Winter, Oriental Therapies and Food Choices

I have a love / hate relationship with winter.

I love sitting in front of an open fireplace, and I love feeling the warmth of the sun on my back. I am also one of those people who feels the cold, and I often have to resort to wearing a ridiculous amount of layers, gloves and beanies.

According to Oriental Therapies, winter is a time of rest and repose, a time of slowing down and allowing life to be. The season of winter relates to the kidney energy, the element of water and the colour blue-black. Imagine a dark body of water, deep and mysterious. Kidney energy resides deep in the body, in our bones and bone marrow. There is a sense of introversion with the kidney energy and with the season of winter. Where I live, we are in the middle of winter and it feels like a harsh winter with cold days and even colder nights, as well as lots of rain. Last year I was happily kayaking throughout winter. This year, I’ve only gone out once on the water this winter.

Foodwise, the salty flavour relates to winter. When I get a cold or flu, I find myself craving salty flavours. Miso soup with a sprinkle of seaweed and fresh ginger is usually how I satisfy this craving. Miso soup made from a heaped teaspoon of miso paste, is my version of ‘instant soup’ to which I add whatever is on hand – mushroom, egg noodles, dark leafy greens, frozen peas, rice, in fact any sort of leftovers!

Other salty foods include: chives, parsley, celery, barley, soy sauce, tamari and anchovy. 

Be careful however when adding salt in cooking and to food, as many of our foods already contain added salt. If you are going to add salt, use the Himalayan variety which is full of essential minerals, compared to ordinary table salt.  

Bone broth is particularly beneficial in winter, as it is made from bones and marrow, which are deep inside the body and relate to the kidney / winter energy in Oriental Therapies. There are many cuisines around the world which incorporate bone broth in one form or another, but my favourite would have to be Vietnamese Pho which is usually made from a slow cooked bone broth with the most amazing flavours added to it. If you don’t feel like slow cooking bone broth, there are plenty available on the market, to which you can simply add protein and veggies of your choice. Look for one that has been slow cooked for at least a couple of hours.

The salty flavour tends to draw energy inwards and downwards, thus helping to maintain body warmth. It also has a moistening and detoxifying action which counteracts the drying affects of winter. 

Apart from salty flavoured foods, make sure you include lots of warming flavours such as ginger, garlic, cinnamon, cloves. The perfect excuse to drink more Chai! Also include warming foods such as onion, leek, pumpkin, coconut, cashews, black beans and oats.

Minimise cold foods such as tomatoes, bananas, pineapple, yoghurt. (The mere thought of these foods reminds me of summer!) Otherwise, balance cold foods with warming flavours, for example add basil and garlic to a tomato based sauce, or add curry paste to yoghurt for a yummy sauce base. 

If you slow down enough to be able to hear the soft whisper of the wisdom of your body and being, it will guide you to the foods that you need at any particular time. Also, look around you at any time of year to notice what mother nature is doing and allow yourself to be guided by her example and by her wisdom. This winter, allow yourself to listen without judgement and to honour the wisdom of your body and being.