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Wellness In Winter, a TCM guide to living by the seasons

Natalie Matthews R.Ac

Traditional Chinese medicine including acupuncture, herbal, and food based medicine is centered around balancing the human body, according to laws of the universe and nature. Closely paying attention to our outward surroundings, and adjusting diet and lifestyle to work in harmony with each changing season is a fundamental belief within TCM. This awareness of working with nature creates balance within our bodies and minds.

TCM states that people should live in harmony with their environment. During winter, this means slowing down in the colder months, deeply nourishing your mind and body, and seeking warmth and rest in order to plant the seeds for health and vitality throughout the season.

Water element and the Kidneys

Winter is when the water element is most dominant in the five element cycle. The bladder and kidneys deal with the body's water and are therefore the organs associated with the water element and winter season. The water element also closely ties to emotions in TCM. It is important to go inward and try to focus on self reflection, practice meditation and yoga, and set time aside to be quiet and calm in these months to help maintain vital energy or qi. In TCM, the kidneys are a primary source of vitality. Energy is drawn from the kidney during times of stress and anxiety or when the body requires healing. Taking the winter to nourish and build this energy is vital to remaining healthy throughout the year.

Another association of the water element and the kidney are the bones, bone marrow, teeth and brain. It is important to nourish these systems in the body in winter, especially for individuals who experience bone issues like osteoarthritis. The bone marrow also governs the brain, neurological disorders, memory and concentration. A popular TCM food to support this system is bone broth. Bone broth can be enjoyed daily during this season. It is especially beneficial to add warming herbs to homemade bone broth such as licorice root, star anise, ginger, and garlic. These warming herbs combined with the kidney boosting effect of the bone broth, can increase mineral stores and bone density as well as support immune function to ward off seasonal cold and flu illness.

The taste which the water element represents is salty. Bathing in mineral salts such as epsom salts, clays, or sea salts can be therapeutic to support the kidney in this season. Consuming broad spectrum minerals through diet and supplementation is especially important in winter as well. TCM foods such as seaweeds and miso are salty in nature and high in minerals and are much more useful in the body than conventional salt. Celtic salt is also greatly beneficial, as it has numerous trace minerals in balance. Its important to monitor proper types of salt intake as over consumption of the wrong types, such as table salt, can deplete the kidney vitality.

TCM Foods to boost the body in Winter

Warming easy to digest foods are best to focus on, while stepping back from the cooling foods of the warmer months such as smoothies, salads, raw fruit and vegetables, sushi and iced drinks.

  • Cooked root vegetables are great for winter, they store energy within them and are easy to digest.

  • Garlic, ginger root, cinnamon, licorice root or clove are great additions to any foods, especially smoothies and other colder property foods.

  • Soups, poached, steamed and baked dishes are best in winter as they warm the body and support digestion.

  • Cooked non gmo whole grains like quinoa, rice, millet, and barley make an excellent staple in the winter according to TCM. Complex carbohydrates such as cooked grains burn well in the body as fuel and are great to support digestion and proper elimination while being deeply nourishing.

  • Beans and legumes like black beans, lentils and kidney beans.

  • Local sources of Free range non GMO feed chicken, as well as grass fed beef, lamb, or pork are good choices to support warmth and vitality. Organ meats can also be very beneficial to warm and support the body in the colder months.

  • The water element also aligns with seafood. Particularly mussels, oysters, crab, seaweeds such as kelp, kombu, dulse, and nori. Seaweeds are also salty in nature and high in minerals such as iodine.

  • Miso paste, a probiotic rich fermented superfood is nourishing to the kidney and can be made into a delicious warming soup.

Incorporating TCM wisdom into your daily life, as well as setting time aside for acupuncture treatments, yoga and meditation, qi gong, or other TCM therapies can have a deep impact on health and well-being, through all the seasons.


Miso Winter Soup

2 cups Bone broth or water

1 tbsp Miso Paste

1 tbsp Braggs Liquid Aminos or Soy Sauce

Seaweed flakes

1-2 Scallion stalks, chopped

3 pieces each of thinly sliced fresh ginger and garlic

Bring bone broth or water to a boil.

Add soy, ginger, garlic, and whites of scallion. Simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in miso paste until dissolved.

Garnish with greens of scallion and seaweed flakes.


Winter Tonic Tea

4 cups filtered water

Dried herbs: 1 tbsp dried orange peel, 2 star anise, 1 tbsp goji berries,1 tbsp licorice root,2 cinnamon sticks, 3 thin slices of fresh ginger root, and 1 tbsp nettles

Bring ingredients to a boil and let simmer 10-15 minutes. Strain. Drink hot daily.


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