Herbal Medicine: Winter Wind

four spoons

You can feel the coming of the winter in the coldness of the early morning and in the evening wind.  Chinese Medicine emphasizes the benefits of living in harmony with our environment and its cycles.  With coldness and increased darkness, winter encourages us inward – to slow down, give ourselves time to reflect, replenish our energy and conserve our strength.

Late fall and winter are also a time of colds and flus.  In Chinese Medicine, the common cold and flu arise from external wind.  The “wind” is said to be the “bearer of a hundred diseases”.  In particular, the wind carries the “evils” of dampness, and especially cold. The exterior of our body is considered our “fortress” against these evil pathogens. From a Western perspective, this is roughly equivalent to our immune system.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine can strengthen the fortress and help prevent the wind from getting through our exterior, resulting in a cold or flu.  Specific acupuncture points and herbs strengthen the circulation of blood and energy which helps consolidate these outer walls of the fortress. They can also be said to strengthen our “Wei Qi” (our defensive Qi) in the superficial (muscles and skin) layers of our body.  This is similar to keeping the forces manning this fortress well-supplied with enough strength to guard the walls, as well as keeping the walls strong.  This Wei Qi combats the attacks of the evil Qi that ride in on the wind.  From a Western perspective these evils might be viruses or bacteria.

If you have already contracted a cold, acupuncture and herbal medicine can help with the sore throat, runny nose, achy muscles, or fever that may be present.  It is as if the evil has penetrated through the first layer of the fortress; the herbs need to help release it back outward, so that it won’t continue to penetrate into the body.

Some common herbs can be used in the home kitchen, for making teas, or added to foods such as congee (hot grain cereals), or soups:

  • Gui Zhi/Cinnamon:  Invigorates circulation, and expels cold from the blood.
  • Sheng Jiang/Ginger:  Beneficial to digestion, helps ventilate the Lungs, and treats cough
  • Gan Cao/Licorice:  Helps sore throat, muscle spasms
  • Gou Qi Zi/ Goji Berry:  Strengthens immune system, nourishes blood and moistens the lungs
  • Da Zao/Chinese Date:  Tonifies the qi and blood, generates fluids, supports the Stomach
  • Huang Qi/Astragalus:  Boosts the Wei Qi defensive layer of the body.


Other Tips for the Common Cold:

Sweat it out. Sweating helps the body release the pathogens outward to the exterior. If you are not already sweating, try taking a bath and then crawl under several covers. Sweat the illness to the outside of the fortress.

Drink Ginger Tea. It warms the body and promotes sweating. Try drinking hot ginger tea in the hot bath – hello sweat!

Use GuaSha. This technique is done by applying a small amount of massage oil to the skin and  lightly scraping the upper shoulders, back or chest using a Chinese porcelain soup spoon, or other guasha tool. It helps release the pathogenic factor out to the surface.  It is easy to learn and safe to do at home – your Chinese medicine practitioner can show you how.

Try tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils. Using these oils in a diffuser in your home or office is an easy way to ward off viruses – they have antimicrobial properties and can help with lung and sinus congestion if you are already sick.

Acupuncture can help prevent seasonal illness, treat the symptoms and boost your qi after an illness to get rid of any lingering symptoms.