WITH LIL FLOWER AND BLACK FUNGUS is eaten to mend memory and signs of aging. This meal is said to even help patients with Alzheimer disease. The combination of the lily flower and black fungus can also relieve anxiety and calm irritation.

BITTER MELON PICKLE is prepared to clear away heat and brighten the eyes. Heat in Traditional Chinese Medicine does not refer to temperature but rather the body’s storage of emotion. Emotion, and heat, are stored in the liver. This concoction, while calming the liver, can also treat heat stroke, sore throat and eye infection.

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