Ask Doctor Yu, Chinese medicine practitioner: Winter herbal remedies
Submitted by Alex Yu
Spring and summer are the seasons to nourish one’s hot energy of yang, while autumn and winter is the time to feed the cold energy of yin, according to traditional Chinese medicine. As the seasons come and go, the unpredictable weather moves from sweltering to freezing. Drier seasons means the body needs more moisture and nourishment. Autumn dryness is considered metallic in Chinese medicine’s five elements, which affects the lungs. Therefore, the principle of autumn nutrition should be soothing nourishment to prevent dryness and irritation of the lungs.
Autumn marks a transition to cooler temperatures. The body responds with the metabolism slowing down, as some people are susceptible to digestive imbalances with diarrhea or constipation. Symptoms of autumn dryness include dry and itchy skin, sore throat and nose bleeds. To soothe dryness and improve digestive functions, the following foods are recommended: Apples, pears, grapes, lychee, starfruit, papayas, guavas, loquats, pineapples, figs, spinach, sweet potato seedlings, sweet potatoes, yams, seaweed, burdock, silver ear fungus, sesame seeds, soybean milk, lotus roots, lotus, ladybells, yuzhu, lilyturf, thornapple, mulberries, chrysanthemums, shi hu orchids, water chestnuts, luo han guo, sugar cane, almonds, walnuts, oatmeal, honey and dairy products.
As late autumn turns to winter, the body’s temperature falls, which constricts the blood vessels and increases blood pressure. To prevent stroke and cardiovascular disease, hot yang-inducing foods should be avoided, such as onion, garlic, chives, spicy dishes and fried food. Light nourishing fare should be consumed, such as high-fiber fruit and vegetables, milk, eggs, oatmeal and beans. These foods strengthen the body to better adapt to cold and environmental shifts.
Nourishing cold weather soups include papaya and lotus seed soup; ladybells, yuzhu and pear soup; pear, apple and almond soup; zucchini, peanut and lotus root soup; lotus seed, spinach and silver ear fungus soup; Chinese spinach, wolfberry goji and lychee soup; seaweed, water chestnut and tofu soup; and silver ear fungus, lotus and egg sweet soup.
Winter diet: Stomach, spleen and qi
The advent of winter does not necessarily translate into an immediate drop in temperature. The dryness of autumn may persist, requiring stomach-soothing soup ingredients such as mustard greens, cress, bamboo shoots, potatoes and cabbage.
Mid- to late November, after the snow falls and temperatures begin to drop, is the time to add to soups Indian mulberry, duzhong bark, Chinese astragalus, poor man’s ginseng, raw ginger, garland chrysanthemum, sesame, walnuts and other “warm” nourishments.
Only after the winter solstice and the coldest temperatures arrive should the most nourishing foods be consumed. These include heavy Chinese supplements or meat, such as fish bladders or maw for collagen, along with lamb. These are usually served in soups with turnips, chayote, winter melon, sweet potatoes, cress, and seasonal fruits and vegetables.
However, most city dwellers enjoy a good quality of life that does not require excessive nourishment. As daily life includes a fatty diet, greater stress and weaker digestive function, a sudden increase of yang foods may block the functions of the stomach and spleen. This may lead to being yin and unresponsive to yang supplements, seen with bloating, lack of appetite and nausea. In extreme cases, this may even lead to a flare-up of excessive yang fire, causing mouth sores and dryness of the throat and tongue. Therefore, winter herbal supplements should make improving stomach and spleen functions a priority, while boosting qi is secondary.
Nourishing winter soups include garland chrysanthemum, ginger and scallion soup; cabbage, honey date and almond soup; lotus root, bamboo shoot and orange peel soup; goji wolfberry and ginger soup; winter melon and mushroom soup; tian men dong asparagus root and root of the dwarf lilyturf soup; yam and ginger sweet soup; chrysanthemum, date, napa cabbage and tofu soup; walnut boiled in malt sugar; scallion date soup; and chayote, corn and almond soup.
Alex Yu is a registered Chinese medicine practitioner in Hong Kong and a doctoral candidate of the Guangzhou University of Chinese Medicine. He holds a master’s degree in Chinese medicine and bachelor’s degree in Chinese medicine and science from Hong Kong Baptist University.
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