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!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

DAO YIN Exercises for Health

By Junie Norfleet, L.Ac.

In the book Daoist Health Preservation Exercises, it is reported that Dr. Tissot, a famous French doctor from the 18th century, said, "As far as the role of movement is concerned, it can almost replace any kind of medicine. But no medicine in the world can replace the role of movement."

For many years the Chinese culture has recognized the importance of using movement to maintain and support the health of the body. The type of movement that the Chinese culture uses is not the aerobic and weight lifting types of movement that are so much a part of the culture in the United States.

Dao Yin movements are gentle and yet very effective for moving the energy (qi) of the body to help maintain health or to help cure illness. Following are some Dao Yin exercises that will help to maintain a supple, energized body. (As with all exercise, do only what your body feels comfortable doing.)

1. Lie on your back. Relax. Notice where your breath is in your body. Put your hands on that area. Relax. Gently guide your breath to the lower body. Breathe into the lower body several times. Place one hand on the upper body and one hand on the lower body. Inhale into the lower body and hold the breath. While holding the breath, force the breath into the upper body and then back down to the lower body. "Pump" the breath between these two places until you can no longer hold your breath. Release the breath through the mouth. Repeat several times. Relax and notice where the breath is now.

2. Stretch both hands over your head and spread your legs so that your body looks like an "X." Relax. Now you are going to "crawl on your back." Stretch the right hand higher over your head, then stretch the left leg out; then the left hand higher and the right leg out. By letting the hips shift as you reach, a "crawling" motion will be created when you do it at a fairly rapid pace. Once you have done it several times, relax and notice what feels different in your body. Where is the breath?

3. Lie on your back with your arms out to the sides as if the body is a cross. Pull the knees up and place the feet on the floor. Cross the right leg over the left leg so the knees cross. Inhale and let the weight of the right leg push the left leg to the left as far as it will go and release the breath. The head should naturally turn to the right. Let the left leg do the work of bringing both legs back up. Repeat this several times. As you repeat the exercise again, this time let the legs flop over to the left and release the breath rapidly. Repeat several times. Now lie on your back again. Notice what feels different in the body. Which leg feels longer, heavier? Where is the breath?

4. Repeat exercise 3, but cross the left leg over the right.

Doing these gentle exercises helps to lubricate the joints, stretch the sinews, move the qi, and relax the body. As you do these exercises more and more, you will begin to notice that you feel more centered and comfortable in your body, and that your body can stretch more each week. And remember, there is no medicine that can take the place of movement!