The old song goes:

While strolling through the park one day,
In the merry merry month of May,
He was taken by surprise,
By a pair of roguish eyes,
In a moment his poor heart was stole away.

That may be less likely to happen today. While corners of the world are relaxing “stay at home” orders, a second wave has hit northern Japan, China and Singapore. In America men, more than women, the elderly and people of color die in significantly higher numbers. At Academy of Healing Nutrition we arm natural defenses with immune-enhancing herbs, balancing and energizing foods and the confidence that comes from staying healthy.

Stay strong and keep your distance. But Prevention is key. When that is too late, use the right protocol to bring about recovery. As we have said before, avoid using tonic herbs during a fever or cold/flu because the tonic drives the imbalance deeper into the body. Avoid immune-enhancing herbs if you are currently taking immune-suppressing medicines, such as cancer treatments, or have an auto-immune disease. Otherwise, many immune-regulating herbs, including medicinal mushrooms, may be used to stay strong.

Mid April The Academy had a delightful ZOOM meeting with Nam Singh, we in New York and he in San Francisco. He described several immune-regulating herbs that may be used in teas or soup stocks. Here are some of the highlights from the meeting.

Nam Singh’s American family is from Virginia. However he and his grandfather spent summers in Taiwan. Nam Singh lived and studied at a monastery and by the age of 15 he was a fully ordained Daoist priest. He learned to cook according to the seasons, how to bring about balance and prevent digestive upset that often accompanies the change of season. This includes ways to tonify the spleen’s digestive energy. Our emotions also play a part in food preparation and digestion. Nam Singh described how the head of the monastery kitchen was able to perceive the students’ emotions. If a student was upset the head master would not allow him to cook, but told the student, “Not today, come tomorrow.” Some of the herbs Nam Singh described in the class can be added to a soup stock or jook depending upon the desired healing effects.

Throughout Japan and China breakfast is respectively called jook or congee a soupy rice dish that may be very plain or seasoned with soup stock, meat or vegetarian foods or herbs. White or brown rice is used. Wash the rice very thoroughly until the water runs clear before cooking. It is easy to digest, moistening and warming for a morning meal. Shan yao a white yam may be added while cooking which supports healthy lungs, stomach, spleen and kidneys.

Shan Yao

Shan yao, variously called Chinese or Japanese white yam, mountain drug, cinnamon vine or Dioscorea batatas, is a vine native to Asia. It grows in North America, but it is not related to the sweet potato that we call yam here. You can find several forms in Chinatown, one looks like a long beige colored tube with hairs on the outside, another has a brown peel. If you buy the hairy one, burn off the hairs by holding the yam over a flame. If you try to slice off the hairs the sticky yam will be too hard to hold. Inside, the bland, sticky yam acts as a phytoestrogen and contains allantoin, a natural compound that can accelerate the growth of healthy tissue and reduce healing time. Topically, Chinese yam has been applied to boils and abscesses. Its leaf juice treats scorpion stings and snakebites in case you bump into any of those. Women who are hormone sensitive, have endometriosis or are taking birth control pills should avoid Shan yao (as well as scorpions.) Sliced dried dioscorea is sold in Chinese herb shops. It looks and tastes like white chalk.


You can’t talk about immunity without describing astragalus (huang qi) which looks like a dried, wooden tongue depressor. When cooked it has a nice mild semi-sweet flavor. Some people simmer it for 30 minutes and drink the tea between meals or add a few slices to cook with a chicken soup stock. It enhances our natural defense (T an B cells.) The Chinese use it to counter fatigue and stress and help regulate sweating.

Chinese red dates, Jujube

In Chinese it is called rong zao (red date) or da zao (big date), in Latin: Ziziphus jujuba. It is rather sweet and warming, a Qi tonic that, according to Nam Singh, moves blood, therefore, is useful for women who have painful periods due to stuck Qi circulation. It benefits spleen and stomach and increases kidney yang. That makes it useful for aching, weak lower back and legs and low libido. Avoid excess use if you have intestinal parasites or hypertension. However, combined with other herbs, it soothes heart stress conditions and insomnia.

Chinese doctors observe whether the origin of an illness comes from inside or outside the body. Inside imbalances may stem from emotional stress or, for example, digestive weakness. External illness may come from inclement weather, spoiled food, or epidemic germs. A health problem may be from an excess—too much heat or cold in the body or from a deficiency such as organ weakness. For harmonizing symptoms from cold and heat, excess and deficiency and treating associated symptoms (such as common cold, influenza, pneumonia, indigestion, nervous exhaustion, etc.) herbalists may combine jujube dates with herbs that affect digestion and energy such as white peony root, Chinese skullcap, ginseng, cinnamon, ginger and licorice. A bland tasting, moistening congee might contain moistening white fungus, white rice, sliced Solomon’s seal herb and red dates slow cooked at low heat with at least twice the amount of water as rice. Such a moistening soup is useful for reducing a dry cough, dry skin and chronic thirst.

Reishi medicinal mushroom

We hear a lot about reishi, called Ganoderma lucidum, lingzhi. The longevity mushroom is cultivated in China, Japan and grows wild in North Eastern hemlock forests of North America. It is a parasite that grows on many types of trees, but it is safer to buy it ready sliced for soup stock. Wild mushroom identification is very tricky. Not a gourmet mushroom, it remains hard when cooked and has a very mild flavor. Its benefits are medicinal to boost immunity, fight fatigue, improve memory, increase energy and stamina, lower cholesterol, reduce inflammation, relieve stress, slow the aging process, and stimulate circulation. Ganoderma is also praised as a top source of antioxidants. It is neutral in temperature and can soothe digestion and help ease joint pains. We love it at the Academy of Healing Nutrition. It has been used to help prevent cancers. However, a preliminary Canadian study from 2008 indicates that it should be used with caution for children with cancer since there may be a potential for toxicity.   Some people are allergic to mushrooms and this should be taken into consideration.

Honeysuckle flowers in tea

Lonicera japanica, not a tonic but a broad-spectrum antibiotic, a little “gold and silver flower” with a lovely sweet fragrance, packs a wallop against bacterial and viral infections including staph and strept germs and pneumonia. It tastes bitter and when used to excess may cause nausea or diarrhea. Nam Singh suggested adding a pinch of the dried flowers to warm tea as an immune booster, detoxifying herb. In Chinese medicine the throat, lungs and large intestine and skin are energetically connected by meridians and organs—The Metal Element. Using a bitter detoxifying herb tea such as honeysuckle and dandelion can therefore help clear up sore throat, breast infections and acne.

The student meet-up we had with Nam Singh was great, like looking over his shoulder as he cooked in his California kitchen. He described the temperatures of soup bones used to make stock or bone broth: Chicken and turkey bones are warming useful for cold weather, fish bones are most often cooling depending on “whether it swims fast (yang) or is slow moving (yin.)” Beef bones are considered neutral and pork bones cooling.

He uses a variety of salts from around the world for their flavor and energy. He avoids sugar and fake sweeteners and prefers lo han quo or birch tree sugar, avoids ice drinks and frozen foods (too cold) and alcohol except to finish off a dish’s flavor to add richness. He had many neat tricks like: If a fat, for example butter or lard, melts in your hand then it can be more easily digested. Body heat is enough to make it absorbable. It will leave the body more quickly and easily than an unhealthy fat. He often uses animal fats from soup stock for cooking instead of adding an extra oil. He might add a chicken stock to make jook. He uses as little oil as possible in cooking. He says “Yes” for peanut oil, tea oil, white sesame oil, rice bran oil and avocado oil for cooking and olive oil or light sesame oil to finish the flavor.

The Zoom recording of Nam Singh’s supplementary class and meet-up are available for students of the Academy of Healing Nutrition. There are lots of good things to study from his lecture demonstration as well as to enjoy the warm welcome and congenial manner of his teaching. The next Zoom class will be my class May 3rd. It will bring together the healing principles of Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, some cooking tips and informal “eye-spy” diagnosis of body types of the Zoom participants in order to help with choosing the right diet for our constitution. You are not yet a student at the Academy of Healing Nutrition in New York or London? The new class year begins in October in New York. However students can join anytime and catch up by watching videos until we meet again in person for The Longevity Diet. I look forward to seeing you. Stay safe and well.