Chinese Herbs

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Chinese Herbs, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA
Although most people come to see me for acupuncture, it was my interest in herbal medicine that initially drew me to study Chinese medicine. I was recently asked to share more about Chinese herbs, how I use them in my practice, and what kinds of things they treat.

While studying Chinese medicine in school, I had 4-5 semesters each of classes on different topics: Chinese medical theory, acupuncture, and herbs (individual herbs and formulas.) Herbal medicine is the oldest form of medicine in every culture around the world. Medicinal substances fall on a spectrum from those that are mild and used as food, to those that are stronger and used more as medicine. Some examples of therapeutic foods include herbs that we use in cooking, such as garlic, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mint, turmeric, and fennel. Not only do they make food more flavorful, they have additional benefits, such as killing parasites, improving circulation, and aiding digestion. In traditional Chinese dietetics, foods are considered one of the most basic types of medicine and are categorized by their effect on the body. For example, pears have the effect of clearing heat, moistening, and clearing phlegm from the Lungs.

When I was in school, we would write and mix up individual bulk herb formulas for patients based on our diagnosis. We would often choose a basic formula (like a recipe) as our starting point, then add, subtract, or change amounts of herbs based on that patient at that moment. As their symptoms would change or disappear, our formulas would also change. In Chinese medicine, the goal is not to put a patient on a formula and keep them on it to “manage” their symptoms or condition, but to elicit a change by treating the root of the problem.

Bulk Chinese herb formulas are usually given as a tea or “soup”. Most of these are cooked as a decoction in water for about 45 minutes and are strong-smelling and tasting. Patient compliance is not always very good with those! For that reason, I primarily use herb pills and tinctures. They are easy to use and in a form that is more familiar to most of us. The downside is that the proportions of herbs in the formula cannot be changed and the formula cannot be customized.

We are used to thinking in a relatively simple way, that this herb is good for this particular problem, but the way herbs work is far more complex than that. A formula will affect the entire body, not just one part.

In western medicine, we tend to think of a particular drug being good for a particular problem. Chinese medicine thinks about it differently: a Chinese medical practitioner makes a diagnosis for each person and treatment is chosen accordingly. Not everyone with the same problem (back pain, for example) will have the same diagnosis in Chinese medicine, and so are unlikely to have the same herbs. Just because an herb is “good” for a particular condition does not mean that it is a good match for each person with that condition. Just because herbs are natural, not all are necessarily safe to use indiscriminately. Treating yourself with herbs is not easy, which is why it’s usually best to consult with an herbalist.

Herbs can be used short-term, like antibiotics, or they can be used long-term for more chronic problems. Chinese herbs are categorized based on their function. Those that are in the “Tonifying” (strengthening) category are like taking vitamins or using a drip irrigation system. A little bit taken over a longer time is able to be absorbed more easily and benefit your body more than a massive dose taken once.

What kinds of conditions can be treated with herbs?
Just about anything: Insomnia, PMS, hormonal imbalances, digestive problems, joint pain, low energy, mood disorders, menstrual problems, infertility, blood pressure, urination problems, fibromyalgia, colds, allergies, immune system issues.

Can I use herbs if I’m taking medication?
It depends. Acupuncture is always safe to use if taking medications, but herbs may not always be appropriate.

Why do I have to take so many pills?
Chinese herb teapills are not as strong as most pharmaceuticals. This makes it much easier to vary the dosage, especially for children or more sensitive people.

I would be happy to have a conversation with you if you’ve ever wondered if herbs might be of help.

Sleep Essentials

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Sleep Essentials, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

All living things on earth are affected by a circadian rhythm - a 24 hour rhythm of light and dark, of activity and rest. With the advent of the industrial revolution and electricity over the past 200 years, our society has rapidly changed from an agricultural society to an industrial and technological society. Despite our living in a culture that operates 24/7, we are biological beings and our biology hasn’t kept up with technology. To balance the fast pace of the technological world in which we live, deep, peaceful, restorative sleep is more important than ever.

Sleep is just as important as good nutrition and physical activity. What happens when people don’t get enough sleep? Ask any new parent and they’ll tell you that they are exhausted and have difficulty thinking clearly. Over time, our emotions are affected and we are more likely to experience increased irritability, anger, frustration, and impaired judgment. Our culture has a kind of machismo around sleep, that somehow it's not necessary. Some people boast of needing only 5 or 6 hours of sleep a night, yet sleep deprivation is a serious problem, not only affecting an individual’s health, but also that of our whole society.

Sleep enhances our memory and our learning capacity. It inspires creativity, helps rebalance emotions, refreshes our cardiovascular health, regulates metabolic and glucose processes, boosts our immune system, resets our brain and body health. And, there is a direct link between mental health, emotional stability, and lack of sleep. Decision-making, reaction time, situational awareness, communication, and memory are impaired by 20-50% when we don’t get enough sleep.

Sleep is one of the most effective things you can do to improve your energy, mood, metabolism, and cognitive abilities. During sleep, cerebrospinal fluid circulates through the brain at a very rapid pace, washing away waste proteins that are toxic to brain cells. This may explain why we don't think clearly after a sleepless night or why a prolonged lack of sleep can actually kill an animal or a person. One of these waste proteins is beta amyloid, the substance that forms sticky plaques associated with Alzheimer’s Alzheimer's and all other diseases associated with dementia are linked to sleep disorders.

Insomnia, which includes difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, is the most common sleep disorder in adults. It affects mood, memory, fatigue, and concentration because the arousal and emotional centers remain active. It is more common in women than in men, increases with age, and leads to sadness, depression, and brain fog. Sleep insufficiency is associated with risk for the development of most psychological disorders, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD.

Conventional medicine most commonly offers some sort of sleeping pill, yet most of those have sedative side effects that linger the following day. These medications are a temporary solution as insomnia usually returns once they are discontinued. Chinese medicine, on the other hand, works to restore the body’s normal functioning, and acupuncture and herbal treatment change as sleep improves.

The other main therapy used most frequently is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and its results are longer-lasting. Although the suggestions may seem counterintuitive, most people who try them find that they make a big difference after 3-4 weeks. The principles of CBT are:

  • Reduce your time in bed.
  • Get up at the same time every day.
  • Don’t get in bed unless you’re sleepy.
  • Don’t stay in bed unless you’re sleeping.

Repeated insomnia predisposes people to adverse psychological outcomes. For example, while military veterans are trained to learn how to deal with challenging situations, they receive no training on how to calm down. Sleep hygiene or discipline can be helpful in reducing the incidence of hypervigilance.

Sleep Hygiene

  1. Regular bed and wake times.
  2. Keep the bedroom dark.
  3. Keep the bedroom cool.
  4. Keep the bedroom quiet.
  5. Keep media and technology out of the bedroom.
  6. Make the bedroom a safe haven.
  7. Avoid alcohol, cigarettes, and caffeine.
  8. If you wake, get out of bed and go into another room. Keep the lights low and do something boring until you get sleepy, then go back to bed.

Shift workers
People who work at night (swing or graveyard shifts) are more likely to have problems with diabetes, high blood pressure, and lose their body’s ability to control blood sugar properly as both insulin and glucagon are affected. Diabetes is essentially too much sugar in the blood. The body likes to regulate its blood sugar within a very narrow range. Too little of it and we lose consciousness, since sugar is the fuel of the brain. Too much of it, and it becomes toxic, destroying nerves and damaging the kidneys.

Sleep & TCM
Chinese medicine teaches us to live in harmony with our environment, which means honoring the signals of our body, as well as the season. In past centuries, people rose and went to bed with the rising and setting of the sun. Our 24-hour day is divided into night and day, and in Chinese culture, these correspond with Yin and Yang. It is normal and desirable to be awake and active during Yang time and quiet and sleeping during Yin time. Problems arise when activity and rest are not balanced.

Chinese medicine is very effective at treating insomnia, fatigue, irritability and other mood changes, unclear thinking, and can also help reduce hypervigilance.


by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Winter, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA
Winter is a time of rest and hibernation. We are moving from a time of harvest to a time of stillness. Days become shorter as nights lengthen. Energy contracts and becomes slower and more dense. People will often comment on just how slow-moving they are, or how they are not accomplishing much, but in my experience, the energy of Winter is exactly that. Trying to move quickly this time of year is like trying to run while underwater or trying to move through cold molasses. It is possible, but it is not easy and wastes much of your energy to try to do so.

Winter in Chinese medicine belongs to the Water element. This is a time of gestation of ideas, of rest and restoration. It is a time to turn inward and listen to your own body’s needs; to engage in practices that will build your reserves so that you can be active without depleting yourself in the warmer months ahead. In our culture, the frenetic busy-ness of holidays in Winter often creates a tension for us. We are pulled between our social expectations, such as parties, gift exchanges, winter concerts, and the Nutcracker, and our body’s desire for rest, simplicity, and time to curl up in front of a warm fire.

It is normal as appetites increase and metabolisms slow down for people to gain a few pounds since the absorbed nutrients from their foods can be stored more easily during this time. It is also a good time to use acupuncture and herbs to boost the natural constitution of the body and treat the underlying roots of chronic conditions.

Foods that are especially good to eat in the Winter are:

  • Deeply nourishing foods (substantial & nutrient-dense)
  • Foods that are higher in fat and protein
  • Soups & Stews
  • Beef, Lamb, Chicken
  • Bone Broth
  • Kohlrabi
  • Chard, Kale, Bok Choy, Lettuce, Cabbage, Sauerkraut
  • Mushrooms
  • Walnuts
  • Lentils & Beans
  • Warming spices such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom
  • Pumpkin & Winter Squash
  • Rice & Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Leeks & Onions
  • Snow peas
  • Broccoli
  • Porridge

Foods to avoid:
Raw, frozen, or fried foods

Because the focus in the winter is to conserve and build energy, it is important not to overexert yourself. Light physical activity is good to keep things moving. It is important not to sweat too much as it is believed that cold can move in through open pores and lodge in the body at this time, causing joint pain and lowering your resistance to colds. Gentle practices such as Qi Gong,Tai Chi, or yoga are especially useful.

It is advised to go to bed early and to get up when the sun rises, which is later in winter.

When you are out of sync with the energy cycles of the natural world, you will be working harder than necessary. When you are aware that the energy of the natural world is cyclical, you can allow yourself to rest or be more active in accordance with it. Living in harmony with the seasons is an easy and effective way to reduce stress on the body, mind, and spirit.

Fundraiser for Acupuncturists Without Borders!

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Fundraiser for Acupuncturists Without Borders!, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

Join Davis acupuncturists and Acupuncturists Without Borders volunteers, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM, and Lyle Najita, L.Ac., at a drop-in community-style ear acupuncture clinic as a fundraiser for Acupuncturists Without Borders!

This style of acupuncture is a powerful, simple, safe way to help with stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, and pain by helping people “reset” their nervous systems to a greater state of calm, quiet and clarity. (Not sure about needles? No problem. We also offer needle-free treatment.)

Friday, Nov. 17th - 4-6 pm
(Come anytime - treatment takes about 30-45 minutes)
Fireside Room at Davis Community Church, 412 C Street
Suggested donation: $10-20, but any amount gratefully received and no one will be turned away.

All donations benefit Acupuncturists Without Borders, a non-profit organization that provides acupuncture services in disaster areas. AWB volunteers have recently gone to Texas, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Sonoma County, Las Vegas and Greece to provide disaster relief treatment to:

• Evacuees • Residents • Volunteers and care providers • First responders • Refugees • Veterans, active military and their families • Emergency personnel • Survivors of sexual and domestic violence

This event is both a fundraiser for AWB and an opportunity for the community to experience trauma relief acupuncture.

Thank you to Davis Community Church for hosting this event!

For more information, contact Johanna Utter at (530) 757-2064

Can't attend but want to help? Donations can be made on AWB's website:

For more information:

Short video from AWB California relief effort:

Huffington Post article about AWB:

Volunteering with Acupuncturists Without Borders

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Volunteering with Acupuncturists Without Borders, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CAIn October, I volunteered with Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) in Houston and Santa Rosa. AWB provides free, community-style trauma relief acupuncture to people in areas that have been hit by disasters.

Acupuncturists Without Borders was founded in 2005 by acupuncturist Diana Fried, following Hurricane Katrina. Knowing that acupuncture could help with trauma recovery, she ended up organizing 25 teams of acupuncturists to travel to New Orleans. There they provided free community acupuncture treatments to 8,000 in Louisiana, including evacuees, residents, first responders, emergency personnel, volunteers, and other care providers.

Since then, AWB-trained volunteers have offered trauma recovery services in the aftermath of many emergencies including: wildfires, floods, shootings, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, the Boston Marathon bombing, mudslides, and even a lava flow in Hawaii.

Acupuncturists Without Borders has also expanded its outreach to veterans, active military, and their families via the Military Stress Recovery Project.  AWB’s Community Service Clinic Program provides treatment for other trauma-impacted populations, such as refugees, survivors of sexual and domestic violence and first responders. There are now more than 30 AWB-affiliated community service clinics across the United States. AWB also does work internationally in Greece, Nepal, Mongolia, Haiti, Israel, and Mexico.

AWB uses a simple treatment technique, developed in New York in the 1970’s to treat the symptoms of drug detox, that has since been modified to provide stress reduction. For most people, five small needles are inserted into each ear, in points chosen to help people relax, reduce pain, improve sleep, calm the nervous system, and assist in the repair of organs most taxed by drugs, alcohol, and stress: the lungs, kidneys, and liver.

The two locations where I volunteered, Houston and Santa Rosa, had different set-ups, but the treatment was the same. Participants sat on chairs arranged in a circle and a practitioner inserted small needles in each ear to help with stress, anxiety, difficulty sleeping and pain. In Houston, the clinic had been taking place for several weeks by the time I arrived, so many of the recipients were regulars. One of the women was very eager to be there. She told us that she had suffered from depression for several years and that her mother had really noticed a difference in her energy following the first treatment. "I came for the acupuncture session not knowing what to expect. Within 5 minutes I could feel my self relaxing. The next day I had so much energy- more than I have had in two years. My mother cried tears of joy." Some people chose to have ear seeds taped to their ears after the treatment so that they could press them and do ear acupressure at home until the next clinic.

Disaster relief work is often a moving target. On the day that I volunteered in Santa Rosa, I got a call several hours beforehand letting me know that the location where we would be had changed. We then planned to set up in a tent behind the shelter at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Upon arriving, we learned from the Red Cross that we were not permitted on site. This was disappointing since we had all driven a long way to be there. Fortunately, we were able to set up   chairs in a parking lot, near a tent where other practitioners were offering massage, physical therapy, and Reiki to first responders. There had been a few chiropractors there the day before.

Most of the acupuncture recipients in Santa Rosa were firefighters. The ones we treated were from Tulare County, Riverside, and Oregon. We learned that firefighters had come from all over the U.S., Canada, and even from as far away as Australia and New Zealand to help out. My co-volunteer, Barbara Seymour from Solana Beach (near San Diego), came up north to volunteer because her parents live in Sonoma.

She shares:
“We did a lot of treatments with first responders, and right before the end of our shift, these 4 firefighters from Riverside walked in to get their first ever acu treatments. They had been on the fire lines for 14 days straight risking their lives, inhaling smoke and getting little to no rest, and yet somehow, they managed to give each other such a hard time about getting needles in their ears! Once the points were in they took selfies and sent them to their wives. I don't know who said what, but all the sudden all four of them were laughing really hard and couldn't stop... then I started, then Johanna as well. What is it about laughing firemen?

One said, 'Hey, I can feel tingling down my left arm', another said, 'My neck feels looser.' When we took the points out, they let us know that they felt much better and thanked us, then we thanked them for their amazing service to the community. As they were leaving we got hugs from heroes.”

Being able to help during times of disaster is rewarding. In an instant, lives have been turned upside-down, and while acupuncture doesn’t provide food or shelter, it does help bring mental and emotional peace to its recipients as they put their lives back together. There is such a need for this work and I hope to be able to volunteer internationally in the future.

Short video from AWB California relief effort:

Huffington Post article about AWB:

If you would like to help support the work of Acupuncturists Without Borders, you can make a donation here.


by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Fall, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CA

Most people love fall. The air starts to become cooler and crisp, wonderful scents start to fill the air, leaves start to fall off the trees, and it’s time to pull out sweaters again!

In Chinese medicine, fall is associated with the Metal element, the color white, the Lungs and Large Intestines, and the emotions grief and sorrow. It is a time of endings (harvests, leaves) and a time of anticipated beginnings (seeds, school starting.) During the fall, the Qi (vital energy) of the environment begins to contract as we have fewer hours of daylight and warmth.  

After the abundance of summer, fall is a time to prune, pare down, and cut back on our energy expenditures.

A couple of the qualities of the Metal element are refinement and discernment. At this time of year, it is beneficial to begin to slow down and be more reflective; to sift through and release what is no longer needed, physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  

This is a particularly good time of year to get an acupuncture “tune-up” to keep your immune system strong. People are often more vulnerable to colds and flus due to temperature changes at this time of year. Begin dressing in layers to accommodate changes in weather and avoid getting sick, and wear a scarf to keep the neck from being too exposed to the cold. 

Fall is the time to begin moving our energy inward. This is not a time to engage in forms of exercise that expend a lot of energy, but rather to engage in forms that are enjoyable and leave you feeling more grounded and energized.

Classic Chinese medical texts from over 2000 years ago advise going to bed at sunset (early) to stay away from chilliness and to rise at dawn to appreciate the crisp air of autumn.

It is especially helpful to eat foods in the Fall that are moistening, astringent, and warming. This is the perfect time to pull out the crock pot and begin eating warm, nourishing soups and stews.

Foods to eat in the fall:
Root vegetables
Cooked foods
Winter Squash
Sweet potatoes
Bok Choy
Wild Rice

Foods to avoid:
Raw, uncooked, frozen, or fried foods

Thriving Pink: A Local Breast Cancer Support Resource

by Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM

Thriving Pink: A Local Breast Cancer Support Resource, Johanna Utter, L.Ac., FABORM in Davis, CAOctober is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Because 1 out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her lifetime, it's quite likely that you or someone you know has been impacted by it. We are very lucky to have a fantastic resource in Davis for women diagnosed with breast cancer and their families, Thriving Pink.

I first heard about Thriving Pink in August 2016, when I was invited to participate in its dance flash mob, Flashing Pink. Wanting to learn more about Thriving Pink and all the different things that it offers to our community, I asked its founder, Mary Yin Liu, to answer a few questions for me.

What is the story behind Thriving Pink?  Why did you start it?

I started Thriving Pink in August 2016 honor of my friend, Ann Murray Paige, who passed away from breast cancer in March 2014. I was personally inspired by her and so many women in our community. She had a vision - that we are all in this together and we need to "show up" for each other. During the six years of our close friendship, I believed in her vision. Over time, her vision became my vision as well and I searched for a way to make that vision a reality in our community. A few weeks after we opened our office, a woman walked in and shared that she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer and was searching for support and resources. She had not yet informed her family or friends, and no one in her family had breast cancer. This is often the case as over 85% of women with breast cancer have no family history of the disease. She was surprised to see a local nonprofit welcoming people to support one another through such challenging and often difficult circumstances. With 1 in 8, there are thousands of women in our community who will be diagnosed in their lifetime. No one should go through breast cancer alone. Our local nonprofit is committed to helping local women and their families in a meaningful and impactful way.  

Who is Thriving Pink for? Is it just for people in Davis? 

Thriving Pink is based in Davis as our office is located in Davis Downtown. Although our programs and events are also in Davis, they are open to everyone who can join us. In this region, someone can travel to another city in just a few short minutes. For the Granting Pink Program, we give priority for women who reside in Davis or are treated in Davis as the funds are raised locally from this community.

What are the different programs you offer? 

Mentoring Pink (one on one mentoring with a Pink Peer, an annual Renewal Retreat, and monthly workshops), Flashing Pink (an outreach program with a flash mob dance series and informational booth), and Granting Pink (an individual grant program to help women and their families). We also partner with the community and other organizations, such as Camp Kesem, to host special events, including Community Day. One special event we are planning for next year is the Pink Gala. We will be honoring all the Granting Pink Awardees and we invite everyone to join us. I think we are all connected to someone - a mother, friend, daughter, or neighbor - someone who has shared their story and journey with us as they face this diagnosis. It's important to celebrate milestones and honor those near and within our hearts.

How can people volunteer or donate? 

Our website has a Give page for donations, and we encourage interested volunteers to contact us by email at We are also hosting a Volunteer Night on Thursday, November 9th from 7 - 8:30 pm. We will be filling Comfort Bags to donate to local hospitals and newly diagnosed women. We also welcome volunteers throughout the year to join us at various events. There is something very empowering about giving back and helping others. The opportunity to give is actually a beautiful gift. Several of our board and committee members are breast cancer survivors. They have been there and have a great desire to help others. Several past Renewal Retreat attendees returned this year as volunteers to welcome and support the new attendees. We are growing and there are always opportunities to connect with us to serve. We welcome everyone to join our Pink Team!

What else do you have planned for Pink-tober and the coming year? 

We will be at the International Festival on October 1st at Central Park with our informational booth and Flashing Pink.

We are also inviting the community to join us for a Thriving Pink 5K Walk FIT starting at 9 am on Saturday, October 14th. Jennifer Miramontes form FIT House will lead us on a scenic walk to the arboretum from FIT House and our office. A reception will be hosted afterwards. Sola Bee Honey and Stella & Dot will participate in the reception also to support fundraising for Thriving Pink. We just hosted our 2nd Annual Renewal Retreat in September so the 5K Walk is a perfect time for those women to re-connect with each other, as well as the Grant Recipients. And, it's a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together to rally and support our thriving community in October, National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Our Granting Pink applications are also available starting October 1st.  Someone can nominate a friend or relative to receive the grant as well. We awarded $20,000 to 18 women last year and we hope to increase the funds granted next year to at least $25,000.  We do not want to turn anyone away. The nurses at Sutter Hospital started a kitty fund with dollar bills and spare change in a glass jar to help their patients with basic essential needs, such as prescription refills, gas for medical appointments, and dinner for their family. Several of our board members are in the medical field and know first-hand how a financial burden can overwhelm a family, especially when one parent cannot drive or work due to their treatments.  We know there's a great need out there and we want to do everything we can to help.  

Do you have a message that you want to share for those with breast cancer?  For their family and friends?

Just that we are here and we will continue showing up to support our thriving community.  We encourage folks to reach out to us, to come to an event or gathering.  We look forward to connecting with you and creating a strong network of support for our community.  

Do you have a list of other local resources for women with breast cancer or their families?

We do not have a formal list of resources. This has been personalized with support provided on an individual level by Pink Peers as part of our Mentoring Pink Program. As we are growing, we would like to start to develop a formal list of resources in the future as we think that would be helpful, especially for newly diagnosed women.

Contact Thriving Pink if you need support, to donate, or to volunteer by emailing or by visiting their website,

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