March 25th 2006 - Coffee Herbs
Copyright by Karen S. Vaughan, L.Ac., MSTOM
We have all heard that coffee is bad for us, and it does have essential oils that can be overly stimulating. Caffeine stresses our adrenal glands and it is energetically warming which is not always desirable. Most commercially available coffee is highly sprayed with pesticides. Coffee can potentiate medications or medicinal herbs which means that we may need to adjust dosages. It makes fibrocystic breasts and fibroids worse and eliminating coffee can increase good health in many other areas. If we drink coffee after meals we are unlikely to also drink green or black tea which has numerous health benefits. It may keep us up at night (although there are certain individuals who sleep better with it.) In fact a high percentage of us who drink coffee are addicted and will get headaches if it is withdrawn. That is not a desirable state.
People with autoimmune disease or yin deficiency (hot flashes, evening fevers, nightsweats, heat in the feet and palms or body fluid deficiency) should not drink coffee at all. People who are always hot, with flushed skin, racing pulses and high blood pressure should avoid it. Although the effects on blood pressure are small, it speeds up women’s hearts and constricts men’s blood vessels giving a temporary small rise in blood pressure.
It is important to remember that coffee is not the same thing as caffeine, although it contains caffeine. Coffee is a complex herbal beverage with medicinal effects that may be good or bad. Some qualities of coffee moderate other negative effects. For instance while caffeine may increase blood sugar, there are trace elements in coffee like magnesium that bring it down and coffee may cause higher levels of sugar-burning physical activity from its stimulant effect. Similarly some of the stimulating effects from the essential oils will exist in decaffeinated coffee.
But coffee has many good qualities as well. It is associated with lower levels of type 2 diabetes- three to four cups a day results in a 27% reduction rate and high consumption- over 10 cups with a 55% reduction- (although there are better sources of the flavanoids, acid and trace minerals and decaffeinated coffee reduces blood sugar better.)(1) Alcoholics at risk for cirrhosis of the liver have lower rates. Asthmatics have fewer attacks and can head them off with caffeinated coffee or a coffee foot bath.(6) Coffee is associated with 24% lower levels of colon cancer (2,4), 21% fewer incidents of gallstones (5)and 80% less Parkinson’s Disease.(3)
Coffee is stimulating, tasty, and is a decent liver qi tonic. It is the only bitter food that many of us ingest, and bitters stimulate bile and help digestion. Bitter foods are one of the 5 basic flavors in Chinese medicine and all are considered essential, ( bitter greens would be a healthier choice though.) In judicious quantities it can stimulate the brain and allow thoughts and conversation to flow. Most avid coffee drinkers will not give it up.
So the idea is to drink enough for enjoyment but not so much that we are physically addicted. And to drink it in a way that does not aggravate underlying physical conditions.
I do want to suggest substitutes since coffee can have negative attributes. Green tea, black tea or chai tea (with herbs like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom) are great substitutes and are healthier. These true camellia leaf teas have lower levels of caffeine and higher levels of catechins which can help reduce arthritis. Then there are the stronger herbal teas like yerba mate, guarana, kola nut or Morning Thunder. These may have caffeine-like effects. More benign are the coffee substitutes. My favorites among these are Dandy Blend (a dandelion based instant coffee substitute) (6), Teechino (especially the amaretto flavor) and Soyoffee, a roasted soybean beverage. I urge you to try them.
But this is a piece on coffee and the herbs that mix well with coffee. You can of course drink one cup of pure coffee in the morning, preferably a shade-grown organic coffee. It can even be espresso since the water passes through the grounds faster than normal coffee, making up for its higher concentration. Three to four cups of coffee is probably the upper limit for healthy use in those who can drink it, but most of us will be addicted at that rate. But what do you do if you want to drink coffee throughout the day?
I suggest mixing coffee with compatible herbs. Coffee has a strong flavor which mixes well with certain herbs and can cover others. You want a compatible flavor which does not dilute the overall effect of the beverage. And you want herbs which moderate the negative effects of coffee or which will benefit you in some way.
One company has actually infused coffee with herbs or minerals. You can find coffee infused with calcium, echinacea or ginseng at http://www.thechirostore.com/site/422259/product/CB%20-%201003%20-%201/Health.
When I mix herbs with coffee I usually use a dark roasted coffee, to get the maximum flavor but one which has some of the more complex Columbian beans in as well. (Some espresso roast is all roast and little coffee flavor.) Half of this is water-processed decaffeinated coffee. I can drink a mix of up to a half coffee with compatible herbs and it still feels like coffee, but I can only get a two-thirds coffee blend past my husband.
The traditional coffee herb is roasted chicory root, found in French and Cajun cooking. Chicory is energetically cooling, and good for the liver. It is available roasted and granulated and looks like coffee. Often you can find it premixed. Dandelion, a similar plant with stronger effect, may be found roasted and granulated but is significantly more expensive.(7)
Toasted grains are often sold as coffee substitutes. Teechino has a fairly high concentration of roasted grains. I find that I like them less than other substitutes and would only add up to an eighth to a quarter of the quantity.
Several of the medicinal mushrooms have coffee like tastes and mix well. Chaga, an ugly fungus that grows on birch trees is sold granulated to prepare in drip coffee makers. (8) (Boiling the chaga would extract more of its cancer preventative effects.) Reishi (Ganoderma or Ling zhi) can be found sliced and can be ground into coffee filter sized pieces. (9) Whole or chunk reishi needs to be simmered. If you are cooking it for medicinal purposes you can simmer it for a few hours, with a little cinnamon and orange peel added at the end, then pout it through a coffee filter with your coffee or coffee blend.
Cinnamon is another good coffee herb, also useful for reducing diabetes incidence. I tend to use up to a tablespoon per cup because it lowers blood sugar. Too much may clog a gold filter since it tends to be ground fine and can become gelatinous when wet, but it can be added directly to the pot or the coffee cup. Chinese or Indian cinnamon tends to be stronger than American culinary cinnamon. Strong cinnamon is warming. In smaller amounts you can add cloves, cardamom seed, or star anise, which are warming herbs as well, but add distinct tastes.
To increase testosterone levels you can add pine pollen or lily pollen (if you can find them) or cattail pollen which can be obtained from Chinese herb stores. (10) Pollens tend to invigorate the blood and are somewhat bitter. You can also grind up the leaves of Yin yang huo (Epidemium, Horny goat weed) although too much will give a tea like taste and ground Epidemium looks like leaves in the coffee.
Dang gui, Chinese angelica, is a strong flavored herb that nourishes the Blood and which can combine with coffee. (I use this sometimes to get dang gui into someone who doesn’t appreciate the taste.) I often combine it with the other Si wu tang/Four Agents herbs, chuanxiong, rehmannia and white peony for someone who needs to build and move blood. For medicinal treatment I would decoct the herbs and throw in a quarter cup of ground coffee per quart at the end. For subacute conditions I might just put the ground herbs in the coffee strainer.
To increase qi, I often boil astragalus which has a slightly sweet neutral flavor for 20 minutes then use the water to make coffee. One can also mix coffee with Si Junzi Tang, the Four Gentlemen Decoction (Codonopsis, attractylidus, poria and licorice as above.
Remember that the energetics of the coffee are added to any medicinal or tonifying coffee brew, but if you were going to drink the coffee anyway and if the coffee helps you take your herbs then don’t worry too much.
For further reading on the pros and cons of coffee: http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/06/03/22/coffee.htm
1. Jaakko Tuomilehto, MD, PhD; Gang Hu, MD, PhD; Siamak Bidel, MD; Jaana Lindström, MSc; Pekka Jousilahti, MD, PhD. Coffee Consumption and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Among Middle-aged Finnish Men and Women Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 291, Num. 10, March 10 2004
2. Christine Haran, Wake Up to the Good News About Coffee, March 23, 2004 http://cancerindex.healthology.com/
3. Brunilda Nazario, MD. Coffee the New Health Food? April 12, 2004www.somalibantu.com
4. European Journal of Cancer Prevention, 2002; 11: 137-145. "Coffee and tea consumption and cancers of the bladder, colon and rectum"
5. Michael F. Leitzmann, MD; Walter C. Willett, MD; Eric B. Rimm, ScD; Meir J. Stampfer, MD; Donna Spiegelman, ScD; Graham A. Colditz, MD; Edward Giovannucci, MD A Prospective Study of Coffee Consumption and the Risk of Symptomatic Gallstone Disease in Men Journal of the American Medical Association 1999;281:2106-2112.
6.Available from Goosefoot Acres phone: 800-697-4858
7. Both Chicory and Dandelion, in roasted granulated form can be obtained from the Frontier Herbal Cooperative www.frontierherbs.com. Leaf and Bean in Brooklyn carries Chicory and a coffee mix can be found in Chinatown grocery stores like Dynasty Groceries on Elizabeth and Hester Streets in Manhattan.
8. Available from Herbalist and Alchemist. http://www.herbalist-alchemist.com/
9. Dynasty Groceries and elsewhere in Chinatown.
10. Kamwo herbs, on Grand Street in Chinatown for poth cattail pollen- pu huang or horny goat weed. James Green has provided information on the testosterone value of pollens. (Semen is a pollen rather than a seed because it is not a fertilized ovum.)
Acupuncture and Herbs by Karen Vaughan, L.Ac in Park Slope and Manhattan.
118 East 37th Street, New York, NY 10016
Brooklyn, NY 11215