Graduation Day, Part One (Buffy, Season Three, Ep 21)


As graduation day, and thus also the Mayor’s Ascension, approaches, the cast of characters are brought into closer and closer proximity.  The stakes are raised when Angel is shot by a poisoned arrow, the only antidote to which is the blood of a slayer.  (Luckily, the Chong Mai was stabilised just last week, so the Sea of Blood that Buffy has at her disposal should be adequately filled…)

Although the particular poison affecting Angel is only cured by blood, other poisonings can and have happened throughout the course of medical history.  In fact, one can argue that the most potent medicines have always been toxins applied in a judicious manner.  Today, potentially toxic substances are still used in Chinese herbal medicine, but through centuries of experience, several methods of preparing the medicines in order to decrease their side effects have been developed.  Not all poisons and toxins are dangerous to the same degree.  Some merely cause mild nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting; others dangerously lower blood pressure, stop breathing, or cause sudden bleeding.  Still others are toxic acutely, while others are dangerous only over the long term.  For these reasons, it is important to have qualified practitioners — rather than governmental restrictions — who know how to properly prepare, formulate, and administer herbal medicines.

This post will treat exactly that topic:  dealing with herbal poisonings.  Please note, these are only immediate remedies for accidental poisonings with herbs like Fu Zi (aconite), and are not designed to replace a call to your local poison control centre.

The most common method of detoxifying herbal ingredients, aside from increasing boiling time, is to mix in fresh ginger juice.  The herbs and fresh ginger are then dry-fried and left to cool.  Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) itself is also often added to formulas during the boiling time, in order to reduce the actively toxic compounds present in some herbs.  Xi Xin (asarum), in particular, is nearly always used in combination with ginger.

Gan Cao, or licorice root, in both its honey-fried and unprepared forms, is another remedy often used for Fu Zi poisoning.  Gan Cao is one of the most commonly used herbs in Chinese medical formulas, and is credited with the property of  ‘harmonising’  the other ingredients in the formula.

Mung beans are one of the most common detoxifying foods, and appear in both Chinese and South Asian (Ayurvedic) dietary medicine.  In Ayurveda, the combination of rice and mung beans, or chikadi, is recommended as a nutritious and detoxifying food.  In Chinese medicine, mung beans (cooked, not raw) are the supreme antidote for Fu Zi poisonings, given even in hospital.

Milk is likewise a common food given to those suspected of poisoning.  It is rarely (if ever) used in Chinese medical formulas, but is part of some tonification programme for cancer patients before they enter chemotherapy in the PRC.  In the past, the milk that would be given was unprocessed and unhomogenised.  I do not know how the addition of other substances (e.g. vitamins) to milk today would affect its properties, although several friends have suspected that processed milk is more to blame for their lactose-intolerance than lactose itself.  (They seem to have little difficulty when drinking raw milk, for example.)

Finally, honey is often added to herbs in the course of their preparation in order to detoxify them.  Gan Cao, Huang Qi, and Sang Ye are the most commonly honey-prepared herbs I can think of, and all of those are fine to consume raw.  As an antidote, honey seems given after ingestion of the poison, or to draw out poisons from the skin.  I personally would use honey as an antidote only in this latter case — as a drawing salve — and try the previous herbs first, if I had no other recourse to treating the poison (e.g. by inducing vomiting, for example).

Water is not mentioned as an antidote to poisonings in classical sources.  Perhaps this is due to the possibility of contamination by water-borne diseases, which would only make the situation worse.  Nonetheless, when clean water is available, flushing the body with fluids can often help the person eliminate the poison from his or her system.

The Nan Jing mentions using acupuncture remedies for herbal mistakes, but I cannot recall those instances; otherwise, there really isn’t much that acupuncture can do for poisonings, to my knowledge.  (Except bee stings — which I would treat as fire-toxins in the blood and use the SI channel to treat.)

Although this post is for theoretical purposes only, please, if you suspect poisoning, contact the appropriate personnel as soon as possible.

Happy Slayage

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