nutrition

5 Herbs to Spice up your life this Winter

With the seasons changing and the temperatures decreasing, it’s important to make the appropriate changes to your diet. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we use warming herbs in the winter, and cooling herbs in the summer months in order to create a balance within the body. So today I wanted to write a quick blog on 5 different herbs that you can add to your diet in order to warm your interior, boost your immunity and promote optimal health this winter season! ❄️

I just want to start off by saying that herbal medicine that originates from the Traditional Chinese Medicinal system is a lot different than how most people think of herbal indications. Take cinnamon for example, we generally think of cinnamon as beneficial because it has anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and anti-viral properties. We also associate it with its ability to reduce inflammation.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, we actually refer to cinnamon as Rou Gui which basically just means cinnamon bark. It’s renowned for its ability to warm the interior, expel cold and alleviate pain due to its specific temperature and taste. Rou Gui is acrid and sweet and flavour, and hot in temperature which is perfect for when the temperature outside decreases. It also assists in the generation of Qi or energy and blood. In TCM terms, that means that it’s great for boosting immunity and energy levels within the body.

So without further ado, let’s talk about some interesting and useful herbs that are a great addition to any diet during the colder months!

1. Rou Gui (Cinnamon Bark)

I briefly mentioned Rou Gui, but I would like to talk more about this amazing herb because it has so many benefits! Rou Gui is a warming herb that is apart of the category of herbs that warm the interior and expel cold. It’s great for boosting immunity, reducing inflammation and reducing pain. Because it’s hot in temperature, it does a great job at pushing the cold out and moderating the effects of cooling foods that we eat!

As someone who is plant-based, I eat a lot of salads, fruits and drink a lot of smoothies- all foods that are “cold” or “cooling” in nature. In the winter months, eating just cold foods can cause stagnation, pain and therefore cause illness. I typically sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on my fruits and add some to my smoothies to balance it out!

2. Sheng Jiang (Fresh Ginger)

In TCM, there are two different kinds of ginger: fresh ginger (Sheng Jiang) and dried ginger (Gan Jiang). Gan refers to dried, while sheng means fresh- today we are going to talk about fresh ginger!

Sheng Jiang is big in Chinese Medicine with good reason- it’s a great herb for boosting the immunity, warming the middle and stopping vomiting. Because of its slightly warm temperature and acrid flavour, it has the ability to release the exterior and promote healthy digestion. We all know that fresh ginger does not taste the best 😅. But because of it’s unique qualities, it has very unique indications!

Drinking ginger tea when the weather gets colder is beneficial because it has the ability to boost your immunity and regulate digestion. Next time you feel yourself coming down with something, try making yourself a cup of warm ginger tea!

3. Jiang Huang (Turmeric)

Turmeric or Jiang Huang is one of the main herbs used in herbal medicine for reducing inflammation within the body. In addition, its active ingredient is curcumin, giving turmeric its yellow colour. Interestingly enough, Huang means yellow, which you can see displayed in the Traditional Chinese Herbal name above. Curcumin is a natural anti-inflammatory that can help improve many conditions such as heart disease, cancer, digestive disorders and even degenerative diseases. 

In TCM, Jiang Huang is apart of the category of herbs that regulate the blood. Its temperature is warm, and its taste is considered acrid and bitter. Bitter herbs generally have the function of moving blood, therefore this herb is also great for reducing swelling and pain! It’s also used in many complex herbal formulas to address menstrual conditions such as amenorrhea or dysmenorrhea. 

I add Turmeric to my diet by buying it fresh at my local grocery store and cooking it into curries and sauces. I sometimes do juicing as well and it’s a great addition that will make any juice glow! ✨

4. La Jiao (Cayenne Pepper)

I actually had to ask around about what this herb is called because it’s surprisingly not mentioned in many Traditional Chinese Medicine herbal books! So as much as I love cayenne, I’m not sure if it’s used that often in herbal medicine. But I thought it was definitely worth mentioning!

Aside from adding a lil spice to meals, cayenne pepper has so many health benefits! The active ingredient that gives these peppers their medicinal qualities is called capsaicin. Capsaicin has metabolism boosting properties! Because cayenne peppers are naturally hot in temperature, they have the ability to increase the amount of heat that your body produces, therefore naturally burning off calories. This process is called diet-induced thermogenesis which causes an increase in your metabolism and metabolic function. Many isolated studies have demonstrated that people who add cayenne pepper to their meals typically burn a few more calories than those who do not. Although the effect is small, I still find it interesting that cayenne pepper has this indication! 

5. Ding Xiang (Cloves)

Cloves or Ding Xiang is typically used in herbal medicine for warming the interior and expelling cold. It’s apart of the same category as cinnamon, however it has a few varying indications. It’s great for the stomach with conditions caused from eating too much cold. Like I mentioned earlier, adding any warming herb to your diet during the colder months is beneficial because it allows your circulation to move more effortlessly throughout your organ systems. In TCM, we have a diagnosis called “Stomach Cold” which manifests as abdominal pain, vomiting and aversion to cold. This is a great herb for that exact indication as it’s warm and acrid in nature! 

I love adding cloves to my diet by making my seasonal gingerbread cookies. The best way to buy them is whole and then grinding them down yourself using a mortar and pestle. 

Conclusion 

Thank you so much for reading my blog on herbal qualities! I personally love combining Traditional Chinese Medicine with modern day nutritional needs to balance out my diet. Herbs are great way to do that because they have such specific tastes and temperatures that can be used for many different indications. 

However, I think it’s important to mention that the purpose of this blog was to teach you a little bit about herbs and some medicinal uses they have. If you’re interested in adding warming herbs to your diet, please do so in moderation like you would with any ingredient! Just like eating too many cold foods, eating too many warming herbs is not the best for your body. The key is being mindful and taking note of what works for you. 

Thank you again for reading, please be sure to subscribe to my website and stay tuned for my new personalized services! 🌸

Sources

Bensky, D. (2004). Chinese herbal medicine: Materia medica. Eastland Press Inc.

Deng, Z.-jia, Zimmerman, G., & Ye, Q.-bo. (2014). Chinese medicinal formulas. People’s Medical Publishing House.

Maciocia, G. (2005). The practice of Chinese medicine: The treatment of diseases with acupuncture and Chinese herbs. Churchill Livingstone.

nutrition

Balancing your Diet with Traditional Chinese Medicine Nutrition

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is such an interesting system! A lot of people don’t know this, but I have actually been studying Chinese Medicine since 2016, and am just finishing my final clinical hours to graduate (I’m actually super excited)! 🥳

I always found nutrition to be the most interesting aspect of TCM because it takes things such as taste, colour and temperature of foods in mind. As you may know, in our society most dieticians typically only take nutrient content and calorie amount in mind when constructing diet plans. Which is great, because it’s so important that we meet the dietary guidelines, however food can do so much more for us if we consider all aspects and qualities!

So today I decided to write a quick blog on Traditional Chinese Medicine nutrition, how it works and how I personally use it to help my clients balance their diets!

Yin and Yang

In Chinese Medicine, the concept of yin and yang is really important.

Yin is considered the light and is attributed to cold and deficiency. Whereas yang is considered the darkness and is more excess and hot.

Individuals who have a more yin constitution typically feel cold and tired most of the time, crave warmer foods and may have more specific symptoms such as night sweats or a pale tongue.

Individuals who have a more yang constitution typically feel hot, have trouble falling asleep, crave colder foods and have a red tongue which signifies heat within the body.

The interesting thing is that the tongue actually says so much about someone’s health and diet! A pale tongue means that there is cold within the body, and the patient should eat warmer foods such as cinnamon, soups or vegetable broths.

Whereas a red tongue means there is too much heat in the body, and the patient should eat colder foods such as cucumbers, salads or smoothies.

For more information on how tongue diagnosis works and tips on checking yours out at home, check out my blog Tongue Diagnosis: The Basics.

Balancing diet with temperature

Chinese Medicine practitioners use this very basis to come up with personalized diet plans. Yin and yang is huge and in my opinion, not mainstream enough!

From there, we can start using the temperature of foods to restore balance within the body. For example, as someone who has been vegan for 5+ years, I eat a lot of foods that are cold in nature. I used to always have cold hands and feet, I always felt tired and had pale dry skin.

Using moisturizer didn’t seem to make a difference and no matter how many sweaters I wore- I was still cold!

It wasn’t until I started studying Chinese Medicine when I learned about the concept of warming or cooling the interior. Which basically means to eat more foods based on temperature so that your organs have an optimal environment!

Because I balance my diet using temperature in addition to my dietary needs, I no longer have any negative symptoms and my digestive system has never been healthier.

This can be applied to people who experience pain as well! People who have pain typically have poor circulation, commonly known as blood stasis in TCM. Blood stasis results in a purplish tongue, pain and sometimes inflammation. Foods that move the blood (improve circulation) such as mung beans, black beans or green lentils would be greatly beneficial in this case!

Taste and colour

Taste is another interesting aspect that we look at! The five element theory attributes each organ to a taste, colour, season and element. The five element theory is mainly used when selecting an acupuncture treatment plan, but it can also come in handy when creating a personalized diet plan as well!

As you can see, each organ has a different colour. Meaning, we benefit from eating all of the colours that nature has to offer!

Here’s a quick breakdown of each colour, the connected organ and foods that are beneficial:

  • Green (liver): kale, bok choy, collards, cabbage, green lentils
  • Red (heart): tomatoes, cherries, red pepper, strawberries
  • Yellow (spleen): corn, potatoes, squash
  • White (lungs): onions, garlic, green tea
  • Black (kidneys): black beans, dark fruits, blueberries

Interestingly enough, green foods are high in antioxidants which help detoxify the liver and improves the quality of blood. Red fruits & veggies contain a compound called Lycopene which is what produces red pigmentation, and is also beneficial to our heart and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Yellow foods such as corn and potatoes contain starches that are beneficial to our gut microbe and white foods such as garlic or herbal teas can vent pathogens out of the lungs.

And lastly, dark foods such as black beans, blueberries and dark berries are high in antioxidants that are beneficial to our kidneys and water metabolism.

As you can see there are many overlapping theories and modern day nutritional facts that do support each other!

Check out the rest of the chart and try to incorporate more colourful foods into your diet this week!

Takeaway

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog on modern day nutrition and Chinese Medicine diet. I really hope I did a good job explaining certain concepts and didn’t lose you half way through haha!

The main thing I want you to takeaway is that there are plenty of ways to balance our bodies with food and nutrition! The earth has over 80,000 edible plants and herbs that aid our health and fight against disease. Start choosing fruits and veggies that are colourful, nutritious and always keep your health in mind above anything else!

“The food you eat can either be the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”.

For personalized nutrition advice/health coaching, please click here to check out my services!