I always get a sore throat before I get a cold; for me, that’s one of my main indicators I’ve been too rough on my body.  So this morning when I woke up with a dry, scratchy throat and a dry cough, I knew immediately what I had to do to prevent a full-blown cold: Ginger!

According to TCM theory, fresh ginger is a “warming” food, while dry ginger is a “hot” food.  And coincidentally, so are lemon and whisky (or dark run) which I use to make cold-prevention tea. Brown sugar, also normally mixed with ginger for making this tea is “warming” as well.

What does “warming” or “hot” mean? According to the explanation of Dr. Zhang, the hot, warm, neutral, cool, or cold properties of foods, herbs, plants, were discovered over centuries of testing.  Eat them, drink them, chew them, or rub them on the skin and see whether you feel warmer or cooler afterwards.  Also by testing to see if a “warm person” feels discomfort and starts sweating after eating “warming” foods or a “cold person” gets the shivers and has an upset stomach after eating “cooling” foods, this further confirms our knowledge.

If right now you’re looking at me with a huge dose of skepticism, try paying more attention to your body and see whether you feel warmer or cooler after eating individual food items.  Another way to think about it: how do you feel when you eat spicy things? You get warmer and may start to sweat.  Why do we eat watermelon in the summer?  Because it cools you off.  TCM’s analysis of these effects has just been standardized and categorized.

(I have a very early speculation that “warm” and “cool” roughly correspond to acidity and alkalinity.)

When you start to get a cold, you can’t just grab any “warming” foods.  There’s a reason we chose these.

  • Ginger isn’t just warming, it also naturally strengthens the immune system.
  • Lemon is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants.
  • Whiskey and dark run not only have mild anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties, but their dark color is another immune booster.
  • To be honest, I don’t know why we chose brown sugar, though it is considered quite “warm”.
  • Honey, although considered “cool,” I sometimes use it in my brew; it works because it helps digestive function and since 70% of your immune system is from your digestive tract, it can use all the help it can get.

Ginger Tea:

Grab palm sized amount of fresh ginger (if using dried, use less), peel it, chop it and throw it into a pot with water to boil.  If you prefer, boil it together with brown sugar.  After the ginger color has run into the water and the water starts to taste spicy, the tea is ready.  If you’re not using brown sugar, add some honey, and lemon if you desire.

Hot Toddy:

Start with boiling water, add about a shot of whiskey (or dark run), lemon, and either brown sugar or honey to taste.  Try not to have more than 2 shots of alcohol; there is a such thing as too much of a good thing.

Caution: Due to the “warming” nature of all of these ingredients, don’t use these recipes if you already have a fever! Likewise if you are “warm” to “hot,” as in the skin feels hot to the touch, suffer frequent acid reflux or ulcers, or dry mouth, take caution with “warming” foods.  Dosages can be reduced in the summer.

So next time you feel a cold coming on, don’t go running to the medicine cabinet, try the kitchen first.