July 23, 2020
In my early 20s, I ran around with a gang of PhD physics candidates from MIT. To be clear, I was not one of those candidates. In retrospect, it was a very strange time.
Late one afternoon, walking down one of the long corridors with my friend, we ran into his faculty advisor. His advisor asked, “Are you ready for your qualify exams tomorrow?” My friend answered in the affirmative. The faculty member answered, “Well congratulations. Today you know more physics than you ever will again in your life. After you finish your exam tomorrow, you’ll start to forget the things you don’t use all the time.”
When I finished acupuncture school a decade later, I took the national board exam on traditional Chinese herbology. And it was true for me as well. When I sat for that exam, I knew more about herbs than I ever would again. For example, I remember that at my exam I knew which herbs were traditionally used to treat measles. Now I am at my limit to remember that there are herbs were used to treat measles.
Full transparency - I grabbed Longan fruit off the list of herbs to spotlight because I did not remember anything about it. And it made me sad that I did not remember what I think we can all agree is an objectively lovely fruit.
Scientific NameDimocarpus longan Common Name (Western)Longan fruit Chinese Name (Pin Yin) Long Yan Rou OriginCultivated in the southern provinces of China and Taiwan, it is harvested when the fruit is ripened between July and August. The fruit is pitted and dried for use in herbal formulas.
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The literal translation of the Chinese name is, “dragon eye flesh.” Looking at the picture, it’s pretty clear why it’s called that. When you slice it in half and look at the side with the pit, it looks like something straight out Lord of the Rings. Even though it’s used as a medicinal herb, it is also just eaten as food in China, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries. I found one “medicinal” recipe that outlines cooking with Longan fruit with white sugar. Put that on toast and I think you just have jam there. Longan fruit is a member of the soapberry family and is related to the better known lychee fruit, popular in Cantonese cuisine.
Longan fruit is used, in combination with other herbs, to nourish the blood and alleviate associated symptoms from a disquieted spirit. This includes things like insomnia, heart palpitations, forgetfulness, and excessive worry. Looking back over my school notes, I found some of my chicken-scratch saying, “has same indications as Gui Pi Tang.” That is a reference to an herbal formal containing twelve herbs. Continuing down the rabbit hole, I checked my notes on Gui Pi Tang provided by a professor who was translating from a Chinese textbook off-the-cuff, and found this pearl of wisdom, “People over-work mentally, that damages the spleen (digestion). Anger, sadness, fear all just make this worse. This injures the heart blood, and then leads to weakness of the spirit. This formula is important because it treats the spirit weakness.” Essentially, it breaks the cycle of damage to the spirit leading to more digestive weakness, leading to a more disquieted spirit and so on. Interestingly, my notes about Gui Pi Tang continue on to provide a breakdown of the twelve herbs and the role that each one fills. Longan fruit is in the group that directly acts to calm the spirit. But in a different text book, Longan fruit is categorized as an herb that nourishes the blood. I guess what we have here is Schrödinger's herb.
Longan fruit is very sweet and warm. Much like honey, it has to be used with caution when the digestive system has been damaged by the over-consumption of rich foods (I'm looking at you hamburgers, tacos, fried chicken and doughnuts). In combination with other herbs to support digestion, this concern is not of great significance in herbal therapy. But don't be thinking that you can eat Longan fruit jam with abandon and it won't effect your blood sugar.
In the land Herbalogic, Quiet Mind is the name for Gui Pi Tang. Longan fruit is included in Quiet Mind for its traditional uses to nourish the blood and, more significantly, calm the spirit.
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