Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Medicinal Value of Chinese Chives (Kut sai/Kutsay/kutchai)

One night in the early 1990's, I stood aghast as I looked at my father's black dog swerving towards us. My father had this penchant for breeding dogs, neither the renowned Labradors nor German shepherds, but the one breed typical in the Philippines: the askals (mnemonic for asong kalye or street dog). As far as I could reckon, all his dogs came from the lineage of his two fine askals way back in the 1960's. 

This particular descendant was born a year before when my little boys then were vacationing in my parents home in Laur, Nueva Ecija. Although my two sons were in effect not its boss, this dog seemed to remember the grand trysts they shared. It was of no wonder therefore that in time of tribulations, the dog expected that we would rally round him. 

If this dog were a man, I would tend to believe it came from a drinking spree. After close inspection, it did not require much deliberation to discern that it indeed came from a drinking session. No, it did not partake of any alcoholic beverage, but it was nearly butchered to be partaken. 

It was bleeding from the neck, at the most vulnerable area for a perfect slaughter. Based on the color and pressure by which blood spilled out, the heart was luckily not penetrated and bleeding was neither arterial; but the extent of bleed was a tell tale sign of a torn large vein. 

In the absence of animal doctor in our small town, I was left with no choice but to handle the situation. Would it be of benefit if I go radical and explore the wound? With Ketamine in my tackle box, I could easily render anesthesia. But even if I had the surgical armamentarium, what would I do if the torn vessels would retract beyond reach? Definitely I did not have the expertise to do surgery.

Chinese chive (Kut sai, Kutchay, kutsay)
My son pushed the idea of using the ever reliable “kut sai” (Chinese chive). All my life I never realized the culinary value of “kut sai”. For us instead, it had been a legendary medicinal herb. My sons grew up with a pot of “Kut sai” wherever we lived.

Bruises from a bad fall for my sons, pain from a sore joint for me, all we had to do was get a few leaves of “Kut sai”, wheedle the sap out of it, paint the sore area with the sapped out juice then cover it with the residual leaves as poultice. It even served its purpose sealing the spurting vein from a circumcised prepuce. It did happen in the middle of the night, when although the gods were not sleeping, the urosurgeon was. Since the bleeding was not life threatening, I opted to procrastinate until dawn. For the meantime, one leaf of “kut sai” made into a poultice was placed over the bleeder. In 15 minutes the bleeding stopped permanently.

Banking on these past experiences, I gathered all the “kut sai’” leaves in the pot, made them into a poultice ball as big as a man’s fist, insert it into the gaping neck wound as deep as I could. It went through all the way to the base of the wound with the dog not flinching even a little bit. While I was putting a figure of 8-bandage to keep the poultice in place, the dog’s eyes were staring back at me as if in gratitude. It was then that I realized that black as it was, a dog’s lips could still turn pale; from losing too much blood or may be from fear. With tongue unusually protruding, saliva profusely drooling, eyes half open, the dog was left limply lain as we apprehensively went to bed.

It was such a pleasant surprise we had when first thing in the morning, we were welcomed by a leaping dog enthusiastically greeting us with his wagging tails as it ran around in circles. Among other things, it was a proof that indeed I could still do a perfect figure of 8-bandage: it created enough pressure to keep the poultice in place without strangulating the neck. But of course more than ever, this incident strengthened my belief that “kut sai” is indeed “the” medicinal herb! 

Nonetheless, now that I started writing a blog about herbs, I might as well put some evidences on which I can base the said allegation. 

Chinese chives (Kut sai, kutchai, kutsay)
Foremost from what I gathered is that "Kut sai" is in fact not a true chive but a garlic chive. Although being both members of the onion family thus almost looking alike, there are distinct differences: the long lighter green flat shoots, white flowers and garlicky flavor of Chinese chives against the darker green hallow stems, purple flowers and  onion flavor of true chives. 

Chinese chives (Allum tuberosum), a popular Chinese medicinal herb has long been used to treat fatigue, help control excessive bleeding and as an antidote for ingested poisons; the leaves are applied to insect bites, cuts, and wounds while the seeds are used to treat kidney, liver, and digestive system ailments. (1)

With low fat, high fiber and high protein contents,  Chinese/garlic chives also have high amounts of Vitamin C, carotene (Vitamin E), thiamine (Vitamin B1), rivoflavin (Vitamin B2), calcium, iron and other minerals. (2)  The oil of Chinese chives is being used in India to heal bruises and kill germs in the intestines. (3

The description in the dictionary of Chinese medicine about Chinese chives leaves' use  in the treatment of abdominal pain, diarrhea, hematemesis, snakebite, asthma and the seeds' use as tonic and aphrodisiac, lead to various scientific studies determining the compounds contained therein. Among the 39 compounds identified from the ethanol extract of Chinese chives' seeds, 23 are new compounds including spirostanol saponins, furostanol saponins, cholesterol saponins and alkaloids. (4)

What is the meaning of all these scientific jargon? These steroidal glycosides are recently demonstrated to have wide range of biological actions, among which are antidiabetic (5), antitumor (6), antitussive (7), and platelet aggregation inhibitor activities (8).

Well, this is already getting too deep into the matter when it only boils down to one thing; there are valid reasons behind the old ways of Chinese medicine: herbs like "Kut sai" are indeed the backyard treasures by which God intend to keep us healthy and hale. 

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting! First time I learned the value of kuchai! Thank you!