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Chinese barley vs 'western' barley

In East Asia, barley usually means "Chinese barley", which is not the same as the regular barley used in Western cuisine.

This is a different type of grain, called yì rén in Chinese, hato mugi in Japanese. yulmu in Korean and Job's tears in English. It is fatter and rounder, with a wider slit down the middle compared with regular "western" barley.

The two grains are quite similar in taste and may be used interchangeably in recipes. The Chinese use it in soups, much the same way as Weterners use barley in barley soups and stews.

The plant originated in Southeast Asia, but has since spread across the world where, in many countries, it is considered a weed and a nuisance.

Among its many uses, the grain is made into prayer beads as rosaries, or necklaces, especially in India where a slightly different variety is called vyjanti beads.

Medicinal uses - macrobiotics

Chinese and other East Asian cultures, however, place a high value on this grain and ascribe to it many healing properties, including anti-tumor and anti-cancer.

In the macrobiotic diet, hato mugi is recommended for regular consumption by cancer patients as well as healthy individuals. It is usually cooked with brown rice, about four parts rice to one part hato mugi. I think this is because hato mugi on its own is not very delicious.

There is also a macrobiotic home remedy that uses cooked hato mugi or Chinese barley made into a plaster to be applied over the skin. This is said to soften and draw out excess hard fat or protein - that is, tumors.

Personally, I have not come across successful cases of such plasters - along with taro potato plaster, using a small yam - drawing out tumors, as they require great patience, with repeated applications every few hours for months. But some of the more experienced macrobiotic teachers, including Herman Aihara, have amazing stories to tell.

Some of the anti-cancer claims of Chinese barley have since been scientifically validated. Scientists have identified a compound, coixenolide, that suppresses cancer cells and another, germanium, that has anti-carcinogenic properties.

Medicinal uses - TCM

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chinese barley is used as a herb. It is sold in Chinese herbal shops and you might find a handful of it as part of a herbal prescription - for the flu, perhaps - containing this grain along with dried leaves, roots and flowers.

In fact, it is probably the most common grain used in Chinese medicine. In my over 25 years of consulting Chinese physicians instead of Western doctors when I fall ill, I had been prescribed hato mugi several times, but never rice, millet, wheat or other grains.

Traditional Chinese medicine considers this barley to nourish mainly the spleen, lungs, liver and skin. It is als helpful with problems associated with "water stagnation" in the body, such as edema, where excessive fluids accumulate in the body cavities.

Chinese herbalists advise against pregnant and nursing women taking Chinese barley. But while I have come across such statements, the reasons have not been explained. I shall update on this when I find out why.

Barley for diabetes

As with regular "Western" barley, Chinese barley is also known to help people with diabetes, by controlling the blood sugar level. This means, however, that if you are on diabetes mediciation, you need to monitor yoour blood sugar level more carefully when you eat hato mugi. You may need to reduce your medication, which will be a good thing.

Other benefits

All the other health benefits of barley apply to Chinese barley as well. For example, it is also high in fiber - about 20 percent for the whole grain, less - but still a fair amount - when the grain is polished like pearl barley.

Among other things, the rich fiber content helps reduce blood cholesterol, improves colon function and promotes weight loss. Click here to read more about the health benefits of barley.

Probably the most widely enjoyed health benefit, however, is when the grain is made into Chinese barley water.

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Barley water
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