Herbal Spotlight: Alfalfa

As flowers begin to blossom and animals come out of their hibernation, one special herb to keep in mind this beautiful spring is Alfalfa. Some people shy away from smelling the flowers during Spring due to the allergies that come with it. More and more people each year are starting to be affected by the pollen released by trees, plants, and weeds. But instead of resorting to over the counter medications such as Claritin or Benadryl or simply avoiding all the beauty nature has to offer all together, why not try another method first? Simply try brewing a tea with Alfalfa.

The word ‘Alfalfa’ translates to ‘father’ in Arabic which is well suited considering it also known as ‘The Father of all Foods’. Some may infer that Alfalfa translates to the word father due to its impressive natural ability to solve many problems within the body. Some might say that one of the many qualities of a father is to solve problems.

Alfalfa is known to act like an antihistamine and stimulate for the immune system which makes it a great candidate to treat allergies. Alfalfa can be used to treat allergy symptoms such as sneezing, sinus congestion, runny nose and difficulty breathing. When it comes to having difficulty breathing, one could even use Alfalfa to treat asthma.

Alfalfa is not only good for treating seasonal allergies, but is also great for the stomach and blood. When it comes to the stomach, it can help with the absorption and digestion of food. It also helps with weight gain, prostate inflammation, kidney conditions, bladder conditions, increase urine flow, high cholesterol, asthma, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, upset stomach, lower-back pains, insomnia, regular bowel movements, and increasing a mother’s milk, and even a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenic purpura. Research has shown that it can lower high blood pressure and also decrease menopausal symptoms, such as cramping.

Today, Alfalfa can be found in the form of tablets or capsules. Alfalfa sprouts is more frequently eaten the Alfalfa itself. Every part of the Alfalfa plant is used to make herbal supplements. Alfalfa is great way to get one’s vitamins and minerals since it contains important ones such as amino acids, chlorophyll and fiber. When it comes to vitamins, Alfalfa contains Vitamins A, C, E, and K4.

In Chinese Medicine, Alfalfa is used for kidney issues and digestive diseases such as Gallstones, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), Celiac Disease, etc. The tea is great for calming the nerves since Alfalfa is high in minerals.

One of the best way to use Alfalfa is to use it as an infusion, in which the herb is simply infused in hot water. As one may know, Alfalfa is used in the tea given here at the Tree of Qi Acupuncture Clinic. It is one of many ingredients used in our tea. But here are two other ways in which one can make Alfalfa tea with specifically Alfalfa leaves or Alfalfa seeds.

Method 1: make an infusion by using dried alfalfa leaves.
Take one teaspoon of dried alfalfa leaves per cup of boiling water. Then, let steep for 10 to 15 minutes. Finally strain and drink. For people who suffer from seasonal allergies, mix dried Alfalfa leaves with dried Nettle leaves and drink the infusion twice daily for at least 2 weeks at the beginning or even before the beginning of allergy season.

Method 2: Using Alfalfa seeds, take one teaspoon of crushed seeds for 4 cups of water, boil for 30 minutes and then strain and drink.

This tea has a strong flavor so consider mixing it with peppermint or even ice. This drink could be great on a hot summer day. It is recommended to drink this tea a couple of days a week, and then two cups on the days you choose.

2019 Spring Equinox

Have you been feeling lots of emotions lately even though you’ve been taking pretty good care of yourself? Well, just know that many of us have been feeling lots around the upcoming Spring Equinox which takes place tomorrow, Wednesday, March 20th.

An equinox takes place twice a year in both hemispheres. Living in North America, we are located in the Northern Hemisphere along with all of Europe, most of Asia, northern South America, and northern Africa. One equinox takes place in the fall and the other in the spring. When the Northern Hemisphere is celebrating the Spring Equinox, the Southern Hemisphere is celebrating the Fall Equinox, and vice-versa.

In the weeks leading up to the Spring Equinox, people often begin to feel either more irritable or sad and moody. This is because according to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the change of the seasons are quite significant and they change how we feel and also how we take care of ourselves. Winter was a time of going deep within, of hibernation, rest and reflection. Spring on the other hand is a time of new beginnings, of coming out of our comfort zones – it is a time of change, and change can sometimes make us feel uncomfortable emotionally as well as physically.

As days become longer, nights become shorter and the nature around us begins to sprout, so our bodies and minds begin a gradual shift towards more wakefulness and more activity which in TCM is the energy of Yang. Whenever the body experiences changes such as the change in season, often the first reaction is unconscious and our nervous systems react similar to an animal who begins to notice their environment changing. The nervous system contracts and we feel uncomfortable. With awareness we realize that we can relax into the changes, take deeper breaths, adjust our diets, sleeping patterns and activities.

Many of you are familiar with the Yin and Yang organizing principle of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Spring is associated with the rise of yang, meaning we are entering a “budding” phase, meaning we are shedding our winter layers and feel a renewed sense of getting out into the world, making connections and finding new ways of expression.

Another organizing principle in TCM are the Five Elements or the The Five Phases. These are used to describe the annual cycle in terms of biological growth and development. The five element are Fire, Wood, Earth, Metal, and Water. Throughout Chinese medical history, these five categories have been used to organize many more perceptions, from colors, sounds, odors, and taste sensations to emotions, animals, dynasties, the planets, and eventually all of which of which this universe is made up of.

The element that corresponds to the Spring season is Wood. Wood is related to the active functions that are in a growing phase such as buds sprouting in the Spring. The same applies to people who are coming out of hibernation and springing into action. Spring is a great time to cleanse oneself and release oneself of physical and emotional clutter that can accumulate during the Winter months, hence spring cleaning and on a more physical level Spring cleansing.

Wood according to Traditional Chinese Medicine is represented by the direction of the East, the color blue-green, the energy of wind and thus the propensity toward anger and irritability. Wind in TCM refers not only to external wind, but also “wind in the channels” causing internal unrest, sometimes felt as anxiety. Acupuncture can balance this inner state of unrest through balancing the channels and therefore calming the nervous system.

When it comes to food, Spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder organs and with the sour taste. Liver and Gallbladder are the digestive and detoxifying organs, thus Spring is a great time to do a cleanse and to eat sour foods such as plums, green apples, and even add lemon to some of your favorite foods.

Here’s a nice Spring recipe that’s nutritious and balancing:

Lemon Mint Quinoa Salad. (find source)

To make it one would need the following ingredients:

1 cup quinoa
3 green onions, (sliced with tough ends removed)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic (crushed in a garlic press)
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint leaves (chopped)
1/4 cup almonds (chopped)
Salt and lemon-pepper (to taste)

(1) When quinoa has finished cooking, remove from heat and cool in a bowl.
(2) Place the cooked and cooled quinoa, green onions, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice together in a large bowl (stir until combined).
(3) Season with mint, salt and lemon-pepper (mix well).
(4) Top the salad with the chopped almonds.
(5) Serve at room temperature.

Happy 2019 Spring Equinox!

June Herbal Spotlight: Nettle Leaf

I’m often asked what herbs make up our signature Tree of Qi tea, which every patient is offered when they arrive at the clinic.

Colonel Sanders never revealed his secret herbs and spices; only a handful of McDonald’s staff have been sworn to secrecy around the ingredients of their Big Mac’s special sauce ; and as for what actually goes into the syrup behind the world’s most famous drink, aside from too much sugar, your guess is as good as mine!  But I’m prepared to reveal one of the key ingredients in our signature tea. It’s Nettle Leaf – the focus of this month’s Herbal Spotlight.

The common nettle plant has been valued for centuries as extremely dense in energizing substances that are nourishing to the blood as well as cleansing to the body. Today it is regarded as a super food with its leaves, roots and stalks containing antioxidants and many essential vitamins and minerals.

Nettles are famous for being able to relieve almost all symptoms caused by allergies including itchy, watery eyes; sneezing, running nose and nasal inflammation.

Research tells us that Western medical practitioners are increasingly using nettle as a decongestant, as an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, or diuretic. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, nettle has been long known for its capacity to treat skin eczema, congested lungs, gout, edema, and generally enriching kidney and liver Yin. Throughout history nettles were also believed to help break curses and spells!

Nettle strengthens the entire body. In TCM terms, it is a Yin tonic, meaning that it strengthens the Yin aspects of the self. It helps the body cool itself down more effectively as well as strengthening all the vital organs, especially the immune system, kidneys, and liver.

While nettles can be quite invasive, similar to dandelion, they are one of the most common wild herbal foods.

Today nettle is commonly used among modern day herbal practitioners for the treatment of urinary disorders, hay fever and is shown to be helpful for prostate gland enlargement as well as reducing the symptoms associated with menopause.

Nettle is also used in certain TCM formulas to help transition a difficult situation into a nurturing one since the leaves can be burned to drive out negative energies.

By strengthening the lungs, both boosting and training the immune system, and decreasing inflammation throughout the body, nettle helps in all respiratory illnesses, including asthma and bronchitis.

According to Chinese medicine, a simple infusion of the dried nettle herb from the fresh plant or juice of the fresh herb can also treat anemia, poor circulation, and an enlarged spleen. Nettle helps stimulate circulation but it can also stop bleeding. It contains both Vitamin K, which allows for blood clotting, and coumarin – a blood thinner. Because it helps the circulation and is full of antioxidants, it is also a useful remedy for arteriosclerosis. At the same time nettle helps the digestive system become more effective and makes it useful for IBS, IBD, and practically specific for Crohn’s disease. It may also be useful to lower both blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Similarly, because of its high antioxidant value, it’s anti-inflammatory qualities, and its ability to improve circulation it is also good for the heart.

The good news is that it’s extremely easy to brew nettle tea. Simply add water to your collected nettle leaves and heat to a near boil. Use about two cups of water for a cup of leaves; there’s no need to measure. You can make the tea stronger by steeping longer, or weaker by adding more water.

Once the water is near boiling, reduce heat and simmer for a couple minutes. Pour through a small strainer and the tea is ready to drink. Some people prefer a small bit of honey added to the tea as a sweetener, but I find the taste is just fine without any additives.

The cooked leaves can also be added to soups.

Here’s a really simple recipe for nettle soup.

Around 1 C nettle tops

¼ C knob of butter or olive oil

1 onion, peeled and chopped

1 large or 2 smallish leeks, trimmed, washed and finely sliced

2 celery sticks, chopped

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped

2 tbsp white rice, such as basmati

4 C vegetable or chicken stock

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 heaped tbsp thick, plain yogurt, to finish

1 small bunch chives, to finish

Pick over the nettles, wash them thoroughly and discard the tougher stalks. Melt the butter or heat the oil in a large pan over medium-low heat, add the onion, leek, celery and garlic, cover and sweat gently for 10 minutes, stirring a few times, until soft but not brown. Add the rice and stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the nettles, stirring them into the stock as they wilt, and simmer for five minutes or so, until the rice and the nettles are tender (very young nettle tops will need only two to three minutes). Season with plenty of salt and pepper.

Purée the soup in two batches, reheat if necessary and check the seasoning. Add salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve in warmed bowls, topping each portion with a large dollop of yogurt and a generous sprinkling of snipped chives.


Giving and Forgiving

Summer is related to the Fire Element and the Heart organ is most active during Summer so its energy is now on the rise.

The Heart performs many energy functions that are vital to the health of your entire body, mind, and spirit. In fact it’s impossible to have true health without a peaceful Heart, for it is the Heart that brings the body to its natural state. It coordinates all activity in the body – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Your Heart is the master message coordinator for all our organs, receiving and relaying the countless messages continually sent back and forth between them. This means that if your Heart is not peaceful, its function will be affected, which, in turn, will impact all the other organs.

There are many things we can do to keep the Heart healthy. From what we eat, to how we exercise, as well as to how we express ourselves honestly and openly, living in accordance with our true natures, which all feed and nourish the Heart.

The pure emotion of the Heart is joy. When we experience this wonderful emotion honestly, we are feeding our Hearts. So everytime you laugh or feel true joy for yourself or others, you energize the Heart.  But when there is a lack of joy in our lives, the Heart is the most affected. When Heart energy is depleted, we can suffer physically and emotionally. On a physical level, many of us may suffer from insomnia and dream disturbed sleep, an inability to think clearly, forgetfulness, concentration problems and poor memory; on an emotional level, many of us may feel deep insecurities come up such as feelings of failure or not being good enough, or we may feel feelings of abandonment arise.

Living a joyful life and expressing our emotions freely is an excellent way to keep the Heart’s energy full and the body healthy. This can often be achieved through both giving and forgiving.

The true spirit of giving is to give freely with no expectation of gain. The Dalai Lama says, “You have to start giving first and expect absolutely nothing. Giving material goods is one form of generosity. But being kind, attentive, and honest in dealing with others, offering praise where it is due, giving comfort and advice where they are needed, and simply sharing one’s time with someone – all these are forms of generosity, and they do not require any level of material wealth”.

One way to get into a giving consciousness is to let go of all your unforgiving thoughts.  Dwelling on how people have treated us in the past can impact our well-being. This is one kind of unforgiving thought that we can work on releasing.  TCM philosophy also reinforces that holding onto anger, rather than forgiving, directly affects the liver, heart and spleen. By dwelling on how people have behaved towards us in the past, and not letting go, we are likely to experience insomnia or even depression, which is a manifestation of the Heart spirit being disturbed by the inability to forgive. When we forgive someone, we are able to restore a healthy balance and regain peace within ourselves. Your experience of someone who has hurt you, while painful, is now nothing more than a thought or feeling. Thoughts of resentment, anger, and hatred represent slow, debilitating energies that will dis-empower you if you continue to let these thoughts occupy space in your head. If you could release them, you would know more peace.

In Chinese medicine theory the Heart is at the center of self awareness and the ability to connect with others, forgiving, and living a fulfilling, happy life. The path to joy is living with wisdom and purpose, seeking truth in all things and having meaningful connections to ourselves, others and the planet.

Dr Wayne Dyer has an enlightening book in which he shares his tips for how to forgive. I wanted to include some of his ideas here in this post.

*Don’t allow past hurts from others to muddy your present moments; Don’t go to sleep angry – you’ll wake up a free agent.

*Shift your mental energy to allowing yourself to be with whatever you’re feeling — let the experience be as it may, without blaming others for your feelings. Don’t blame yourself either! Just allow the experience to unfold and tell yourself that no one has the power to make you uneasy without your consent, and that you’re unwilling to grant that authority to this person right now.

*Rather than attempting to dominate with your forcefulness, be like water. Soften your hard edges by being more tolerant of contrary opinions. Picture yourself as having the same qualities as water. Allow your soft, weak, yielding, fluid self to enter places where you previously were excluded because of your inclination to be solid and hard. Flow softly into the lives of those with whom you feel conflicted. This is the art of forgiveness.

*Resentments don’t come from the conduct of the other party in an altercation—no, they survive and thrive because you’re unwilling to end that altercation with an offering of kindness, love, and authentic forgiveness. As Lao-Tzu says: Someone must risk returning injury with kindness, or hostility will never turn to goodwill.

*In the midst of arguments or disagreements, practice giving rather than taking. Giving involves leaving the ego behind. While it wants to win and show its superiority by being contrary and disrespectful, your Tao nature wants to be at peace and live in harmony.

Acupuncture can address these symptoms directly and help us move beyond the emotional insults and mental conflicts so we can regain the flow of Qi. Acupuncture has the ability to help us tap into our deepest resources, thus helping us to connect to our true nature, which is relaxed and generous.

Remember our spirit wants to give naturally and not receive. Our Qi gets restored through giving so free up your own Qi and let the love back in. Your Heart will thank you and when your Heart is open, both giving and forgiving are natural. Nothing is forced.

Herbal Spotlight: Oat Straw

Over the last few weeks I’ve had quite a few patients coming in feeling a bit more stressed, anxious, and sleep deprived as usual.

Surely there’s a lot going on ‘out there’ both politically and economically, and the unseasonably warm weather was a bit of an adjustment to a system that’s geared for Winter. And of course come July we’ll all remember how nice San Francisco Winters are!

So taking all this into consideration, this month I wanted to shine a spotlight on one of the most effective calming herbs for the nervous system making it a great herbal remedy for stress and insomnia.
Many herbalists will say that their herb of choice for nervous system nourishment is oat straw (Avena Sativa).

Western and eastern medicine both state that oats are great for physical health, which is probably why so many diets include oats as a suggestion for a healthy breakfast.

However the oat straw (the leafy sheafs and stalks that cover the oats and which are often thrown away) is the part of the plant that contains the highest concentrations of bio-active aminos and polyphenols believed to support brain function, support sleep and reduce levels of anxiety.

Exactly how oat straw works is one of nature’s mysteries. However it seems to provide deep nourishment in a way our bodies can easily assimilate and use.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, consuming oat straw alleviates conditions related to anxiety, mood imbalance, and sleep. Some of the many reported benefits of oat straw include: calming and strengthening the nervous system; nourishing and circulating Qi; relieving stress and calming emotions; reducing depression; enhancing clear thinking; aiding digestion and stabilizing blood sugar; reducing inflammation; nourishing the heart and circulatory system; and encouraging a deep and restful sleep.

Interestingly some of the key Western actions and medicinal (biochemical) uses for oat straw are as an antioxidant and anti-depressant; as a rich source of carbohydrates; lowering cholesterol and blood sugar; preventing heart disease; increasing blood flow to the brain (via increased nitric oxide synthesis); and stimulating estrogen.

Oat straw is a deeply nourishing herb filled with vitamins and minerals. It’s a herb that works immediately but is most effective if used regularly over time helping to strengthen those who may be sleep deprived, exhausted, weak or anxious.

If you’re experiencing a feeling of being overwhelmed or of things being too much (like many of my patients at the moment), consider picking up some oat straw at your local herb store. Here in the city, Rainbow Grocery and Scarlett Sage Herb Store will carry it.

The best way to prepare oat straw is as a tea or infusion:

To make an oat straw herbal infusion, place a cup of the dried herb into a quart mason jar. Fill it with boiling water, put a lid on it, and let it steep for 4-8 hours. (Making a herbal infusion before bed and letting it steep overnight is an excellent way to extract the nourishment from the dried herb).
If you like, you can add a pinch of mint or licorice root for flavor. Then strain out the plant material, compost it, and enjoy one or more cups of the liquid daily. Infusions are delicious warm or cold and can be sweetened with honey or any other natural sweetener. They keep for 2-3 days in the refrigerator.

Oat straw has been used in herbalist traditions for hundreds of years. No drug interactions or side effects have been reported. However some people with allergies or severe gluten sensitivity should avoid oat straw. However, typically oat straw can be tolerated by people who are sensitive to gluten, especially if the manufacturer can guarantee that there was no contact with other grains such as wheat.

Overall oat straw may be a perfect way to become more resilient to stress, soothe our nerves and help us get more in touch with ourselves and others. Enjoy!

Fear, Anxiety, and an Imbalance of Water

In previous posts I’ve written about how the winter months are the time of Water – the element that is associated with the Kidneys and thus related to our deepest reserves and resources and energetically, the ability to flow even when things appear murky by connecting with our deepest will.

And although the weather may be getting warmer outside, the Water element is still the prevalent energy in our lives.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Water is the essence of life. Water makes it possible for all of the other elements to function properly and is the first place to check when your body is chronically out of balance.

These are precisely the words many of my patients are choosing to describe how they are feeling at the moment – a little (or a lot) out of balance. One of my friends said to me the other day: I don’t want to get out of bed.. can’t someone else do my life today?

And relating these feelings back to the Water element, the emotions most commonly associated with an imbalance of Water are dread, fear and anxiety. When we feel anxious and our fears rule us, we begin a cycle of fear, tension, and sometimes physical pain. We may become absent minded, even isolated and detached and no matter how exhausted we feel, often these feelings transfer into the night, preventing us from having a restful night’s sleep.

Furthermore in recent months we’ve witnessed Mother Nature wreaking havoc with fires, earthquakes and mudslides. There’s been a foreboding fear of war in the world. And in this country we’re experiencing a time of great uncertainty.

The world is feeling unsettled. Many of us are feeling ungrounded and living each day in ‘fight or flight’ mode and if the energetic imbalance in the Water element continues, it can cause physical symptoms such as lower back pain, fatigue, shortness of breath, vertigo, dizziness, and high blood pressure.

In Chinese Medicine we don’t separate the mind and the body. By treating the Kidney energy, we correct emotional imbalances associated with the Water Element and by addressing emotional issues associated with the Water Element, we enhance the Kidney energy.

On a physical level, there are many foods that nourish the Kidney energy such as beans, as they are seeds and have new life potential. The colors blue and black correspond to the Kidney element, so blueberries and blackberries are recommended. Purple, blue and black foods are associated with the Water element, and, not surprisingly, modern research has shown that the anthocyanins that give them their color concentrate in the kidney and brain.

Also pumpkin seeds, black sesame seeds, walnuts, eggs, millet and green leafy vegetables. Since salty is the flavor that correlates with the Water element, foods such as sea salt, miso and tamari are also beneficial for the Kidneys.

The primary function of the Kidney is to store and regulate our essence – the foundation of Blood and Qi, which is the energy we have available to us in our day to day activities. Also Kidney Yin and Yang emanates from the Kidneys, energies that nourish our body fluids, lubricate our joints, and provide warmth and movement in our bodies.

Emotionally the Kidneys are the seat of our “Will” and some would say our spiritual destiny. When the Kidneys are out of balance fear will arise and we often leave our bodies energetically and find shelter in our minds. Here we feel anxious, disconnected and seek solutions to these states, rather than reconnecting to our bodies.

Deep breathing, yoga, therapies such as cranio sacral therapy and reiki, acupuncture, herbs, nature walks, ocean walks, journaling, healthy sleep patterns – all these practices can help us calm our minds and reset our nervous systems so we can feel ourselves more fully again.

I’ve been hearing many patients say “but I can’t relax with all that’s going on the world”. I would like to propose the notion that it’s the story the mind creates about what’s happening in the world that is so hard to accept. When we reconnect with our deepest selves within our bodies (the seat of our Will in our Kidneys) we don’t feel so swayed by the world – quite the opposite, we feel excited to be contributing that which is most precious within us: bringing into the world our own unique contribution and creativity!

Winter – Everything Ends

Where did 2017 just go? It seems like only yesterday that we were ushering in the Year of the Fire Rooster.

Now it’s already December, and whilst it might not be nearly as cold as in other parts of the USA, we are aware that winter is upon us.

There’s a chill in the air. It’s the end of another year. Winter is a good time to reflect on our health, replenish our energy and conserve our strength.

If you’re feeling tired, rest assured you are not alone. It’s been an exhausting (mentally, emotionally and physically) for many people. But Traditional Chinese Medicine says it’s ok to feel like you’re lacking energy in winter in order to recharge for the upcoming spring (and summer) months.

Winter is all about storage, rest and restoration and the best way to fully enjoy the powers of this season of hibernation and introspection is to surrender to it and learn from what it has to offer us. Winter calls us to look within, to reconnect to our inner being, and to embrace the cold and darkness around us.

The colder temperatures and darkness encourage us to slow down. Winter has an impact on the human body just as it does on every other part of nature. We function differently and we respond to the change in energy whether we like it or not. But the philosophy of Chinese Medicine promotes our ability to thrive during the wintertime if we know how to observe the natural changes and work with the different energy.

Winter belongs to the Yin in Chinese Medicine – exemplified by cold, darkness and inactivity. Yin is the dark, cold, slow, inward energy compared to the Yang of the summer months. TCM believes in consolidating your Qi through the winter (early to bed and late to rise) and adapting to increasing Yang (circulation).

Winter is the season that rules the Kidneys and the element of water – the most yin of all the five elements.

In Western medicine we know that the kidneys regulate water metabolism and stabilize our heart and blood pressure.

In TCM, the Kidneys are considered the source of all Qi within the body energy. They store all of the reserve Qi in the body so that it can be used in times of stress, to heal, and prevent illness (common in the winter months when our energy can be most easily depleted). Chinese medicine also believes the Kidneys rule over intelligence, reason, perception and memory.

Rest is important for revitalizing the Kidneys, which is why some animals hibernate in the wintertime. It is also a good time to look inward, reflect on ourselves with meditation, and other soul nourishing activities. These practices help us to connect to our inner selves and help support Kidney energy.

Seasonal changes affect the body’s environment. With the drop in temperature come colds, flu, aches and pains. That is why practices that relax the mind, raise our immune system and circulate our energy are so important in the Winter months.

Here are a few tips for keeping healthy and happy during winter:

Exercise: From the perspective of Chinese Medicine, it’s best to change your approach to exercise in the winter. Long, slow movements are recommended. Stretching, yoga, Tai Chi and Qi Gong are great options. It’s also a good idea to balance a physical workout with a mental and spiritual one.

Practice Self-acceptance: Rather than attempting to overcome our fears, we can learn to recognize and accept them. Self-awareness and self-acceptance burns and thaws our fears so that we become “unstuck” and can move on healthfully.

Food as medicine: Avoid raw foods during the winter as much as possible, as they tend to cool the body. During the winter, it’s best to focus on warming foods including hearty soups and stews, root vegetables, whole grains, and small amounts of meat or fish protein. If you are vegetarian, eat more beans, nuts and seeds. Give your body a balance of what it really needs – warming, grounding, nourishing foods. Other foods that are beneficial in winter include winter squash, potatoes, winter greens, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms, apples and pears.

Balance stress levels: Make sure you are getting enough sleep. There’s a reason the days are shorter this time of year. Go to bed a little earlier, and aim to also wake up a little later if you can … ideally without an alarm and after the sun’s rays have warmed the atmosphere a bit. This preserves your own Yang Qi for the task of warming in the face of cold.

Acupuncture: Of course acupuncture can help prevent colds and flu by building up the immune system with just a few needles inserted into key points along the body’s energy pathways.

So as 2017 comes to an end, prepare yourself for the year ahead. Be good to yourself. Take time out for yourself. Sit by the fire. Stay warm. Look forward to the spring and summer. Fortunately (or unfortunately) they will be here before you know it.

Herbal Spotlight: Cinnamon

Thanksgiving may be behind us. But the holiday spirit (and fragrance) is still in the air. Walking into your favorite coffee house or bakery and taking a breath, you’d probably be right to believe that everything has been pumpkin-spiced.

But did you know that the key ingredient of this popular spice is also an important part of Chinese herbal medicine? This month, I’m shining the herbal spotlight on cinnamon and will show you how there is so much more to this versatile spice than just being the secret kick to your holiday muffins, stews and hot drinks.

Research tells us that Western medical practitioners are increasingly recommending this versatile spice to treat hyperglycemia and diabetes. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, cinnamon has been long known for its capacity to treat and prevent a much wider range of ailments.

Medicinally, cinnamon mainly refers to the dried bark of Cinnamomom Cassia – native to China. It is usually peeled in autumn and placed in the shade to dry. When the inner bark is dried, it will typically curl into a roll and look like a stick, which is how it earns its name as Cinnamon Stick – also known as Rou Gui in pinyin.

Cinnamon sticks, with their extremely pungent aroma, are often ground into powder and when added to stews or soups can help invigorate the stomach, warm the lower back, relieve abdominal pains, and reduce stomach bloating.

Cinnamon can be administered in a few different ways. Often it is decocted or steeped alongside other herbs and spices as a medicinal drink. Other times, it is powdered and taken as part of a Chinese herbal formula.

Modern pharmacological actions of cinnamon stick include its ability to dilate blood vessels, promote blood circulation, and enhance coronary and cerebral blood flow; cinnamon bark oil can increase gastrointestinal secretion, enhance digestive function, and eliminate gas in the digestive tract; while cinnamon oil also has sedative and analgesic effects.

In Western medicine, cinnamon is also used to fight off bacteria especially in the teeth. It is also a great antioxidant that can lower cholesterol.

In TCM, the main uses for cinnamon sticks include the treatment of kidney yang deficiency leading to lower back pain and knee weakness, bladder infections, shortness of breath, asthma, edema, dizziness, ringing in the ears, abdominal pain, skin infections, arthritic pain, and reduced appetite.

Cinnamon also has the ability to penetrate the heart, lung, and bladder meridians. Thus cinnamon sticks have the ability to remove painful obstructions in the body and can “lift” or unblock the Yang Qi.

It’s important to point out that long-term use (overdose) of cinnamon sticks may cause acute poisoning with symptoms including dizziness, blurred vision, swollen eyes, chest tightness, flushed face, skin rash, a tingling tongue, or mouth lesions. It should be discontinued immediately if any of these symptoms occur.

Cinnamon stick is extremely hot and TCM practitioners strongly advise against using it during pregnancy or menstruation, as well as in cases of hyperactivity of fire due to yin deficiency.

Here are some simple cinnamon stick recipes for you to try:

Cinnamon powder:

Ingredients: 3g cinnamon sticks.

Directions: Grind it into powder and take it with warm water, twice a day. Or add the powder to cooked dishes.

Benefits: the former practice can treat bloating and stomach pain; and the latter can lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

Cinnamon paste:

Ingredients: 6g cinnamon barks and 6g cloves.

Directions: Grind the two herbs into fine powder and put powder onto a plaster

Benefits: Stick the paster to a child’s navel and it can ease diarrhea in children.

Honey and cinnamon:

Ingredients: 1 spoon cinnamon powder, 2 spoons honey, and 1 glass of water.

Directions: Put the first two ingredients into 1 glass of water.

Benefits: Drink it 30 minutes before breakfast and bedtime daily. By doing so it could help prevent the fat accumulation in your body even though you are eating high-calorie foods.