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How to drain 'dampness' (濕) with traditional Chinese soup and tea

Humidity is one of the downsides to life in Hong Kong. And if leather and furniture turn mouldy, there’s no reason humans should be unaffected by it. Lisa Cam speaks to Dr Lee Kok-sou about how to counter damp with our diet. Photography by Calvin Sit. Art

Photo by Calvin Sit

Dampness is an ancient concept in Chinese medicine but to many a newcomer to Hong Kong, this indisposition is quite baffling. Lee Kok-sou has been running his practice in Tai Po for more than 15 years, the third generation in his family to specialise in Chinese medicine and he has vast experience when it comes to how to deal with Hong Kong’s humidity. And like the thorough practitioner that he is, Dr Lee starts by explaining to us what it all involves...

Dr Lee, what is dampness?
To put it simply, dampness simply refers to water retention. Health in Chinese medicine hinges on striking a balance between all the elements in our body. A high proportion of water in the human body is a source of illness. At first, the patient will feel bulky and sleepy all the time when they are damp. In more poetic terms, it is like being weighed down by concrete. The body feels sticky like a glue and the person feels sluggish. From an ancient book, dampness is described as cotton that has been soaked in oil.

How do we know if we’re too damp?
Dampness affects people with different constitutions such as yin (cold) and yang (hot) differently. A damp yin person will feel tired, their skin gets oily but without many spots. When the dampness seeps into the muscles, bones and joints, that’s when the lethargy sets in. If the problem becomes worse, the dampness will affect their blood vessels and result in high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart and kidney problems. For yang body types, it becomes ‘toxic’. At first, it’s most visible on the skin, in forms such as acne and eczema. On the muscle, bone and joint level, drowsiness is less pronounced for yang people. Instead, there’ll be pain around the shoulders, neck, back of the head, waist and joints. On a more severe level, it will transform into blood diseases, like uric acid or even vasculitis. The probabilities for a yang person to develop a tumour are very high.  

How can you tell if you’re a yang or yin body type?
A yin person usually feels very sensitive to the cold and tires easily. A yang person feels hot, is prone to muscle and joint aches, and is more susceptible to skin conditions. I would say 60 percent of people in Hong Kong are yang body types.

How do we get rid of damp?
Dampness causes dysfunctionin our body. If our intestines and stomach are not working properly, our ability to eliminate dampness is weak. Chinese medicine suggests detoxing and strengthening the spleen so as to increase the body’s ability to dispel water. You can make some herbal soup and teas to help enhance the spleen functioning.

Expelling yin dampness

Soup

Recipe:
Chinese yam (淮山)
Lotus seed (蓮子)
Euryale ferox (茨實
) Poria (雲苓/茯苓)
Lean pork

Wash all the ingredients and place in a pot. Fill with enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then simmer on a low heat for two to three hours.

Tea

Recipe:
A quarter of a whole dried tangerine peel 
White fu, similar size to a five dollar coin 

Place in a tea bag or tea sieve. Keep steeped in boiling water and drink throughout the day.

Expelling yang dampness

Soup

Recipe:
Hairy mountain fig (五指毛桃)
Millettia root (牛大力)
Japanese ampelopsis (入地老鼠/紫茱莉根)
Lean pork

Wash all the ingredients and place in a pot. Fill with enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil then simmer on a low heat for two to three hours.

Tea

Recipe:
Coix seed (薏米)
Red bean water
Chrysanthemum (optional)

This drink has detoxifying and antipyretic properties. Place in a tea bag or tea sieve. Keep steeped in boiling water and drink throughout the day.

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