Chinese Medical theory encourages us to live in harmony with the season we are in. Right now we are in the freezing cold winter season of February. The winter season influences the function of our kidneys. The Kidneys’ function is to store energy and transform fluids. Accordingly, during winter it is important to rest and do restorative and calming activities. This allows your body to store resources, nutrients and energy in preparation for spring. The kidneys also influence reproduction, the brain, bone health, fluid secretions and the emotions specifically fear. Should the kidneys become out of balance, constantly looking for danger, paranoia, anxiety, infertility, adrenal/chronic fatigue, lower back pain, weak knees and urinary issues can occur.
Winter is a time for self-reflection and a good time to review behaviors and habits. You may find that some are serving you well and some are in need of change. I have been enjoying writing in a journal this winter. It helps me to better understand my feelings and the roles they serve. It also helps me to get unpleasant thoughts out of my mind so they do not keep me stuck in a pattern, further draining my kidneys’ energy.
Chinese Medicine links each season to a number of characteristics. Winter has the following qualities:
COLOR: BLACK/DARK BLUE
SENSE ORGANS: EARS
VIRTUES: STRENGTH, COURAGE, & WISDOM
1. It is very important to keep the body warm, rested and well-hydrated in the winter. Cold enters the body through the feet and wind through the neck, so protect these areas with a scarf and warm socks.
2. Enjoy a relaxing Epsom salt bath. Epsom salt contains magnesium which reduces inflammation and is easily absorbed through the skin. Epsom salt baths are a great way to clear the mind, relax sore muscles, relieve headaches, soothe neck tension and aid dry skin. Epsom salt baths are also helpful for those suffering from anxiety and sleeplessness. Magnesium increases serotonin levels, the brain’s happy hormone. Add a cup or two of Epsom salt to a warm bath, light a candle, play some music and relax. It’s the perfect way to end a stressful week.
3. In winter it is important to nourish the immune system. Keep the body warm and support immune health with elderberry syrup. Studies have shown the antiviral benefits of elderberry. Elderberry prevents a virus from replicating by inhibiting its ability to penetrate a body’s cells. If elderberry syrup is taken after an infection, it reduces the duration of viral symptoms. Elderberry syrup’s dark purple color resonates with winter and the kidney. Here is the recipe I made as gifts for family and friends this holiday season.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
1 cup dried elderberries
4 cups water
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp whole cloves
½ cup honey
Add the water, elderberries and spices to a large pot. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer for 45 min. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Once cooled, strain-out the elderberries and compost. Stir in the honey. Pour into a glass storage container.
Take one tablespoon of elderberry syrup each morning during the winter months for immune health. If you feel the start of cold symptoms, take a tablespoon every two hours. You can also make a ‘cocktail’ with a tablespoon of elderberry syrup, a squeeze of lemon and soda water. It is a nice immune system kidney tonic treat. Perfect for winter.
4. If you struggle to stay warm on these frigid winter days, try teas with warming spices and warm up from the inside. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, foods, teas and spices can have either a warming or a cooling effect on the body. Even if a food feels warm to the touch, it doesn’t necessarily have a warming effect on the body. Teas that increase energy can help warm your kidneys, support blood circulation and dispel the feeling of chill during the winter months. I like a good warming chai tea with the ultra-warming spices of ginger, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon. Lighter teas, like green, yellow and white are cooling energetically and are better suited for the springtime. Dark teas and herbs that taste spicy tend to create the most warmth in the body.
5. Tart cherries belong to a category of medicinals that are nourishing to the heart and blood. They help to calm stress and the emotions as they sooth the liver and the heart. I like to drink a shot of tart cherry juice before bed as a nighttime treat. If you have sleeping issues, cherry juice can be helpful as tart cherries are high in melatonin, the hormone in charge of helping us fall asleep. Tart cherry juice helps hydrate the kidneys, and helps provide us with the quality of rest that is so important in the winter.
6. I absolutely love mushrooms for immune system strengthening. I take a mushroom supplement called Agarikon every morning. Agarikon mushrooms not only have strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial agents, but also have antiviral properties. This fungus has significantly more antibacterial and antiviral properties than the majority of other fungal species because of its long-life. Agarikon can live up to 75 years! It is a great immune system boost, helping you to stay well all winter.
Another important mushroom and one of my favorite supplements is the reishi mushroom. In traditional Chinese Medicine reishi mushrooms are used for calming the mind and increasing energy. It is in a category of Chinese Herbs that effectively relieves anxiety by nourishing blood and Qi (energy). It is great for the winter blues. I like to add it to my morning drink as a powder.
7. I love to keep fresh flowers around the house, especially in the winter. This holiday season I received a gift of bulbs in a clear vase. They quickly bloomed into beautiful, white, fragrant flowers and made the house look and smell wonderful. Fresh flowers are very good for the emotions (shen). Bringing in a little bit of nature’s beauty helps us to get through the dark cold winter when we are forced to stay inside. The smell of fresh flowers is one of nature’s pleasures.
8. Rose petals (Mei Gui Hua) steeped in hot water are a great way to uplift your mood. Rose has a calming effect on the mind and body. Roses promote the movement of energy when we feel stagnant in our emotions and bodies. Roses promote the healthy circulation of the blood to relieve menstrual pain, breast tenderness, PMS, stress, headaches and abdominal pain. I get dried rose petals from a local apothecary and add them to a warm cup of water whenever I feel a negative mood setting in.
9. We all know keeping active is good for our health. Spending some time outside in the fresh air and sunshine on a cool winter day can be nourishing for the body and mind. The rush of endorphins after exercise can clear the mind, uplift the mood and make us feel stronger. During Covid-19, I have bundled up many times and taken my dog Charlie on his daily walk around the neighborhood. It is a great self-care ritual. Sometimes during our walks I listen to a podcast or catch up with family and friends. Sometimes, I just connect with the beauty of nature. On one of our walks, I discovered a community tree. The owners of the tree provide small circular wood ornaments for their neighbors to decorate. My family decorated an ornament and it now hangs on the tree. It was a fun activity that brought us closer to the community.
I hope you will enjoy and try some of my favorite things.
Of course Acupuncture can help you feel more rest and healthy this season. Please reach out with any questions.
I hope you have a warm, restful loving winter.