Wednesday, January 27, 2010

27. Eating for the Eyes, Part 1: Herbs

Over the years many natural vision practitioners have advised me to take various herbs to improve my vision. All of these herbs are listed here in the order which they were prescribed to me, along with the reason for and source of their recommendation.
  1. Turmeric: In Chinese medicine there is a strong connection between the liver and the eyes. Bitter herbs which boost liver function are touted as being good for the vision. The Cambridge acupuncturist who recommended this to me had a strong Ayurvedic background, and turmeric root is a key herb in Ayurveda. It's also a yellow pigment and yellow pigmented foods are good for the eyes. Turmeric also has the advantage of being easy to use in cooking and is a powerful antioxidant.
  2. Dandelion: Any liver booster first recommended by the same acupuncturist noted above. The leaves are perhaps the most nutritious greens on the market, being far richer in iron, calcium and vitamin A than even real champs like collards, kale and watercress. In an herbal context, it is dandelion root that is used as the plant's most potent form. The bitter root has an underlying sweetness that really pops out when taken as a glycerine-based tincture or roasted and then consumed as a tea.
  3. Milk Thistle: Prescribed to me by the same acupuncturist that first recommended dandelion and turmeric for their liver-boosting powers, milk thistle seed was hard for me at the time and I never used it.
  4. Eyebright: As the name suggests, eyebright leaves are purported to better one's eyesight. Eyebright can also help to alleviate allergies and has done wonders for my itchy eyes during hay fever season. Natural vision therapist Rosemary Gordon first told me about eyebright along with many other herbs and foods for vision.
  5. Bilberry: During World War II, British pilots reported improved night vision after eating bilberry jam on toast. The stuff hit the market in the U.S. 50 years later, first as bilberry leaf powdered in capsules or tinctured in bottles and priced pretty high. A few years after that the Italian company BioNaturae began marketing bilberry jam and juice in the States and I consumed a lot of it as it was affordable and damn tasty. I also ordered a sack of dried bilberries, which are about the size of peppercorns and a slightly sweet. Rosemary Gordon first brought this European superherb to my attention.
  6. Blueberry: Years after I first bought into the bilberry craze of the 1990s an acupuncturist in New York told me that the bilberry's American sibling—the blueberry—did the exact same thing, and I began using blueberries instead because they are cheaper, bigger, sweeter, more local and easier to find. Have you ever peeled a blueberry? They're actually bright yellow inside and thus fall under the category of yellow-pigmented foods in the eway that they support vision. Eat the fruit in any form and take the leaf as a tea.
  7. Ginseng and Astragalus: Marc Grossman, who is both an acupuncturist and a functional optometrist, prescribed these two roots be taken together in tincture form as a support for the kidneys and, by extension, the eyes. I insist on taking them in a glycerine base because I don;t do alcohol and glycerine tincture taste better, but alcohol tinctures are cheaper, easier to find and are also more potent. Ginseng and astragalus are two of the most common herbs in Chinese medicine and I'd be smart to just go to Chinatown and pick some up. Astagalus can also be eaten in a vegetable soups. and I've had a vegetarian ginseng and "chicken" soup at Harmony Vegetarian Restaurant in Philly.
  8. Calendula: Marc Grossman was also the first person to tell me about the vision-healing powers of lutein. I went out and bought a bottle of 50 lutein vegicaps for a whopping $20. Then I looked at the ingredients and saw that each pricey little capsule contained just one thing: calendula flowers. Calendula is so common as a garden flower and also as an herb used to maintain healthy skin. It doesn't taste so good, but can be dried, ground up and mixed with something else (a smoothie for example) for easier consumption. Lutein can also be found in dark leafy greens. See my posts on food and on diagnostic contradictions for more info.
There are other herbs that I'm forgetting. The acupuncturist in Cambridge touted a 4th liver-booster and the acupuncturist from New York had me go to a Chinese herbalist and get a patent medicine in pill form. I chewed a handful of these pills at a time and they followed them with water. There are countless other herbs and the one listed above how many more details about their function. Leave a comment if you have something to add!

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