Winter Healing with Traditional Chinese Medicine
By Jasmine Lister, L.Ac
Let’s talk about winter.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), winter is the season associated with the water element, the energetics of yin, and the kidneys.
What does this mean for you?
This means that winter is a critical time for you to look inward, an aspect of yin nature, reflect through self-cultivation practices such as meditation, journaling, tai chi and qi gong. 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 winter congee (please see recipe below), bone or vegetable broth, root vegetables, nuts and adding black sesame seeds into your warm daily meals. Avoiding cold fluids and foods and replacing them with warm, steamed and cooked veggies are also essential for optimal health.
By aligning our diets and lifestyle choices with the colder months, we can replenish our energy, improve our health and transition into spring and summer with increased vigor and vitality.
Common Symptoms Associated with the Winter Season
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- Low back pain
- Knee pain and weakness
- Problems with urinary retention
- Fatigue/shortness of breath
- Decreased libido, premature ejaculation, vaginal dryness
- Anxiety and excessive fear
- High blood pressure
- Lack of excitement
- Inflexibility and resistance to change
Understanding your Body in Winter
Building kidney energy (or jing essence) is best done during the winter months. Stress, poor sleeping habits, excessive consumption of alcohol, drugs and sexual activity can easily deplete the kidneys. When the kidneys are weak, we may become tired, suffer from lower back and knee pain, as well as experience hormonal imbalances, lower libido and show more signs of aging (i.e. premature greying of hair).
In TCM, the kidneys are the root of our vitality, the source of our body’s warmth, and are associated with the adrenals, reproductive system and how quickly we age. TCM also associates the kidneys with the bones and marrow, so it’s especially important to pay close attention to your joint health during the winter months and keeping your neck, back and feet warm. Don’t be hesitant to wear a scarf, add on an undershirt and cozy up to your favorite wool socks!
(Adapted from Food & Wine’s “Basic Congee Recipe”, November 2014)
Congee, otherwise known as rice porridge, is very easy on the digestive system and offer a great source of energy for the body and can be tailored to meet your individual and seasonal needs.
Total Time: 1 HR 30 MIN
Yield Serves : 4
- 1 cup raw long-grain white rice
- Rinsed 7 cups chicken OR Vegetable stock
- 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan sea salt, plus more for seasoning
- One-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced thin
- Sliced green onion, for garnish
- Sesame seed oil or soy sauce (optional for taste)
In a large pot add stock, rice, salt, and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so that the rice doesn’t clump or stick at the bottom.
Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy. Add salt to taste. Serve the congee hot.
As the congee cools, it will become thicker. Add additional stock or water if necessary to make the congee to your desired thickness.
Additional TCM winter ingredients you may add: eggs, mung beans, black beans, black sesame seeds, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and bok choy.