We’ve just passed the winter solstice, according to the philosophy of Chinese Medicine winter represents the utmost of Yin. In it’s very nature winter is a slow, dark, cool, inward moving season, all things Yin.
It is associated with the water element and the energy of the Kidney, Bladder and adrenals. It is a time to slow down and conserve our energy, consolidating our Qi in preparation for the flurry of spring. It is a time of reflection, replenishment and rest.
In Chinese Medicine theory the Kidneys hold our body’s most basic and fundamental energy known as jing or essence. This is our inherit vitality, intricately involved in reproduction and ageing and is something we tend to burn at a rate of knots in our modern lifestyle.
It is believed that by harmonizing oneself with the seasons we stay healthier and prevent disease, balancing our internal organs energy with the energy that surrounds us. As such winter is a good time to strengthen the Kidneys. Rest is important, being in bed by 10pm, sleeping in, working less. Practising nourishing forms of exercise such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or yoga. Calming the mind with meditation and taking pleasure in creative activities such as writing, cooking, sewing or knitting all help to connect to the Kidney energy. It doesn’t mean to say we can’t go for blustery walks along the beach or excursions to the snow, it just means the scales tip more in the favour of rest.
This theory naturally extends to our diet, eating seasonally and locally will help nourish the Kidney essence. Winter foods include squashes, potatoes and all other root vegetables, winter greens, mushrooms, bay leaves, coriander, fennel, leek, nutmeg, pine nuts, rosemary, spring onions, apples, pears and citrus. Hearty meats (specifically lamb), black beans, kidney beans, walnuts, black sesame seeds, chestnuts and cinnamon are all excellent at nourishing the Kidneys.
In winter, our bodies need warming foods like soups made with hearty vegetables and rich bone stocks.
This Lamb Shank and Barley Soup is a fabulous Kidney tonic.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan and brown 6 trimmed lamb shanks. Remove and set aside. Add chopped onion, crushed garlic, carrots and celery and cook for 5 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Return the shanks to the pan and add stock, water, pearl barley, thyme, bay and rosemary. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.
For those not into meat so much try this Mushroom, Lentil and Chestnut Stew. It’s one of my favourites.
(For how to roast chestnuts visit The Healthy Chef)
- Cover the porcini mushrooms with 250ml freshly boiled water. Leave to soak.
Warm the olive oil in a deep heavy bottomed pot on the hob. Saute the garlic, leek, carrot, celery and mushrooms for ten minutes on a low heat to lightly soften.
- Add the ground coriander, lentils and barley and sauté until the coriander is fragrant.
- Add the remaining ingredients including the porcini mushrooms with their water. (If the porcini’s are looking too big chop them up a bit before adding to the pot.)
- Bring to the boil then simmer on low, stirring frequently, until you have a thick glossy stew. It can be ready to serve in 1/2hr to 45mins, but the longer you let it cook the richer it becomes. You may need to add more water or stock if it starts looking too dry.
- To serve ladle into a bowl and top with a soft poached egg and chopped fresh herbs.