Great Herbal Sourcing Is the Secret of Great HerbalismMay 2, 2012 Comments Off
By Ron Teeguarden.©2001, 2012 Ron Teeguarden
The “Earth Tao” Principle – Di TaoThousands of years ago, great Chinese sages developed a system for understanding “the Way of Nature”. The overall philosophy has long been known as Taoism (the Ultimate Way). The same enlightened masters also discovered and described various profound concepts that explain how Tao is manifested here on earth, including the “Great Principle of Yin-Yang”, Wu Xing (the principle of the Five Elements), San Jiao (the principle of the Three Treasures), and Feng Shui (literally “wind-water” – the laws of environment, spatial relationships and fortune), to name a few. There is another great and ancient concept in China known as “Di Tao.” Like Yin-Yang and Feng Shui, Di Tao (pronounced dee dow) is a term that has been central to fundamental life choices in China for millennia. The literal translation of Di Tao is “Earth Tao,” or “the Way of the Earth.”
The term Di Tao describes the “original,” “perfect” or “natural” source of any natural object or substance. This could relate to food, an herb, a cloth such as silk, an essential oil, salt, a honey, a spice or any other natural “product.”
In the modern Chinese dictionary, Di Tao is translated as follows:
From the place noted for the product ~ genuine, authentic, and not from an inferior or counterfeit source.
There is no question that locally grown fruit and vegetables and other products are important in our lives. Consuming local foods are essential to adapting to the local environment. But tonic herbs and superfoods are somewhat different. It is the Jing, Qi and Shen that they contain that sets them apart from the “same” herb grown in non-Di Tao locations. The chemistry, energy, vibration and potency of Di Tao herbs is never matched by non-Di Tao herbs. Never. That’s why maca comes from Peru and chocolate comes from South America.
Why Di Tao Is So Important to Those of Us Who Use Tonic HerbsOver the period of 40 plus years, I have learned that where an herb comes from is generally the single most important factor in determining its potency, balance, taste and benefits to the user. Especially in the world of tonic herbs and superfoods, the source of the material is nothing less than critical.
Over time, a connoisseur of herbs learns to recognize quality by observing the appearance, aroma, texture, color and taste of an herb. An expert can recognize quality in this way. But these attributes can be deceiving. Expert farmers can grow beautiful looking herbs that are in fact hollow in terms of their chemistry and resulting effects on the body-mind of the user. So actually testing the herb is critical. Still, the source usually determines all.
Chemical analysis is also an important method of determining the quality of an herb. But it is a highly over-rated method. Generally one, or maybe two, chemicals are established as a “marker” for an herb, and herbs are sold based on that marker. This can be very misleading. Herbs are complex, and some are VERY complex. Reishi mushroom, for example, has over 800 known pharmacologically active constituents. Many of them play roles in the benefits attributed to Reishi. The quantity of certain constituents matters, but so does the quality of these constituents. And the ratio of these constituents may play an essential role in whether an herb does something or not, or does it well. To sell Reishi or any other herb based on narrow standardization (one or two marker constituents) is just a trick.
However, I can tell you that if Reishi mushroom comes from the Changbai Mountain Biosphere in Manchuria, it is probably superior to any other Reishi around. And if it was grown at high altitude on Changbai Mountain, that it is probably primo material. Then by looking at it, smelling it, and tasting it, you can determine if it is the best the Changbai Mountains have to offer. You can tell if it is wild or cultivated, naturally grown on natural wooden logs (good), or artificially grown in a hot house on rice hulls and sawdust (not good).
Chinese herbalism is very big business in Asia – much bigger than it is in America. Chinese herbs are consumed by hundreds of millions of people on a very serious level. The Chinese have tremendous experience with herbs – and they know what is good and what isn’t. The Chinese government employs thousands of researchers and administrators to oversee the herbal and pharmaceutical trade in China. According to regulations of the Chinese Ministry of Health, all herbal products manufactured and sold in China must utilize herbs that are Di Tao – that is, the herbs must come from sources that are considered genuine and legitimate. By imposing strict regulatory controls over where an herb comes from, the government assures that the quality of the medicines and tonics sold in China meet the needs of “the people.” However, it is not illegal to sell non-Di Tao (sourced from non-authentic sources) herbs to foreigners who don’t know better. As a result, many (most) American herb companies buy and sell non-Di Tao herbs, wittingly or unwittingly.
Here’s the Secret to Dragon Herbs QualityOur customers frequently ask us what it is that makes our herbal products so much more effective than all the other brands of herbs on the market. I’m going to let you in on our secret – it’s our strict (obsessive) adherence to the principle of Di Tao. That is why the herbs sold at Dragon Herbs work better than the herbal products produced by other companies. Of course, there are many reasons why, including purity, production technology and freshness – but the correct sourcing of our herbs is fundamental. That is why I travel to all areas of China, and for that matter the world, to find the best herbs in the world. I’m practicing Earth Tao. I’m seeking the world’s greatest herbs from the recognized-best locations, from Di Tao locations. You can have the best technology money can buy, but if the raw material is not Di Tao , it is virtually impossible to produce products with the subtlety and potency that we all want. You cannot spin gold from straw. With Di Tao herbs, our job of producing superior herbal products becomes easier and supremely satisfying.
It is not really hard to find out where the best herbs come from, but you DO have to have an ear for it. Most suppliers have heard about the Di Tao sources of the most important herbs, but they don’t understand or respect the principle, or don’t have the will power to go get it. I admit, it’s not easy to get Di Tao herbs. It’s much easier for herb manufacturers to obtain lower grade herbs grown in commercially accessible locations that are closer to cities. And it’s often much cheaper since the commercial grade herbs are much more abundant and therefore much less expensive. But the added effort and expense of getting Di Tao herbs is well worth the price paid in terms of money, effort and the ultimate benefits. Di Tao herbs provide TRUE VALUE.
Going Di TaoMost of the Di Tao herbs come from VERY REMOTE regions of the world. Often it takes days or even weeks of travel by all sorts of transportation to get to a Di Tao location. These trips are often very arduous, and sometimes they’re very dangerous. I’ve come close to dying five or six times, either at the hands of humans or due to the extreme elements, or simply due to conditions as they arose. I’ve seen terrible floods and many landslides, and I’ve encountered less-than-friendly road warriors on several occasions. I’ve encountered mobs and looting, and have been robbed at least five times (I’ve lost track). I’ve encountered snakes, leeches and scorpions. I’ve ridden on buffalo, yak, horses and camels (no complaints). Much worse, I have ridden for hundreds of miles in cars with no shock absorbers on roads rougher than the moon’s surface, and by drivers who refused to turn their headlights on even in the middle of the night on one-lane mountain roads with no railings and thousand foot drops (sometimes in driving rain). I’ve had a knife pulled on me because I took a photograph of a man’s pig, and a knife pulled on me because I challenged a large-cat poacher.
I’ve been forced to eat fish eyes, bull testicles, scorpions, giant silk worms, entrails and many unknown and terrible tasting things so as not to insult my hosts. I have been to extreme altitudes, to remote deserts, and to literally un-charted forests where the locals had never seen a television or a tube of toothpaste, but all claimed to have seen a Yeti. I have twice been caught right in the middle of violent street riots in remote Southeast Asian countries. I have been to the deepest jungles, and have been in the hands of psychic surgeons. I have been lost in a jungle region of the Philippines controlled by Maoist rebels that would have been thrilled to have captured an American. While visiting our Heaven Mountain Goji farmers in Central Asia, I stayed in a city that was blacked out for the entire three days I was there (no restaurant, no showers, no heat and no locks on any doors). I experienced a deep puncture wound in my leg and took care of it with local herbal remedies. I have been on some of the craziest airplane rides and have twice been on excursions where the planes were forced to land due to extreme weather conditions (very frightening) – once in Central Asia and once in Myanmar (Burma). I have witnessed first hand the horrible floods that took thousands of lives in India and Myanmar. I have been cauterized, punctured and poisoned. But really, I don’t have any complaints.
I have been to the back streets of remote cities and towns, to night bazaars and peasant markets, and have bought the most exotic things from street vendors. I have had the opportunity to collect some of the most amazing amulets, artifacts, sacred art and other relics imaginable in these remote markets. I happened to be in Shanghai the very day it officially became an “open” city, and got to experience and witness a state of elation that I had never seen nor have I ever seen again – the moment of liberation by a whole society (“priceless!”).
Of course, I have been honored to have spent time with some of the greatest herbalists in the world, and have been even more honored by having them visit me. I have walked with them in the forests and in their gardens. I have been in their crazy-amazing workshops and herbariums (where they collect and display their herb samples). Once, I met China’s most respected herbologist on a flight from San Francisco to Beijing. Xiao Peigun is arguably the most powerful and brilliant herbalist in the world. By coincidence, I sat next to him on the flight and happened to have an article he had authored on anti-aging Chinese herbs with me in my travel bag. We became friends for life and he has turned me on to innumerable resources and opportunities. In Nanjing, I met Professor Xu Guo-Jun, the most honored herbologist in the modern era. He was quite elderly, but took a liking to me and appreciated my tonic approach to herbalism. He ultimately wrote the preface to my book “The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs,” which is one of the greatest honors I have ever received. Most Westerners don’t understand, but Chinese people everywhere know him by reputation. He passed away soon afterwards.
I have been in the homes and enjoyed the hospitality of amazing families. They have shown me their treasured relics, hidden safely below their floorboards. I have meditated in awesome Himalayan monasteries. I have spent hundreds of days with my remarkable Chinese in-laws, herbal scientists both, and great, great people to boot. They have guided me on my path to find Di Tao herbs.
I have seen lands that are like Shangri-la, and have encountered some of the most beautiful, generous and wise people you can imagine. Actually, much of my experience has been like that. I have eaten the most delicious food, prepared in the homes of peasants and the wealthy. I am surprised at how often I have been served awesome wild vegetables and herbs. Eating local wild vegetables and fruit is absolutely common in the countrysides throughout Asia.
Di Tao herbs have been my ticket to places Westerners almost never see. I have been inside temples and shrines that few outsiders have ever entered – including the Great Royal Stupa in Thimphu Bhutan. I got to go inside the stupa with the reincarnated Karmapa, who walked me to the top, via the ancient spiral staircase, to see (and be in the presence of) “the great secret” that rests there. I have shot pool and discussed the state of the world with a Bhutanese prince, and I have had tea with the Prime Minister of Bhutan in his personal office. I have been in the homes, caves and shrines of amazing people in some of the most remote societies on earth. I have been to remote grottos with ancient eighty-foot Buddhas that were so far from modern civilization that there were no visitors but me and my party.
Because of my Di Tao approach to herbalism, I gained entry to the inner sanctums of the ancient and venerable Shaolin Temple, the birthplace of Zen Buddhism and of Kung Fu.
I have wandered vast undisturbed biospheres (many) and exquisite botanical gardens (many). I have meditated and done qi gong on mountain tops from whence you could see a hundred miles of nothing but other mountain peaks enshrouded in clouds. I have spent nights at Buddhist and Taoist monasteries – and I have spent nights at some of the scariest “hotels” you can imagine. I have also spent many a night at remarkable, exotic five star hotels in various paradises. In Bhutan I stayed at a hotel where the only electric plug in the bathroom was in the shower! I have also encountered magical healers and shaman, and I have seen and participated in dreamlike spiritual rituals. I have met many genuine mountain hermits, including cave dwelling Taoist recluses. I have been to vast bamboo forests, and in caves inhabited by crazy monkeys and millions of bats. I have plucked wild herbs and gleaming rocks from mountain peaks and deserts, hundreds of miles away from the nearest stop sign. I have drunk from the gushing spring marked by the calligraphy written hundreds of years ago by hermits with the words “drink this water and live forever.”
The remoteness of these Di Tao regions is what makes them great for herbs – no industrial pollution, unconventional natural farming and wildcrafting, and all the natural power of Tao. Indeed the remoteness prohibits most people from getting these Di Tao herbs.
I have gotten into these places because of my knowledge of, and dedication to, the principle of Di Tao.
The Usual American Approach to Herb Sourcing HerbsHere’s how companies make products that are NOT Di Tao. A representative of the company gets on the phone and calls a domestic herb broker and orders herbal and other ingredients based on price and a “standard.” The price is generally the key concern because most nutraceutical companies believe that most customers are mainly interested in price (not knowing how else to judge “value”).
The issue of standardization is a big issue. You should know that most herbs are very complex and contain numerous active constituents. For the sake of the industry and for easy marketing, one “active constituent” is generally selected as the “standard” and the product is manufactured (or manipulated) to match that standard. It is not the best way to judge the value of an herbal product, but it is easy for the industry. 99% of all commercial (industrial) herb buyers in this country have never been to a Di Tao location (most don’t even know of the concept). As a result, most consumers have not consumed really great tonic herbs.
The end result is that there are thousands of nutraceutical and herbal products on the market, but most are of mediocre or low quality and of limited or no benefit.
The Di Tao of Some Important Tonic Herbs (Examples)Every herb has Di Tao sources and non-Di Tao sources. In Asia, and in many other regions of the world where herbs play a big role in the health care network of the society, the Di Tao concept is universally acknowledged and widely applied. Here are some examples:
The Di Tao of GinsengOne Chinese medical dictionary defines Di Tao as “The original and authentic source of an herb, as Changbai Mountain is Di Tao for ginseng.”
Ginseng is one of the most highly revered and widely used herbs in the world. People in Asia ALL know that the best ginseng comes from Changbai (“Always White”) Mountain, a remote and pristine volcanic mountain range in the northwestern Chinese province of Jilin (Manchuria), directly north of North Korea. This stunningly beautiful mountain is a protected “biosphere” (certified and by the United Nations) where industrialization is forbidden and all species of fauna and flora are protected.
It is believed that ginseng originated in this region. Like many major herbs, altitude makes a difference in the potency of ginseng. The higher up Changbai Mountain ginseng grows, the more potent and effective it is as an anti-aging, vitalizing, life-promoting tonic. Ginseng still grows wild in the dense forests of Changbai Mountain. The forest is so vast and dense, that it is easy to get lost in it. Ginseng hunters must watch for Siberian tigers, other large wild cats and bears. Though the entire province of Jilin is officially considered Di Tao for ginseng, as is the province further north (Heilongjiang province, also known as Chinese Siberia) ginseng connoisseurs all know that Changbai Mountain ginseng is the best, true Di Tao. The Chinese emperors of old had their personal ginseng farms near the top of Changbai Mountain, and today all the premium grade Chinese and North Korean ginseng comes from this incredible mountain (Changbai Mountain is half in Manchuria and half in North Korea).
Knowing this, many years ago, Yanlin (my wife and partner) and I traveled to Changbai Shan (as it is called in Chinese) for the first time, to source out the ginseng we would use to make our Dragon Herbs products. That first trip was marked as one of the times we nearly died. A huge mountain thunderstorm washed away our primitive mountain road. Our driver’s headlights blew out in the storm and we barely missed tumbling thousands of feet off a cliff in a mud slide. But we came back with a supply of wild ginseng roots that we collected at the top of the mountain from hermits and ginseng hunters. We also established our relationship with a ginseng farmer near the top of the mountain whose family had been growing ginseng on Changbai Mountain for generations. The ginseng itself was gnarly and large. It was grown totally organically and was processed by a method handed down from parents to children for hundreds of years. This is Di Tao ginseng. And this is the ginseng we use to make our products at Dragon Herbs. Just this year, this ginseng was certified “organic” as well, though it always has been in fact organically grown.
Di Tao American GinsengIt has been reported that Panax ginseng is an extremely ancient plant, developing into its present form around sixty five million years ago. It is believed to have first developed on the ancient northern supercontinent of Laurasia, which eventually split up into eastern North America and Eurasia. As a result, ginseng grows naturally in both Northeastern Asia and North America (primarily in the Northeast). A plant of this antiquity growing in its original, authentic location, could not be defined as anything other than Di Tao!
American ginseng closely resembles Asian ginseng, though its chemical profile has changed over the millions of years. Asian ginseng is considered to have a warm nature while American ginseng is considered cooling and yin (moistening). Both varieties possess extraordinary adaptogenic qualities and spiritual potency and both are considered panaceas in Asia.
Chinese people often prefer American ginseng because it is considered to be more yin (moistening and anti-aging to the skin and bodily tissues) and to be extremely beneficial to the lungs. Ginseng grows all over the eastern part of the United States and Canada. However, the further north you go and the further east, the more prized the ginseng.
Most Americans know about the “Boston Tea Party,” at which our founding fathers tossed Chinese tea into Boston Harbor to protest a tax break given to the huge British owned East Indies Trading Company by the British government. The large tax break to this massive multinational company would have forced numerous small American tea traders out of business because they would no longer be able to compete in the market place. But very few Americans know that the product that the Americans were trading to the Chinese for the tea was wild American ginseng! Even in those days, American ginseng was already a hot commodity in China. The preferred source (Di Tao) of the best ginseng had already been determined by the Chinese – it was from upstate New York. The Catskill Mountains produce extraordinary ginseng. Many Asians consider the wild ginseng grown in the Catskills to be the best ginseng in the world. For that reason, Catskill Mountain ginseng is considered Di Tao for American ginseng. It is extremely valuable. And for that reason, Dragon Herbs only uses Catskill Mountain ginseng collected in unpolluted, remote mountains to make our premium ginseng products. We never use low-latitude or low altitude ginseng – it is not Di Tao.
The Di Tao of GojiThe northwest of China has always been considered Di Tao for goji (the “authentic” source). Some American companies are claiming that they have garnered the market on a certain type of goji grown in the Himalayas (ostensibly Tibet), but they have in fact only landed a type of goji that is not considered acceptable for consumption in China, so it is being exported to America where many people simply don’t know any better. Di tao (authentic) goji comes from the remote northwest of China, at the Chinese and Mongolian frontier border with Central Asia, not the southwest (Tibet).
There is an awesome mountain range that runs across the northwestern border of China, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russia. It is called Tian Shan, or Heaven Mountain. Heaven Mountain is a truly huge mountain range, second in size only to the Himalayas, and in many regards rivaling the Himalayas. It is in fact more remote from civilization and provides just as large of an ecosystem. However, it is a thousand miles further north and provides some of the most exotic landscapes, flora and fauna on earth.
Heaven Mountain is Di Tao for goji. A confluence of unique factors makes the Heaven Mountain region perfect for growing the “Herb of Happiness.” The water, the air, the climate, the soil and the seed stock native to the region have the precise qualities necessary for producing the best, richest, tastiest, most potent goji on earth. Goji can grow elsewhere, but non-Di Tao goji lacks the potency, the quality, the taste and the benefits of Di Tao goji.
The soil in the foothills and plains running along the northern base of Heaven Mountain is highly alkaline. The alkaline salts are clearly visible on the surface of the goji fields, just as they are in the virgin semi-desert soil.
Almost every drop of water in the goji-growing fields is derived from the melting snow or glacial melt from Heaven Mountain. This glacial water is absolutely pure, since the area is still completely pristine. Heaven Mountain is covered year around by snow that drains to the desert valleys below in a million streams and underground waterways.
The weather at the northern base of the Heaven Mountains (goji country) is extreme. It is very hot during the day, but can become very cool at night – sometimes ranging as much as 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a 24-hour period. The temperature fluctuation makes the goji grown there a superb adaptogenic herb. The heat and extended intense sunshine produces incredible fruit. In fact, the region is called the “land of fruit” in Asia because all the fruit from the region is extraordinary. Heaven Mountain goji berries are plump, tender, juicy and sweet. They lack the bitterness and “heat” of berries grown in less favorable conditions. They are sweeter than goji berries grown elsewhere purely as a result of the perfect growing conditions. After you have eaten Heaven Mountain goji berries, it is hard to eat goji from other places.
It’s the air, the soil, the climate and the water – the “Way of the Earth” – Di Tao – that makes Heaven Mountain goji the best goji in the world – by far.
Heaven Mountain goji is completely natural, but it is not wild. It would be accurate to call it “wildcrafted.” Wild goji is never favored in Asia and hasn’t been for centuries. Goji plants live for many years, but they produce fruit that is tonic for only a few of those years. Wild goji plants therefore cannot be relied upon to yield high quality berries that provide the health benefits associated with this fruit. Young bushes produce weak fruit with poor chemistry. Older trees produce tough, bitter fruit with little nutraceutical value. Unlike ginseng, which becomes better with every passing year that it survives, goji has a peak, after which the quality of the berries deteriorates.
The Ministry of Agriculture of the People’s Republic of China has officially certified Heaven Mountain goji as Di Tao. Himalayan goji is not recognized in China as Di Tao. Nor do connoisseurs of goji anywhere in Asia recognize Himalayan goji as Di Tao authentic. It is actually illegal for a pharmaceutical company to use Himalayan goji in herbal products because it is considered unauthentic and inferior.
Goji fruit is best when the plants (bushes) are four to six years old. This is traditional knowledge that has been borne out by chemical analysis and practical experience. When the plants become seven years old or older, the chemical profile of the fruit deteriorates significantly. That is a major reason why wild goji is not favored in Asian societies and is rarely consumed there. I was recently in Xinjiang and traveled widely among the farms and mountains in Heaven Mountain. I saw hundreds of wild goji trees, many of which were old and beautiful. But it was clear that they were not being harvested for their berries. The berries that grow on the wild bushes were small, bitter and generally un-uniform, and were often seriously blemished. I inquired about the wild fruit, but my expert hosts made it clear to me that the berries lacked benefit after the bushes become older. They told me that once the bush became large enough to be called a tree, the berries were no longer fit to be consumed. On the “farms,” the bushes are removed after seven years and new plants are grown. They told me that this has been known for at least a thousand years and that goji had been cultivated or wildcrafted with these facts in mind since the dawn of Chinese agriculture.
That is why Dragon Herbs sells goji fruit only from Heaven Mountain, collected at their peak of maturity. Dragon Herbs goji is Di Tao.
The Di Tao of CordycepsWhenever logistically possible, I go to Bhutan to buy wild cordyceps at the source. Bhutan is a Himalayan kingdom on the southern side of the tallest mountain range in the world. Bhutan is still a very remote country. It is so remote that in the entire country there is still not one traffic light. Television was only introduced to Bhutan twelve years ago. Most Bhutanese still dress in traditional garb. Cordyceps is one of the most precious herbs in the world. It is regarded so highly in the Orient that people would rather have it than gold. Last year it was selling for as much as $15,000 a kilogram ($15 million a ton) in the wholesale markets in Asia. REAL cordyceps can only be obtained from a few places on earth, and all the Di Tao cordyceps comes from the Himalayas. You can get cordyceps from many places around the world, even Changbai Mountain and Heaven Mountain, but most of it is worth much less to connoisseurs who know their herbs. On the other hand, cordyceps from the snow line of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan is considered a treasure.
To get Bhutanese cordyceps, you first have to get to Bhutan – which is no easy matter. You have to know someone with connections and there are very few flights to Bhutan’s one and only airport. Once you land, you have to deal with the government to buy the cordyceps. You spend a couple of days in a town like Thimphu (9,000 feet) and then you start up the mountain. To go to where the cordyceps is, you have to travel for no less than seven days by horse, on foot, and finally by yak up to the snow line where the wild cordyceps grows. The air is so thin at that altitude and the elements are so harsh that most westerners never make it to this destination. There are no motels, hotels or toilets. There are no restaurants or places to shower. Actually, there are not even any real roads once you get out of sight of the last town at about 10,000 feet. There are trails, but they are often ruined by rains and fallen trees. If it rains and you get wet, there’s no real way to get dry. Unfortunately, in the late spring and early summer months when cordyceps is ready to harvest, it rains up there most of the time. The cordyceps is collected, one mushroom at a time, at an elevation between 14,500 feet and 17,000 feet, just meters below the snow line.
Some times, due to an excessively wet rainy season, there are floods and mud slides. In fact, people are often killed trying to collect or trade cordyceps due to mishaps on the trail up and down the mountain. Bridges fall into rivers and people can be stranded for weeks without supplies. The rain can get into the collected cordyceps and much of it is ruined.
The cordyceps that does arrive must first be reported to and inspected by government authorities. A certain amount is “collected” and put aside for the King and his family, and for the national hospitals under the authority of the government. The rest is sent off to other lands like Hong Kong, Korea, Singapore and Japan, where it is sold for serious prices (typically over $10 million per ton for premium grade). I had always appreciated cordyceps for its herbal tonic value, but spending weeks at a time in the Himalayas observing this ancient process has been virtually life-transforming for me. I had no idea what people REALLY go through to collect these precious supertonics and superfoods. You can get cordyceps from lower lying areas (easier access), but with tonic herbs, you get what you pay for. There is a reason why the King of Bhutan, who has four wives and is one of the wealthiest men on earth, takes cordyceps himself every day.
Bhutan is a very remote kingdom. The small country has done virtually no trading with the outside world, even though it is one of the richest natural biospheres on earth. Bhutanese were not allowed to trade tonic or medicinal herbs outside of Bhutan until 2003 (I was a partner in a group, Royal Bhutan Botanicals, that convinced the government to allow some trade of certain very sustainable, wildcrafted herbs). For decades, however, vast quantities of cordyceps had been smuggled out of Bhutan through the passes in the Himalayas, through Tibet and on into China, and from there to the world market. It is estimated by the Bhutanese government that between 20 and 100 tons of wild cordyceps a year had been backpacked and yak-smuggled over the Himalayas each spring and summer. The local inhabitants could make a fortune, but ran the risk of the elements, bandits and less-than-honest border soldiers. In China, cordyceps from Tibet is officially Di Tao. But most people know that as much as half the cordyceps collected from the high altitude “Tibetan” Himalayas is actually Bhutanese.
The bottom line is that cordyceps collected from the snow line of the Himalayas is Di Tao, whichever side of the border it comes from.
Tibetan Rhodiola, Our Own Little Secret – The Di Tao of a Sacred HerbRhodiola rosea, a Russian herb, has become a major herb in America in recent years. It has become a major herb because of great marketing by its handlers and because there is a large supply. Rhodiola rosea is a very fine herb – it is an excellent adaptogenic herb with many health benefits. It’s just that it isn’t the best rhodiola you can get – not by a long shot.
For centuries, the rhodiola of choice in Asia has come from the Himalayas. There are a number of species growing at the snow line of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal – at about 14,500 feet (that’s very high – a person in poor condition could easily have a stroke at that altitude). The most common species is called Rhodiola sacra. The “sacra” part of the name comes from the fact that this herb has historically been considered sacred by the Tibetans and other Himalayan cultures. Himalayan rhodiola is beyond being just healthy – it is a transformational herb, second to no other herb on earth. It is the herb of the lamas, the masters, the sages of the Himalayas. It is the herb of kings, hermits and lovers. Like wild ginseng, it is impossible to cultivate an equivalent to the wild variety.
99% of the rhodiola sold in America is the Russian Rhodiola rosea, a fine adaptogenic herb. But in Asia, it’s a very different story. In Asia, people know that the Himalayan rhodiola is the best. One whiff of Himalayan Rhodiola sacra tells the whole story. The Himalayan herb has an extraordinary aroma that is at once potent and exhilarating. When you smell the Russian variety, it is flat, a little musty, and essentially boring. In the aroma lies the chemistry – and the magic. Himalayan rhodiola is a tonic to the heart, to the mind, and to the psyche. It doubles the amount of oxygen in your brain minutes after consumption. It sharpens consciousness and lifts the spirit – and it lasts, hour after hour, and eventually has a permanent effect. It is an herb of enlightenment, which nobody claims for Rhodiola rosea.
Himalayan Rhodiola sacra is considered Di Tao for rhodiola. In Asia, Rhodiola rosea has traditionally been considered the weaker cousin of Himalayan rhodiola. In China, The Russian variety is considered good, but definitely not supreme. Himalayan rhodiola is much rarer than the Russian herb, but fortunately it is only a little more expensive. Tibetan Rhodiola sacra (and Rhodiola crenulata, an extremely similar Himalayan variety of Rhodiola) is not, and won’t ever be, a mass market herb. Himalayan rhodiola is only collected in the wild, from one of the harshest environments on the planet. If you want to experience the benefits of one of the most extraordinary tonic herbs in the world, it is best to go with the Di Tao variety, thus following the principle of Earth Tao.
So What Does Di Tao Mean to You?There are thousands upon thousands of herbal products on the market in America. And almost all of them are made from commercial-grade herbs grown in regions that are not Di Tao. Even if they are carefully grown, or even organically grown, they cannot match the potency, subtle balance and effectiveness of herbs that are Di Tao. These commercially grown herbs are commodities, not treasures. Di Tao herbs are living treasures that when collected can provide real life force to the user.
Of course, we all want naturally grown, chemical-free herbs, but only a novice or a fool would buy a ginseng root from a region that is not Di Tao. A non-Di Tao ginseng root is more likely to give you a headache than it is to expand your adaptability, enhance your immune system, increase your libido or provide a mental boost. Some plants can grow in a great many environments and still produce the required nutrients. The principle of Di Tao is less important for foods like rice, wheat, potatoes and many vegetables, though it can be a factor even in food. In the case of common foods, “locally grown” and “organically grown” play a bigger role in determining quality. We must all eat every day and it is best to eat fresh vegetables and fruits that are organically grown, locally if possible. The organically grown brown rice grown in Northern California is probably as nutritious as that grown in China, Thailand, or Japan. But it is IMPOSSIBLE to grow a rhodiola plant in Texas or even the Catskills or Changbai Mountain that equates to that which grows naturally at the snowline of Tibet or Bhutan. The conditions are simply not equivalent, and are impossible to match.
When it comes to tonic herbs and the rare superfoods, Di Tao is the first principle, and is something to watch for in every product you take. When it comes to tonic herbs and superfoods, the source is the key to quality. Other factors like freshness, processing and formulating will definitely play a role in the ultimate quality of a product, but you cannot produce gold from straw.
For that reason, virtually all of our Dragon Herbs products feature Di Tao herbs. For example, our great product TomKat features tongkat ali (“Ali’s long staff,” or Eurycoma longifolia Jack) from a specific region of Sumatra, considered Di Tao for this amazing sexual tonic herb that also expands Shen and immune functions. All of our ginseng products are made with ginseng collected from either Changbai Mountain in Manchuria, the Korean peninsula (both north and south) or the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York (see ginseng articles on this blog site). All of our goji products are made from Heaven Mountain goji, collected in the Heaven Mountains of Central Asia (see article on Goji). Our gynostemma is Di Tao from Great Immortal Peak in southeastern China, where it has grown throughout history (see photo story on this blog site). Our pearl is cultured in fresh water ponds in Pearl City in Guangdong China, where it has been collected and cultured for centuries. Our Guilin Sweetfruit (lohanguo) is purchased from Guilin (though it can grow elsewhere, but is lower quality), and our cinnamon comes from Vietnam, the source of the best cinnamon in the world. Our Jeevani is from the Nepalese Himalayas and our maca is from the Peruvian Andes, their Di Tao sources.
Our chrysanthemum, an important herbal tea for cooling the body, relieving burning eyes and protecting against the heat, grows in many places in Asia. But one county is MOST famous for the quality of its chrysanthemum. Both flavor and efficacy are superb. That’s where we get our chrysanthemum, and that’s what Dragon Herbs users get.
Our schizandra comes ONLY from Changbai Mountain. Much of the schizandra in the American market place is not at all Di Tao.
Our new “kimchi super-probiotic” product (due for release in January 2012) comes, of course, from Korea. If it came from anyplace else, it would have different probiotic micro-organisms and would not truly be “kimchi.” Kimchi contains over 200 microbes that as a whole is the richest known source of probiotics in the world. It is extremely beneficial to our health on many levels.
Green tea is an important herb and must come from a Di Tao source. We get ours straight from Mount Wu Yi, the gold standard for tea in all of Asia. When you drink any of our Dragon Herbs brand green, oolong, jasmine or flower teas, they all are grown on Mount Wu Yi. If you ever go to China, go there…it’s breathtaking!
We have been doing this sourcing for over twenty years and have identified the Di Tao source of every major tonic herb in the world.
The difference between a connoisseur of tonic herbs and a non-connoisseur is in one’s knowledge of, and respect for, Di Tao – the Way of the Earth.
And now you know one of the many reasons why Dragon Herbs herbal products are the best.