According to the Chinese calendar
Summer Health with Chinese Medicine
Summer is just about here, and in the Bay Area the weather is keeping us on our toes! Last week alone we’ve had days in the 90’s and days in the 60’s. There was even a little bit of rain on my car windows this morning. It’s all a bit bizarre, but there are still practices we can follow to harmonize with the season. I do wonder what next week will bring, though.
We are fast approaching the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice. According to the Chinese Calendar, the solstice is the peak of summer, instead of the beginning. The Solstice is the transition point from Yang to Yin, when the days begin to shorten again. But as the heat grows, there are some great ways to take care of yourself in the Asian medical tradition.
1. Balanced Activity and Proper Sleep
This time of year is known as “Taiyang”, which means Greatest Yang, and it’s the time of year for the greatest activity. The Taoists say this is the time of year to wake early and go to bed late. But also to avoid strenuous outdoor activity during the mid day, when it is most hot. This can deplete our resources with excessive sweating, and damage our Yang. It is also important make sure you are sound asleep during the hours of 11pm-1am. These are the most Yin hours of the day, the “Taiyin”. Deep, restful sleep at this time is important for the replenishment of what is known as our “vital substances”: energy, blood, body fluids, essence, and spirit.
2. Health-Full Diet Practices
Now, more than any other time of the year, is appropriate to eat more raw or lightly cooked vegetables. But still be careful if you already have digestive issues. Though we may feel very warm, often that means our heat/Yang is on the outside of our bodies where we can really feel it. This leaves the insides of our bodies colder and deficient. Adding more cold raw food to the interior can make this condition worse. Enjoy the summer’s bounty by lightly steaming or parboiling, to make the digestion processes easier for your system.
3. Herbal Tea
If you do feel overheated, a lovely cooling tea is mint and chrysanthemum. You don’t need to ice it for it’s cooling properties to be in effect. Drink it warm or room temperature for its health benefits. Both of these herbs are Asian medicinals. Mint, or bo he, clears heat from the head and alleviates headaches and fevers. Chrysanthemum, or ju hua, also clears heat, and is especially good for red itchy eyes. They also just taste nice and look pretty together.
4. Get Acupuncture!
As always, acupuncture and herbs are a good way to get yourself in harmony with Summer. There are many ways to make you more comfortable if the heat is too much, and to also make sure your interior doesn’t get too cold and depleted while the exterior is too hot and excessive. Click here to book your appointment today.
Black Chicken Soup -Good Food Medicine
Black chicken, oh yeah, the crown jewel of women’s health in Chinese medicine and food therapy. Yes, the skin is black, the bones are black, and even the meat has a blue-black hue. In Chinese medicine, the color black is associated with the Kidneys, and the Kidney’s are the source energy for the whole body.
Kidney’s are also largely responsible for the reproductive system. So by association, and the law signatures, black chicken is also very good for the reproductive system. It is always recommended for women post partum, to nourish the body, and replenish qi and blood after giving birth. This same property of strongly nourishing Kidney qi and blood also make it great for the elderly or people recovering from serious illness. Black chicken is a Silkie chicken. Yes, those ridiculously cute ones with big fluffy bursts of pom pom feathers. They contain double the amount of the amino acid carnitine than other chickens, and may be another explanation for it’s nourishing properties.
The meat is a little gamey, but as a soup it makes a rich broth. The recipe here includes mushrooms and ginger, further increasing it’s immune enhancing properties. This recipe is also from the lovely blog of Henry McCann, and is great for anybody to eat during the colder days in January. The nourishment of qi and blood is important for anybody during the winter months, when we need build our stores of energy to use in the year to come.
Black chicken can be found in Chinese markets pretty easily. They are in the frozen section, often imported from Canada. I’ve never found them fresh, though I do have a dream of starting a Silkie farm and selling them to acupuncturists for their patients. If anybody’s got some land and would like to be a partner here in the bay area, hit me up.
Black Chicken Soup with Carrot
- 1 black chicken
- 1 + 1 large carrot
- 1-2 oz mushrooms (such as shiitake, or dried Chinese mushrooms)
- 1-2oz water chestnuts
- ½ oz black wood ear mushrooms
- salt to taste
- If using fresh water chestnuts first peel, wash, and cut into pieces; soak wood ear mushrooms until soft, and soak other mushrooms until soft (if using dried)
- Cut up chicken into large pieces (leaving bones in), and cut 1carrot to chunks
- Put chicken and carrots into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, skim the foam off the top, and then simmer for 3-4 hours. Check water levels every so often, and add water to keep the levels above the chicken. You can also put this in the crock pot over night on low, or if you are an instant potter…use that. I like slow cooking my broth better, but if you prefer the pressure cooker, have at it.
- Strain broth. Let chicken pieces cool for a minute or two, and then remove the meat and return to the broth.
- Add mushrooms, water chestnuts, and another chopped carrot to the broth and chicken. Bring to boil once more, then simmer again for about 20 minutes.
- Add salt to taste
Chinese Food Therapy – Lamb and Longan Soup for Winter
In Chinese and Asian culture, food is also considered medicine. All foods have therapeutic qualities, even sugar. They are placed in the same categories that Chinese herbs are, with a “flavor” and a “temperature”. These flavors and temperatures dictate which organs and body functions the food will affect…and voila, food becomes medicine. This practice of using food as medicine can be called Chinese food therapy. Many of the herbs I use as in my practice, in granule form, are also common foods throughout Asia. For example: ginger, jujube dates, lotus seed, and goji berries.
Winter is a great time to utilize Chinese food therapy in our diets, when it’s important build and protect yang. Yang is our physiological fire. During the winter, we protect and nourish it so it will provide energy for the whole year. (You can read more about winter yang protection here.)
This recipe strongly tonifies yang through just a few simple ingredients. Lamb is the main player, one of the warmest meats that also has a sweet flavor from a medicinal perspective. And it uses three food-herbs from the Chinese medical apothecary:
- fresh ginger (sheng jiang) -warm and spicy
- green onion (cong bai) -warm and spicy
- longan fruit (long yan rou) -warm and sweet
In Chinese herbal medicine, formulas are always prescribed. A single herb is almost never used. This is because flavors and temperatures of herbs combine synergistically in the body. In the case of this recipe, the flavors of spicy and sweet together create yang. So sweet lamb and longan, plus spicy ginger and green onion are a powerful combination to build yang. This recipe is from Henry McCann’s wonderful blog you can find here. The soup also nourishes the heart and calms the spirit, and builds qi and blood.
Chinese Medicinal Food – Lamb, Ginger and Longan Soup Recipe
- 1 lb. Lamb (deboned and cut into chunks)
- 1/4 C Dried longan fruit
- 1/3 C Fresh ginger (peeled and sliced)
- 3 Green onions (chopped)
- 1/4 C Cooking wine
- Put lamb in a pot with 3 cups water, bring to a boil and simmer for just about 2 minutes; strain out lamb and discard water to remove the fat
- Place lamb back into pot with enough water to complete cover the meat (6-8 cups), the sliced ginger and scallions, dried longan, and a small amount of cooking wine
- Bring to a rapid boil on high flame, then reduce flame to a low simmer and cook for about 2 hours; remove from heat and add salt to taste
Winter Health in Four Simple Steps
After a long and dry autumn, winter has come. And it’s arguably the most important time of the year for your health. Now is when the ounce of prevention is going to set you up for a healthy and immune-resilient year ahead. According to the Asian medical perspective, the Winter health is all about keeping your yang, or physiological fire, tucked in deep. The goal is to build the fire and energy reserves for use through the rest of the year, when activity is more the focus. Here are the 3 very good ways to accomplish this.
Go to bed early, sleep late.
Follow the lead of the sun. It’s not the time to burn any midnight oil. Start to wind down when it starts to get dark. Turn off your screens, dial down the lights and use those candles that have been collecting dust on your shelf. Use the dark yin time to protect and nourish your yang.
Dial down strenuous exercise.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but building your reserves is not done through strenuous exercise. Sweat actually depletes our yang. All that heat that comes out of your pours is your physiological fire that is no longer there to perform it’s physiological function. And when it’s time to store yang-fire to perform function on into the future, it’s a double loss. It’s a great time for slower and more nourishing exercises, like a yoga and medication practice.
You could also learn Tai Qi or Qi Gong, the Chinese medical exercises that actually build qi and yang through slow and deliberate movements. Because they are slow, does not mean they aren’t intense. They are fantastic at building strength, flexibility and balance.
Eat warming and rich foods.
The food you eat now is probably the most important in building yang. Meats, stews, roots and seeds, and warming spices are all great things to eat right now, especially for people who tend to have cold constitutions already. Some great yang foods are
- lamb, chicken and sardines
- red lentils and quinoa
- black pepper fresh ginger, star anise and dill
Make sure to eat everything warm and cooked right now (well, always, but ESPECIALLY right now). Stay away from iced beverages and food right out of the fridge.
Get some acupuncture and moxa.
Your yang can be directly supplemented with acupuncture and moxa treatments. Moxa is the Chinese herb ai ye, or mugwort. The herb is dried and can burned on top of acupuncture needles, or rolled into tubes and burned over the points and channels. The heat enters directly, and works very well to tonify the yang of the body. During the winter months, and few acumoxa treatments can go a long way in terms of preventative health for the rest of the year.
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