Summer’s end can be a tricky time of year health-wise. It is the completion of Spleen/Stomach time, the season of monsoons in much of the world. This means that forms of dampness can be a particular problem now, causing such issues as weight gain that won’t respond to dieting, feelings of heaviness, lung mucus, cough, chest fullness, edema, oozing skin eruptions, abdominal distention, nausea, vomiting, sore, heavy or stiff joints, bloating, fluid retention, loss of appetite, acid regurgitation, gas, bloating, the need to clear the throat after eating, excessive drooling, snoring, runny nose, post-nasal drip, lymphatic congestion, swelling, or stuffiness in the epigastrium. Further, there may be no thirst, or a desire to only sip in small amounts.
Part of the reason for this is that hot temperatures outside can lock Coldness inside the gut, which, of course, is compounded by iced drinks, ice cream, smoothies, and other cold fluids, excessive eating of salads and other raw foods, and imbibing foods and drinks directly out of the refrigerator or freezer. This is exacerbated by consumption of fats such as chips, fries, dairy and greasy foods and by flour products, which also cause Dampness and mucus.
The result is feeling hot (External Heat), but having loose stools (Internal Coldness). One could even experience a fever, or stomach flu symptoms. Alternatively, the cold food/fluids encapsulate the fat, making it unable to properly assimilate, resulting in ama (undigested food in Ayurvedic parlance), or cholesterol, toxic fat and cellulite (in Western terms).
So now that you know about all of these horrible symptoms — and maybe even have some of them — what do you do about it?
One great herb of choice is agastache (Agastache rugosa; Pogostemon cablin — huo xiang). It is an aromatic stomachic, fragrant herb that strengthens and “revives” the Spleen in its transforming (metabolizing) function, treating digestive disturbances due to Dampness in the Spleen/Stomach. As well, it may be used for morning sickness, especially with cardamom seeds and fresh ginger, and is very useful for prolonged or chronic diarrhea. It is also one of the best herbs to take for summer colds and flu when the body’s heat is dispersed to the surface, leaving Coldness in the interior with resulting chills/fever, diarrhea, stomachache and vomiting.
- Part used: leaf
- Energy, taste and Organs affected: slightly warm; acrid; Lung, Spleen, Stomach
- Actions: aromatic stomachic
- Properties: stomachic, anti-emetic, antifungal, diaphoretic
- Dosage: 4.5-9 g; decoct 2 tsp./cup water for no more than 15 min, drink 1-3 cup/day
- Precautions: Stomach Heat, Deficient Blood or Deficient Yin with Heat signs
- Other: This herb is not the anise hyssop plant as some may think.
This herb is so effective in eliminating Dampness that I have seen it drain edema on heavy thighs, legs and buttocks, clearing out much of what is called cellulite. Now, before you rush right out to purchase this herb and start madly dosing yourself with it, know that it also drains fluid from the breasts (reducing their size) but even more importantly, its drying nature aggravates, or eventually causes, Deficient Blood or Yin with many undesirable symptoms like blurry vision, dizziness, dry skin, nails and hair, numbness in the limbs, or night sweats to name a few. Thus, like all herbs, it should be used with respect and in the right conditions.
Similar herbs to agastache include cardamom and asafoetida.
The major Chinese formula for summer colds and flu with diarrhea, general diarrhea, bloating, loose stools, vomiting, nausea, acute food stagnation, motion sickness, overeating, and hangover is Huo Xiang Zheng Qi Wan (Huo Hsiang Cheng Chi Pien – Agastache Pill). It contains: agastache, white atractylodes, magnolia bark, platycodon, citrus (chen pi), licorice, pinellia, betel husk (Areca catechu – da fu pi), angelica (bai zhi), perilla (zi su ye), fu ling, jujube dates and dry ginger. It disperses pathogenic factors and releases the Exterior, clears Summer Heat and Damp, dispels turbidity, descends rebellious Qi and harmonizes digestion.
Alternatively, the Planetary Formula “Digestive Comfort” may be used. Based on several herbs that dry Internal Damp Cold with their warm, aromatic Damp-dispelling qualities, it contains: fu ling, coix, white atractylodes, angelica, kudzu, magnolia bark, agastache, saussurea, leavened wheat, sprouted rice, trichosanthes, chrysanthemum, cyperus, gastrodia and mint. This formula removes food stagnation, harmonizes the Stomach, subdues rebellious Stomach Qi, transforms Dampness, subdues Yang, and relieves pain. Use it for abdominal bloating, gas and cramps, belching, hiccups, nausea, abdominal distension and pain, diarrhea, hyperacidity, overeating, hangover, motion sickness, morning sickness, stomach flu and food poisoning.
Agastache urticafolia, a very close relative of huo xiang, growing in Stanislaus National Forest, CA. Photo by Ben Zappin.