A Therapeutic Soup for a Grey, January Day

A photograph of homemade soup.

Today was a warm day for this time of year, but in all other respects pretty typical for a January day; wet, grey and still dark in the mornings and early afternoons.

There was still a bit of light when I got home this afternoon and I wandered down to the bottom of the garden to check up on my chickens and see what was still growing in the vegetable patch for dinner.

Continue reading “A Therapeutic Soup for a Grey, January Day”

Chinese Medicine and the Autumn Equinox

A photograph of the sun setting in Cumbria.

Happy Autumn equinox!

This is one of the important times of year in Chinese medicine – the change from Summer to Autumn. 

It’s a good time to plan ahead for looking after ourselves as the days get shorter.

For some people this is an instinctively energising thought! The smell and feel of Autumn makes this group of people want to wrap up and go mushroom hunting in beautiful woodland! They want to build bonfires, make chutney and pick apples for making cider all at the same time!

For everyone else the arrival of Autumn is a deeply mournful event, with the prospect of song birds departing, day-light dwindling and – oh most misery making of all – Christmas embedded somewhere in the heart of the long months ahead!

There are acupuncture points which can help with seasonal adjustment and – particularly important for this seasonal change – help protect us from catching one of the colds, flues and sick bugs that are out and about.

To help ourselves we can make sure that we stay warm enough – still not difficult in this amazing weather but watch out for it getting colder!

We can take up some gentle form of exercise like yoga or walking, make the most of the last of the sunshine strong enough to be topping up our vitamin D levels, and start adding warming herbs and spices to our food and drinks again. Try cooking up apples and pears with cinnamon and a tiny bit of clove, make your own elderberry cordial or spicy ginger cordial. I’ll add a recipe for these next time.

Summer Heat

A photograph of a pile of watermelon wit.h a halved one on top

I’m quite torn this evening about which topic to write about; it has to be either heat (for obvious reasons if you live in the UK and are sweltering in our first Summer for years!) or what to do with bumps and bruises.

The latter topic is close to my heart because at the weekend I had a fall from a lovely horse that I was riding. It wasn’t the horses fault at all and I wasn’t badly hurt at all, but I was quarter way through the best riding that I’ve ever done in my life and determined to make sure that I could carry on!


I’ll start with heat because, even though I think the clouds are building after a month of non-stop sunshine, it looks like it’s going to stay warm for a while.

And, of course, I don’t imagine I’m going to have many more opportunities to write about Heat in the near future up here in the Lake District!

As always, Chinese Medicine has a whole range of views about Heat; there’s humid or Damp Heat and Dry Heat for example, which are quite different challenges, and all types of Heat can be treated with acupuncture, Herbs, lifestyle changes or dietary adaptations.

When it comes to foods that help different conditions, Daverick Leggett has written a couple of excellent books. He lists different foods which alleviate different conditions in his book Helping Ourselves. You’d need to get a TCM practitioner to tell you what your conditions were to work in this way as Chinese Medicine diagnosis is a real art and nothing is ever as clear as it seems from a laypersons point of view.

Daverick’s other book, Recipes for Self Healing, gives recipes based on the different properties of different foods.

In TCM there isn’t the view that we take in the West (on the whole) that certain foods are healthy and others are unhealthy. More that certain foods are more appropriate for certain conditions. An additional complexity would then be that those conditions would be very varied. For example a season would bring one set of conditions, the weather on a certain day would involve another layer of consideration, and a persons own internal pathology and lifestyle choices would need to be weighed up too.

So saying, if your digestion is reasonably ok and the weather is consistently hot then great coolers and thirst quenchers are water melon, cucumber, lettuce and peppermint and elderflower.

Yum! You could just throw some, or all, of those together, blend them, and drink! Leave out ice if you can resist it and just let the natural coolness of those ingredients do their work!

So it looks like it’ll be the turn of treating bumps and bruises next time!

Spring winds and Frozen Shoulders!

A photograph of snow covered daffodils

Early March and it’s freezing! Quite literally! There’s been an arctic wind from the North East and the soil that I dug over in last weeks sunshine, is completely solid again.

The combination of earlier Spring weather tempting people out to do more than they planned, tiredness and lack of fitness from a long Winter, and icy winds, have combined to fill my clinic with sore necks, shoulders and backs.

One person, rather ruefully told me that they had just gone out to clear some leaves from around the daffodils and crawled into the house seven hours later after a day of non stop digging!

Sometimes the pain can start without such a clear cause; frozen shoulders just seem to appear and old injuries begin to ache again.

In Chinese Medicine it’s thought that the cause of so much discomfort is the combination of people being run down after a long Winter and the particularly penetrating Winds at this time of year.

Early Spring is one of the most powerful times of year in Chinese Medicine. It was believed that the wind helped things like cold and damp to penetrate and lodge in joints and old points of weakness.

Modern research has shown that our immune systems function very poorly when we are exposed to the wind, and we would be expected to be more vulnerable to picking up infection.

The way to navigate our way safely through these next few weeks and stay fit and well, is to aim to be preventative as much as possible! Wrap up well just like in the old wives tales!   Get to bed a little bit earlier if we’ve been doing more than usual; make sure our diet contains lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; warm up before doing lots of vigorous activity; keep a vitamin D supplement going until the sunshine really starts to feel warm.

If it’s too late and you’re sitting reading this with something painful somewhere, then don’t panic! try to keep the area warm unless its clearly inflamed, use a heat pack or wrapped hot water bottle. If the warmth feels helpful then you could try a deep heat cream (no need to have one that includes anti-inflamatories in my experience). Try to keep gently moving unless the pain is too severe, but don’t do any extreme movements or stretches for a while . Careful with yoga but gentle pilates (or gentle yoga if you’ve done lots before) could be helpful. In Chinese Medicine warming, expelling flavours are helpful; think of warm casseroles and soups with coriander, chilli, cumin, ginger, pepper, onions, garlic, rather than cold salad from the fridge with under ripe tomatoes.

For anyone who might have read my last post and be worrying about Toby the horse, his leg is healing well. No swelling now and the hair is starting to grow back, hurrah! Now he just needs some warmdry sunshine just like the rest of us in the UK!

Seasonal Affective Disorder

A photograph of a Paper White Narcissi

Its been a really busy week, so sorry for not updating earlier! Here’s some thought’s about SAD from a Chinese Medicine point of view as promised.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is something I’m already seeing a lot of this year as a result of our disappointingly cold, wet Summer.

As the year closes down, the hours of daylight decrease rapidly and the intensity of the sunlight diminishes too.

It’s a time of year that really does separate people out into two very different responses, both physically and emotionally.

For some of us it’s a time of accelerating, creative, social activity. We look forward to evenings of fires and cosy pubs, pulling on woolly scarves, hats and wellies and settling into finding the perfect sloe gin recipe.

For the rest of us it’s a depressing time of short, muddy days, with birds migrating, colds and coughs starting in earnest, and the worry of difficult family members all coming together in an overheated room.

SAD syndrome is, of course, in the latter camp.

This is Yang deficiency in Chinese Medicine. It’s a lack of the natural, warm, dry, upliftingbright energy that is Yang in Chinese Medicine.

The thought of losing it for all those months that lie ahead, as well as the subliminal, day shortening messages that tell us it’s going, send us into a downward spiral of de-energised  depression.

Here are some ways of combating it or, at least, lessening its impact.

Daylight simulating bulbs are available which help our senses feel that the sun might still be shining somewhere! Have a look online.

Its also a good time to start going to the gym in the late afternoon or evening, or finding an evening class somewhere warm, well lit and stimulating!

Another helpful thing is to do some preparatory work for the Spring. This could be planting some bulbs in pots or in the garden. I love the scented Narcissi like paper white and Winston Churchill. Hyacinths are good too; in fact all of the lovely, early scented bulbs are good for promising ourselves that the Spring will come and our senses will be woken up again!

Rake up leaves when the weather is at its kindest, and make some compost for the garden. When its cold and wild outside, tuck up and look through some seed catalogues.

Cooking can be good, too. Look through all your cookery books and try out recipes that you haven’t tried before. Especially those for warming, spicy soups, casseroles and slow cooked, root based dishes.

Make a decision to look after yourself this Winter, so when Spring comes, as it will, you’ll be ready for it!

Of course this all still needs to be balanced by earlier nights to give us our increased need for rest at this time of year.

Early Winter

We’re heading towards December 21st and the shortest day now.

In Chinese medicine there are quite a few points of interest about this time of year.

In general terms it is a time of increasing yin with less light and warmth, and more rainfall.

In theory our behaviour should complement this by our taking more rest and relaxation, slowing down, taking stock and, crucially, getting to bed earlier for more hours of sleep.

Of course this doesn’t fit at all with our acceleration towards Christmas! It’s the season of late night shopping, Christmas parties and, for a lot of people, mounting stress from distant family members all homing in-or missing people who won’t be able to be present  at family Christmases any more.

Our coping strategy is often to take more stimulants to keep us going; warm, yang enhancing substances like coffee, spirits and chocolates. Unfortunately, in Chinese medical theory, this has the effect of depleting our yin, leaving us exhausted and vulnerable to colds and aches.

It might be worth banking some early nights, finding a good book and starting that long promised stretching routine.

I’m off to bed but I’ll write about SAD (seasonal affective disorder) in the morning!

Late Autumn and a recipe for pumpkin soup!

It’s been a week end of extremes as we move into late Autumn.

The clocks have just gone back and one day’s beautiful, cold, Autumnal sunshine is followed by a whole day of rain and wind!

The sunshine from now on isn’t intense enough for our skin to make vitamin D any more, so to look after our health through the coming Winter months it might be an idea to start topping up with a low strength vitamin D supplement.

I’m not normally a big advocate of supplements-certainly Chinese Medicine has no history of working like that. But living in a Northern climate with low sunlight levels doesn’t seem to suit us very well and there is increasing evidence that chronic lack of vitamin D can contribute to a vulnerability to lowered bone density, weakened immune systems and possibly even be a contributory factor in MS.

Here’s a useful link to the current thinking about MS and vitamin D levels;

Chinese Medicine uses food as a way of helping to maintain health in a way that we don’t really in the West.
There are clearly recognised foods which are generally good or bad for us, but overlaid onto this information is a wealth of knowledge about specific foods which are useful for different health conditions, time of year and even weather!

It is also worth mentioning that Chinese Medicine only very, very rarely uses only one type of food, or one herb therapeutically on its own.

I frequently see Chinese herbs sold or recommended for use in a way that bears almost no relation to the way that herb would be used medicinally in Chinese Medicine.

One of the real strengths of Chinese Medicine for me is its incredible recording of what does what clinically over huge time scales and with huge populations.

For this reason It makes a lot of sense to use it in a way that safely bears a strong resemblance to its historical usage.
There are obvious exceptions to this, and, as with all systems of medicine, there are practices in Chinese medicine which are not appropriate for the world today. On the whole these are increasingly regulated against, and wouldn’t be seen in a modern Chinese pharmacy.

I’ll talk more about this at another time because its a really interesting area (or I find it so!).

Anyway a recipe as promised!

This ones for supporting Yin which is a good idea as we accelerate towards December with its shorter days contrasting with (usually) increased activity. It also adds warming foods and spices to keep out the cold weather.

Pumpkin soup – perfect for all that left over pumpkin?

  • Cut up the flesh of a whole pumpkin without the seeds into chunks.
    Toss the chunks in oil and a bit of salt in a roasting tin, and roast until the pumpkin starts looking golden around the edges.
  • While this is happening take your biggest saucepan and gently brown 5 chopped onions in a bit of oil.
  • When the pumpkin is ready throw it in with the onions and add 2 medium potatoes peeled and chopped, 2 small red chopped chillies and 4 cloves of garlic.
  • Cook with a lid on for ten mins or so keeping stirring or shaking to stop things burning.
  • Grind a desert spoon of cumin and a desert spoon of coriander and add to the veg along with 2 heaped tea spoons of marigold veg stock powder.
  • Cook for another five mins.
  • Add boing water to cover the veg and give a good soup consistency (you don’t want this too thin)
  • Cook for another twenty mins then liquify a bit if you like with your favourite whizzer.
  • Add some pepper and serve with cheese sprinkled on top (I like that, but its not part of the medicinal bit, I admit!).

Actually, ‘tho, cheese is helpful in moderation for the Yin, so it’s perhaps not so bad. Unfortunately it does also have properties which aren’t so helpful in the wet climate we have at the moment so I’m reluctant to advocate cheese! I have a bit as a treat because I like the flavour, but try not to have too much.

A tip I discovered this year is that French pumpkins (the ones with lobes) are much, much nicer than the round pumpkins that we normally see around at Halloween.

Any type of edible Winter squash would be good though.

Give it a try and leave me a comment to tell me what you think!

Keeping healthy in Autumn

Early Autumn.

This weekend has been a perfect couple of Autumnal days.

Warm enough in the sunshine to encourage my bees out for a last bit of nectar gathering but not warm enough for a brave skinny dipper at Beacon tarn to get in further than his ankles!

In Chinese medicine this is one of the two most powerful times of the year (the other being early Spring).

The late Summer time of plentiful food, daylight and warmth start moving into Autumn with its rapidly shortening days, drenching dews and first frosts.

This is the season of the Lungs in TCM. It’s a time when a lot of people catch chesty colds, andasthma can worsen temporarily. Because of the connection between the Lungs in TCM and skin, I often see more skin problems at this time of year too.

Historically the Chinese have always been very careful with their health at this time of year. In Japan too, when I lived there, the company canteen would be careful to add warming, pungent spices to our food.

The aim in Chinese medicine is to hold onto the health that we have gained through the Summer for as long as possible into the Winter months. It is thought helpful to avoid getting cold and wet, and to take special care drying off properly. In TCM open windows at night at this time of year, along with going to bed with wet hair, are thought to contribute towards stiff, painful necks and shoulders.

Using warming herbs and spices like ginger, coriander, pepper, cumin and turmeric in our food and home made drinks can help to stop the cold and damp from getting inside us!

In my next post I’ll write a few recipes aimed at restoring or maintaining health at this time of year.


I’m using a lot of moxa at the moment and going around at work often smelling of its lovely wood smoke scent.

It certainly generates a lot of questions! Here are a few answers;

Moxa is dried Chinese mugwort, or Ai Ye in Chinese. It burns at a very high temperature but continues to smoulder, very rarely flaming, as it burns.

This smouldering causes a lot of smoke which has a beautiful woody, rosemary and sage scent.

Moxa is used a lot to warm an acupuncture point on the little toe as a treatment to turn breech babies. The point isn’t needled at all, but a compressed cylinder of moxa called a moxa stick and looking like a fat cigar, is moved over the point to warm it.

The main action of moxa is to warm and cause movement. It is sometimes put on the ends of needles to transmit its warmth down the needle. This is particularly helpful in cases of arthritic pain which are worse in the cold. As such its a lovely treatment to use during the Winter months.

The weather is warming up now as we move through May and those stiff, painful joints will benefit from basking in some warm, still sunshine!