Herbs to Warm You Up

Do you feel cold inside in the winter?  Is it very hard to warm yourself up?  Taking cayenne or hot chili peppers may increase heat at the surface for a few minutes, but may leave you feeling even colder after the first flush.  The cold that you feel deep in your bones will respond to herbs that warm what the Chinese refer to as your Yang.

In Chinese Medicine, Yang represents metabolic energy in the body, coming from genetics, the transformation of food, and breath.  Food, including herbs, is the best way to intervene in someone who is chronically cold.

What kinds of foods tonify Yang?  Root vegetables, which store their energy in fall are good to eat over the winter.  Pureed parsnips, baked potatoes, carrots, sauteed and minced celeriac root, mashed Jerusalem artichokes all help.  Then the dried beans help:  lentils, chick peas, black beans, aduki beans, kidney beans all provide substantial energy.  But perhaps the meats are the most yang-tonifying:  try stewing lamb or beef or buffalo with your root vegetables or beans.  Venison roasts, pork (wild boar is a great alternative to factory farmed pig), or game birds are good at warming you up.  Fats are essential to keeping warm in the winter, so don’t cut away all of the fat if your meats come from organic sources which are less likely to store toxins.

In Chinese medicine the term “herbs” includes things from the animal and mineral kingdom.  Yang tonifying herbs include many animal products, including beef, gecko and deer antler.  But the herbs that give directly heating effects are more important for winter cold.  The herbs that warm the interior and expel cold include cinnamon from older bark rich in oils (rou gui), dried ginger, galangal, Chinese aconite processed to reduce toxicity, cloves, pepper, prickly ash, long pepper, cubeb and fennel seeds.

It is important to remember that in Chinese medicine one does not tonify yang without tonifying yin.  You wouldn’t light a fire without water to control it.  The primary remedy for tonifying yang, a formula called Jin gui shen qi wan (Golden Book tablets) consists of the primary yin tonifying remedy Liu wei di huan wan  (Rhemannia 6) with added cinnamon and aconite.  (And the yin remedy was discovered by removing the two heating herbs from the Golden Book tablets.)   There are similar formulas where a yin tonic plus yang herbs are combined to make a yang tonifying formula.

If you are using foods, you might include okra or yam with your meat in a stew.  If you are using western herbs, consider using asparagus root, slippery elm or marshmallow along with your heating herbs.

These rules are most important if you tend to run cold.  If it is just a temporary coldness and you usually remain hot, then tonifying yin is less of an issue.

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