The Major Snow seasonal node started last week on December 7, and here in New Jersey we did start having snow fall in the last week, with more snow to come in the next few days. The temperatures have also drastically shifted from what was an unusually warm autumn; the temperature this morning when I left the house coming was only 22 degrees Fahrenheit (about -5 Celsius). With the thermometer dropping I’ve wanted warm breakfasts. Yesterday I had a big bowl of congee in Chinatown and I’ve been having oatmeal more often, usually with some butter to warm and moisten (counteracting the cold dryness in the environment) and Gou Qi Zi (Goji berries) to help strengthen my Kidney.
Major Snow is the last Seasonal Node before Winter Solstice, representing the final stage of the most Yin time of year and symbolized by the hexagram Kun 坤, composed entirely of Yin (broken) lines. The two weeks of Major Snow are the longest nights of the year, culminating with the Solstice after which days will slowly be getting longer again. The Material Manifestations for Major Snow are Spangled Drongos Cease to Sing (He Dan Bu Ming 鶡旦不鳴), Tigers Begin to Mate (Hu Shi Jiao 虎始交), and Water Irises Grow (Li Ting Sheng 荔挺生).
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 people can continue practices such as preventive moxibustion on points like Qi Hai REN-6, Guan Yuan REN-4 and Zu San Li ST-36. Another guideline from the Huang Di Nei Jing 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 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 Major Snow is daily acupressure on Yang Chi SJ-4, 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. This point can be stimulated daily with acupressure, or direct thread or rice grain-size moxa to this point as a stand alone treatment, or 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 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 that is prepared during Major Snow is Gecko Wine (Ge Jie Jiu 蛤蚧酒). To prepare, 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, 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 Major 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 both warming and moistening. Sipping warm water throughout the day is also an excellent recommendation for people who feel dry (i.e., our patients with Blood or Yin vacuity). 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.
While warming foods are good for the season, the pitfall is overconsumption creating too much heat 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, one traditional vegetarian recipe for Major Snow is Garlic Chrysanthemum Greens.
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.
Stay warm and happy Winter!