Chinese Nutritional Therapy

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Many women find that the last few weeks of pregnancy are fraught with a myriad of discomforts. As the baby reaches his or her birth weight many moms find it more difficult to move around and function as they did before. One common complaint at this time is ankle swelling. For some women, it is a mild annoyance that shows up at the end of a busy work day, for others it is more severe. In my own pregnancies my ankles were so swollen that the only shoes I could wear were flip-flops. Thankfully, it was August and the weather warranted the footwear. When women develop swelling in the face and hands it is a more concerning sign, and they should report this to their obstetric care provider. Ankle swelling, however, does not usually cause any harm, but it can be very uncomfortable. In Traditional Chinese Medicine there is a common herbal treatment for the condition that any woman should be able to make at home. As a Westerner, the sound of it may not be very appealing, but it is actually quite good, and it works! In Chinese Medicine terms this formula fortifies the Spleen, disinhibits dampness and scatters swelling.

Li Yu Luo Bo Yin, or Carp and Radish Soup


1 one-pound Carp (Li Yu), gutted and scaled, head and tail removed (or also skinned if desired)

120g (about one cup) chopped daikon radish (Luo Bo)



Put the ingredients in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer covered until fish is cooked through. Drink the broth and if desired, eat the carp and radish.



Chinese dietary therapy often recommends that people limit or eliminate dairy products from their diet. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, dairy is considered a cold food that leads to damp accumulation, particularly in people who have a weakness in their Spleen energy. Symptoms of dampness include lethargy, loose stools, feelings of heaviness, cloudy thinking, excess sputum(particularly in the sinuses), certain types of headaches, and accumulations such as cysts and tumors. The concern for some who want to follow this dietary advice, is whether they will be able to get adequate amounts of calcium from a dairy-free diet. This is certainly a concern as most adults require around 1,000 mg of calcium a day to maintain bone, muscular, vascular and hormonal health. There is disagreement about the exact quantities of calcium in foods, but if a person were avoiding milk, increasing the amounts of the following foods should provide enough calcium for most individuals.

Nuts and Seeds

Sesame seeds (most sources list the calcium content of 1 oz of these to contain more calcium than one 8oz glass of milk)

Sunflower seeds (also high in iron)





Sesame tahini


Beans (garbonzo, pinto, soy, canellini)

Tofu (especially calcium-treated)

Dark Leafy Greens



turnip greens

dandelion greens

mustard greens



chicory (curly endive)



Bok Choy

Acorn squash


Figs, dried

Orange juice, calcium-fortified



Cereal (calcium-fortified)


Brown rice


Corn tortillas

Fish and Seafood

Oysters, raw

Salmon (canned with bones)

Sardines (canned with bones)



Blackstrap Molasses (also high in iron)

Greek yogurt (although dairy, this is not considered a damp-producing food)



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At the farmer’s market this weekend I came across this year’s first batch of Stinging Nettles, or Urtica dioica. Nettles are one of those plants that remind me how miraculous the planet is. Just when everyone is suffering from allergic rhinitis (stuffy nose) the plant that treats that symptom is ready for harvest. Nettles have many uses, but allergic rhinitis is what they are famous for. In Chinese Medicine we say that Nettles clear heat and leach dampness, making them suitable for treating phlegm-damp obstructing the nasal passages. Dry them and add them to your Chrysanthemum infusion for a great allergy treatment. They should be used with caution, however, in those with a yin deficient presentation, as they are diuretic (make you pee) and can be quite drying. Another use of the herb is Wind-Damp Impediment, such as arthritis, and historically they were applied topically as a counter-irritant for this purpose. Taken internally, they also treat arthritic conditions or painful, stiff joints.

The whole arial parts can also be cooked as a delicious spring vegetable. They have a very high mineral content making them an ideal food for those with anemia or for those concerned about developing osteoporosis. Here is a recipe for sauteed stinging nettles that I found on

  • 1 pound stinging nettles
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Zest of 1 medium lemon
  • Juice of 1/2 medium lemon
  • Wearing thick rubber gloves, clean the nettles by soaking them several times under cold running water, then drain. (Do not touch raw nettles with your bare hands. If you do not have rubber gloves, use tongs to handle the nettles.) Separate the tender leaves from the tough stems, discarding the stems. (Use scissors for this process if you don’t have protective rubber gloves.)
  • Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until the shallots have softened, about 2 minutes more.
  • Using tongs, add half of the nettles and the water to the pan. Cook, stirring often, until the nettles have begun to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the remaining nettles and cook, stirring often, until wilted, about 3 minutes more. (Add more water a tablespoon at a time if the pan becomes too dry.)
  • Remove the pan from heat. Stir in the lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and serve.

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When the temperatures drop and the air gets crisp and Uwajimaya has it’s annual 15%-off-everything-sale, we have hotpot. I’ve written about this before, but I thought it would be nice to do so again, since it is such an autumn tradition for us. We pull out the Danube (Japanese clay pot) and our table-top cook stove. We get meat cut very thin by the talented butchers at Uwa who do it specifically for this and for the related dish, Sukiyaki. We pull together veggies, usually Napa cabbage, chrysanthemum leaves (sweet and delish!), several varieties of mushrooms (especially shitaki, enoki, maitake and oyster) carrots, tofu and daikon. Adding rice noodles is a nice touch, especially loved by kids. The broth is a simple 2 hour infusion with kombu, or sea kelp. The dried noodles soak for about an hour to soften them. Everything is put into the broth to quickly cook similar to a Swiss meat/veggie fondu. We prefer to make Japanese-style hotpots, which use broth and are a bit lighter than the Chinese versions which use oil in the cooking pot. Veggies, noodles and meat can be taken from the pot and put into each bowl and individuals can add as little or much garlic-chili paste and shredded daikon as desired. My daughters add none, I add enough to get a medium heat, and my husband makes his pretty hot. It was delicious and fun as usual. As you can see from the photo, this meal is a big hit with my 3 year old!!!

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My family spent some time on the Columbia River this weekend and were blessed with the opportunity to pick cherries at the amazing Hood River Organics CSA. It was a scary evening for the farmers though, thunderstorms raged the entire night, very unusual for the end of July. Rain water sitting on cherries ruins them, they absorb the moisture and then literally explode!! The farmers and their reliable friends got to picking very early that morning in an attempt to save the orchard. When we rolled in around 10am, the entire irrigated section of the orchard had been picked clean. With the crop fan humming away in the background, and the typical River Gorge wind nearly blowing us over, we took to picking at the handful of non-irrigated trees that are reserved for family and friends. Within minutes both of my children were covered in cherry juice from the super-sweet Lamberts. It didn’t take long for us to fill two enormous buckets, despite the number going straight into little bellies. We headed back to Seattle a few hours later with a trunk full of delicious, organic, tree-ripened purple Lamberts and golden-red Rainiers. What a treat!

As delicious as they are, cherries are a food that can also be classified medicinally. Remember, food is medicine too and should be at the very core of a healthy lifestyle.

According to Bob Flaws in The Tao of Healthy Eating, cherries are considered sweet, aromatic and warm, affecting the Spleen, Stomach, Lung, Heart and Kidney channels. Cherries supplement qi, nourish blood, engender fluids, move and transform blood stasis, and dispel wind dampness. They can be used to treat wind heat dry sore throats, qi and blood deficiency, wind damp impediment in the lower half of the body, and numbness and paralysis.

Rebecca Wood explains in The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia that sweet cherries are warming and increase vital energy, toning the Spleen, Liver and Kidneys. They remove excess body acids and blood stagnation when eaten often and can therefore treat gout, paralysis, numbness in the extremities, and rheumatic pain in the lower body.

Cherries are a great source of iron, which vaguely correlates to their status as a blood tonic. They do also contain some phosphorus, potassium, calcium and vitamin A.

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In true Seattle fashion, we have finally reached summer weather after the 4th of July. With temperatures in the upper 70s, and a city almost devoid of air conditioning, we need to find ways to stay cool. One of the ways I keep myself and my family from over-heating is by serving cooling foods for meals, snacks and beverages. Add a slice of cucumber or lemon to your water, use fresh mint in your cooking, serve watermelon for dessert. There are so many cooling foods that are in season right now. These are foods that nourish the yin (the cooling aspect of the body) and clear heat. They also have a high water content, hydration is very important when the temperatures are high.

Food is medicine, cool yourself down with foods from the following list.

Abalone, Aloe Juice, Apple, Asparagus, Bamboo shoots, Banana, Barley, Black Beans, Blackberries, Blueberries, Celery, Chicken Egg Whites, Chrysanthemum Flower Tea, Clams, Cucumber, Crab, Duck, Fish and Fish Roe, Grapefruit, Ham, Hops, Horseradish, Kelp, Kidney Beans, Kiwi, Kohlrabi, Peaches, Plums, Pork, Lemon, Lettuce, Lime, Loquat fruit, Mandarin orange, Mango, Millet, Mint, Mulberries, Mushrooms, Mussels, Nectarines, Oysters, Pear, Peas, Persimmon, Pork, Salt, Seaweed, Sour Plum, Star Fruit, Strawberries, String Beans, Sugar Cane, Sweet Potato, Tangerine, Tofu, Tomato, Vinegar, Water Chestnut, Watermelon

Silkie chickens are a special breed. They have lovely downey white feathers, but their skin and muscle tissue are a deep black. Another thing that makes them special is that they will nurture any eggs. Their own eggs, another chicken’s eggs, duck eggs, turkey eggs…. they are indiscriminate care-takers. In Chinese Medicine, the color black is associated with the kidneys, the deepest source of energy for our bodies, and black chickens are used for just that.

In Asia black chickens have been eaten for centuries to supplement and rejuvinate the body, particualarly after serious illness, or after childbirth. I find that last part very interesting considering how nurturing the black chicken is when it comes to taking care of any eggs they find. To nurture our bodies, we can elicit the help of a creature that naturally nurtures.

Practically speaking, the black chicken is used just like the classic chicken soup for serious illness and recovery. It is considered very nourishing to the body and soul. While black chicken is not very popular in the west, due to it’s more gamy texture and surprising color, it is quite good in soup and is becoming trendy in modern restaurants.

The following is a recipe for wu ji, or black chicken, soup. The ingredients aren’t too hard to come by in your local china town, and the herbal combination can also be purchased in the Queen Anne clinic. I highly recommend it to anyone needing extra energy, and to all women in the weeks following childbirth.

Black-Skinned Chicken Soup

From the New York Times, Jan 17, 2007

Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

2 1/2 -pound black-skinned chickens, head and feet discarded, cleaned and rinsed

18 dried white yam pieces, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1/2 cup wolfberries, presoaked for 1 hour and drained

1 inch-square piece of dried orange peel, presoaked for 30 minutes and drained

2 1/2-inch thick slices fresh ginger, peeled and smashed

2 pieces Smithfield ham, each 2-inches by 1-inch, and 1/2- inch thick


1. Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Boil chickens for 2 minutes, then remove and set aside. Clean pot, add chickens with enough cold water to barely cover the birds.

2. Place pot over high heat and add yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger, and ham. Bring to a boil and skim off scum. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, occasionally skimming fat from the surface.

3. Remove and discard yam, wolfberries, orange peel, ginger and ham. Set aside chicken for other use or slice to serve in soup. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a paper towel, and place over a serving bowl. Pour broth through colander. Add salt to taste, and serve.

Yield: 4 servings (about 2 quarts).

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The following is a delicious recipe from the book Hungry Monkey by fellow Seattlite Matthew Amster-Burton. It is a family favorite in our house and I make it when I feel the need for some healthy comfort food. The recipe includes star-anise, which is a digestive aid, green onion which helps ward off colds, and and garlic, which does both. I highly recommend giving this easy, delicious recipe a try.

Sticky Chinese-Style Spareribs
From Hungry Monkey by Matthew Amster-Burton

serves 4

1 rack pork spareribs (about 3 1/2 lbs), trimmed and cut into individual ribs
1 bunch scallions, cut into 2 inch lengths
4 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 star anise
1/4 c rock sugar or 2 Tb granulated sugar
1/2 c soy sauce
1 1/2 c low-sodium chicken broth
2 Tb hoisin sauce
2 Tb rice vinegar

Place all ingredients in a slow cooker and cook on low heat 7-8 hours or until the meat is very tender. Serve with rice.

A trip to “the dragon store” to get ingredients to make Kim Chi.

recipe one is with Nappa cabbage:

the second is with Bok Choy:

Bok Choy Kimchi Recipe

The commercial version

the ingredients:

Bring on the brine-making, the peeling, the chopping, the stuffing of the jars!

Why make Kim Chi? Why ferment?

Fermented foods are healthy! Fermenting proliferates the “good” bacteria called lactobacillus which occur naturally in our digestive tracts. Through antibiotic use, including through our foods, our good bacteria diminish. Eating fermented foods helps re-establish the good bacteria in our gut. By doing so we help boost our immune function and reduce the “bad” bacteria in our bodies. This leads to healthier immune function and better living overall. Besides, Kim Chi is tasty!!!

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There are some correlations between western nutritional science and Chinese food therapy. One of the ways in which they diverge is on the topic of raw food. Chemically, food contains more of its vitamins and minerals when raw, and the longer a food cooks, the more of it’s nutrients are lost. This doesn’t mean western Nutritionists believe that all people should eat all vegetables and fruits raw at all times. However, in Chinese nutrition, raw food should rarely, if ever, be consumed.

I like to think about the stomach as a pot on a stove. If you put cold water and foods into it, it takes more time for the pot to get the food up to temperature in order to digest it than if you put warm, slightly cooked foods into it. The Spleen/Stomach energy has to work very hard, and use quite a bit of qi to break down raw food into components useable by the body. We believe that when food is consumed that has been slightly cooked, through saute, stir fry, baking, roasting, or the like, the Stomach/Spleen can get the most value from the food with the least effort. This is especially true in the wintertime when the body is already working hard to function in the cold weather, and even more so in those who are diagnosed with having a Spleen qi vacuity.

During the winter months, avoid excessive raw food and cold beverages. Give your digestive system the benefit of partially broken down veggies and even fruits (baked pears are fantastic!!) until the weather warms again. You might even consider having a cup of miso or tea before a meal, this helps warm the stomach so that it will be best prepared to digest effectively.

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