While the weather here in Boulder has just started to take on an icy chill, the winter holidays are fast approaching and we wanted to take a moment to share with you some of Chinese medicine’s unique perspective on this season. Every season offers a distinct opportunity to benefit your health, and by understanding the nature of each, you can maximize your health all year round. We hope you enjoy this winter newsletter and that it will help you enjoy and take advantage of the energy of the season.
Best wishes to you and your loved ones during this wonderful time of year.
– Jason and Kate Blalack
- Utilizing the Energetics of Winter and General Recommendations
- The Treatment of Colds and Flu with Chinese Medicine
Utilizing the Energetics of Winter and General Recommendations
According to Chinese medicine, the nature of winter is cold and yin. It is related to the water element and the Kidneys. During the winter, the energy of the body and the earth naturally goes inward. By aligning our diets and lifestyle choices with this movement, we can replenish our energy, improve our health, and move into the dynamic transitions of spring and summer with increased vigor.
For example, building the Kidney energy (jing / essence) is best done in the winter. At the same time, too much activity, stress or lack of rest during the winter can easily deplete the Kidneys. The Kidneys are the root of our vitality and all the yin and yang qualities in our body, including reproduction and aging, as well as the source of warmth and strength throughout the body. When the Kidneys are weak, we become tired, have a decreased sex drive, achiness in the legs and back, hormonal imbalances, and age faster than we should. Therefore in Chinese medicine our Kidneys hold a very important place in the body.
To harmonize ourselves with the winter we should pay attention to our yin aspect, and the qualities of nourishment, reception, introspection, rest, and storage, and strengthen our Kidneys, especially our Kidney essence. Seasonal acupuncture”tune-ups” can help align you with these changes, as well as reduce stress, boost your immune system, and treat colds and flu during the winter months. A qualified Chinese medicine practitioner can recommend herbs or exercises to help to build the Kidneys as well as balance your body for the season.
Diet: It is no coincidence that foods that are naturally available during the winter benefit the Kidneys. Consider nourishing yourself with seasonal winter foods such as hearty soups, whole grains, roasted nuts, root vegetables, seaweeds, dried beans, and steamed winter greens. In general you will want to cook foods longer and at lower temperatures using less water. You want to store warmth internally through your foods and daily life. See the recipes below for ideas.
However if you have a Kidney pathology, as diagnosed by your Chinese medicine practitioner, you can be more specific. For example, if you are more Kidney yin deficient with signs of heat, you will want to be cautious with overall warming strategies. You can emphasize cooling foods, such as apples, peaches, pears, mulberries, fresh vegetables, most beans, soybeans, tofu, soy sprouts, and chrysanthemum flowers. You should limit or avoid spicy foods, smoking, alcohol, stress, and strong emotions.
If you are more Kidney yang deficient you can emphasize warming foods such as chicken, lamb, scallions, sesame seeds, fish, baked tofu, walnuts, eggs, lentils, black beans, lotus seeds, ginger, and cinnamon. You should avoid cold foods, fruits and raw foods.
Exercise: Winter is a time for quiet, meditative or spiritual practices rather than the more yang activities of summer. There are specific practices aimed at replenishing the Kidneys, such as restorative yoga or various qi gong practices. To get started, try one of Heather Nichol’s free introductory classes below.
Factors that deplete our Kidney essence (jing):
- Stress, fear, insecurity, and overwork
- Toxins in our food, water, and environment (e.g. pesticides and heavy metals), as well as intoxication with drugs
- Consumption of too many sweet foods
- Excessive semen loss for men, and women bearing “too many” children (for their constitution), or not rebuilding adequately after each birth.
Key foods and supplements to build Kidney essence (jing):
- Micro-algaes (such as chlorella, spirulina). Chlorella is also a great heavy metal detoxifier.
- Small amounts of meat, nuts, milk, & ghee (clarified butter), especially bone marrow soup
- Royal jelly and bee pollen
- Chinese herbs are the strongest, which in general requires a diagnosis and custom formula. However one can also cook with herbs such as rhemannia (shu di), mountain potato(shan yao), and black sesame seeds (hei zhi ma). For more about cooking with Chinese herbs based on your constitution please see Warren Sheir”s book, Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen. Here is a sample recipe The Color Purple Yam Dessert.
Bone broth is an amazing addition to your diet, and very popular in China. Gourmet chefs praise its irreplaceable flavor, but we also love it for its exceptional health benefits. Bone broth is one of the easiest, most inexpensive and beneficial additions you can make to your diet.
To maximize the healing effects, chose large bones with lots of marrow. Simmering the bones for a long period of time with a splash of vinegar helps to extract calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur, and other trace minerals, as well as collagen and amino acids. The nutrients in bone broth are easily absorbed and help to build strong hair, nails, bones, cartilage, tendons and all of the connective tissue in the body, including in the gastrointestinal tract, and also provide the foundation for a strong immune system.
From a Chinese medicine point of view, bone broth builds the most essential component of the body, the Kidney essence, along with the qi, blood, bones and tendons. Thus, bone broth is an especially useful staple during the winter, and also for those recovering from injury, illness, surgery, or childbirth, and those with chronic joint pain, back pain or generally poor health.
The basic recipe for bone broth is simple.
- Get bones from an animal that was raised naturally (organically if possible), free of hormones or antibiotics, such as beef, lamb, pork or chicken (a whole chicken carcass works fine). Marrow bones can also usually be purchased from a butcher or meat specialty store.
- In a large soup pot or crock pot, cover the bones with at least 2 inches of water, and add a splash of vinegar.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and let the broth cook for 8-72 hours. The longer it cooks, the more nutrients are extracted and the richer the flavor.
- Strain the broth; cool and skim off the fat if desired.
- Broth may be refrigerated for several days, or frozen for several months.
- Use the broth as a base for soups, sauces, gravy, congee, etc. or add a bit when you cook rice or beans or braise meat or vegetables. It’s hard to go wrong with a great base, so experiment and enjoy!
- Keep a container in the freezer of meat scraps and bones from the table instead of throwing them away. When you have enough, make bone broth!
- Vegetables, herbs and meat can be added and cooked in the strained broth for a quick and hearty soup.
- Freeze some broth in ice cube trays and use individual cubes to boost the flavor and nutrition of any recipe.
- Different bones will confer different flavor; chicken and beef are good starting points, but experiment and use what you like.
Did you know that many Chinese herbs are common foods? Seeds, beans, fruits, nuts, spices and root vegetables are commonly used in Chinese Medicine to nourish the body. Seeds, beans and warming spices are especially beneficial during the winter. Enjoy this recipe for a tasty treat which can prevent grey hair, brighten the eyes, moisten dry skin, and benefit digestion.
(can substitute brown sugar)
- In an ungreased 10-inch skillet, stir the sesame seeds over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes, until they are lightly browned, popping and aromatic. Transfer hot seeds to a bowl and set aside.
- Mix the honey, sugar and spices well in the warm skillet. Slowly bring the honey mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the entire mixture comes to a full rolling boil, cook it vigorously for exactly 2 minutes.
- Remove the skillet from the heat and immediately stir in the sesame seeds.
- Quickly turn the hot mixture into a lightly greased 9″ square baking pan. Press the candy into a smooth layer with a metal spatula dipped in cold water.
- Cool the candy in the pan for l5 minutes, or until it is solid but still warm.
- Run a spatula around the edge of the candy to loosen it. Flip the whole slab of candy onto a wooden board or other cutting surface.
- Use a sharp knife to cut the large square of warm candy into small pieces.
- Cool the candies completely, then store in an airtight container at room temperature.
Everyone wishes to live long, but they do not know that the means to prolonging life are in front of their eyes. I obtained from Wan Qiu a simple method¦eating congee can make one a divine immortal.-Song Dynasty (960-1280 CE) quote
Eating warm food in the morning, especially in the winter, can greatly enhance one’s vitality and health. For thousands of years, Chinese families have routinely started the day with a bowl of congee, or rice porridge. Congee is easy to digest, and because of the way it is prepared, it’s nutrients are easily absorbed. Congee is especially appropriate for people with very weak digestion, babies, those who are chronically ill or recovering from serious disease, and the elderly. In general it supplements the middle burner (digestive organs such as the pancreas, stomach, and small intestine) and boosts the body’s qi (energy). Congee is a great alterative to our typical Western breakfast.
Furthermore, one can tailor their congee to their constitution, disease state, or the season by adding various ingredients. Here is a basic recipe for a simple congee and some winter suggestions.
How to make congee:
Use 1 part rice with 4-6 parts water, depending on your taste. The goal is to end up with a thin gruel, soup, or porridge.
Add the rice to the water and bring it to a boil. Then turn the heat to a low simmer. Many people use a crock pot or slow cooker and leave it on overnight so that the congee is ready for the morning. Cooking on a stove usually takes 2-6 hours. Low heat is best. It is said that the longer it cooks the more “powerful” it becomes.
All sorts of ingredients can be added before or after cooking, including meat, nuts, vegetables, dried fruits, or even Chinese herbs. Some examples are chestnuts to tonify the kidneys or ginger to warm the body and digestive system. While rice is traditional, other grains can be added or used, such as millet, oats, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, etc.
A basic congee recipe to supplement the Kidneys, invigorate yang, and strengthen the Spleen / pancreas during the winter is to cook the rice with lamb, then add salt, scallions and ginger to taste.
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Open Gate Acupuncture, located in Boulder Colorado, serves patients throughout the Boulder county region including Denver, Longmont, Gunbarrel, Lafayette, & Louisville. Jason Blalack has been treating patients in Boulder for over 14 years after graduating from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Jason is an international lecturer on Chinese medicine and has an extensive collection of Chinese medicine articles published in professional journals worldwide. He is also the author of, Qin Bo-Wei’s 56 Treatment Methods: Writing Precise Prescriptions. Jason specializes in autoimmune, digestive disorders, fertility, and emotional disorders at the Open Gate Acupuncture Clinic and also via long distance & online medical consultations.