Winter is the season that corresponds to the Water Element in oriental medicine. It is the season of deep yin, cold, and a time to conserve energy, as life slows down. It is also a time of going within, quiet, and observing one’s dreams during this phase of deep rest. Winter is the season where the kidneys and bladder are particularly vulnerable. The Kidneys govern the emotions of fear, willpower as well as the bones, teeth, hair on the head, ears, knees and sexual vitality. Going to bed earlier and arising later keeps us in tune with nature’s rhythm. Take time to stretch cold tight muscles before getting out of bed.
In winter, it makes sense to use more warming concentrated foods. Include more dark orange colored vegetables such as sweet potatoes, winter squash, and carrots. Grounding roots such as burdock, onions, rutabagas and turnips can also be warming. Other warming foods include sprouted grains, arugula, mustard greens, and watercress. Nuts and seeds make excellent protein rich snacks. Consuming more nuts, nut butters and dried fruit in the winter helps one have better resistance to the cold. Getting adequate fats such as in olive oil, avocados, and nuts and seeds helps treat dry skin and scalp so prevalent when heat is used in the homes. Avoid drinking icy cold drinks, and if consuming food from the refrigerator, take the item out and allow it to get to room temperature before eating.
The flavor associated with winter is salty and rather than relying on simple table salt, learn to enjoy the wonderful mineral rich seaweeds such as kelp, nori, hiziki, and dulse which can be used to season food. Salty foods due to their rich mineral content can help build kidney life force. Black sesame seeds make a wonderful warming winter condiment when sprinkled on food.
Culinary herbs that make us feel warmer and improve circulation include:
Black pepper (Piper nigrum), a member of the Piperaceae (Pepper) Family. It has antiseptic, and antioxidant properties.
Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), a member of the Zingiberaceae (Ginger) Family. It improves mental alertess and enhances the digestabilty of starches. It is an expectorant, helping one to get rid of mucus obstructing the respiratory passages.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is a member of the Lauraceae (Laurel) Family. It helps dry dampness in the body and warms people that are always cold and suffering from poor circulation. Cinnamon is antiseptic and an excellent digestive tonic.
Garlic (Allium sativum), a member of the Liliaceae (Lily) Family, helps one be more resistant to infection. Garlic is a potent vasodilator and improves circulation by helping to prevent the blood from clumping together.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale), a member of the Zingiberceae Family, is a natural antioxidant and antiseptic. It improves circulation to all parts of the body and helps move stagnation and reduces inflammation that contributes to stiff achy joints. . Ginger baths are warming, muscle relaxing and cold and flu relieving and can be made by simmering eight ounces of ginger into a half gallon of water, simmering at a low boil for twenty minutes, then straining into the bathtub.
Horseradish (Armoracia lapathifolia) is a member of the Brassicaceae (Mustard) Family. It is high in vitamin C, and aids in the digestion of fatty foods. Horseradish is antiseptic and a strong decongestant; helping to open congested respiratory passages.
Use more of the warming culinary herbs to spice up your food and as teas to promote a healthy, warming glow throughout the body. Those on medication should consult with their health care provider before combining drugs and herbs.
Dress warmer and enjoy walks taking in some of the full spectrum light during this darker time of the year. Wearing bright warm colors such as red and copper contribute to one’s feeling warm. Mom was right. We do lose heat through the head and wearing a hat and scarf can help protect the chest, throat and ears from cold invasion that can contribute to infection. Protect the kidneys by wearing undershirts tucked into long johns for example. Sprinkling a bit of cayenne pepper between one’s shoes and socks can help warm the feet when needing to be outdoors. Yoga, t’ai chi, chi gung, stretching, crawling (helps prevent joint problems) and dancing can easily be practiced indoors even on days where you don’t venture out.