Food as Medicine: Chinese Medicine Foods At Your Grocery Store

Healthy eats that you can find at your local grocery store

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The use of food as medicine has been a long-standing, cultural tradition among the Chinese community. Whether it be in tea, soups, or stir-fries, all foods have associated tastes, temperatures, and functions according to Chinese nutritional theory.  It is easy to find these items in your local grocery store or Asian market if you know what to look  for. Here are 3 delicious examples of therapeutic foods that are worth a try and may make a great addition to a well-balanced diet:


Goji Berries

Dried Goji berries

These sweet and tiny fruits can be found in the dried fruit section of your grocery store.  They can be a quick snack or a delicious edition to many of your favorite breakfast items including granola, oatmeal, and smoothies.  According to the Chinese pharmacopeia, the Goji berry nourishes the blood, the yin, and the essences of the body.[1] It has a moistening quality that has been said to be a food for beauty as it supports the youthful appearance of the skin. Goji berries have high antioxidant effects, especially in the water soluble polysaccharide portion of the fruit.[2] A study in mice showed that drinking the juice from Goji berries protected the skin from UV radiation damage.[3] This has not been studied in humans. In other areas of research, Goji berries have demonstrated a number of positive effects on mental acuity, stress, sleep, and fatigue.[4]


Mung Beans

Mung beans spilling out of clear bowl

Mung beans are small, green colored beans used by many Asian cultures.  They are often used in savory and sweet soups and used as a gluten-free option to make pancakes or noodles.  The Chinese herbal pharmacopeia describes mung beans as cold in temperature.  They drain out heat, fire, and toxicity.[1] Research supports this theory as mung bean seedlings have been shown to reduce heavy metal toxicity[5] and they contain powerful antioxidants which may regulate the immune system,[6] preserve the integrity of the muscle tissue of the heart,[7]and protect lipid and non-lipid molecules from damage.[8]


Dandelion Leaf

Field of yellow dandelions

This sweet and bitter leaf grows all around us and can now be found in many grocery stores.  The dried leaves can be steeped in tea and the fresh leaves can be used in salads, chopped up for pesto sauce or mixed in with your favorite Italian dishes much like arugula. In Chinese herbal medicine, the dandelion leaf is cold in nature to clear heat, fire, and toxicity.  It has a strong affiliation for the Liver and Stomach systems to aid in digestion, promote lactation, and encourage a healthy urinary tract.[1] Many Western scientists and researchers have been exploring the antioxidant properties of the dandelion leaf and have found that it may have protective effects against UVB radiation damage[9] and may also reduce cholesterol levels to prevent atherosclerosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice and rabbits.[10,11] Hopefully human studies will be coming soon.  


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1.    Bensky D. Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica. 3 ed. Seattle, WA: Eastland Press; 2004.

2.    Li XM, Ma YL, Liu XJ. Effect of the Lycium barbarum polysaccharides on age-related oxidative stress in aged mice. Journal of Ethnopharmacology.2007;111(3):504-511.

3.    Reeve VE, Allanson M, Arun SJ, et al. Mice drinking goji berry juice (Lycium barbarum) are protected from UV radiation-induced skin damage via antioxidant pathways. Photochem Photobiol Sci.2010;9(4):601-607; PMID: 20354657.

4.    Paul Hsu CH, Nance DM, Amagase H. A meta-analysis of clinical improvements of general well-being by a standardized Lycium barbarum. J Med Food.2012;15(11):1006-1014; PMID: 22897500.

5.    Nahar K, Hasanuzzaman M, Alam MM, et al. Polyamine and nitric oxide crosstalk: Antagonistic effects on cadmium toxicity in mung bean plants through upregulating the metal detoxification, antioxidant defense and methylglyoxal detoxification systems. Ecotoxicol Environ Saf.2016;126:245-255; PMID: 26773834.

6.    Yao Y, Zhu Y, Ren G. Immunoregulatory activities of polysaccharides from mung bean. Carbohydr Polym.2016;139:61-66; PMID: 26794947.

7.    Bai Y, Chang J, Xu Y, et al. Antioxidant and Myocardial Preservation Activities of Natural Phytochemicals from Mung Bean (Vigna radiata L.) Seeds. J Agric Food Chem.2016;64(22):4648-4655; PMID: 27184346.

8.    Duh PD, Du PC, Yen GC. Action of methanolic extract of mung bean hulls as inhibitors of lipid peroxidation and non-lipid oxidative damage. Food Chem Toxicol.1999;37(11):1055-1061; PMID: 10566876.

9.    Yang Y, Li S. Dandelion Extracts Protect Human Skin Fibroblasts from UVB Damage and Cellular Senescence. Oxid Med Cell Longev.2015;2015:619560; PMID: 26576225.

10.    Choi UK, Lee OH, Yim JH, et al. Hypolipidemic and antioxidant effects of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) root and leaf on cholesterol-fed rabbits. Int J Mol Sci.2010;11(1):67-78; PMID: 20162002.

11.    Davaatseren M, Hur HJ, Yang HJ, et al. Taraxacum official (dandelion) leaf extract alleviates high-fat diet-induced nonalcoholic fatty liver. Food Chem Toxicol.2013;58:30-36; PMID: 23603008.