Thursday, February 18, 2010

Cooking With Chinese Herbs To Stay Healthy During The Winter Months

By Ann Wolman, L.Ac.

In Chinese Medicine, the winter is associated with the water element and with the energetic organ system of the Kidneys. It is the time of maximum yin. These are the cold, quiet, contemplative months. Kidney energy holds our deepest reserves and provides the basis for our constitutional strength. This is a perfect time of year to incorporate nourishing and warming medicinal herbs into your cooking.

Foods and herbs have flavors, temperatures and energetic qualities. The Kidneys are nourished by the flavor of salt and other astringents. The Kidneys benefit from cooling or warming foods depending upon an individual’s constitution, but generally speaking, the Kidneys prefer warm natured herbs and foods. Some foods that nourish Kidney Qi are root vegetables like potatoes, yams, parsnips, and small beans like kidney, aduki and black beans and seeds.

One of the best ways to utilize Chinese dietary and herbal therapy is to cook with Chinese herbs. You can put raw herbs into soups and stews. This is often done with herbs like gou qi zi (lycuim fruit), dang shen (codonopsis), fu Ling (Poria), ren shen (Ginseng) and da zao (Chinese Dates).

It is also traditional to make congee, a kind of grain soup, with herbs. These congees are tasty, nutritious, and cost effective. They are particularly comforting on a cold winter morning. All of the herbal ingredients mentioned are available at the clinic and your practitioner can make more specific recommendations regarding those, which would be most beneficial for you.

Below are a couple of simple congee recipes.

Both of these congees can be varied based upon your taste, and as your practitioner recommends. You can use rice, millet, barley quinoa or amaranth as the base. Spices include cinnamon, bay leaf allspice, rosemary, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and fennel. Try walnuts, almonds or pumpkin seeds, and include different vegetables like sweet potato, pumpkin and squash. Experiment a little and enjoy.

If your practitioner suggests a more Kidney yin nourishing recipe, try the Mulberry Congee Recipe.

Basic Herbal Congee Recipe (warming)

½ cup white rice
8 cups vegetable or chicken stock (5 cups stock to 1 part grain if using a crock-pot)
10 grams astragalus root (huang qi)
6 grams codonopsis root (dang shen)
5 grams pueraria root (ge gen)
5 grams lotus seeds (lian zi)
8 shitake or black mushrooms, slivered
1 carrot, diced
1 strip seaweed

Place the astragalus in a bag or tie with string. Cover the codonopsis and pueraria with boiling water for 20 minutes, and then cut into ¼ inch lengths. Simmer all ingredients except carrot for 60 – 90 minutes, or cook overnight in a crock-pot on a low temperature setting. Add the carrot for the last 12 minutes. When done, remove astragalus and serve. This recipe can be varied using other grains like barley and warming herbs like fennel seed and dried ginger.

Mulberry Congee Recipe (cooling)

30 grams fresh mulberries
20 grams dry mulberries
20 grams dried lycium fruit (gou qi zi)
1 /2 cup walnuts
1 cup rice
4 – 7 cups water (7 cups water if using a crock-pot)

Cook mulberries and rice in water preferably overnight in a crock-pot on low setting. Add lycium fruit and walnuts. Serve warm each morning on an empty stomach.

It is even more important in the winter months to follow the basic principles of Chinese dietary therapy, as this will help to protect us from the bad effects of cold natured foods that tend to predominate the American diet. It is suggested that one avoid raw fruits and vegetables and cold or chilled foods and beverages (especially ice cream). Bon Appetit!