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Chinese medicine for winter

It’s easy to get a little down during winter. Our thoughts often lead to escaping the gloom to warmer climates, rather than embracing a few months of grey and cold. So what can we do to lift our spirits? Perhaps Chinese medicine has some answers?

Chinese medicine is a system of healing that was developed over 2500 years ago as part of the traditional medicine of China, Japan and other Eastern countries. Its original intention was to prevent illness and it was the job of the practitioner – through acupuncture, herbal medicine, and dietary and lifestyle suggestions – to achieve this.

Current practices have evolved into a system of medicine that restores and maintains health by the insertion of fine needles into points (acupoints), herbal prescriptions and seasonal dietary suggestions. As many people today are not in balance or living in sync with the seasons, we are too stressed, eat and drink inappropriately, and don’t include lifestyle adjustments to nurture our physical, mental and spiritual body.  We are totally unfamiliar with the importance of adjusting ourselves to seasonal change.

We asked qualified Chinese herbal medicine practitioner with ten years experience and lecturer at the Southern School of Natural Medicine, Kim McLaren for her tips on how to get through winter with a positive outlook, achieving calm and balance. This is what she had to say.

“The seasons have a profound cyclical effect on the human body and wellbeing.  We should live in harmony with nature and adjust to the climatic changes.  This process can be undertaken by knowing how to choose and prepare food according to the season. We should also look after our body and mind, as winter is a time of reflection, hibernation and self-nurturing. Longer sleeps, gentler exercise, personal contemplation to get ready for spring, where we begin to create and be more activate, and through our contemplation produce any changes needed in our life.

Inner Classic (an ancient Chinese text) states: The principle of the interaction of the four seasons and of yin and yang is the foundation of everything in creation.  Thus sages nurture their yang in the spring and summer and yin in winter and autumn, therefore unified with everything in creation, sages maintain themselves continuously at the gate of life.

Winter foods should be warming and nourishing in the form of soups and stews. The flavour associated with each element affects the organ in the element in a specific, therapeutic way. Winter is associated with the kidney and the flavour of the kidney is salty. The salty flavour is contracting, with a yin property and is of special value in one who is overheating, especially associated with heart heat, which may manifest symptoms such as insomnia or palpitations.

Salty foods include miso-based soups, seaweeds, millet or barley.  Salt can be added to your foods quite easily, but the secret is not to be excessive and use good quality, sea salt or Himalayan pink salt (which is preferable). Organic root vegetables are particularly beneficial in winter – carrots, sweet potato, potato or yams cooked in soups and stews.”

Winter recipe – serves 4

  • 4 lamb shanks
  • 1 onion
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 leek
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 sticks of celery
  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano
  • 1 tablespoon of miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon of seeded mustard
  • 12 kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 cup of water
  • Himalayan salt and pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of flour

Fry off the leek, onion and garlic, then add chopped carrot and celery.  Brown off the lamb shanks and add the rest of the ingredients. Cover with water, add salt and pepper to season and slow cook for 2 hours.

Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serve with mashed sweet potatoes, and cooked spinach, silver beet or kale.


Kim McLaren

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner for over ten years.


Images are from the Foodwise website which has some amazing winter recipes from top Australian chefs:

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