Chinese Medicine: Living with Winter

Chinese Medicine: Living with Winter

tcm-theoryChinese Medicine: Living with Winter

It’s the New Year and we are in the Winter season. Believe it or not but living in accordance to the season can be beneficial to your body, spirit, and health. It’s the season of reserve and recharge. In Chinese medicine there are 5 elements and each element has their own attributes associated with them. Winter correlates with the water element, the color black and it is also a time where things flow downwards. During this time, nature is quiet and still. Some animals hibernate while others find warmer homes to stay. We cover up and remain indoors more because outside is cold. Plants don’t bloom like they do in the spring and summer, instead they are seeded into the ground so that they can be prepared for the next season to come. With the start of a new year we tend to work ourselves harder. And what follows that is stress. Remember, this is the winter season and we need to be more aware of our body. We need to make the time to care for ourselves so that we can “recharge” and be prepared for the next season to come. Don’t overdo things. It’s about finding balance in what you do. Also, incorporate more warm, cooked and nourishing foods. It’s not the best time to do a lot of cold, greasy, raw and damp producing foods. Our kidneys are like our heat source. We like to keep them warm and happy. So you ask yourself…..why are the kidneys important?

Our kidneys as a reservoir for Jing qi

­ Prenatal Jing qi

The water element is also related to the kidney organ. The kidneys have a close relationship with the Urinary Bladder. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are vital to everything that we do and have. Our kidneys are the reservoir for our congenital essence (jing) qi and our post natal jing qi (discussed below). Congenital jing qi can also be called prenatal jing qi. The amount of prenatal jing qi that we get is passed down from both of our parents. We are given a certain amount of prenatal jing qi from our parents and we can’t create more of it. It’s a set amount. As we lose prenatal jing qi, we age. You can think of it as a life force. If you have an abundance of prenatal jing qi, you are healthy, strong, resilient, vital, and you have longevity. On the flip side, if you have a decreased amount of prenatal jing qi then there’s degeneration, aging and you may become more susceptible to diseases. You can be born with not enough prenatal jing qi. For example: manifestation in persons with low prenatal jing qi would include slow or poor growth development and poor bone and teeth development. Ultimately, when we have lost all of our prenatal jing qi, we die. Therefore it’s important to identify how you can preserve your prenatal jing qi.

Depletion of Prenatal Jing qi

Activities that commonly deplete our prenatal jing qi includes:

  • Over-working
  • Over-exercising
  • Stress
  • And believe it or not …having too much sex.
  • In addition, disease (minor or major), inflammation, blood or other bodily fluid loss, etc… all can deplete our prenatal jing qi.

Our body does so much for us and we have to take care of it in return!

Preserving Prenatal Jing qi

First we need to find balance in the things that we do. For example: if you have stress, it’s important that you identify the cause of your stress. It will be beneficial, on many aspects of your health as well as to preserve your jing qi, to find ways to manage your stress. Stress management can include removing yourself from stressful situations, mediation, tai chi, qi gong, journaling, being open and sharing what you are going through with a close family or friend, exercise but don’t overdo it :) , and so much more. In the case that you have a health condition, then you want to make sure that the disease is being managed and that the cause is being treated.

Post-natal Jing qi

Post-natal qi is also stored within our kidneys and we can get it from the functions of our spleen and stomach. You can think about it like our nutrients that we get from our food. This is why it’s important that we nourish ourselves with food that’s good for our body! Continue reading to learn more about the foods that you can incorporate into your meals.


Dark colored foods are great for this time of year especially since Kidney is related to the color black. Black chicken (you can find in Asian stores), black sesame seeds, black beans, and black or dark colored rice are all great for the kidneys. And of course with everything in moderation. Below is a list of foods that have an affinity for the kidneys and will support your kidneys:

Millet Wheat Oats
Yam Sweet potato Grape
Pomegranate Raspberry Mulberry
Cherry Sugar cane Chestnut
Lotus seed Ginkgo nut Pistachio
Walnuts Asparagus Cabbage
Chinese chives Tomato Black wood ear

In Chinese medicine, nutrition is more than just a plate of food. There’s an energetic aspect to each food. The water element is associated with the flavor salty. Salty foods can help to dissipate accumulations and soften hardness in our body such as masses, cysts and nodules. It also helps to nourish our blood and lubricate our intestines to induce bowel movements. Salty foods also has a direction of moving inward and downward. Therefore, it can help improve conditions such as cough, acid reflux, vomiting and hiccupping. Remember that the key here with the salt is balance and moderation! Some salty foods to consider this winter includes:

Millet Barley Seaweed
Kelp Sea clams Sea shrimps
Oyster Pigeon’s egg Duck meat
Pork Pig’s bone marrow Pig’s blood

This is the time of year where you also can start incorporating bone broths. Bone broths are tasty, easily digested and packed with nutrients. The following recipes have been adapted from Cindy Micleau, MTCM, Lac., and Serena Ma, ND, LAc., and Christine Hwang, ND, LAc.

tumblr_lxxi5ax4UT1qdei8mQi tonifying bone broth soup recipe:


  • 2-3 pounds of bones (lamb, chicken or beef), chopped into large pieces, rinsed
  • 2 tomatoes, peeled, seeded and halved
  • 2 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
  • 1 large onion, peeled and quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 sticks celery, peeled and cut in half
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 bunch and a handful of parsley
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Sea salt
  • 1 handful Astragalus (Huang qi)
  • 1 handful Goji berries (Gou qi zi)
  • 1 handful Red dates (Da zao)
  • ½ handful Ginseng (Ren shen) or ½ handful of codonopsis (Dang shen)
  • 1 handful Lotus seeds (Lian zi)
  • 4 quarts of water


  • Place all ingredients (except sea salt and a handful of parsley to be used at the end) into a stove pot or a crockpot.
    • If using crockpot: Set on high. Bring to a boil and reduce setting to low for 12-72 hours.
    • If using stovetop: Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered for 12-72 hours. You can turn off the heat and let it sit overnight, then turn it back on and let it simmer during the day.
    • Skim off the scum from the top as it simmers.
    • Add more water as needed to keep the bones covered.
    • During the last 10 minutes throw in a handful of fresh parsley for added flavor and minerals.
    • Strain and discard solids.
    • Add sea salt to taste.
    • Store in the refrigerator for up to 5-7 days or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Other healthy guidelines to eating:

  • Eat until you are 80% full
  • Take your time to chew and eat your food
  • Be present with your food
  • Balance your meals between different foods and between tastes

We hope that after reading this you have a better understanding of how to better incorporate Chinese medicine into your daily life.

Written by: AmyLorAmy Lor, LAc., EAMP