Food therapy is a very important component of Chinese medicine. The food we eat has a profound effect on our body and thus our health and wellbeing. Chinese dietary philosophy teaches us to live in harmony with the seasons by changing what we eat as the seasons change, as well as the importance of eating foods that are growing in season, locally and without chemicals.

In Chinese medicine, winter represents the ultimate yin. This energy is dark, cold, slow and inward. During the winter, it is important to respect this energy by slowing down, resting and keeping your body warm. Winter is associated with our kidneys, which store our fundamental energy. It is therefore an important time to support and strengthen the kidneys.

Winter Foods for the Soul

During these winter months, our bodies need warming foods such as soups made with hearty vegetables and rich stocks cooked with animal bones. Foods should be cooked for longer periods, at lower temperatures and with less water, which infuses the food with heat to help keep the body warm during these cold months. Foods that are energetically warm in nature are anchovies, chestnuts, chicken, leek, miso, onions, pine nuts, spring onions, root vegetables, shallots, squash, sweet potatoes, walnuts and dark leafy greens. Herbs that are warm and pungent are helpful in removing cold: anise, bay leaves, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon cloves, coriander, dill, fennel, garlic, ginger, horseradish, nutmeg and rosemary.

Foods that specifically nourish and warm the kidneys include black beans, kidney beans, adzuki beans, chickpeas, broths cooked with bones, lamb, chicken, beef, goose, duck, eggs, micro-algae (chlorella, spirulina), walnuts, black sesame seeds and millet. A small amount of unrefined sea salt is also helpful because the taste associated with kidneys is salty, however, moderation is key.

Enjoy the winter season and the delicious and nourishing warm foods to help prepare your body, mind and spirit for the spring to come.

The following recipe is an example of a nourishing dish to prepare and enjoy throughout the winter. This meal is a classic Asian home remedy often used for helping fight off a cold or cough.

Food as medicine

Grounding Ginger and Green Onion Congee

(from Ancient Wisdom, Modern Kitchen by Yuan Wang, Warren Sheir and Mika Ono)


1 (1 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated or minced

¼ cup sticky rice (“sweet rice” or “glutinous rice”)

2 ½ to 3 cups water

3 green onions, slices into small pieces (less than ¼ inch)

Condiments: rice vinegar, soy sauce, salt, and/or sesame oil for a savory congee; honey or other natural sweetener for a sweet congee


Combine the ginger, sticky rice, and water in a medium-size pot, bring to a boil, then lower the heat to low and simmer, covered with the lid slightly ajar, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the congee is the desired consistency. Add a little extra water if the congee is drying out, threatening to stick to the bottom of the pot, or becoming too thick for your taste.

Turn off the heat and add the green onion to the congee.

Season with the condiment(s) of your choice and serve warm.

Korin Owens

Korin Owens, L.Ac. is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist who specializes in women’s health. Her passion lies in pregnancy, postpartum and pediatric care. She graduated from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine with a Master’s of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine in 2006. She is a registered acupuncturist in Colorado and Nationally Board Certified as a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine. Learn more at