By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP
Eat. Your. Medicine.
The changing of the seasons, especially the transition from warm to cold weather makes everyone more susceptible to colds and flu. The good news is that nutritional therapy is one of the pillars of Chinese medicine and contains a huge arsenal of foods for combating colds and flu. There are also a great many foods and herbs that build the immune system which will help you get over your cold or flu, as well as make sure that you get through the rest of cold and flu season with the best health possible. Below are the most effective foods for dealing with colds and flu in Chinese medicine. Remember, Chinese medicine has been around for thousands of years, so these have been used for a long time and they really work.
Congee or "Jook" is a like the Chinese version of chicken soup. It is a traditional breakfast in China, as well as an all purpose remedy when we are sick. Congee is made with rice and water (about a 1:10 ratio of rice to water). Other ingredients are added depending on what type of cold or flu you have, whether it is a heat type with symptoms like severe fever, mild chills, sore throat, sweating, and thirst, or the cold type with symptoms of severe chills, profuse, clear discharge from the nose, mild fever, no sweat, headache and general aching. White rice is very easy to digest which makes the spleen happy and is less work for the body when should be directing all its energy to fighting the pathogen. Congee is also delicious, nutritious and you can eat it any time of the year, but it is generally eaten in the colder months for its warming and nourishing properties.
Ginger is one of the most widely used herbs in Chinese medicine. It has so many medicinal uses, that you should always keep some in your kitchen! Ginger is a very warming herb and has a pungent flavour. It acts on the lungs, spleen and stomach. Ginger warms the middle burner which stops vomiting and warms the lungs to stop cough. Its actions are to direct heat from inside the body to the outside, helping to resolve fever by inducing sweating. Adding a couple of slices of raw ginger to some boiling water and drinking it as a tea is a good way resolve a fever by increasing sweating. Another excellent way to use ginger when you have a cold or flu is to grate some fresh ginger and put it in a old sock, tie a knot in the top and throw it into a warm bathtub. This is a very good way to stimulate sweating and break a fever. It will also leave you smelling delicious.
3. Bone Broth
Many traditional cultures use bone broths because of their numerous healing properties, and in Chinese medicine they are powerful Qi and blood tonics. One of the reasons that bone broths are so good for our health is that they are cooked using the bone marrow of the animal, and the marrow in Chinese medicine is produced by the kidneys and contain kidney Jing. Jing is something that we get from our parents at birth, and it is very precious and vital to good health. Things like working too hard (or partying too hard), not sleeping enough, being under a lot of stress for extended periods of time and childbirth are things that we can deplete Jing. Women lose Jing having too many babies too close together without time to recover, and men lose Jing from ejaculation, but bone broth is a way we can rebuild our Jing essence. Depleted Jing causes premature and accelerated aging. This is why living a balanced lifestyle is so important! Preserving precious Jing is the goal when it comes to health and longevity. Consuming bone broth therefore is extremely tonifying to Jing as it is literally made of Jing. Bone broth is also excellent to stimulate the immune system, so its a good choice when you are suffering from any ailment, especially colds and flu.
Honey is sweet in flavour and its energy is neutral. Honey acts on the spleen, stomach, lung and large intestine. Honey tonifies the Qi of the middle burner as well as the lungs, relieves spasms and alleviates pain. It is very moistening to the inside of the body, so it is very good to use when you have extreme heat which is very drying. Honey lubricates the bowels to promote bowel movements, detoxifies, lowers blood pressure and slows down the acute symptoms from colds and flu. It is indicated particularly for chronic cough and constipation. Honey has the added benefits of:
boosts the immune system
relieves coughs & sore throat
heals wounds & burns
helps to heal ulcers
boosts athletic performance
Garlic is one of the most widely used herbs in the world for its numerous healing properties. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine (the traditional medicine of India), Chinese medicine (which is super awesome and my personal favourite) and the traditional medicine of much of Europe. In Chinese medicine it first appeared in Chinese texts more than 2000 years BCE as an effective treatment for poisoning. It is also known for its ability to treat infection and cleansing the body of pathogens. Garlic is considered a warming herb in Chinese medicine, and is used to aid the spleen and stomach in digestion and aids to expel harmful microorganisms. It is known to cleanse the blood of cholesterol and is a powerful immune booster. Here are some more of garlic's amazing healing properties:
commonly used to treat infections of the upper respiratory tract
taken preventatively for infectious conditions, both digestive and respiratory
reduces blood pressure
reduces blood cholesterol
used to treat worms (ringworm and threadworm)
eliminates yeasts, including Candida albicans
inhibits viruses and other micro-organisms associated with degenerative diseases like cancer
eliminates toxins from the body, including poisonous metals like cadmium and lead
a drop of garlic oil in the ear canal once a day relieves ear infections
a poultice made of garlic draws out swelling from boils
used for dysentery, snake bites, warts, hepatitis, asthma, tuberculosis, hay fever, asthma and diarrhea
when traveling eating a clove of raw garlic before suspected food or water will protect against dysentery
eating a clove of raw garlic a day will protect against colds and flu
garlic tea relieves poison ivy, poison oak and nettle stings
promotes the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria
One thing to note about garlic is that the medicinal parts exist in the oils which is where all the strong smells are, so using garlic pills with no smell doesn't really work. You are missing all the good healing parts. One of the best ways that I know to use garlic is to take a clove and crush it into a spoon and take it raw. It is intense, but it is the best way to make sure you are getting all the healing benefits. You can do this daily as a preventative, or at the first signs that you are coming down with something. You might want to make sure that you have some juice to chase it with, and even though it is intense, it works to ward off illness almost every time.