In Chinese Medicine winter is the season of the Water element, which is dark and yin in nature and capable of stillness, of great depth, grace, beauty and flow. In the Chinese Medicine Five Element tradition the Water element is associated with the Kidneys, Urinary Bladder, Adrenal Glands, Ears, and Head Hair so all these are potentially more vulnerable during the winter. The emotions associated with the Water element are fear and depression and these tend to be more prevalent during this time of year. To stay well this winter it is important to live according to the fundamental nature of winter and of the Water element so get plenty of rest, take time to reflect, conserve your energy and nourish yourself well and stay warm.
Here are some ways to ensure your water element is fully nourished at its most potent time.
Eat According to the Season to Nourish the Kidneys
Kidney energy is most easily depleted in the winter months. In winter, all living things slow down to save energy – some animals hibernate to conserve their energy.
Conserving energy during winter helps build up strength as a prelude to spring, when we “spring” into action. Adapt your diet to focus on enriching Yin and subduing Yang.
To enrich Yin eat more root vegetables such as turnips, rutabaga, parsnips and carrots – which taste great in warm soups and stews and nourish us deeply. Whole grains, roasted nuts, legumes, and winter squash are also great for your health during this season. Ginger, fennel and cinnamon can be used in baked goods or teas for extra warmth and ease digestion.
Avoid raw and cold fruits and vegetables, too much fish, ice cream, yogurt, and iced drinks as these cool our system too much and take vital energy from our digestive fire. If you must have that smoothie, add ginger and cinnamon to it to warm it up! Fruits that go well with the season include poached pears, cherries, dried apricots, and dates.
Too many spicy foods like chili and curry that make you sweat are also not great as these potentially drain your energy.
Greasy, heavy foods are hard to digest and sap our energy. Instead balance the nourishing foods in your winter diet with some “bitter” tasting food such as asparagus, kale, rye bread, scallions, quinoa and fermented foods to maintain heart health.
Key Foods to Build Kidney Yin Energy
Salty flavored foods: miso, sea salt, tamari, salted raw sauerkraut or kimchee (Korean cultured vegetables).
Kidney shaped foods: black beans, kidney beans, most beans – Because beans are kidney shaped as well as seeds with potential for new life, these foods have long been considered especially nourishing to the Kidneys.
Blue and black foods: Blueberries, blackberries, mulberry, black beans – The colors blue and black correspond to the Water element of the Kidneys. It is possible to strengthen the Water element by eating blue/black foods.
Seafood: fish, shrimp, seaweeds – all support the Water element.
Seeds: flax, pumpkins, sunflower, black sesame – seeds relate to fertility and growth which is governed by Kidney energy.
Nuts: Walnuts, Chestnuts – Nuts are seeds. These nuts are particularly recommended for Kidney energy.
Animal Products: Pork, duck, lamb, eggs, cheese – Small amounts of animal protein can be used therapeutically here.
Bone-Marrow Broths & Soups: This will nourish Marrow governed by Kidneys. Especially beneficial for people wanting to prevent or heal osteoporosis.
Grains: Barley, Millet. These are both mildly cooling and nourishing to Yin.
Vegetables: Asparagus, Deep green leafy vegetables – Since it has diuretic properties, asparagus is especially helpful with opening the flow for those with dark, scanty urine. Deep green leafy vegetables build the Blood, and since Blood is a Yin fluid, they are highly recommended. Also moist vegetables such as cucumbers and celery are helpful.
Tonics: kelp, chlorella, wheatgrass – These mineral rich foods build the Blood which enhances Yin.
Mineral rich herbs: Nettles, Oatstraw. Nettles is a gentle, cooling tonic that supports the Blood and Kidneys, while oatstraw strengthens the nerves.
Enjoy the Winter Season!