It can be a strange experience, following the latest wellness trends out of the US, well, Los Angeles in particular. Every year in the land of movie stars and new age acolytes, a new superfood or herb makes the rounds as a miracle for our modern-day woes: getting enough rest, increasing energy, coping with a stressful life. You know the drill. It’s almost thrilling, the idea that there are all these natural solutions available waiting to be discovered.
“This will boost your focus!” claims a jar of powder to be added into smoothies and teas. Another similar tonic is labelled a “transformational potions” along with claims to help reduce stress.
And yet the most bizarre part of the whole affair is, that upon closer inspection, just how familiar the mythical ingredients in these newfangled powders, supplements and soups really are. As in, our grandmothers would recognise them.
From turmeric to lingzhi, astragalus root to pomegranate, many of the herbs, fruits and roots extolled in Western practices of “wellness” aren’t exotic at all, and come from sources much closer to home.
In fact, they are the building blocks of Eastern medicinal systems like India’s ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine, traditions that span centuries of practice, long before modern medicine. And like the concept of “wellness” as it’s understood now, they are integrated into all aspects of life. This includes food, exercise, medicine and yes, cosmetic treatments. Let’s take a walk through some of the most common herbs that have made their way from East to the West… Coast.
A vital spice in asian kitchens among other fragrant aromatics, bright orange turmeric root does so much more than lend an earthiness and appetising hue to food. Curcumin, its bioactive compound, is in fact a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. Besides being a common culinary ingredient, turmeric is also traditionally applied onto skin as a mask or spot treatment to fight-acne and soothe irritations.
You might already be well acquainted with these sweet, small fruits often added to herbal soups and infusions. Here, they are perhaps better known as red dates. Rich in potassium and vitamins A and C, jujubes are taken to improve immune function, contain soothing anxiolytics that are helpful in the treatment of anxiety and insomnia, and have been found to promote a healthy gastrointestinal system. Like many deeply coloured fruits, jujube is a potent source of antioxidants and can be used topically to treat irritated skin as a result of acne, eczema and psoriasis.
The “mushroom of immortality” is central in Traditional Chinese Medicine, owing to its ability to cure many different illnesses resulting from viruses, bacteria, inflammation and oxidation. Talk about an overachiever. While we’re more accustomed to seeing the mushroom infused as a tea here, over in the US it has showed up in all sorts of unconventional food products: nutrition bars, instant coffee, even hot chocolate.
Adaptogens are medicinal herbs able to improve how the body deals with stressful conditions, and ginseng may be the best known of them all. It’s been used for millennia, cultivated in Korea and consumed all across East Asia to in many versatile ways to boost mental ability, sensory awareness and memory. The ingredient is no stranger to skincare formulas, where its used to enhance the skin’s natural barrier and improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles via its antioxidant properties.