The last time you ate a tangerine, I bet you didn’t give much thought to the peel. Chances are you just peeled the fruit and threw away the peel, right? You may be interested to know that the tangerine peel you tossed out is actually an important herb in the Chinese formulary.
Tangerines are a type of common mandarin, which is a small and usually sweet orange. Their name comes from Tangiers, Morocco, but tangerines have actually been cultivated in China and Japan for over 3,000 years. As an herb, only the peel is used, however different parts or ripeness of the peel are actually different herbs with slightly different actions. In addition to tangerines, the fruit of the bitter orange also has therapeutic uses in Chinese herbal medicine.
According to aromatherapy the citrus scent is invigorating and moving; smelling orange or lemon scents actually perk you up. The action of citrus-based herbs is also considered to be moving and transforming. In Chinese medicine, a lack of movement is called stagnation, and in most cases it causes pain. In your energetic pathways, stagnation tends to cause pain almost anywhere, but most commonly in your head, neck and limbs. Stagnation in your organs, however, causes pain in your abdomen or chest. Symptoms of stagnation in your organ systems show up in the digestive tract, in the lungs or along the ribs and side of your body. In addition, stagnation of Liver energy can cause irritability, depression and a poor appetite.
The following are herbs from the citrus family with their therapeutic actions:
–Aged tangerine peel or Chen Pi is included in Chinese herbal formulas because it can transport and transform food. It helps move food downward in your digestive tract and is used to alleviate gas, bloating, nausea and vomiting. This herb is also prescribed for relieving phlegm in your lungs, and is most commonly used to treat chest congestion or a damp cough.
-The red part of the tangerine peel is called Ju Hong. It’s more drying than Chen Pi, which makes it more effective in treating phlegm conditions, but a little less effective in treating digestive issues. Ju Hong is used to treat damp, phlegmy coughs and to promote movement in the digestive tract to relieve vomiting and belching.
-Qing Pi is immature, or green, tangerine peel. While it can move food through the digestive system and dry phlegm, its effects are stronger and a bit harsher than Chen Pi. Its actions are to scatter and unblock stagnation, where Chen Pi is gentler and more harmonizing. Its strong moving effects also make it a good choice for stagnant Liver energy that manifests as chest tightness, distention under the ribs, side pain and hernias. Qing Pi is often included in formulas for severe cases of food stagnation.
-Zhi Ke is an herb made from the ripe fruit of the bitter orange. Also called the Seville orange or sour orange, bitter orange is very sour—usually too much so to eat, but can be made into marmalade. The actions of Zhi Ke are similar to the other citrus herbs; it mildly moves food stagnation, directs food downward and can be used for phlegm conditions. It’s also a good option for treating rib and flank pain due to stagnation of the Liver. This herb is often used for weak or depleted patients, as it’s not too strong or overwhelming.
-Similar to immature tangerine peel, Zhi Shi, or unripe bitter orange fruit, has much stronger actions than its ripe counterpart. In its unripe form, bitter orange strongly breaks up stagnant accumulations and strongly moves energy and food downward. It can be used to unblock the bowels in cases of constipation. Interestingly, it can also be used to treat diarrhea in cases of dysentery, as it can help move the pathogen causing the symptoms downward and out. Like all of the citrus herbs, Zhi Shi can be used to treat phlegm.
The overall nature of citrus is bright, energetic and moving. These qualities are distilled into herbs that can be powerful or harmonizing, and very effective. They have a number of similarities and prescribing them takes knowledge, experience and nuance. If you’d like to know more about Chinese herbs or how our credentialed herbal practitioners at BodaHealth can help you, please contact us today.
Dr. Jeda Boughton is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Registered Acupuncturist in Vancouver. She is also a Registered Herbologist and the founder of BodaHealth.