Traditional Chinese Medicine and Food Therapy

Throughout traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) history, doctors have recommended different kinds of food as treatments for their patients’ ailments. Many of the doctors recorded the diets, sometimes called prescriptions or formulas, in medical texts. One of the oldest medical books, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing Herbal Classic, published around 200 BC, lists foods such as sesame seed, Chinese date, Chinese yam, ginger, grape, and lily bulb as being therapeutic. In the third century of the Han Dynasty, the outstanding physician Zhang Zhong Jing recorded the formula to treat Febrile disease – a soup made of Chinese angelica root, fresh ginger, and mutton, in the “Treatise on Febrile and Miscellaneous Disease.” 

In the 16th century Ming Dynasty, a great physician Li Shi Zhen collected and recorded many recipes for diseases in his masterpiece “Compendium of Materia Medica.” In every dynasty, food preparation was one of the essential therapies of Chinese medicine. Before suggesting a therapeutic diet, a Chinese medicine doctor must study the person’s constitution, the nature of the illness and type of syndrome, and even the season and climate.

Asthma and Diet

For example, two people who have asthma may not necessarily need the same type of therapeutic diet. In asthma, the doctor determines whether the asthma is cold-type, hot-type, or phlegm-damp type. If the asthma is a cold-type, then the doctor might recommend warm or hot types of food, such as fresh ginger and green onion, especially if the weather is cold outside. If the asthma is a hot type, perhaps occurring during the summer, the person might need a cold type of food, such as watermelon, to help eliminate the heat. Before prescribing a therapeutic diet, the person’s constitution, the season, or the climate are considered.


Phlegm-dampness is a pathological product that comes from untransformed fluids and diet. It causes congestion and impedes the movement of Qi, blood, and body fluids. The lung, spleen, kidney, bladder, and triple burner are essential for metabolism and body fluids management. Phlegm-dampness occurs when fluid metabolism is not under control.

Asthma Recipe

Black sesame seed with fresh ginger, honey, and crystal sugar


Black sesame seeds 250g

Fresh ginger 250 g

Honey 200 g

Crystal sugar 200 g

Process and Application

Extract the juice from the fresh ginger. Melt the crystalized sugar in a pan. Roast the sesame seeds and leave them to cool off. Mix the seeds with the ginger juice and heat them until dry. Then, mix the dried mixture with honey and crystal sugar syrup and contain it in a bottle. Take and infusion one spoonful of this in hot water, once in the morning and once in the evening.

A prescribed diet can be used not only for treating disease but also for maintaining a person’s good health. For example, garlic is used to treat indigestion, diarrhea, dysentery, cough, kill bacteria, detoxify poisons, strengthen the stomach, promote digestion, and prevent flu and epidemic encephalomyelitis. Fortunately, most foods and herbs used in diet therapy have a good taste and are pleasant to take.

Dr. Rhea Du

Dr. Rhea Du

International Shaolin Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Shaolin Temple Yunnan