Updated: Nov 15
As we approach the darkest days of the year, we contemplate how would the ancient Tonic Herbalists stay balanced and thriving throughout the changing seasons?
According to Chinese Medicine, there are 5 seasons of the year, ruled by elemental energies. And if we tune into the elemental rhythms of the seasonal changes around us, we can respond with foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices that best support our bodies' natural regenerative powers throughout the year.
5 Seasons and Elemental Correspondences
Early Summer ~ Fire
Late Summer ~ Earth
Autumn ~ Metal
Winter ~ Water
Spring ~ Wood
Winter: Season of Water and Jing Restoration
Tonic Herbalism and TCM give us an elemental map to vibrant health in Winter. The winter season is correlated to the Water Element, which is associated with the kidneys, bladder, and fluids of the body. Winter is seen as a time for rest, and restoration of our vital Jing, the body’s foundational life-force essence. Jing relates to our inherited physical vitality and genetic capacity, which is either maintained or depleted over time through our lifestyle practices and the natural process of aging.
The kidneys are believed to be the storehouse of Jing, and winter is the perfect time of year for replenishing the kidneys and adrenals through enjoying quality rest. During the dark of winter, we naturally crave more sleep and restful activities. But the shorter days can also alter our internal circadian rhythms and hormone balance, making us feel overly tired, sensitive, anxious, or depressed. Lack of daylight and nutrient deficiencies can cause imbalances in mood, sleep, appetite, immunity and stress levels. Some people experience such severe symptoms in fall and winter, doctors call it Seasonal Affective Disorder and prescribe vitamins and light therapy. Thankfully, Tonic Herbalism offers a host of herbs, foods, and lifestyle practices that can counterbalance seasonal changes in our environment and help our bodies adapt gracefully.
Winter Elemental Associations
Kidneys & Adrenals
Blood and Fluids
Living in Balance with the Winter Season
Rest and Activity
To best support the kidneys and vital Jing, balance rest and healthy physical activity, especially in winter. Fluid movement practices like dance, yoga, or tai chi can support healthy circulation. Stay well hydrated with clean, pure water ~ 64oz each day. Adding fulvic minerals to your water can increase absorption. Getting plenty of physical exercise, preferably outdoors in sunlight and fresh air, helps to ensure the body can actually rest when it's time to sleep. Waking up early and getting outside in the sunlight (despite the weather) helps promote hormonal balance and healthy circadian rhythms. Winding down after dark, and dimming the artificial lighting can help prepare the body for restful sleep. For those who work nights or odd schedules, or live in extreme latitudes, consider a light therapy box to help promote circadian balance.
In winter time, we tend to gravitate to warm, cooked foods, and for good reason. It's usually cold out, and cooked foods warm us from the inside out. Many people tend to experience a drop in digestive fire when it's cold out, and cooked foods tend to be more easily digestible. We can also support our digestive fire and the fluids of our body by cooking with warming spices, eating fermented foods, enjoying hot teas, and other hydrating meals like soups and stews. We also benefit from eating darkly colored, nutrient-dense foods in winter to ensure the body has enough vitamins and minerals to repair itself as we rest.
Kidney Fortifying Foods: dark in color, salty, hydrating; black sesame seeds, black beans, root vegetables, dark leafy greens, blueberries, huckleberries, rose hips, goji berries, soups, stews, seaweeds, salt water fish.
Herbs and Supplements
We all know that we need to supplement Vitamain D in the winter months. But what other herbs and supplements support seasonal wellness in winter? Considering that winter is the darkest time of year, and associated with the Water Element and kidney Jing, we can use the doctrine of signatures to find herbs to support Jing restoration. The kidneys are the darkest colored organ of the body, and often associated with darkly colored herbs. For example, He Shou Wu is a powerful Jing Tonic and the root is a very dark brown. Shilajit is another nearly black Tonic that supports kidney and hormonal balance. Prepared Rehmannia is a potent Yin Jing Tonic for the blood and kidneys, and the prepared root is nearly black. You can further explore the Jing section of our Apothecary, or refer to the short list here...
Tonics for Jing Restoration
Three Treasures Tonics for Year-Round Wellness
Restorative Adaptogens for Seasonal Stress
Winter is a natural time for turning inward, nurturing the home and hearth. It's a great time for family togetherness, and also for personal reflection. Dreaming is a very important part of resting. And when we allow ourselves idle waking time to rest and reflect, we gather new insights and directions for the more active seasons to come. In our busy, modern world, we've often replaced the dark and contemplative winter quiet with blockbuster movie premiers, dazzling light shows, and lots more screen time. These all have their place in keeping our spirits high through the darkest, coldest months. And yet, the ancient wisdom of longevity suggests that we embrace winter's silent nights as a call to our own inner stillness. If we work with the elements, we can allow the stillness to recharge and restore us for more productive days ahead.
Learn more about Jing Tonics here...