As we move into winter it's time to rug up, keep warm and pay particular attention to our health. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), winter is the season associated with the Kidneys, the energy system which holds our body’s most basic and fundamental energy. It is also believed that by harmonising oneself with the seasons you can stay healthier and prevent disease, so winter is a good time to strengthen the kidneys. It is also a good time to look inward, reflecting on ourselves with meditation, writing, or other inward practices such as Tai Chi and Qi Gong. These practices help us to connect to our inner selves and help to support kidney energy. They are very helpful to relax the mind, calm our emotions and raise the spirit.
The body part associated with the kidneys are the bones, so it is important to pay close attention to the bones in the winter months making sure to tonify and heal any problems in this area. This is also why winter is a time when Chinese medicine prescribes bone broths as nutritional therapy, as they are warming, nourishing and especially good for the bones and kidney energy. Bone broths are also powerful Jing tonics, as Jing is produced by the bones. Jing is depleted by activities such as extreme and prolonged stress, lack of quality sleep, working long hours and excess consumption of alcohol and recreational drugs. Winter is the best time to supplement the body’s Jing supply, and bone broth is ideal to do just that.
There are many foods that are beneficial for us to eat during winter. These foods are the ones that naturally grow in this season - pumpkin, potatoes, root vegetables, winter greens, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, apples and pears. In winter, our bodies need warming foods like soups made with hearty vegetables, and rich stocks cooked with animal bones are best. Foods that specifically nourish and warm the kidneys are: black beans, kidney beans, broths cooked with bones, lamb, chicken, walnuts, chestnuts, black sesame seeds and dark leafy greens.
A small amount of unrefined sea salt is also helpful as the taste associated with the kidneys organ is salty, but remember, moderation in all things is important and too much salt can damage the kidneys. Cooking should be for longer periods with low heat and less water. This infuses foods with heat that helps to keep the body warm in the cold winter months. Hearty soups, whole grains and roasted nuts are good on cold days and offer nourishment to feed the body and tonify the kidneys in cold winter months.
The principle of harmony between what we eat and the season we eat it in is based on hundreds of years of practical experience. Chinese nutritional therapy is an important component of Chinese medicine and there is a long held understanding that food that we consume has a profound effect on the body, affecting our health and wellbeing.