In my clinic today I sent out a newsletter in honor of International Women's Day. In the newsletter I had a brief discussion of perhaps one of the more common Chinese herbal formulas used by women - Xiao Yao San. Something that I find interesting is the use of main flavor structure of an herbal formula translated into a dietary recipe so as to approximate some of the function of the formula in food. One of the challenges I think we all face is that some patients are resistant to using herbal formulas, and this can be for a variety of reasons. Some object to the taste, some to the cost, some have concerns about herb-drug interaction. When we approach patients with dietary "formulas" however there is less resistance. They usually taste good, and contain mild enough ingredients that the worry of herb-drug interaction is mitigated.
So, let's consider Xiao Yao San as an example. The main Dui Yao pair in the formula that courses liver and relieves depression is Chai Hua and Bai Shao. This pair is the combination of cool and mildly acrid (Chai Hu) with sour (Bai Shao). Acrid courses Qi, sour constrains to help nourish blood. Since the Liver is a Yang viscus (as the wood phase) it has a tendency to overheating when constrained, so cool is also appropriate. Thus, this particular combination is effective at treating Liver Depression (肝鬱). Added to this basic pairing is the sweet supplementing of Bai Zhu (which is enhanced by Gan Cao). This is the trip of main flavors in Xiao Yao San.
Now, how can we approach this as dietary therapy? One recipe I give patients that approximates Xiao Yao San is mint tea with lemon. Like Chai Hu, mint is cooling and slightly acrid (and by the way it is in Xiao Yao San as well). Lemon is sour. If we also want to add in something slightly warm and sweet that supplements the Spleen as Bai Zhu does, then patients can add in honey to taste. Thus, we have a simple and pleasant tasting tea that is essentially a milder version of Xiao Yao San. Consider this basic dietary tea recipe when treating patients with this formula pattern.