Today, Saturday February 18, is the beginning of the second seasonal node of the new-year and the new Spring – 雨水 Yu Shui, “Rain Water.” During Rain Water the expansion of Yang in the natural environment continues. In addition to the 24 Seasonal Nodes that we have been mentioning, each of the 24 periods can be further broken down into 3 five-day periods (making up the 72 Material Manifestations of the year). The 3 periods of Rain Water are “Otters Sacrifice Fish” (ta ji yu 獺祭魚), “Swan Geese Appear” (hong yan lai 鴻雁來), and “Vegetation Sprouts” (caomu mengdong 草木萌動). The swan goose is a rare large goose native to northern China. While we don’t have them here in the US, we do have other species of geese, and here in NJ we beginning to see geese flying north again heralding the warmer Spring weather to come.
One of the statements in Chinese related to Rain Water says, “Yu shui lai lin shi qi zhong, dang xin pi wei shou shang hai” 雨水來臨濕氣重，當心脾胃受傷害 – “as Rain Water arrives damp qi is heavy, be careful not to damage the Spleen and Stomach.” When walking around outside, I’m struck by the shift in the feeling. As I write this essay, today we are having warmer enough temperatures that snow is melting. The ground and air are both moist with the release of water that was trapped in frozen form and there is now significantly more dampness outside in nature. This time last year a small part of my Grandmother’s driveway practically washed away in torrential rain! The dryness of winter is fast going.
This brings us to some of the basic “to do” recommendations for Rain Water. First is to supplement the Kidney and strengthen the Spleen. We do this because the weather is still chilly and can tax the Kidney as the viscera of cold and Winter. We need to protect the Spleen because of the increased dampness. The Spleen is also the viscera associated with seasonal transition, and even though we are in Spring we are in a period of weather transition.
Along these lines the basic “avoid” during Rain Water is “don’t rush to put away winter clothes.” The northeast US is starting to warm up. But, we are early enough in the year that we may see more cold, and the increased dampness in the environment makes the temperature feel a little chillier than it actually is. So, the recommendation to not rush to put away winter clothes is spot on. Even though we are enjoying warmer temperatures this weekend, and even though in the Chinese calendar we have passed the beginning of Spring, be cautious to protect yourself against the cold. Stay warm, and remember to use moxabustion as necessary on yourself and on your patients.
The second “to do” for Rain Water is eat congee! Honestly, is there a season when congee is bad? For those not in the know, congee is a type of rice porridge or soup (depending on how thickly you prepare it). And why eat congee now? Because it dovetails with the other recommendations for Rain Water. First, congee is warming and supplements the Spleen. Furthermore, congee is mildly damp draining so it protects the body against the increase in dampness in the environment. Congee is incredibly easy to make, and in China it is a common breakfast or brunch food. People of all levels of health can benefit from being taught to make and eat congee.
The base recipe for congee is to add 1 part rice to 6 to 10 parts water. For example, we can cook ½ cup rice in 5 cups of water. This is cooked until the rice basically starts falling apart so that the resulting product is creamy white. Depending on the type of rice you use, this can take anywhere form 45 minutes to 2 hours of cooking. What I do at home and what I recommend to patients is that they put all the ingredients into a slow cooker overnight on low heat, and by morning perfect congee is done. Or, if you are local to the NY metropolitan area you can join me for a bowl of congee at Big Wong's in NYC Chinatown - I'm there getting congee most Tuesdays when I'm in the city to teach at PCOM.
Into this base congee just about any ingredient can be added. Herbs, vegetables, meats, other spices – its all possible. For patients with weak Spleens and damp accumulation, a basic congee starts with rice as described above. After that, add in several slices of fresh ginger, a handful of Yi Yi Ren 薏苡仁, and several Dang Shen 黨蔘 roots. Season with soy sauce to taste when finished. This basic Spleen-strengthening and damp-percolating dish can be eaten daily for breakfast.
During Rain Water, since it is a time period of early spring, we also need to stay warm and guard against Wind. Here is a basic tea recipe associated with Rain Water. Its function is to warm and resolve the exterior, strengthen the Spleen, and guard against Wind.
Five Sprits Tea (Wu Shen Tang 五神湯)
- Jing Jie 荊芥 9g
- Zi Su Ye 紫蘇葉 9g
- Sheng Jiang (i.e., fresh ginger root) 生薑 9g
- Tea leaf (green or oolong) 6g
- Brown sugar 30g
- Place the herbs in a pot with 3 cups of cold water. Let soak for several minutes.
- Bring water and herbs to a rapid boil over a high flame. Then, reduce and simmer for 10 minutes uncovered.
- Strain out herbs and add in the tea leaf, letting the tea steep in the hot liquid for several minutes.
- Strain out the tea. Stir in brown sugar and drink warm throughout the day. Molasses or honey can be substituted for brown sugar (use to taste, and the addition of sweetener is optional).
Generally speaking, for patients with more pronounced Spleen weakness, use Oolong tea as the base. For patients who tend more towards heat, then use green tea. Also, to make life easier, the first three ingredients can be purchased as a granule concentrate, and then just stirred into brewed tea. Here’s another recipe, this time a soup…
Job’s Tear and Lily Pork Soup (Yi Mi Bai He Shou Rou Tang) 薏米百合瘦肉湯
- ½ lb. lean pork
- 1 large carrot
- 1 oz. Job’s Tear barley 薏苡仁
- 1 oz. Lily Bulb herb 百合
- ¼ cup (or a little more) of corn (or about ½ ear fresh corn)
- Rinse Job’s Tear and Lily Bulb; place in a pan with about 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, then simmer for about 30 minutes on low heat
- While cooking, prepare other ingredients by cutting up carrot and pork into bite-sized chunks; remove corn from cob if using fresh corn; peel and slice ginger (an appropriate amount to taste)
- Add carrot, pork and ginger to the soup (add a little more water if necessary); simmer on very low heat for about 2 hours; add salt to taste
This recipe removes phlegm, strengthens the Lungs, expels dampness and opens the Spleen. Moreover, this is a light soup that won’t create internal dampness or damage the digestive function. It is also not overly warming.