Healing leaves : Five-leaf Gynostemma tea

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RECIPE

Five-leaf Gynostemma tea

(Serves two to three)

INGREDIENTS

3g five-leaf gynostemma

500ml hot water

METHOD

Add the five-leaf gynostemma into a pot filled with 500ml of hot water.

Let it steep for 10 minutes before drinking. You may continue adding more water until the tea becomes diluted.

WHAT IT IS: The five-leaf gynostemma belongs to the same family of plants as cucumbers or gourds.

It grows in several parts of China, such as Guangdong, Sichuan, Fujian and Yunnan, said Ms Lam Man Sze, a traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) practitioner at Ma Kuang Healthcare Group.

The leaves of the plant are commonly used to brew tea, she said, while its stem is used in TCM prescriptions.

It is said that this herb, known as jiaogulan in Chinese, contains four times the amount of saponins found in ginseng.

Saponin is a compound which protects plants from fungus and microbes. Studies have shown that it is beneficial for bone health, lowers cholesterol levels and supports the immune system.

Ms Lam said good quality leaves are slightly curled, sport a bluish tinge and have a light fragrance.

A packet of five-leaf gynostemma is sold at $2 for a tael (37.5g) at some medical halls here.

HOW TCM USES IT: The herb, with its slightly sweet and bitter taste, is considered cold in nature.

It is thought to move through the meridians of the lungs and spleen, addressing qi (vital energy) deficiencies in both these organ systems.

Meridians are channels in the body through which qi travels.

In TCM, the lungs govern respiration, so a lack of qi in the lungs results in breathlessness, fatigue, a weak pulse and predisposes a person to frequent coughs and colds, said Ms Lam.

This problem can arise from being exposed to windy conditions or hot and dry weather.

If a person develops both qi and yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) deficiencies, his cough will be dry with little phlegm and he may feel a warm sensation in the palms and feet, she added.

To replenish yin and resolve coughs, five-leaf gynostemma is prescribed with herbs such as glehnia root and dwarf lilyturf tuber, she said.

The herb is also used to address qi deficiency in the spleen, arising from the excessive consumption of cold food and drinks that cause internal dampness and affect the spleen's digestive function.

Besides the typical qi deficiency signs of fatigue and a pale face, additional symptoms that are specific to the spleen include poor appetite, bloatedness, loose stools and a pink tongue with teeth marks along the side.

WHO IT IS FOR: People with asthma have a tendency to develop qi deficiency in the lungs as their bodies are inherently weaker, said Ms Lam.

It is also believed that five-leaf gynostemma is useful for those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes.

WHO SHOULD AVOID IT: People with a cold body constitution. This is marked by an aversion to cold and a tendency to pass out loose stools, said Ms Lam.

She also advises pregnant women to consume five-leaf gynostemma only under the supervision of a TCM practitioner.

WHAT RESEARCH HAS SHOWN:

Patients treated with sulfonylurea and who also received five-leaf gynostemma extract had better glycaemic control, compared with those who were put on sulfonylurea therapy alone, a 2012 study found.

Both groups of patients in the study, which was published in Evidence-Based Complementary And Alternative Medicine, had similar diet and exercise regimens over the 12 weeks of treatment. The authors noted that the herb "was mainly responsible for the additional improvement of glycaemic control".

They said the herb "could offer an alternative to the addition of other oral medication to treat type 2 diabetic patients".

 
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