After a relatively warm December and New Year, Winter has finally decided to make an appearance. This past week temperatures have been dipping below freezing, and we have had the first snow of the season here in northern New Jersey. All of this is right on time for the Seasonal Nodes as today, Wednesday January 20, begins the last node of the traditional Chinese year - “Great Cold” (Da Han 大寒). This is the last node since at the beginning of February we enter the Chinese New Year starting with the Beginning of Spring.
As the name suggests, the Great Cold Seasonal Node is the time of the year when the main environmental factor we contend with is cold. Furthermore, it is usually characterized by dryness as evidenced by most of us having dry hands this time of year. The first thing that Chinese medicine recommends for Great Cold is to eat clear and easily digested foods (qing dan shi wu 清淡食物). Why is this? The Spleen and Stomach are the roots of Latter Heaven Qi. During the end of winter even though the time of the year is still predominantly yin, yang qi is being birthed (as we discussed previously). Eating clear and easily digested foods allows the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform appropriately, and to build Latter Heaven Qi. If foods are too heavy, such as overly greasy or sweet foods, then the ability of the Spleen and Stomach to move and transform is impaired. Easy to digest foods ensures that we continue to build Latter Heaven Yang Qi to get ready for the upcoming spring.
The second recommendation this time of year is to stay warm but also be sure to not be too dry. Staying warm is obviously important in this time of greatest cold. But since certain organs are harmed by excessive dryness, such as the Lungs, we also need to be vigilant there. For example, for those with forced hot air heating systems, it may be prudent to run a humidifier periodically. Also, sipping warm liquids such as herbal teas throughout the day can keep our internal environment appropriately moist.
With patients who are cold, or have Spleen or Kidney vacuity patterns, continue to warm and supplement. Moxibustion, especially at points like Zu San Li ST-36, Qi Hai REN-6 or Guan Yuan REN-4 is still appropriate. Acupuncturists can include Tung’s point San Cha San 三叉三穴 frequently in point prescriptions. This point has the ability to warm yang and supplement the Kidney. Furthermore, since it pierces through Ye Men SJ-2, “Fluids Gate,” it also benefits fluids, particularly of the upper orifices.
As already mentioned, with diet the thing to emphasize during Great Cold is easy to digest foods that protect internal warmth and strengthen the middle. This is especially important for Spleen vacuity patients. These people can focus on eating, for example, rice, glutinous rice (in moderation), yams (including nagaimo), peanuts, clear soups like chicken soup, and cooked vegetables. They should avoid raw vegetables, cooling fruits, very greasy meats, and very sweet deserts. While cooking they can make good use of fresh ginger, and other mildly warming spices like nutmeg.
In addition to protecting the Spleen, during Great Cold it’s also important to guard against dryness, and in particular Lung dryness. To this end traditional recommendations for food include consuming white wood ear mushrooms (Bai Mu Er 白木耳) and pears, especially Asian pears. A great traditional tea for Great Cold is Goji Berry and Red Date Tea (枸杞大棗茶). To prepare, take about 1 teaspoon Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi) and 3 small red dates and place in a large mug. Cover with boiling hot water and let steep at least 5 minutes. After drinking about ½ the mug, refill once or twice more with boiling hot water. This tea supplements and moistens the Kidney and Liver, nourishes blood and supplements the Spleen.
Here’s a recipe for Great Cold…
Astragalus and Goji Chicken Stew 耆杞炖子雞
- 1 small broiler chicken (1-2lbs)
- 30g Astragalus (Huang Qi 黃耆)
- 30g Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zi 枸杞子)
- 10g Atractylodis (Bai Zhu 白術)
- Fresh ginger, scallions, garlic, salt, Shaoxing cooking wine
- Wash chicken and cut into pieces, place in pot and cover with water
- Add in the three Chinese herbs (Huang Qi, Gou Qi Zi, Bai Zhu) with some peeled and sliced ginger, several scallions, garlic, small amount of salt, and a dash of Shaoxing wine
- Bring to a boil on high flame, then reduce to a simmer and stew for about 1 hour, or until chicken is cooked through (extra water may be added if needed)
- Serve warm, consuming the meat and drinking the broth
This recipe supplements the center, benefits Qi, nourished Yin and assists the Yang. It can help warm the body while at the same time moisten, so it is perfect for Great Cold!
Please all try to stay warm. Next installment will be about the beginning of spring (in the Chinese calendar at least)!