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Sweet chestnuts increase energy in the body and strengthen digestive system and kidneys [Image: joost j. bakker - Wikimedia Commons]

HEALING WITH THE SEASONS: Winter

4 January, 2012

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The Superior tonics

Rejuvenation, longevity and enhanced health are as much a part of human experience as ageing and disease.

Chinese Taoist masters in particular left us a great legacy in the field of mastering longevity and enhanced health. Their philosophy advocates a simple life in order to live in harmony with nature and achieve a long life.

Fu Zeng, the Superior Herbalism, is part of their legacy and it is the most sophisticated and effective way of applying gifts of nature to promote health rather than eliminate disease.

Fu Zeng, means “supreme tonification”, “strengthening what is already correct”. In ancient times as well as now, Superior tonic herbs and other kinds of ingredients were used to preserve health with aim of attaining long life, youthful vigour, sexual potency and spiritual awareness.

As you may have gathered by now, most of these health-enhancing materials have the effect of replenishing the kidney essence, and that is what puts them into the category of supreme tonics.

Today the herbs from this category are known as adaptogens – medicinal substances that increase the human capacity to adapt to the external environment. Adaptogens shield the body against stress, the process of ageing and disease and release our own innate sources of vitality and strength.

Tonic foods

Numerous commonly available foods also come under this category. Seeds in particular, which carry the potential for the new life, are nourishing to the kidney essence.

The kidney tonics, are the most praised medicinal plants and foods and when taken as a part of our daily diet, they provide the body with the deep substance of life. They are traditionally recognised as having anti-ageing and longevity properties because of their life-preserving quality.

They also enhance the ability to resist disease, our natural ability to adapt to change. they help us to have strong glossy hair, strong teeth, sexual vigour, quick thinking and great stamina.

Those with a sweet flavour and cool nature nourish the essence, the fluid aspect of our being. When sweet and warm they nurture the life force, the energy of life that streams through us.

To maintain vitality curing the winter months, here are some common foods to adopt into the diet at this time of year:

Cinnamon bark

The thicker inner bark available from Chinese herb shops (known as Rou gui) is particularly pungent sweet and very hot. This spice is well known as a kidney tonic used to relieve pain by dispelling cold, it promotes blood circulation and is therefore good for cold limbs. It also warms up the interior, reduces internal coldness and warms the digestive system.

Moderation is required, however. The safe way is to use it as a sprinkle on your breakfast cereal or in a warm drink.

Sweet Chestnuts

Being sweet and warming, chestnuts increase energy in the body, strengthen digestive system and kidneys. They are especially beneficial in case of weak lower limbs and lower back, bone and tendons injuries with swelling and pain.

Fennel Seeds

A warming, aromatic carminative (that is, soothing to the digestive tract),  fennel is an excellent food for warming the kidney and bladder region.

Pistachio nuts

These are particularly good for warming the kidneys and increasing sexual vigour.

Raspberry

Raspberry’s nature is slightly warm, sweet and sour; it is an excellent fruit medicine. It strengthens and tones the liver and kidneys, is good in cases of impotence or sterility, as well as diminished blurred vision, spontaneous seminal emission, frequent urination and fatigue

Walnuts

Walnut is the “longevity fruit”. It’s nature is warm and its flavour is sweet. It can be used to strengthen the kidneys and brain, return hair to its original colour, moisten the skin, increase energy, nourish blood, lubricate large intestine, relieve impotence, and relieve frequent urination and incontinence.

Black Sesame Seeds (Sesamum indicum)

These tiny seeds can increase body energy, improve hearing and sharpen vision. They are also useful for strengthening connective tissue and bones and for nourishing brain tissue. Black sesame seeds are a moistening food that increases production of semen and bone marrow.

They are specifically indicated for constipation due to blood deficiency. Grey hair and certain skin diseases, are known to respond to treatment with sesame seeds.

Adzuki Beans

These are specific for promoting the flow of urine, and to help to drain the oedema (water weight)in the lower part of the body, adzuki beans also tone the heart, spleen and kidneys.

A final word

Nature’s pharmacy is rich with remedies, even in the seemingly barren world of winter. But before you start worrying which one of these tonics would solve all of your ‘ills’ remember the mind needs to be still… watch the snowflakes, the jewels from the sky, hear them fall one by one. Let the inspiration come.

 

  • Dragana Vilinac is chief herbalist at Neal’s Yard Remedies.
  • For a great way to use fennel seed see our recipe for chamomile and fennel tea.