Winter Herbal Aid

Chinese Medicine in the Cold Season

How can we adjust our psychic and body rhythm to suit the season? What happens within us is mirrored by the natural world around us. During the frost of winter, plants submerge their lifeblood into their roots, animals thicken their hides, and ponds harden into ice. Movement slows, as matter and energy concentrate. This is a time of apparent quiescence and stasis, yet beneath the surface is the hidden activity of gestation and germination that will bring forth renewal in spring. Before seeds and bulbs germinate, they demand a spell of chilly slumber.

The Kidney is the organ system that shares the power of Winter. During this period of hibernation, the essence of life persists in its most primitive state. Just as the bear survives upon accumulated reserves when the snows are thick, so in the human body, the Kidney abides within us like the bear in its cave, harboring the germ of being, our Essence that feeds and renews our life force. It is the Kidney that supports the reproductive organs governing sexuality, as well as engendering the structural elements of the body that regulate growth and regeneration. This is dependent upon an adequate store of Essence, which gives rise to the marrow, which in turn produces the brain, spinal cord, bones, teeth, blood, and hair. Whereas Kidney Yin controls the juicy Essence, Kidney Yang is like an ember hiding its dense heat within a dark husk of charred wood to ignite new fuel, so Kidney Yang kindles metabolic process. All the other organs depend upon the Kidney for moistening and regeneration (Yin), and for animation and warmth (Yang). The Kidney is like the pilot light under the cauldron of the Stomach, so good digestion also relies upon the Kidney.

The Kidney is vulnerable to damage by exposure to physical cold – cold weather or air conditioning – and by the ingestion of iced or refrigerated foods and beverages. Kidney Yin is subject to damage by chemical agents, such as antibiotics, analgesics, tranquilizers, food additives, air pollutants, and recreational drugs. It may also be harmed by inadequate intake of water and too much bitter, salty, or hot, spicy food. The Kidney is undermined by inadequate sleep, excessive exercise, sexual activity, or work.

Winter is the time to scrutinize, until the meaning and significance of things coalesce into the germ of understanding.

Black beans or aduki beans cooked with bones full of marrow, along with roasted peanuts, garlic, ginger, walnuts, and butter are warming and nourishing foods for winter. This is the time to slow down, rest, accumulate reserves, and take stock, reflecting upon how our lives match what we envision for ourselves. During the dark nights of winter, we harvest our memories and dreams. We hope that wisdom is married with compassion as we attempt to close the gap between what we imagine can be compared to what we see.

Recipes to Chase the Common Cold

Appropriate medicinal foods may help to abort sickness or hasten its demise by reinforcing our powers of recovery. These recipes are from Between Heaven & Earth.

Common Cold

The first stage of a cold (with slight fever, chills, aching, scratchy throat, and stuffiness) is an invasion of Wind with either Cold or Heat, depending on whether chills or fever predominate. Herbal food should dispel Wind, increase surface circulation, and support Qi. The following broth will warm the body, promote perspiration, and supplement the defensive Qi.

  • 2 oz. pueraria root
  • 2 inches fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 1/2 c. chopped parsley
  • 5 scallions, slivered
  • 1 c. cooked wheat or rice noodles
  • Cut the pueraria into 1/2-inch lengths.
  • Simmer the pueraria and ginger in the stock for 45 minutes.
  • Add the celery and simmer for another 10 minutes.
  • Add the parsley, scallions, and noodles for a final 3 minutes, and serve.



The following cooling broth reduces fever, promotes perspiration, soothes and moistens the throat, and supplements the defensive Qi.

  • 1 oz. pueraria root
  • 1 burdock root
  • 5 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1 c. chard
  • 2 tsp. miso
  • 1 c. bean noodles or sprouts
  • 1 oz. honesuckle flowers
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • Cut the pueraria and burdock into bite-size lengths and simmer them for 45 minutes in the stock.
  • Add the chard, miso, noodles, or sprouts and simmer for 5 minutes. Place the honeysuckle in a muslin bag and steep it for 5 minutes, remove the bag, add the pepper, and serve.



If the illness progresses to a deeper stage in which cough is predominant, then food and herbs should decongest phlegm and replenish Qi and Moisture.

  • 1 oz. glehnia root
  • 1 oz. lily bulbs
  • 1/2 orange peel
  • 2 in. fresh ginger, minced
  • 5 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 pears, cut in cubes
  • Cut the glehnia into 1/2-inch lengths. Simmer it in the stock along with the lily bulbs, orange peel, and ginger for 45 minutes.
  • Add the pears and simmer for another 15 minutes, remove the orange peel, and serve

When there is profuxe phlegm, add 1/2 oz. each of platycodon and apricot kernels. If the phlegm is dry or sticky, delete the orange peel.

In the recovery stage people often feel weak and weary, with lingering cough or headache. This is because the body’s resources of Qi and Moisture have been temporarily depleted. The following recipe replenishes Qi and Moisture while eliminating the last remnants of Wind and phlegm.

  • 1 oz. pueraria root
  • 1 oz. polygonatum rhizome
  • 1 oz. lotus seeds
  • 12 red dates
  • 1/2 oz. orange peel
  • 1 in. fresh ginger, minced

These herbs can be combined with:

  • 5 scallions, sliced
  • 3 carrots, cubed
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • or substitute 2–3 diced pears for the vegetables
  • 1/3 c. white rice
  • 8 c. vegetable or chicken stock
  • Slice the pueraria, polygonatum, and orange peel into small pieces.
  • Simmer all the ingredients except the vegetables or pears for 2–3 hours.
  • Add the vegetables or pears for the last 20 minutes and serve.

Winter Herbal Aid

In the winter months, illnesses due to Wind, Cold, and Damp abound. Holiday indulgences can produce hangovers and indigestion, increasing our susceptibility to colds and flus. The following herbal formulas can be used during this blustery, tumultuous season. May you remain happy and stay healthy.


Dosage recommendations

The usual dose = 2 squirts 1–4 times per day in 1/4 cup hot water.
[With the dropper unscrewed and in the bottle, firmly squeeze the bulb, and this equals 1 squirt.]