The Major Snow seasonal node starts today, December 7th. While we don’t have snow right now here in New Jersey, I think the best way we should look at the names of this and the last seasonal node is figuratively. Certainly, in some places by now there is snow, but most of the snowiest weather in the Northeast US will most likely come later in the season. Right now what we do have is a dramatic turn towards much colder weather, and because of that we are in the time of year with the potential for real snow. In my opinion, this is the best way we can think of the nodes’ names – the potential for snow as a symbol for the seasonal change we are experiencing right now.
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!
In terms of Tung’s acupuncture, Nourishing Yin (in other words, nourishing consolidation and containment) means we should focus on Zones 7 and 8 on the legs. The point groups that will focus on Kidneys, the organ of the season, are the Lower Three Emperors (Xia San Huang 下三皇), and the Penetrate Kidney Three Needles (Shen Tong San Zhen 腎通三針). These points are easily and quite effectively combined with the moxibustion suggestions above. Over the next several blog posts my goal is to start giving more specific recommendations about Tung’s points and treatment strategies for each of the nodes.
Aside from acupuncture and moxibustion, 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.
Along the lines now of incorporating more Tung points in these posts, here’s a quiz for readers… What Tung point closely mimics the herb Ge Jie? We’ll talk about this in an upcoming post!
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
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!