Sweet potato porridge


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By Joan Chew

Mind Your Body, The Straits Times

Saturday, Mar 01, 2014

  • What it is: Pollen, the male gametes (sperm cells) of seed plants, is a fine powder that is not precious only for plants.

    The pollen from a genus of flowering plants in the family Typhaceae, called cattail pollen or puhuang in Chinese, is also used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) as a herb.

    Madam Lim Chin Choo, a TCM practitioner at the Singapore Buddhist Free Clinic, said cattail pollen is grown mainly in the provinces of Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Anhui and Shandong in China.

    She said it can be used raw or cooked.

    The third edition of the Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica notes that the powder can be dry-fried at medium or high heat, or with wine or vinegar over low heat, Good quality cattail pollen is dry, lightweight, smooth and free of contaminants. Madam Lim said the raw herbs are yellow, while the fried herbs are brown or black.

    A packet of cattail pollen is sold at $1.70 for a tael (37.5g) at some medical halls here.

    How TCM uses it: The sweet-tasting cattail pollen is considered neutral in nature.

    It is thought to move through the meridians of the liver and pericardium. Meridians are channels in the body through which qi (vital energy) travels.

    In TCM, the poor flow of blood, also known as blood stasis, is the reason for complaints of pain and symptoms such as a dark, purplish tongue, easily bruised nails, dry skin and cold hands and feet, among others.

    TCM practitioners view pain as a sign from the body that there is poor flow of qi or blood.

    Cattail pollen is known to dispel blood stasis and address post-partum abdominal pain or pain after giving birth, menstrual pain and chest pain, said Madam Lim.

    Blood and qi share a close relationship in TCM: Qi propels blood along vessels and blood is essential in the formation of qi. If qi is deficient or stagnant, blood will not move as it should. Likewise, a lack of yin (the element responsible for cooling organs) also makes blood viscous and may give rise to blood stasis. This is because blood is considered a yin element of the body.

    Any kind of trauma, such as an accident, surgery or an injury, also causes qi and blood to stagnate, and this can lead to blood stasis over time, she added.

    Lastly, pathogenic factors, such as cold, heat or phlegm, can also cause blood stasis.

    Another use of cattail pollen in TCM is in treating urinary problems, such as painful urination, difficulty in passing urine, dribbling or a weak urine stream and bleeding during urination.

    Madam Lim said blood stasis, along with the pathogenic factor of heat, can give rise to these problems.

    A habit of consuming fried food over a long time can give rise to heatiness in the body. Cattail pollen is then used to remove heat from the body by promoting urination.

    Who it is for: Madam Lim said patients with urinary tract infections who find urinating painful may use cattail pollen as a complementary treatment, alongside other herbs such as hairyvein agrimonia, rehmannia root and bamboo leaves.

    Cancer patients who suffer urinary problems as a side-effect of chemotherapy may also find that this herb can ease their problem.

    She said a safe dosage of the herb would be between 3g and 10g a day for an adult, and not more than 5g a day for a child.

    Who should avoid it: Generally, pregnant women should steer clear of blood-promoting herbs such as cattail pollen because of the fear that such herbs may raise the risk of a miscarriage, she said.

    What research has shown: A study published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology in 2012 evaluated the anti-inflammatory property of cattail pollen extracts.

    Both the aqueous and methanolic extracts of cattail pollen showed significant inhibition of swelling in the paws of female rats compared with rats that did not receive the herb.

    It was also observed that the extracts helped to inhibit the formation of granuloma (a mass of inflamed tissue) in these rats.

    The authors from two medical colleges in India noted that this may be due to the pollen's ability to reduce the number of fibroblasts and prevent the synthesis of collagen and mucopolysaccharide, "which are natural proliferative agents of granulation tissue formation", they wrote.

    Fibroblasts are the most common cells that make up connective tissue, while mucopolysaccharides are complex sugars which accumulate in the connective tissue and organs throughout the body.

    joanchew@sph.com.sg

    Recipe provided by Madam Lim Chin Choo, a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner at the Singapore Buddhist Free Clinic.


    Get a copy of Mind Your Body, The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

  • 3g cattail pollen
  • 25g rice grains
  • 50g sweet potato (orange flesh)
  • 500ml water
  • 1. Peel the sweet potato and cut into bite-sized wedges. Rinse rice well.
  • 2. In a pot with 500ml water, boil the rice grains and sweet potatoes over high heat.
  • 3. Once the water is boiling, turn down the heat and let it simmer for 10 minutes or until the rice turns to porridge. Stir occasionally.
  • 4. Turn off the heat and add cattail pollen just before serving the porridge warm.
  • 5. Serves 1.