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Winter and Traditional Chinese Medicine

January 5, 2016

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) states that people should live in harmony with their environment. During winter, this means slowing down and keeping warm and well rested in order to plant the seeds for renewed vitality in the spring. The process of new growth and regeneration for the next season has already begun internally once cold weather sets in.

Winter is an excellent time for retrospection, meditation, and exploration of deeper issues. We are usually so busy that we are not even aware of over-thinking and excess actions.

It can provide a profound opportunity for in-depth realization of our true selves. This process may naturally give rise to “stuff” that is stuck under the surface of our mundane activities; issues, thoughts or patterns we may have been avoiding with our ongoing busy-ness.

Winter is also associated with the element of water and influences the health of the kidneys, bladder, endocrine glands (including adrenals), bones (including bone marrow) and teeth. The energetic kidneys are the primary source of vitality, energy and heat, as well as vital essence. Energy is drawn from this source during times of stress and anxiety, or when the body requires healing. Winter is inactive, cold, and damp in nature; it reflects emotions of fear, feeling unsupported, and joylessness. Excess emotions can cause disharmonies of the kidney.

It is also important to avoid too many raw foods during winter because they tend to cool the body and can deplete our digestive “fire,” which is the ability to assimilate food efficiently. One way we can be sure to keep stomach and kidney energy burning is by eating warming foods while cooking them longer, at lower temperatures, and with less water. Emphasize on soups and stews, root vegetables, dark leafy greens, kidney and black beans, walnuts, black sesame seeds, whole grains, and seaweeds. These specific foods help fortify the kidneys, uplift emotions, nourish the body, keep you warm, and help you conserve energy.

Since people are more susceptible to colds and flu during the winter season, the cold weather challenges the immune system or what is called Wei Qi (protective energy to push out pathogens). The main treatment modalities in TCM are acupuncture, Qi Gong (precise exercises to enhance the flow of vital energy), and an extensive pharmacopeia of herbal medicine.

Here are some important herbs for winter disharmonies; many are used together to facilitate a more favorable outcome regarding colds and flus.

  1. Astragalus (Huang Qi) can be used alone to stimulate the lungs and keep us well.
  2. Ginseng (Ren Shen) is used in cold weather because it warms the body. Ginseng provides the energy for each organ to do its job. Never use this herb when you have a cold or virus with a fever. Use Ginseng in moderation and only when you are well.
  3. Lonicera or Honeysuckle (Jin Yin Hua) is used almost exclusively for the prevention and treatment of the common cold, upper respiratory tract infections, sore throats, and general flu symptoms. It can also be used in a vaporizer and inhaled along with the traditional way of ingesting it after cooking (decocting) in water.
  4. Isatis (Ban Lan Gen) is commonly used for upper respiratory infections and acute sore throats. It has great anti-viral properties.
  5. Mint (Bo He) is used in a formula for the treatment and prevention of the flu. It cools the body and disperses heat in the eyes.
  6. Licorice (Gan Cao) is used in Chinese Medicine to help harmonize formulas. It is able to detoxify over 1,000 toxins in the body and adds sweetness to any decoction.
  7. Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang) is a very warming herb; raw foodists may notice how it can help digestion. Because it is so hot, be cautious if you have a hot or acid stomach, as it will become worse when using this herb. It is stronger and more heating than raw ginger.

Laura Mignosa is a Certified Chinese Herbologist and has been the director of the Connecticut Institute for Herbal Studies for over two decades. She is both Western and China trained (traveling 19 years to China to study and absorb the culture). Mignosa will offer an annual study on this powerful tradition of healing beginning in March 2016. Any practitioner or layperson taking these intensives will learn how to keep the body strong and balance disharmonies to maintain a true quality of life. Please call the school at 860-826-2705 or visit our website www.ctherbschool.com for more information on this clinically based program of wellness. Appointments for care are offered at the school. You may find articles and events on her Facebook page: www.facebook.com/laura.mignosa.5 or email at Laurachina@aol.com.

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