Boost Your Immunity
Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches that we are akin to Earth’s energy, influenced by seasonal changes and subject to the laws of Nature. Why is that important today? It gives our stressed-out psyche a space for peace, it calms and grounds us despite erratic, violent and unpredictable current events.
Our immunity is more than avoiding disease: It encompasses vitality, creativity, sexuality the essence of life well-lived. Additional aspects of wellness that a traditional Chinese medical approach provides are Balance and Renewal. We fortify individual health and honor the effects of a wide variety of natural medicinals.
Ask a traditional Chinese doctor how to build immunity to illness and they will describe a battle plan. They might say, “To stay well we protect Yin and Yang. Yin nourishes Yang and Yang protects Yin.” They may choose herbs that “drive out evil winds or quell fire poisons.” The approach is part of a cosmology in which our body and mind are part of a larger universe. The digestive organs are at the center of our internal universe. Digestion/elimination, circulation, blood production and mood must remain healthy for us to stay strong and well.
Yin and Yang
The inside of the body, especially the blood, fluids and deep organs the heart, spleen, lung, liver, and kidney are considered Yin. Yin tonic herbs increase fluids in lungs and stomach and blood in heart, liver, and kidney which reduces stress and damage for those organs. Blood and fluids, our internal ocean, are nourished by foods and oxygen. Seaweeds are a natural choice to build up immunity with minerals that come from the sea. Minerals in kelp, alaria, dulse and others contain iron, iodine, calcium etc to support circulation, bones and purify our blood.
Yin Tonics prevent burnout
Yin tonics often enhance blood and enzyme production by supporting the stomach and spleen. Chinese cooks and herbal doctors often recommend herbal soups that contain dried fruits, rhizomes and roots that are semi-sweet and enter the meridians associated with stomach and spleen and lungs or liver and kidney.
Goji berries, also known as wolfberries or snowberries, are prized for their health benefits as well as their unique, satisfying flavor. The berries have been used in traditional Chinese medicine and cuisine for centuries. They can be infused with hot water to make a nutrient-rich drink. Recently named as one of the top ten super-fruits, Goji berries are high in antioxidants and known to promote healthy vision and immune system.
Sweet herbal soups are popular all over south east Asian and the Chinese diaspora.
Although the contents can vary depending on the method of preparation, the mixture generally consists of seven standard herbs: Dioscorea, lily bulb, dried polygonatum, fox nut, pearl barley, dried lotus seed, and dried longan. There are variations of this recipe, made with pork or chicken. It can be served hot adding pungent toppings like scallions, pickled pepper, or radish. More often it is served cold as a sweet dessert either plain or by adding fruit such as apple or pear or lo han quo monk fruit during cooking. A stock can be added and simmered over low heat for two to three hours.
Sweet soups are popular year round to detoxify the body, nourish the kidneys and lungs, and build up the blood. Individually, the ingredients have a wide array of indications. For example, lily bulb is used for mild cardiac insufficiency, arrhythmias, urinary tract infections, and kidney stones; pearl barley (coicis seed) is used for bronchitis. Round lotus seeds and lily bulbs are a very popular and common in South China and are classified in TCM as astringents, sweet and neutral, and good for the spleen, kidney, and heart.
Yin and the Seasons
We need more moisture to bathe internal organs and support fluids during the dry season of Autumn. American ginseng Panax quinquefolium, Siberian ginseng, raw tienchi ginseng, bird’s nest soup, sweet dried fruits and rejuvenating rhizomes such as rehmannia, he shou wu, jujube red dates, tremella white fungus and goji berries make healing dishes that ease dry skin, cough, thirst and blood deficiency.
Yin is inside and Yang is the outside of the body, protection from our skin, the outer meridians and organs considered more superficial including, the intestines, stomach, bladder, and gallbladder. Yang-enhancing herbs regulate the processes of metabolism, digestion and elimination, circulation, growth, sexuality, endurance and resistance to illness and stress. Often the foods and herbs that support the kidney’s Yang also impacts adrenal energy. Signs of “kidney yang weakness” may include withdrawal into oneself, fear of cold weather, cold hands and feet, sore, weak lower back and knees, watery diarrhea, impotence, polyuria, and wheezing.
Yang and the Seasons
We may require more stimulating Yang-tonic herbs during cold weather, however, exhaustion, age, low hormone production, surgery, childbirth, certain prescribed medicines and illness such as diabetes can threaten Yang and vitality.
Herbs used to tonify both Yin and Yang include, reishi mushroom and sweet neutral tasting cordyceps sinensis fungus which is steamed or cooked in soup with duck, chicken pork or fish, to ease dizziness, cough, night sweats, impotence and weakness due to recovery from illness. A less expensive form of cordyceps used in soups is “cordyceps flower” the fruiting body of cordyceps which acts the same as cordyceps stamen.
Warming kidney Yang tonic herbs are used to support testosterone, male and female sexuality and correct lower back weakness. They include cistanches rou cong rong (sweet, salty, sour, warming) used for impotence and urinary incontinence and cold pains in low back and knees.
An easy to make, inexpensive Yin/Yang tonic tea is made by steeping equal portions of goji berries and epimedium leaves (yin yang huo, lusty goatweed.) Together they support bone marrow and bone health.
The Movement of Qi
Qi which is vital energy or circulation is an essential aspect of wellness and a vital part of Chinese medicine and dietetics. Qi in a sense corresponds to the Ayurvedic concept of prana or Vata a wind that moves through meridians carrying nerve impulses. Qi our life force, our pulse, drives the action of organs, moves health through meridians and rises to the surface of our skin Wei Qi like a protective barrier against inclement weather and allergies.
Qi and Immunity
The way our qi protects us is by being adequate to the needs of our organs and by the ideal movement, the easy flow, of qi through our body. To prevent colds and flu for example, we stay away from sick people, wear and mask and protect vitality with nourishing foods and sleep. If we are exposed to germs, cold weather etc, our Wei Qi a superficial energy keeps illness from penetrating deep into the body. For hypothermia, we come inside from the cold weather, drink warm cinnamon tea to sweat out a chill. We engage our Wei Qi to push out the evil wind.
If germs go beyond our level of defense to give us a sore throat, body aches and cough we use antibiotic herbs to make a pleasant tea and engage our natural immunity. Honeysuckle flower, chrysanthemum flower kills germs and reduce fever discomforts. Japanese honeysuckle reduces sore throat moving Qi downward from throat, lungs to large intestine with laxative action while killing strept and pneumonia germs. Chinese chrysanthemum, a sweet delicious flower, moves our inflammation and qi upward out the top of the head. It is useful for migraines and cloudy vision as well as fever.