Congee, the Healing Food You're NOT Eating

A traditional breakfast in China and one of the purest examples of food as medicine is congee. This is an ideal slow cooker meal, where your prep it at night and by morning have a breakfast that is the most healing meal of the day. A principle in congee making is the longer the cook, the stronger the medicine, so an overnight porridge is ideal.

Congee itself is said to strengthen Qi and nourish the Blood. It harmonizes digestion and is demulcent or soothing in nature. For new mommas, it also can increase milk supply because of the way it nourishes the blood. The rice is sweet and bland in flavor, which supports the middle burner, basically the Chinese digestive system.

There are some fundamental ways that Chinese medicine is different from the western perspective of the body. For one, the classical Chinese view of health cannot be separated from our external environment. Living and eating with the seasons is paramount to promoting longevity and dispelling malaise.

This time of year where the energy is moving downward and inward is our time to cultivate that stillness and really nourish our reserves. The Chinese talk about pre-heaven Qi and post-heaven Qi. The energy that we are born with, our essence, is our pre-heaven Qi. The energy that we cultivate from food and healthy lifestyle is our post-heaven Qi. By optimizing the post-heaven Qi, essentially our renewable resource, we promote longevity and health because we do not need to tap into our reserves (pre-heaven Qi).

Now, rice porridge may seem a bit boring, kind of bland. I get it. Here is where it gets fun. You can add other vegetables, herbs, grains, or even meats to not only bring flavor but to enhance the congee’s therapeutic properties. In Chinese medicine, food and herbs have an energetic. Meaning that they have a temperature (other then what you cook it on) as being warming, cooling, hot, cold, or neutral in nature. They have a directionality or movement into specific organs or regions of the body such as moving towards the interior, expressing towards the exterior, moving above the waist, or down below the waist.

That said, start with one part rice to six parts water. You can add some of the following depending on your individual need.

Ginger / Sheng Jiang – dispels cold, treats nausea and vomiting

Dates / Da Zao – give an extra sweetness and added support to the digestive system

Wolf berries / Gou Qi Zi – nourishes the blood and benefits the eyes

Walnuts – supports the brain and Kidneys* (see below)

Cinnamon / Gui Zhi – relieves abdominal pain from cold, treats diarrhea

Carrot – a digestive aid, helps eliminate intestinal gas

Chestnut – strengthens the knees and low back, supports the Kidneys* (see below)

Honey – benefits the lungs, treats constipation and dry cough

Pear – treats cough and supports the lungs


So that is the food part. Some recipe additions for specific concerns may be

Promote digestion – apple, coriander, beef (think bone broth), garlic

Constipation – walnuts (lubricates the intestines), pear, honey

Fatigue – chicken, sweet potato, licorice

Arthritis – spring onion, black bean

*An important aspect to any person new to Chinese medicine is that the Chinese organs are more of a systemic physiology versus a specific organ anatomy that has a set function. That’s a mouthful. For example, a function of the Chinese Liver is to promote the free flow of Qi and to harmonize the emotions. This is a clear distinction from the western liver that is a biochemical filtering factory located on the right side of the body tucked neatly within the ribcage. This is key, so if you see an acupuncturist or read an article, you want to be clear what liver the speaker is talking about. Is it the western liver or the Chinese Liver?

Remember, it is always best to consult with a licensed acupuncturist to determine whether you are dealing with a hot or cold condition, something that needs to move to the interior or to the exterior. A differential diagnosis is key in determining the most effective and safest method of care. The beautiful part of congee, using food as medicine, is that it is an component of a deeper healing that includes the season, the individual, and how we can live in an ecology that not only benefits the person but the world around us. Choosing seasonally available food and spices is key to the universal healing around us and of us. 

Keeping Up Our Immunity

The seasons are changing...

and in this seasonal transition we can find ourselves getting sick.

The change of the seasons can first be detected around dusk and dawn. The transition from day to night gives signs of the incoming season. Feeling a warm breeze gives a hint of spring and yet tomorrow the temperatures may drop again. No wonder our bodies don't know how to adjust to the season, the season hasn't itself adjusted! It is this time of change and unpredictability that our immunity can waiver.

We know how to keep our immune system strong:

Stay away from refined sugars
Drink plenty of water
Get enough sleep

What can we do when we feel that tickle in our throat? or the slightest bit of skin sensitivity? How do we fight the good fight and win?

Continue to avoid refined sugar and get enough sleep.
Take 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar hourly - Apple cider is a fermented food and carries valuable probiotics. The idea is to crowd out the invading bacteria or virus with good healthy bacteria.
Gargle with warm salt water - The salt water changes the conditions in our mouth (our first line of microbial defense) to create an inhospitable environment to the invading pathogen.
Get acupuncture! Yes!! Did you know that acupuncture and the correct herbal formula can help kick that viral or bacterial invader out? That it can boost your immune system to prevent getting sick and shorten the time of being sick? Well it can!

Get Steamed!

We all know to eat our veggies

But how they are cooked makes a big difference too...

1. Steam your broccoli - Italian researchers discovered that steaming broccoli increases its concentration of glucosinolates (compounds found to fight cancer) by 30 percent. Boiling actually lowers the levels.

2. Steam your carrots - The beta-carotene in carrots is heat stable, and in fact, these vital nutrients become MORE bio-available when steamed.

3. Steam your kale - Kale has been found to help lower cholesterol. While raw kale will lower it some, its cholesterol-lowering properties are potentiated when steamed. The heat from steaming helps the fiber in kale bind with bile acids. This binding helps even more bile acids get released and thus lower cholesterol levels.

4. Steam your cabbage - While one study has shown that short-cooked and raw cabbage has more cancer-preventative benefits then longer cooked cabbage, steamed cabbage can maximize the glucosinolates and their accessibility.

Here is yet another union between modern nutrition and traditional Chinese medical theory.

The current Western diet is becomming the root of many diseases. Processed foods and a diet rich in animal protein is reaking havoc on our cardiovascular health, gastro-intestinal system, and immune system to name just a few .

There has been a paradigm change in response to these ills and many people are embracing a healthier diet; one that is more plant based and unrefined. This change is much needed, however, the raw food version of it is misdirected.

Chinese medicine recognizes that warmth is needed to digest our food. It is called "Digestive Fire." The consumption of raw foods, shakes for meals, and smoothies puts out this fire. Our attempt to embrace better health is essentially snuffed out when our digestive system is alreay weakened and we are consuming more raw and cold foods.

Cold food sitting on a digestive system who's Fire has gone out makes us feel boggy and bloated. This is not encouraging us to move towards better health and feel good!

If you are feeling heavy, bloated, or are trying to lose weight but the pounds are not coming off, I encourage you to look at your diet and not just the foods that you eat, but how they are cooked.

When Is the Optimum Time to Drink Water?

When is the optimum time to drink water?

Previously we learned how much water to drink daily (body weight in pounds divided by 2 is the amount of water to drink in ounces), now let's highlight when it is most beneficial for us to drink that water.

1. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. This helps move
anything that has settled in our bodies over the previous night. It activates our cells to start the day and re-hydrates our tissues. I recommend a glass of warm water to give our digestive system a "warm up."

2. Drink water a half hour before meals. This helps us from overeating and initiates digestion. Drinking water with a meal may dilute our stomach acid and inhibit proper breakdown of our foods. This is important for people who do not produce enough stomach acid.

3. Drink water between meals. To help with the mid-day fog or after lunch lull, stay hydrated! Water helps maintain our energy throughout the day. Staying hydrated is also a first line of defense from getting sick or succumbing to a headache.

4. Drink water before and after exercise. Our bodies perform better and repair faster when they are hydrated.

5. Drink MORE water if you are ill. Staying well hydrated is critical to a speedier recovery.

How Much Water Does My Body Need?

How much water does my body need everyday?

We are all individuals united in our basic needs for life - love, food, water, and shelter. What we differ in, is the amount of these needs each one of us requires for optimum health. A simple equation helps us figure out how much water we need on a daily basis.

If we take our weight and divide that in half, the remaining number is the amount of water we need in ounces daily. For example, a 200 pound person would need 100 ounces of water daily, where as a 110 pound person would only need 55 ounces. That is quite a difference from the 64 ounces per day we are taught!

Keep in mind, this number may be different for someone who is breastfeeding or for a person on medication to maintain lower blood pressure. In addition to our individual amounts of water we also have individual needs which may not be taken into account from this simple equation.