December often marks the official beginning of winter – the season that beckons us to come inside, slow down, and rest more. When Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) was first developed, people were living in a state of harmony with the natural world. This alignment with each season allowed people to strengthen and balance their organs (including the immune system) throughout the year. Each season is associated with a different organ. The Winter has been connected with the kidneys, which house our bodies’ most fundamental energy. What a fantastic time of year to nourish and strengthen these unsung heroes of the body!
We can support the kidneys in a myriad of ways – especially with the foods we choose to eat. Focusing on warming foods that have a lot of liquid is a good place to start. Soups, stews, miso, seaweed, grains and beans are all fantastic foods that will help strengthen your kidneys. Broths made with animal bones are particularly fortifying as they are high in minerals, which feed the powerhouse of the kidneys. Seafood, lamb, chicken, walnuts and leafy greens are also found to be supportive. You can focus on foods that are more readily available during this winter season like squash, apples, potatoes, root vegetables, carrots, cabbage, mushrooms and pears. Herbs like parsley, cilantro, garlic and ginger are also high in mineral content, warm the body’s core, and nourish it from within – which the kidneys just love.
Another simple practice to incorporate is using herbs and teas. Herbs, especially when grown in the wild, have deep tap roots to receive minerals from nutrient-rich soil. There’s a reason we remove dandelions from our veggie gardens – “weeds” are better at extracting nutrients from the soil! Plants like nettles, dandelion leaf, chickweed, raspberry leaf, oatstraw, red clover, and alfalfa are particularly high in minerals and other nutrients. Tea, or “hot water extraction” is an excellent way to pull nutrients from the plant and is best when allowed to steep for a longer period of time. Place 4 heaping tablespoons of herbs in a quart jar of hot water, cover and let steep 4-8 hours (or overnight). Strain and you can use half today and store the other half in the fridge to use tomorrow. For best results, drink at least 2 cups daily.
Other practices, like reducing the amount of food you eat, will not only rest the organ systems but can help avoid unnecessary weight gain that often accompanies winter (and COVID-19 restrictions!). Avoid raw foods as much as possible as they tend to cool the body. Getting to sleep early, resting well and staying warm also support kidney nourishment.
Pay attention to activities that might be draining your energy stores – let those go as soon as you can to help the kidneys restock their energy supply. Since the kidneys are really a filter in the body (and related to the element of water), staying hydrated and using a moderate amount of high-quality sea salt are incredible balms to a hard-working kidney. Finally, wrapping the low back and waist with a warm scarf can hold and support the kidneys in a gentle way. This subtle practice allows your core to stay warm and protects the kidneys from cold.
Staying aware of supporting these vital organs daily will go a long way to keeping you healthy, balanced and happy!
Nicola Dehlinger, ND, graduated from SCNM in 2004. Dr Nicola sees clients from around the world in her naturopathic medical practice, Pura Vida Natural Healthcare, in Durango, CO. She is an expert in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. She is able to minimize supplements and medications as her patients become empowered to heal themselves. In addition to seeing clients, Dr Nicola leads group and private retreats. She also teaches a variety of online and in-person classes. In her free time, you can find Dr Nicola in the mountains or the kitchen, enjoying time with her husband, son, and their dogs. Website: www.puravidahealthcare.com