Today December 7 is the beginning of Great Snow (Da Xue 大雪), the last Seasonal Node before the Winter Solstice. This seasonal node represents the final stage of the most Yin time of year, symbolized by the tidal hexagram Kun 坤, composed entirely of Yin (broken) lines. Here in New Jersey snow has already fallen, and some of my patients in the northern part of the state had close to a foot of snow fall within the last 2 weeks. Weather is cold and dry, and the days are in the final stage of getting shorter before we transition to the birth of Yang represented by the Solstice. The ancient Chinese character for winter (dong 冬) is the image of the Sun locked up in an inverted bottle. At this dark time of the year, it certainly feels as if the Sun is locked away.
The main way to guard health in this period is to focus on warm supplementation, while at the same time avoiding exposure to cold. Thus the Neijing tells us that in Winter it is appropriate to “avoid the cold and seek warmth” (去寒就溫). Along these lines continue practices such as preventive moxibustion on points such as Qi Hai (REN-6), Guan Yuan (REN-4) and Zu San Li (ST-36). Another guideline from the Neijing for the winter is to “Nourish Yin” (秋冬養陰). While this may seem counterintuitive for the cold time of year, the meaning of ‘Yin’ in this passage refers to the body’s ability to store, and thereby regenerate, its vitality. Yin means being able to be in a state of quite, rest and solitude. Therefore, during this Seasonal Node try to get some more sleep, attempting to get into bed earlier. Sleep is one of the best Chinese medical prescriptions for supplementing the Qi and strengthening the Kidney!
Another easy self-care regimen for Great Snow is daily acupressure on Yang Chi (SJ-4). Yang Chi is the source point of the San Jiao Channel. While in Chinese acupuncture traditions it is a seldom used point, in Japanese acupuncture traditions it is used for overall warm supplementation of the body. Patients can be taught to press this point daily, or clinicians can consider applying direct thread or rice grain-size moxa to this point before doing acupuncture treatment on other points. In some Japanese acupuncture traditions this moxa method is used on patients with very deep and weak pulses before any other treatment is given.
Medicated wines have a long tradition of use in Chinese medicine. They are a cost effective way to take a small dose of expensive or hard to find herbs, and alcohol itself is a preservative to stretch the shelf life of medicinal products. Since alcohol is warm, acrid and sweet by its nature, it has the ability to warm and expel cold, and supplement the Qi and Blood while also circulating them. Thus, medicated wines are appropriate for Winter. One traditional medicated wine for Great Snow is Gecko Wine (Ge Jie Jiu 蛤蚧酒). To make this soak one pair of Gecko (ge jie 蛤蚧) obtained from a Chinese pharmacy in 1000ml of grain alcohol of at least 80 proof (vodka is a good choice). Let sit for at least 1 month, preferably longer, and then take 1 small shot glass per day in the evening. Gecko has a Yang warming and Kidney supplementing effect.
In addition to medicated wines this is the time of year to eat warming, and especially Kidney supplementing, foods. Although many people think of Chinese herbs as the main way to supplement Kidneys, in Chinese there is a saying, “medicinal supplementation cannot be as good as supplementing with food” (cao bu bu ru shi bu 藥補不如食補). Foods appropriate for Great Snow include lamb, beef, chicken, venison, shrimp, and mussels. In addition to these animal products, foods to emphasize this Seasonal Node are walnuts, almonds, or other nuts, and warming spices such as ginger and cinnamon. Since this time of year can be cold and dry it is appropriate to cook soups or stews as they are warming and moistening. Now is the time of year to continue using root vegetables such as yams or turnips that traditionally could be kept in cold storage for Winter consumption.
Here is a traditional vegetarian recipe for Great Snow:
Walnut and Chinese Chive Stir Fry (核桃仁炒韭菜)
· 2 ounces shelled walnuts
· Chinese chives ½ lb
· Cooking oil (e.g., sesame)
· Salt and pepper to taste
1. Rinse chives and cut into short pieces
2. Heat oil in wok until almost smoking
3. Add walnuts and cook until they are just browning
4. Add chives, continue cooking until they are just wilted (from 30 seconds to a minute or so)
5. Add salt and pepper to taste; serve hot!
This recipe supplements the Kidneys and strengthens the Yang. It also consolidates and warms the Kidney Qi.
I wish everyone a happy and warm Great Snow!