Number 4
January 1997

Herbs in this issue:
Sesame seed



A Note From Dr. Leung


     Imitation is a form of flattery?  Tell this to the inventor whose patent is violated without remuneration, or to the author whose writing is reproduced without given credit.  I don’t think they will be flattered.  I think they will be mad!  Unfortunately, this happens more than you think.  Authors copy materials from others and present them as if they were their own.  I personally have been such a victim.  The thief calls himself a “medical anthropologist.”  His book was published in 1988, which deals with fruits, vegetables and herbs for healing.  It is advertised by the publisher as a source for healing secrets from North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Europe; in other words, everywhere, including the herbal secrets of ancient China and Japan.When I scanned it, I noticed numerous very familiar remedies, some of which could only be from my Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs that was published in 1984.  I found over a dozen remedies, some copied word for word, others cleverly changed to suit the health theme of the time, using honey instead of sugar or rock candy as called for in the


Dr. Leung is author of the Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics (Wiley-Interscience), which was published in 1980 and revised in 1996. He is also creator of PHYTOMED, a prototype computer database on Chinese herbal medicine developed under contract with the National Cancer Institute.


original Chinese remedies. Also, he uses olive oil instead of vegetable oil, yet the Chinese don’t use olive oil!  Nowhere in his book is my book referenced.  My name is mentioned once in reference to sesame seeds, in passing, but then all the sesame seed remedies are reproduced as if they were his own, modifying the information with figment of his own imagination.  For example, my grandma’s sesame soup for constipation is plagiarized as follows: 

11 parts of sesame seeds are soaked in water together with a small amount of rice.  After the sesame seed and rice are well soaked and become tender, they are ground to a paste by running them through a small food grinder or nut mill of some sort.  The resulting milk mixture is strained to remove the coarse particles and then diluted with a little more water and some honey before cooking on low heat until the consistency is somewhat syrupy.  Two cups of this delicious soup usually clear up the most obstinate form of constipation within an hour or so.

The original version in my book is as follows:

…….. sesame seeds are soaked in water together with a small amount of rice.  After the sesame seed and rice are well soaked and become tender, they are ground to a paste, usually in a small granite mill which many Chinese families have.  The resulting milk mixture is strained to remove the coarse particles and then diluted with water and cooked with sugar or, more commonly, rock candy to taste.  The consistency of the soup varies, depending on the amount of rice and water used.  This soup is prepared …... to soothe and lubricate internal organs, particularly the bowels.

        Note that his “11 parts of sesame seeds…” here absolutely makes no sense.  The reason is that he didn’t understand the recipe, which is for “almond milk,” requiring 10 parts of sweet almond and 1 part bitter almond, along with a small amount of rice.  He has replaced the 2 types of almonds with 11 parts of sesame seed, but relative to what?.  Also, his claim that 2 cups of this sesame soup “usually clear up the most obstinate form of constipation within an hour or so” is strictly from a figment of his imagination.  For your information, Mr. Plagiarist, if you happen to be reading this, when I say “lubricate the bowels,” it does not mean such strong purgative effects!  Sesame seed soup does not do that!

        This is only one of over a dozen secret remedies from China this plagiarist copies from my book.  Who knows how many other secret remedies from all over the world he has stolen from other authors?.  At first I considered suing him and looked into my options.  It turns out our copyright system is basically in favor of lawyers and plagiarists.  Even if I were to spend thousands of dollars to win such a lawsuit against this thief, I would have to prove that my income and reputation had been damaged by his act of plagiarism to receive any punitive remuneration from him.  Otherwise the only thing the publisher and plagiarist need to do is to add the proper acknowledgment to the next edition, if there is such an edition.  In the meantime, which could be years, the stolen remedies are presented to the world as if they were the original research of this dishonest author.  What has happened to a day’s honest work?  We have been blaming the younger generation for their lack of work ethics.  Yet people of our own generation like this plagiarist are stealing from honest people and getting away with it.  These people have no hesitation to misrepresent themselves, listing qualifications or giving themselves titles they haven’t earned, and taking advantage of the fruit of labor and reputation of hard-working folks. The sad and discouraging thing is that, on paper and to the general public, some of these fakes are quite well known.  And obviously, they are getting away with plagiarism and the exploitation of others’ work.  

        The reason I am writing about this plagiarism and dishonesty is that they have been on my mind for the past several years.  I am frustrated and feel cheated and violated.  Our society and laws do not seem to protect honest authors who have no choice but to grin and bear it.  I could give the name of the plagiarist and expose him but that would draw attention to his book, which is the last thing I want to do - to help him sell his book.  Nowadays, it is very easy to be an author in the herbal field.  Just hang around long enough.  If one were dishonest, one could easily copy from other authors or make up one’s own remedies and stories, assign them ancient or mystic origins, find a good editor and a friendly publisher who goes for the trend, and one is a published author!  So next time you pick up a book on herbs and healing, look at the qualifications of the author.  Prior publications by an author without a solid qualification often don’t mean much, because one more book by a non-qualified author is still a non-book.



Recent Findings


          Antimutagenic Herbs.  Mutagens are substances that cause mutations in living organisms.  Many chemicals and certain radiations are mutagens.  As mutations often lead to abnormal cell growth and may lead to the development of cancer, many mutagens also cause cancer.  Some foods and herbs have the property of preventing known mutagens from causing mutations in the test tube, and hence may be beneficial in the prevention of cancer.  Numerous Chinese herbs and foods have this property as summarized in a recent review in a Chinese biomedical journal.These herbs and foods include the following:  garlic, shanzha (Chinese hawthorn), lycium fruit, licorice root, caterpillar fungus (Cordyceps sinensis), jiaogulan (Gynostemma pentaphyllum), dazao (common jujube), dangshen (Codonopsis pilosula), luyong (deer velvet), fuling (Poria cocos), danshen (Salvia miltiorrhiza), nuzhenzi (Ligustrum lucidum), astragalus root, baizhu (Atractylodes macrocephala), banzhilian (Scutellaria barbata), chaihu (Bupleurum chinense), rhubarb, mudanpi (peony bark), chrysanthemum flower, schisandra berries, danggui, Asian ginseng, Job’s tear, Chinese black mushrooms, cured fo-ti, baishao (white peony root), chishao (red peony root), cassia bark, ganjiang (dried ginger), baizhi (Dahurian angelica), tiandong (asparagus root), baihe (lily bulb), star anise, cloves, yuanzhi (Polygala tenuifolia), mume (smoked plum), huajiao (Sichuan peppercorn), gouteng (Uncaria hooked stem), qinghao (Artemisia annua), myrrh, chuanxinlian (Andrographis paniculata),

        I am reporting these antimutagenic herbs here only in general terms.  For details of what types of extract and what mutagens were used in the experiments, you need to go to the original reference.  It is worth noting how many of these antimutagenic herbs are well-known tonics that have been used by the Chinese over centuries.  Despite our modern advanced technology in space exploration, computers, and drug development, we can do little about many of our current major diseases.  Our health is still best maintained by common sense.  It doesn’t hurt for us to continue to use some traditional herbs and foods (especially those with modern scientific substantiation) that have been used for centuries to help us along.  We don’t need to make a fad of them, but we should not shun them because there is yet no scientific “proof” of their effects.  Scientific “proof” can most logically be applied to chemicals of modern creation, because they have no long-term safety or use history, but it should not be applied to foods and herbs that have been safely used for centuries with well-known traditional properties. 

(1) Z.T. Wang et al., “Antimutagenic Effects of Chinese Herbs,” Zhongguo Zhongyiyao Xinxi Zazhi, 3(6): 16-17(1996).



Herb Notes


          Zicao (“purple herb”; Arnebia/Lithospermum spp.). Well known in China, this herb is little known here.  Thus, even in local Chinese communities, it is often misidentified and a wrong herb is used in its place.  Zicao is the root of Lithospermum erythrorhizon (red-root gromwell), Arnebia euchroma, or Arnebia guttata, plants of the Boraginaceae family that grow in northern and northwestern China.  If you buy zicao, be sure that the skin (root bark) of the herb offered is purple and stains your fingers when rubbed.

        Although zicao has numerous other pharmacological effects (anti-fertility, antipyretic, anti-tumor, antibacterial, antiviral, hypoglycemic, etc.), the effects that have peaked my interest are anti-inflammatory, astringent, and antihistaminic.  These latter effects form the rationale for the successful treatment of burns and wounds occasionally reported in the Chinese literature during the past twenty years.  Its various therapeutic uses are featured in 8 recent monthly issues of the Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine [Zhongyi Zazhi, 37(2) to 37(9)(1996)].  Conditions treated include:  hepatitis A, hepatitis B, allergic purpura, uterine bleeding, vaginitis, hemospermia, exfoliative inflammation of the lips, diaper rash, chronic gastritis, peptic ulcer, constipation, nasal congestion, middle ear infection, shingles, psoriasis, traumatic injuries, soft-tissue injuries (contusions), and burns.  Most of the uses are internal.  For wounds and burns, the most frequently reported method of treatment is topical application of an extract made with sesame-seed, vegetable, or peanut oil.  The extract is generally prepared by 1 of 2 methods:  (1)  Soak 1 part of zicao in 2 to 3 parts of oil for 7 days.  Strain and use the filtrate.  (2)  Heat 1 part of zicao in 3 to 6 parts of oil to boiling until oil turns deep purple.  Let cool to about 40C, filter and use the filtrate.  Sometimes a small amount of borneol (~1%) is added to the extract.  Successful treatment of a total of 1,438 burn patients has been documented in 2 reports, one for 1153 patients treated over a 30-year period2 and the other for 285 patients.3  Severity of burn ranged from first to third degree (10-85% body surface). Depending on the severity of burn, treatment time ranged from 7 days to 42 days.  Except for 1 fatality in each report, all patients were completely cured.  In addition to treating burns, zicao oil is also effective in bruises, wounds, and skin ulcers.4-7  And Zicao is frequently combined with other astringent, healing, and anti-inflammatory herbs for successfully treating the same conditions.  These herbs include diyu (Sanguisorba officinalis), huangbai (Phellodendron chinense), and huzhang (Polygonum


        Zicao contains shikonin and other naphthoquinones.  Shikonin is an isomer of alkanin.  It is currently produced by tissue culture and is used as a red coloring in cosmetics, especially lipsticks.  Due to zicao’s various biological effects (esp. anti-inflammatory, antihistaminic, and astringent), its extracts should be useful in skin-care. 

(2) P.Z. Xie and J.Y. Pang, “Zicao Oil in the Treatment of Scalds and Burns,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 29(4): 41(1988);  (3) X.Z. Zhang and X.P. Wang, “Clinical Observations on 285 Burn Patients Treated by Topical Application of Zicao Oil in Combination with Western Medicine,” Zhongxiyi Jiehe Zazhi, 6(11): 695 (1986);  (4) X.Y. Gao and T. Guo, “Zicao in the Treatment of Traumatic Injuries and Burns,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 37(8):455-456(1996);  (5) Y.X. Lu, “Topical Application of Zicao in the Treatment of Soft Tissue Injuries,” Zhongyi Zazhi, 37(7):391(1996);  (6) X.J. Wu et al., “Promotion of Healing by Zicao with Borneol,” Zhongyiyao Xinxi, (1): 40-41(1992);  (7) J.H. Jia, ”Treatment of Ulcer with Zicao Oil,” Zhejiang Zhongyi Zazhi, (6): 275(1990).



More on Herbs


          Quality of Herbal Extracts.  In the second issue of this newsletter, I had addressed the problem of quality of herbal products without providing an answer for you.  Frankly, I don’t have an answer.  I am just pointing out what I know that others in this business won’t tell you.  My hope is to slow down what I shall call the “corrupting of traditional herbal medicine” by people who are in this business strictly for the money, including those “defectors” who used to be staunch promoters of herb use until they saw big money in serving the drug industry, mistakenly taking a so-called active principle of an herb to be the herb.

        When it comes to quality, herbal products are a very difficult class to evaluate.  Unlike drugs and vitamin or mineral supplements, herbal products cannot be easily tested for chemical purity.  And although most are currently classified as foods or food supplements, their quality cannot be evaluated by taste testing as that of typical foods such as pizza, hot sour soup, or pecan pie, because they normally don’t come in the form of regular foods.

        In order to talk about the quality of herbal extracts, I must tell you a few facts that are little known or publicized.  Herbs, like foods (in fact, many are foods), contain more than one “active” chemical.  Some contain 3 or more types of active components, each possesses its own pharmacologic effect.  Typical examples of herbs with multiple active components are the Chinese tonics, such as ginseng, lycium, licorice, and astragalus.  Thus, pharmacologically active chemicals present in ginseng include various ginsenosides, polysaccharides (including ginseng pectin), sterols, volatile compounds, and possibly others still not yet investigated by modern science.  Those present in lycium include its polysaccharides, amino acids, betaine, flavonoids, and others.  For decades, glycyrrhizin was considered to be the only active component of licorice, but no longer; other compounds, especially the flavonoids, are now known to have many of the activities of glycyrrhizin.  Same with astragalus, the saponins (including over 40 astragalosides) first got top billing, but then later polysaccharides were recognized as equally important; so are its flavonoids.  I can go on citing examples, but it suffices to say that it is obvious one cannot determine the quality of an herb by analyzing or “standardizing” one particular chemical or chemical group in it.  But this is now being increasingly done.  I believe there are 2 major reasons and possibly a third for this:  (1)  It is done for expediency.  As chemical and pharmaceutical companies are entering the herbal field, they apply the only technology they know to herbs.  To them the easiest and most expedient way to control the quality of herbs is by chemical analyses, which is perfectly fine with chemicals and drugs, but not with herbs.  (2)  It is done out of ignorance.  Scientists and researchers trained in chemistry, pharmaceutics and pharmacology (that include at least 90% of all technical experts in industry, academia, and government) have no knowledge or insight when it relates to herbs, their history and uses, and the interpretation of scientific findings relevant to herbs.  The only thing they feel comfortable doing is to look for a specific chemical in an herb and its specific biological effect.  (3)  I have a feeling that “standardization” (now a buzzword) of a particular chemical or chemical group is very profitable for certain extraction companies (see page 2 of the last issue).  They can produce and market active chemicals as well as mislabeled or adulterated traditional extracts, all from a single batch of herb.  Incidentally, I have nothing against obtaining modern drugs from herbs, and there are many good ones to be obtained.  However, we must remember:  an active chemical from an herb does not necessarily represent the herb.  We must be given the option to choose the herb if its isolated active chemical (or its synthetic counterpart) proves to be too toxic.  An example of a good herb-derived drug with little toxic side effects is berberine, which the Chinese have isolated from huanglian (Coptis sinensis).  Huanglian is a common herbal drug with cooling and detoxifying properties, used for treating various conditions, including hemorrhage (e.g., vomiting blood and nosebleed), fidgeting, vomiting, diarrhea, and jaundice; it is also used externally to treat mouth sores, skin sores, and red eyes.  This isolated berberine is now widely available in China and in overseas Chinese communities as an antibacterial, especially effective as an antidiarrheal.  If you intend to travel to third-world countries, especially for the first time, it pays to take along some berberine.  It is as good (if not more so) as any modern antidiarrheals.  However, berberine is NOT equivalent to huanglian, nor are ginsenosides to ginseng (Asian or American).  It is easy and cheap to isolate and for this reason, you will never see it produced here, because there will not be any big profit for producing and marketing it.

        Currently, there are basically 2 types of herbal extracts:  (1)  Genuine total extracts prepared by traditional extraction methods.  These extracts contain the total spectrum of active components from the herbs, without having any particular group of ingredients removed, or extraneous “active” chemicals added.  Their quality can be evaluated by low-tech methods such as thin-layer chromatogragphy, UV spectroscopy, solubilities, pH, and organoleptic evaluation, such as color, taste and smell.  Such methods are frowned upon by most chemists, because they have been trained to use and develop sophisticated analytical techniques.  Their focus is not to find out how an herb can be evaluated so that the data can be used to substantiate its quality, but rather, how a particular new chemical or physical technique (such as the currently “hot” HPLC - high-performance or high-pressure liquid chromatography) can be used to evaluate an herb.  Whether the resulting data reflect the quality of the herb is incidental.  (2)  So-called “standardized” extracts containing an “active” component or group of components are normally not total extracts, because in selectively extracting the “active” component, or boosting its yield, other equally or even more active, but chemically different, components are left behind.  Nevertheless, chemists and pharmaceutical researchers favor and promote these extracts, because they are easily controlled by analyzing the amount of the active chemical, using, for example, the HPLC technique, even though it does not tell you the quality of the extracts other than the amount of the so-called “active” chemical present.  This “active” chemical can easily be added to an extract by dishonest suppliers, who would then claim they offer high-quality standardized extracts. 

        Thus, on the one hand, total extracts are difficult to evaluate and their adulteration widespread.  On the other hand, standardized extracts generally do not truly represent the herbs from which they are derived;  furthermore, they are also often spiked (adulterated) with extraneous chemicals!  Again, the key to quality of herbal extracts is to know your suppliers!  Memberships in trade groups or contributions to nonprofit health organizations do not make a supplier suddenly honest or knowledgeable!  If you are a consumer, I must apologize again for the lack of useful guidelines which would allow you to tell a good-quality herbal product from an inferior product. 



Healing Foods


          Banana.  There are basically 2 types - banana and plantain.  Banana has a distinct aromatic flavor while plantain is much more plain and tastes sweeter and more mucilaginous.  Among the 2 types, there are numerous varieties.  The Chinese consume both types almost with equal frequency, and Latinos cook and eat the unripe plantain as a staple of their diet.  The remedies I quote here are for xiang jiao (fragrant banana) - the one we commonly consume in the United States [Huaxia Changshou, (5): 19(1996); Shiyong Zhongxiyi Jiehe Zazhi, 9(9): 544(1996)] .  It has mild laxative and various medicinal qualities.  

        For a persistent cough, stew bananas with some rock candy and eat 1 or 2, once or twice daily.  Continue for several days.  It is said to be effective.  It certainly won’t hurt to try it.

        Here are 2 recipes for treating high-blood pressure:  (1) Simply eat 2 to 3 bananas, 3 times daily.  It appears that if you have hypertension, it is a good idea to include banana in your daily diet.  Those who are Spleen and Stomach deficient or cold (pi wei xu han), or who are generally weak, should consume less.  (2) Boil 1 to 2 ounces of banana peel or stalk in water and drink the liquid.  For a chronic condition like hypertension, one needs to do this daily for a few weeks or a couple of times a week for an extended period of time, before one would expect to see any results.  As banana peel and stalk are normally not eaten, one should use caution with this remedy.

Leung, A.Y., Chinese Healing Foods and Herbs, AYSL Corp., Glen Rock, N.J., 1984, pp. 28-30.