Two Late-Winter Soups to fight Infection

A photograph of two homemade soups.

Another late Winter day, but I felt the first hint of Spring around the corner last Wednesday!

It’s difficult to define what made it happen, but suddenly I looked at my garden in a slightly different way; I noticed bulbs pushing through, bird song and I had my first urge to start tidying things up. Right on cue my hens started laying properly again. I think day length has something to do with it; and something to do with the quality of light.

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Early Winter

We’re heading towards December 21st and the shortest day now.

In Chinese medicine there are quite a few points of interest about this time of year.

In general terms it is a time of increasing yin with less light and warmth, and more rainfall.

In theory our behaviour should complement this by our taking more rest and relaxation, slowing down, taking stock and, crucially, getting to bed earlier for more hours of sleep.

Of course this doesn’t fit at all with our acceleration towards Christmas! It’s the season of late night shopping, Christmas parties and, for a lot of people, mounting stress from distant family members all homing in-or missing people who won’t be able to be present  at family Christmases any more.

Our coping strategy is often to take more stimulants to keep us going; warm, yang enhancing substances like coffee, spirits and chocolates. Unfortunately, in Chinese medical theory, this has the effect of depleting our yin, leaving us exhausted and vulnerable to colds and aches.

It might be worth banking some early nights, finding a good book and starting that long promised stretching routine.

I’m off to bed but I’ll write about SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in the morning!

Keeping healthy in Autumn

Early Autumn.

This weekend has been a perfect couple of Autumnal days.

Warm enough in the sunshine to encourage my bees out for a last bit of nectar gathering but not warm enough for a brave skinny dipper at Beacon tarn to get in further than his ankles!

In Chinese medicine this is one of the two most powerful times of the year (the other being early Spring).

The late Summer time of plentiful food, daylight and warmth start moving into Autumn with its rapidly shortening days, drenching dews and first frosts.

This is the season of the Lungs in TCM. It’s a time when a lot of people catch chesty colds, andasthma can worsen temporarily. Because of the connection between the Lungs in TCM and skin, I often see more skin problems at this time of year too.

Historically the Chinese have always been very careful with their health at this time of year. In Japan too, when I lived there, the company canteen would be careful to add warming, pungent spices to our food.

The aim in Chinese medicine is to hold onto the health that we have gained through the Summer for as long as possible into the Winter months. It is thought helpful to avoid getting cold and wet, and to take special care drying off properly. In TCM open windows at night at this time of year, along with going to bed with wet hair, are thought to contribute towards stiff, painful necks and shoulders.

Using warming herbs and spices like ginger, coriander, pepper, cumin and turmeric in our food and home made drinks can help to stop the cold and damp from getting inside us!

In my next post I’ll write a few recipes aimed at restoring or maintaining health at this time of year.

A remedial spring recipe!

Using the nettles from my garden, I have been making huge saucepans of bright green, iron and vitamin rich soup to build everyone up after winter.

Spring Tonic Soup – serves 6

  • 2 chopped onions
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 small red chilli, chopped small (remove the seeds for a milder taste)
  • ½ carrier bag of fresh greens (some combination of spinach, chard, nettle tips, dandelion leaves, and sorrel)
  • fromage frais
  • 1 desert spoon of chopped chives
  • 1 teaspoon of marigold boullion
  • salt and pepper

Gently fry the onions in a pan until they begin to brown and become caramelised (giving a wonderfully sweet aroma).
Then, still whilst heating, add the garlic and chilli, before adding a litre of boiling water, with salt, pepper, and the boullion.
Allow this to begin simmering, then add the greens, and continue simmering for a further 30 minutes.

This soup is then, after being liquidised, ready to serve hot or pour into containers for freezing.
Serve with formage frais and chives.

How to feel great in Spring!

In Chinese medicine there’s an important balance at this time of year between letting sunshine on your skin, and not getting too cold (or wet!), especially not being exposed to cold Spring winds.

The theory of all this is very complex but is based on clinical observation over thousands of years with the huge populations in Asia where Chinese medicine is practiced. This clinical observation is central to how Chinese medicine has evolved, essentially closely watching, listening to peoples descriptions about their conditions, and recording what happens when different interventions  are made. This process has been happening for at least as long as Chinese medicine has been around, and is continuing today, as Chinese Medicine is very much a system of medicine that is still alive and developing.

These sort of observations noted that people became exhausted, run down and prone to catching things at the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring. This would, of course, have been due to many different factors, including lack of fresh food, lack of long daylight hours to find food, cold and damp living conditions and a lack of sunshine.

In the West we often think of ourselves as having developed above all this! These days we would expect the seasons to play a minor part in our day to day health.

In fact evidence increasingly argues against this.

The role that Vitamin D plays in our health is a good example.

Through the Winter months the sunlight intensity in the UK is not enough for our skin to make Vitamin D. We do not absorb Vitamin D effectively from our food and are designed to make this Vitamin from sunshine on our skin. Vitamin D is being shown to be crucial to our well being in numerous ways. Lack of this Vitamin causes weak bones, leading to increased bone fracturing and breaking. It seems to help prevent flu and to be a part of a well functioning immune system. Recent research is showing a strong link between lack of Vitamin D and MS.

It does not seem enough for us to take dietary supplements and too much dietary Vitamin D is toxic.

I’ve just seen an amazingly fit and active 97 year old in my clinic. He was telling me he plans to find a sheltered spot, out of the wind this afternoon, and to sit in the sunshine.

Great plan!

I’ll talk about suncreams and melanoma in a future post! Like everything nothing is ever straight forward in keeping healthy. We have to continually balance the needs of our bodies according to time of year, our state of health, age, energy levels…..the list is endless! But for now wrap up and find some sunshine! Oh and don’t forget that if you’re wearing a face cream with sun screen your skin won’t be able to make Vitamin D.

Seasonal colds, aches and pains.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people with bad colds in my clinic this winter.

The one that seems to be around mostly starts with a sore throat and headache and can turn into a chesty cough that lasts for weeks.

In Chinese medicine this would be thought to be due to a few different things. The first would be how windy the weather has been this winter. The wind was historically considered to be the ‘spearhead of disease’ , not only making people vulnerable to catching colds, but also to starting up or worsening existing aches and pains. Old injuries can also be seen to flare up again, with discomfort varying from tooth-achey dull pain, to fixed acute pain. Backs, knees, necks shoulders and hands are particularly vulnerable.

Supporting this, modern research has shown that peoples’ immune systems function poorly in windy conditions.

The mild, wet weather that we’ve had for most of the Winter encourages phlegmy, chesty, achey, tired conditions and there are certainly a lot of these around at the moment!

In Asia Chinese herbs are often used in a way to supplement a persons diet, and many Chinese herbs are also commonly used foods in Asia. We use a lot of Chinese herbs as spices and seasonings in this country and so I thought I’d post a cold cure remedy based on Chinese herbs  which uses things that can easily be bought from local shops.

In your biggest mug place the following;

  • 1 desert spoon of spiced berry cordial (its the elderberry juice that you want, so check the cordial contains this otherwise it’ll just taste nice and not give you the therapeutic benefit we’re after).
  • 4 thumb nail sized slices of raw ginger – no need to peel it but wash well.
  • Quarter of a cinnamon stick.
  • An eighth of a whole orange, including peel (wash well before cutting).
  • 2 brown cardamon pods (or 4 green ones if you can’t find the brown nb. brown are sometimes called black!)
  • A quarter of a liquorice stick (bash it well with a rolling pin).
  • 2 stars of star anise.

Now just top up with boiling water and leave the mug for a couple of minutes, before you drink it. You can reuse all of the spices once more if you like-just add more cordial and hot water.

Aim to drink 2 mugs daily as soon as you feel the cold symptoms starting.