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. The ancient Chinese character for winter (dong 冬) is the image of the Sun locked up in an inverted bottle. As the days get shorter and shorter, it really does 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 during 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.
That said, this year, at least where I’m located, the weather is a bit warmer than usual. And, no snow! So, while people are starting to eat more warming foods, the pitfall is creating too much warmth and stagnation in the digestive system. As such, if possible this time of year we should consume some foods that help gently clear heat, open the Stomach, and descend yang (to consolidate it). In that vein, here is a traditional vegetarian recipe for Great Snow:
Garlic Chrysanthemum Greens (蒜泥茼蒿)
- Edible chrysanthemum greens (Tong Hao 茼蒿) ½ lb.
- 1 small garlic bulb
- Sesame oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Rinse chrysanthemum greens and chop into 1 inch pieces
- Peel, crush then chop garlic
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil, then blanch chrysanthemum greens by immersing in water for about 3 minutes; then drain
- Mix greens with chopped garlic, and a small amount of salt, peper and sesame oil to taste; serve slightly warm or room temperature
- This recipe loosens the center, rectifies Qi, disperses accumulated food and opens the Stomach.
I wish everyone a happy and warm Great Snow!