Whenever I got sick as a child, my parents had two diagnoses: I was either too hot or too cold.
Being too hot meant 上火 (shàng huŏ), an increase of fire or masculine yang energy in the body’s chi.
According to Chinese medicine, this can lead to inflammations and other conditions such as rashes, dry skin, canker sores, hyperactivity, sore throat, heartburn, and fever.
On the flip side, catching a chill, 着凉 (zháo liáng), or otherwise developing too much cold female yin energy, can cause fatigue, lethargy, depression, joint aches, muscle aches, chills, and the runs.
Those trained in Chinese medicine may also examine other elements at play, such as dampness, dryness, wind, and summer heat.
Together with heat and cold, these make up the Six Pernicious Influences — climactic forces that can disrupt the harmony and balance of our bodies.
If you’ve lived in China, you may have observed how these climactic forces — and the avoidance of them — come into play.
For instance, as Michael Hurwitz observed, almost all beverages in China are served at room temperature, even beer. This is because most Chinese people are wary of introducing icy substances to the core of their bodies.
Your Chinese friends may also believe that getting chilled because you didn’t dress warmly enough can induce a viral cold, and that breaking a sweat is one way to cure that cold.
In Chinese medicine beliefs, the imbalances caused by the external forces of temperature and climate can weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to multiple disorders, or what Westerners would call “feeling under the weather.”
Balancing Your Body's Yin & Yang
Luckily, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a 3,000-year-old history — plenty of time to test out a few treatment plans.
Dietary therapy, or 食疗 (shí liáo), classifies food according to its warming and cooling qualities.
Many of us have body types that are naturally more hot (yang) or more cold (yin). After all, we can’t remain in perfect equilibrium always.
If you are prone to overheating and you prefer cold weather over summer heat, then you likely have a hot disposition.
Conversely, if you frequently have cold hands and feet and typically require a good night’s sleep to get going, you may have a cold disposition.
Depending on your body type, altering your diet can expel the fire, 去火 (qù huŏ), or boost your yang energy.
Finally, if you do find yourself out of balance or under the weather, here are a few simple home remedies that I enjoyed as a child and still use today.
Recipe For Reducing Heat: Mung Bean Soup
Mung bean soup, or lǜ dòu tāng (绿豆汤), is a Chinese classic that also has many cooling benefits.
There are many variations, but this simple recipe makes a great soup that can also be served chilled during hot summer days.
• 1 cup mung beans
• 6 cups water
• Rock sugar (to taste)
1) Wash and rinse the mung beans until the water runs clear.
2) Pour water and washed mung beans into a pot, then bring to a boil.
3) Simmer on medium heat for 45 minutes or until the beans have grown plump and have split open. The water should be murky, and the beans soft with a lighter shade of green.
4) When almost ready to remove the soup from heat, stir in rock sugar or brown sugar, according to taste. Serve after the sugar has dissolved.
Recipe for Boosting Heat: Hot Ginger Coke
There is a Chinese saying that goes:
A turnip before bed and some ginger when you rise will keep the doctor and his prescriptions at bay
shàng chuáng luó bo xià chuáng jiāng, bù láo yī shēng kāi yào fāng
There are many Chinese remedies featuring ginger, but hot ginger coke is my favorite.
Called jiāng zhī kě lè (姜汁可乐), or literally "ginger juice coke", my aunt first introduced this drink to me when I had an upset stomach.
With its warming qualities, ginger is a strong antioxidant that can improve indigestion, joint pain and circulation.
• 1 inch piece of ginger, sliced
• 12 ounces of coke
• Half a lemon, sliced
1) Heat the ginger slices in a medium saucepan on low heat until the smell is released.
2) Add the coke and lemon slices. (I recommend using coke sweetened with cane sugar rather than high fructose corn syrup).
3) Bring to a rolling boil, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.
4) Serve hot. If you don’t want lemon or ginger in your glass, pour through a strainer.
I hope these recipes give you a boost of good health! If you have experience with dietary therapy or if you have a favorite cold remedy outside the realm of Chinese TMC, please share it in the comments below!