We’ve just passed Winter Solstice, but that doesn’t mean winter is over and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t still get sick. Are you doing everything you can to stay healthy this winter?
The below article explains Chinese medicine foods, herbs, and prescriptions for keeping healthy during the winter; it was written by my Shanghai TCM doctor and translated by me.
Nourishment for the cold winter
As the seasons change, from spring blossoms to long days of summer, from fall harvest to winter storage, nature runs its course and so must we adapt to the seasons. As winter approaches, we need to store energy; for centuries, people have followed the traditional method of taking a winter tonic to strengthen the body and prevent disease.
Modern medical research has found that due to cold winter air, blood vessels close to the skin tend to contract, blood circulation slows, many physiological functions tend to weaken. During this time the body experiences a relative decline in immune function, making it more susceptible to diseases, especially the flu; therefore, it’s very important to strengthen the immune system and improve health in winter.
Winter Boosters 冬令如何进补?
A supplement, or tonic, has two main benefits: first, to restore internal balance, reducing weakness and fatigue; and second, as a preventative against disease and to overall support good health.
1. Foods and Herbs for each Syndrome 辩证进补
TCM uses herbs that are specific to a given person’s condition, including those in prescriptive tonics. Generally speaking, most body types fall into one of the 8 following categories:
(A) Qi Deficiency: Symptoms include, low energy or poor mood, prone to weariness or heavy limbs, poor appetite, brittle or falling hair, sweats easily, intolerance to both heat and cold, catches cold easily, teeth marks on the tongue*, etc.
*When the body’s Qi or Yang is deficient, the tongue tends to become swollen, and the pressure of the teeth on the tongue can leave small marks.
- Herbs and foods to increase Qi and strengthen the spleen: ginseng, membranous milk vetch (Astragalus membranaceus) (黄芪), medicinal Chinese yam, atractylode roots (白朮), Wolfiporia cocos (茯苓), Polygonatum sibiricum (黄精), Chinese dates (jujube), lotus seed, beef, chicken, rice stalks, various kinds of beans, etc.
(B) Poor or Weak Circulation: Typically seen in women, symptoms include, pale complexion, colorless nails or lips, hair falling out, numb limbs, poor sleep or too many dreams, forgetfulness, pale tongue.
- Herbs and foods to nourish and enrich blood: Chinese angelica (当归), gouji/wolfberries, longan fruit, Rehmannia glutinosa (熟地黄), tuber of multiflower knotweed (Polygonum multiflorum) (何首乌), Morus alba L (桑椹子), peanuts, lotus, grapes, chicken, mutton, spinach, etc.
(C) Yin Deficiency: Typically seen in thin people, symptoms include, overly sensitive to heat, hot hands and feet, night sweats, hot flashes or bad temper, insomnia or too many dreams, dry mouth, reddish tongue or sometimes small with a coating.
- Herbs and foods to treat Yin deficiency and moisten the respiratory tract: gouji/wolfberries, tuber of multiflower knotweed (Polygonum multiflorum) (何首乌), tuber of dwarf lilyturf (Ophiopogon japonicus) (麦门冬), tortoise plastron, turtle shell, pear, lily, pork, duck, eggs, silver fungus, black beans, black sesame, sea cucumber, etc.
(D) Yang Deficiency: Normally seen in those with a more plump or rounded figure, symptoms include, pale, listless complexion, aversion to cold and cold limbs, low energy or poor mood, easy to perspire, diarrhea, long clear urine, tongue that is pale, swollen, tender, or shows teeth marks.
- Herbs and foods to strengthen Yang and promote kidney function: pilose antler (of a young stag) (鹿茸), cinnamon, prepared common Monkshood Daughter Root (附子), Chinese Dodder seed (菟丝子), Cistanche deserticola (肉苁蓉), mutton, chives, walnuts, shrimp, etc.
(E) Impeded Qi Flow: Characterized as being temperamental or brash, irritable, melancholy; having feelings of tightness or fullness in the abdomen, frequently sighing, or poor appetite.
- Herbs and foods to promote Qi circulation and remove obstructions: citron (佛手), dried tangerine or orange peel, tumeric root, rose, Common Vladimiria Root (木香), Villous Amomrum Fruit (砂仁), bitter orange, white radish (daikon), orange, kumquat, pomelo, etc.
(F) Blood Stagnation: Normally seen in thin people, symptoms include dark complexion, dark eye circles, purple or dark color lips, rough, dry or dark skin, hair falling out easily, or blood spots on the tongue.
- Herbs and foods to promote blood circulation and the flow of Qi: red-rooted salvia (丹参), hawthorn, Rosa chinensis, safflower, rose, rhizome of chuanxiong (Ligusticum wallichii) (川芎), Nutgrass Galingale Rhizome (香附), dried tangerine or orange peel, lotus, red wine, etc.
(G) Fire in the Body: Characteristics include very warm body, red face, aversion to heat, thirst, bad breath or halitosis, scanty dark urine, slightly dry stool, or redder tongue.
- Herbs and foods to clear away heat and purge pathogenic fire: honeysuckle, chrysanthemum, weeping forsythia (连翘), dandelion, cassia seed, balsam pear / bitter gourd, celery, cucumber, sugarcane, mung bean, Chinese water chestnut, crab, etc.
(H) Water Retention and Phlegm Buildup: Normally seen in the overweight, symptoms include, fatigue, heavy limbs, dizziness and tightness in the chest, bloated stomach, sticky saliva, phlegm gets stuck in throat, snoring, or white oily mucous buildup on the tongue.
- Herbs and foods to strengthen the spleen and reduce phlegm: orange or tangerine peel, fuling edible fungus (茯苓), Pinellia Tuber (半夏), white radish (daikon), winter melon, Job’s Tears, towel gourd (loofah), etc.
2. Special TCM Prescription 中医特色之「补膏」
A unique type of Chinese medicine is a concoction of herbs mixed into a paste-like consistency, called “补膏” or “膏方,” which is used to enhance the body’s well-being. After a thorough examination and diagnostic differential conducted by a doctor, the medicine is prescribed according to someone’s specific condition and illness. This herbal concoction aims to treat the underlying condition over the long term. In preparing the herbal concoction, normally about a month’s supply is made at once, first the ingredients are soaked following the traditional method of decoction and then the concentrate is separated. After repeatedly condensing the medicinal liquid concentrate, then medicinal gelatin (such as e-gelatin to nourish blood, tortoise shell to treat Yin deficiency, or gelatin extracted from deerhorn to nourish Yang) is added to increase the stickiness. And finally, any additional ingredients are incorporated to address someone’s specific condition, such as ginseng, Chinese caterpillar fungus (cordyceps), magic fungus (Ganoderma lucidum) (灵芝), or saffron to complete the herbal concoction.
As a result of the nourishing, strengthening, and effectiveness of the herbal concoction specifically designed to address the patient’s symptoms, the medicine becomes very effective and restores Qi. Compared with ordinary prescriptions, this herbal concoction is convenient, more palatable, suitable for both the elderly and children, and therefore is a very highly regarded medicine for surviving the winter.
When taking the medicine, it is important to note that the proper dosage must be followed and certain food combinations should be avoided as to ensure the efficacy of the medicine, as stated below:
（1）While taking the Ginseng medicine, avoid eating raw radishes or turnips, as it reduces the medicine’s positive effect on Qi;
（2）When taking the prescriptive tonic, its best to not eat raw, cold, or oily foods, as this can inhibit digestion of the medicine and obstruct the spleen and stomach, preventing proper absorption;
（3）When suffering from a cold, fever, indigestion, diarrhea, or other acute illness, please temporarily suspend taking the medicine.
~ Your Health is our Greatest Happiness ~
臻田中醫診所 周臻妤 醫師
Dr. Vivienne Chou