Mason, the founder of SuperFeast, recently went on an expedition through China and you can check in here as he shares everything you need to know about Di Dao, live from the China hinterlands!
Mason in the China hinterlands,
giving thanks to the mountain spirits with the local farmer
Di Dao (or Di Tao, or daodi) doesn't translate easily into English, like many of the great Chinese concepts (e.g., Jing, Qi, and Shen!) The word Dao, in this case, refers to the district in which the herb is grown, and Di is more to do with the soil and land in which the herb is grown. In other words, sourced from its spiritual homeland. Di Dao herbs must be high quality, medicinally dense herbs that have been grown in their natural habitat. This provides the herbs with the healing properties that allow them to be effective in fulfilling their purpose as medicinal herbs and tonics.
Ron Teeguarden, founder of Dragon Herbs and legendary tonic herbalist, translates Di Dao to "Earth Tao," or "the Way of the Earth." He says,
"Every plant has its perfect habitat where the plant flourishes, and in the case of a herb or food, becomes the most phytochemically rich and balanced."
To put it simply, Reishi grown in a mountain in China and Reishi grown in a lab are different, no matter what the scientists say. At SuperFeast, we are absolutely steadfast in this knowing (we are proud to source from China). It is akin to a factory-farmed cow and a cow living out in the fields.
You cannot expect the same energy from a mushroom that did not grow through cold winters and nights; were not exposed to high altitudes and winds; and were not fed from natural rain or river water.
Again, to quote Mr Teeguarden:
"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."
Di Dao is kind of like the wine industry's notion of terroir, but the concept of Di Dao is slightly more complex because it is intricately related to the effectiveness of the herbs, as well as macroscopic qualities such as taste and appearance. It's kind of like the idea of vintage too, how the grapes tasted that year as a result of their exposure to rain, sun and whatever else was going on… we find our herbs vary from season to season, and if you take our herbs over a few years, you'll notice that too.
Cultivation in and of itself is not considered to have a negative effect on many herbs, so long as they are still exposed to the natural elements. Most Di Dao cultivation is semi-wild in that the herbs are still fighting to survive and are not given an easy run!! The constituents of a plant are affected by environmental factors such as soil, climate, humidity and light, which directly influence the bioactive compounds available in the resultant herbal medicine. In ancient times, differences based on environmental conditions were noted in the Chinese saying that "tangerines that grow south of the Huai river are 'tangerines' when grown north of the huai river they are 'bitter oranges'; the leaves are similar but the flavor of the fruit is different."
Mason at one of the SuperFeast
tonic herb farms - see how wild it is?
Herbs like Rehmannia (found in our JING blend) have been cultivated for centuries in the Henan province, using semi-wild cultivation techniques that ensure the herbs are potent and a sustainable resource. This is considered the Di Dao region for Rehmannia. Herbs like Rhodiola, in our Neural Nectar, are sourced wild from Tibet, their Di Dao home. Our Schisandra is from Changbai Mountains… where we also source our wild Chaga. We find that, while wild is preferable, many times, it's unsustainable and/or prohibitively expensive to use fully wild herbs (for example, cordyceps, though we're working on having some wild stuff available for those of you who would like to try it). Cordyceps is the only mushroom we'll accept as lab-grown, for now, until we come up with a better option. Watch this space! Otherwise, all our other mushrooms and herbs are wild, or semi-wild.
China has one of the longest-standing herbal traditions in the world, and one of the oldest books on medicinal substances (also known as a "materia medica") in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, which was compiled in the 1st century AD during the Han dynasty.
Crucial to the development and continuation of this herbal tradition that is still going strong in China was trade. As herbal cultivation methods were rudimentary (compared to today's modern laboratory settings and monoculture farms), most herbs needed to be transported from where they were harvested, and as you probably are aware, China is a very, very vast nation. The Chinese were also trading with other countries over a broad geographic area - many herbs that are now cultivated in China once had to be sourced from places like India and beyond.
You can imagine that it was pretty tough to ensure your herbal source was legit back in those days (these days we have laboratory testing and fingerprint chromatography to help us make sure our herbs are from the right place). Therefore it became necessary to develop a system to ensure the authenticity of the source in recognition of specific regions and production practices that resulted in the highest quality herbs.
Di Dao isn't just some ancient concept that has been lost to all but a few Daoist herbalists. It's acknowledged by the Chinese government and recognized by modern TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) practitioners too. An attempt to define Di Dao for modern herbalists was made at the 390th Xiangshan Scientific Conference in Beijing in 2011:
"Medicinal material that is produced and assembled in specific geographic regions with designated natural conditions and a specific ecological environment, with particular attention to cultivation technique, harvesting, and processing. These factors lead to quality and clinical effects that surpass items of the same botanical origin that are produced in other regions; thus, such items are widely recognized and enjoy a good reputation."
About 200 of the 500 or so herbs in the Chinese materia medica have specific Di Dao forms, and these herbs make up about 80% of the Chinese herb market. Di Dao is a fundamental concept in Chinese herbalism but one that is vastly overlooked and disregarded by many Western herbal companies.
The Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing was the first text to discuss the importance of production regions, though certainly not the last. In 659 AD, the Tang Dynasty herbalists emphasized the importance of production regions, stating: "if medicinal material is not produced from its native environment, it will be the same in substance but will differ in effect."
The famous Tang Dynasty author Sun Simiao recognized the importance of Di Dao with the following statement:
"Ancient doctors depended on medicinals produced from the proper production areas. Therefore, if they treated ten patients, they achieved results in nine. Although contemporary doctors understand the pulse and prescriptions, they are not familiar with the proper production regions, harvest time, and, quality of medicinals. Thus, they only achieve results in five or six cases out of ten."
Evidence-Based Validation of Herbal Medicine edited by Pulok K. Mukherjee
Geographical Indications for Medicinal Plants: Globalization, Climate Change, Quality and Market Implications for Geo-Authentic Botanicals by Josef A. Brinckmann (accessed online https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/eaed/216bfe06ebd3229a508580e4ec46805aa1eb.pdf)
What is "Daodi" Medicinal Material? By Eric Brand, Zhongzhen Zhao, and Ping Guo (accessed online http://mzines.net/publications/1357/p/om_spring_final-optimized.pdf)
Great Herbal Sourcing Is the Secret of Great Herbalism by Ron Teeguarden (accessed via http://ashokkoul.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/the-earth-tao-principle-di-tao.html)
The formation of daodi medicinal materials By Eric Brand, Zhongzhen Zhao, and Ping Guo (accessed online https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S037887411200061X)