By Elisabeth Staunton – Acupuncturist and Herbalist – Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Whilst Spring is but a few weeks away, we still have some bracing Winter weather to come. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Winter is the season to reflect, conserve energy and build our strength. In doing so, we can prepare for the more active and warmer seasons ahead.
With the colder weather, comes a feeling of contraction. Our energy naturally moves inwards as we go into hibernation mode.
It can be tempting to try and push through with regular routines around diet and exercise at these times. But changing things up and taking advantage of the slower pace, can yield great benefits.
A way we can do this is to enhance our diet to reflect the season. Dietary therapy is an important part of TCM and forms a part of self-care known as ‘Yang Sheng’. This term means to ‘nourish life’ and involves utilising diet, exercise, mindfulness and rest, to best support health.
Whilst dietary needs will differ from person to person, based on constitution, individual health concerns, lifestyle and environment, some general rules apply when it comes to specific foods for the season.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, Winter is a time to focus on the Kidney energy. This is often referred to as the ‘gate of life’, the source of our energy reserves and the foundation that we draw strength from. When this energy is out of balance, it can lead to feeling wrung-out, scattered, and un-grounded.
Diet wise, adding in some warming and nutrient-dense foods, is great for kidney energy. Beneficial foods include legumes (particularly red kidney beans, adzuki beans and black beans). Also, pumpkin, walnuts, sesame seeds and root vegetables such as sweet potato, turnip beetroot and parsnip.
Eating seasonal whole foods where possible is ideal. Changing cooking methods to include more soups, stews and slow cooked foods will help to warm and fortify the body in the colder weather.
In addition to the usual ingredients, consider adding some other items to your soup stock for nourishing benefits such as:
- A few goji berries.
- 2-3 red dates (pitted).
- 2-3 slices of fresh ginger.
- Dried shitake or wood ear fungus.
- 1 x Cinnamon quill.
- Mandarin peel.
Avoiding too many cold and raw foods is best in Winter. This is particularly important if you have a weak digestive system, poor circulation or are prone to phlegm congestion.
If you easily feel the cold or suffer from wintery aches and pains, try some aromatic herbs and spices such as ginger, turmeric, spring onions, bay leaf or leeks.
By embracing each season, we place ourselves in good stead health wise for the next one. Emerging from the colder months, we can often feel a little sluggish and low on energy, so including some foods to benefit the liver, such as leafy greens, beetroot, carrot and cruciferous veg (cabbage, cauli, broccoli and brussels) is a good idea too.
In these final cold weeks of the season, take some quiet time for yourself where you can. Whether that means going for walks in nature, spending time on quiet reflection, or cooking a delicious meal for yourself or to share with others. Find what brings you joy and warms your heart.
Elisabeth practices from two clinics in the West – Yarraville Health Group – Yarraville and Ferguson Street Chiropractic and Natural Therapies – Williamstown.
**As mentioned, these dietary recommendations are a guideline only.
A TCM consult of Acupuncture or Herbal Medicine, will include targeted advice based on the individual’s health needs.
If you have a specific health care concern, please seek out a health care practitioner.