Although winter is a time of colds and flus, in Ayurveda it is actually considered the best season for improving immunity. One reason is that our digestive fire, Agni, is higher in cold weather, so we are better able to absorb the heavier foods that can nourish us at our tissue’s deepest levels (dhatu).
Immunity Boosting Foods
Immunity boosting foods are those that are full of Prana– freshly made and well prepared, organic, easy to digest, and pure. Tailored to our individual body-mind type (prakruti), age, and the season, they fill the body with Prana without creating toxins (ama).
Quality organic vegetables, ripe fruits, whole grains, lentils, beans, culinary herbs, spices, healthy oils, and small amounts of boiled spiced milk, yogurt, soft white cheeses, nuts, seeds and lean meats are the basis of the Ayurvedic diet. Foods that are hard to digest should be avoided if you want to increase immunity. Overeating high protein high fat foods and overeating sugar or sugar with fat falls into this category.
But easily overlooked is that old, leftover, stale, rotten, processed, canned, bottled, frozen, and pre-prepared foods have little prana left, so they are difficult to digest and will clog the channels of circulation, producing Ama, or digestive toxins. This means marketed as “healthy” frozen foods and ready-made foods at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s that have been on the shelf for 4 days or 4 months.
Look at Your Tongue
Look at your tongue. If it regularly has a thick greasy coating, then you are building digestive toxins (Ama), which will in turn create a sluggish compromised immune system
If your imbalance is in Vata, Ama will collect in the Large Intestine, if in Pitta the Small Intestine and Pancreas, if in Kapha, the Stomach and Lung. Over time Ama spreads to the other tissues associated with your dosha and create disease. Correcting diet is one way to prevent this cycle.
Foods that nourish and balance the body in the cold, dry, late winter season are the sweet, sour and salty tastes. These are found naturally in grains, starchy vegetables, sea vegetables, sea salt, and fermented foods like natural sauerkraut kefir, and miso. It’s best to eat less of the astringent, bitter, and pungent tastes in cold dry weather, although all six tastes should be included in your diet.
In cold, wet weather, we increase the ration of pungent and bitter foods. Combining foods to suit your individual constitution/prakruti is an art; it is something I teach in Ayurvedic consultation.
Warm, home-cooked, unctuous foods are ideal, as long as they are not deep-fried and are cooked with easy-to-digest oils such as ghee, olive, or un-toasted sesame. Avoid cold or ice-cold foods, as cold foods and drinks douse the digestive fire, creating weakness.
Immunity Boosting Spice Masala
Spices can boost immunity indirectly. See this Ayurvedic Winter Spice Churna to learn how to make your own spice blend to add to foods in cooking and at the table.
Ayurvedic Winter Tonification
Trifal is an Ayurvedic herbal remedy that can gradually and gently purify and rejuvenate your digestive tract, improving your body’s ability to receive nourishment from the food you eat.
Trifal can be used for its laxative effect, and to strengthen the intestinal mucosa, which in tern improves absorption. It is used in Ayurveda for anyone showing immune weakness manifesting with chronic colds or allergies, as well as malabsorption syndromes manifesting chronic constipation or excessive gas.
It is used for acne (to reduce toxins generated by the intestines) and finally, as a Rasayan, or herbal rejuvenator. It rejuvenates by eliminating toxins (Ama) from all body tissues, and by balancing the three doshas Pitta, Vata, and Kapha. It is harmless and safe.
In fact if there were a panacea in Ayurvedic medicine, Trifal would be it. It promotes health while reducing anyone’s predilection for disease. Trifal is extremely rich in Vitamin C and bioflavonoid, and is a potent anti-oxidant.
When I began my practice I sought out the best Trifal available, and have been very pleased with the results i get from Ayush brand, a concentrated Triphala extract from Bellevue, Washington. A typical dose is 2-3 caps per day. For more details, or to discuss your condition, drop me an e or voice-mail.
Kitchen Medicine Cooking Medicine: Soup
Of the general food remedies for winter, nothing approaches soup. Soup is warming and makes meats and vegetables delicious and digestible. At the same time pushing hot fluids in winter keeps mucus membranes and bronchial passages hydrated, while loosening phlegm .
Here are a couple of soup recipes from my kitchen to yours.
Chick Pea Miso Soup with Celery Root and Seafood
1 cup scallops or other sea food
1 cup chopped celery root
1 cup chopped burdock root
1/2 cup white, brown, or fresh shitake mushrooms
1 cup small broccoli florets
4″ piece of kombu sea veggie, cut into pieces with a scissor
4″ piece of wakame sea veggie, ditto
1-2 slices ginger root
2-3 chopped scallion
2 quarts water
1 tbsp chick pea miso paste or mellow white if unavailable
1 tbsp sweet white miso paste or more to taste
a dash of white pepper if desired
Bring water to boil and add the root and sea veggies. Cook on a medium high boil until the roots are soft and the wakame has dissolved into beautiful dark pieces. Now add the sea food and mushrooms and cook on a low boil for around 10 minutes depending on the sea food. Cook until almost all done and turn flame down to simmer. Meanwhile, add the miso paste to 4 oz. of water in a cup and stir to make a liquid. Add the broccoli florets, scallion, and miso paste, and simmer for 5 minutes.
Serve with Buckwheat Soba noodles or just by itself for a low carb alternative.
This is a recipe that includes sea vegetables, which are excellent in winter. Winter is associated with the water element and the salty taste; both are characterized by sea veggies. Sea veggies are very high in minerals, aid the thyroid gland, and can help break up phlegm and swellings.
Good Miso is like fine wine. It is a fermented product with lots of health attributes that originates in Japan, the land of longevity, and is made from rice or other grains or beans. It is only as good as the producer who makes it.
Miso is an alkalinizing food, and its fermentation aids digestion and metabolism. Simply think of miso as a vegetarian soup base. Different types of miso, depending on the artisan and the grains or legumes used in production produce varying tastes. Someday, try them all!
The easiest miso soup? Boil water; add miso. Life should be so simple.
Winter Cleanse Soup
Most everyone overeats around the holidays, its hard not to; food is one of life’s great pleasures; sharing it with people you love is even greater.
So, at the end of December, when you have eaten too much, and too richly, take a few days and rest your digestive tract which has been working overtime.
Here is a cleanse method especially suitable for winter, in that it preserves the integrity of the digestive fire and body’s warmth, and is in soup form, which is ideal for this season. It’s a cleanse that does no damage in the process, like the kinds of cleanses you buy in the health food store with their “heroic” purgative herbals do.
2 quarts water, more or less.
3-5 carrots, to taste, and depending on size, sliced lengthwise and chopped a bit
1 beet, sliced
3-5 celery stalks, chopped
1 bunch dandelion greens. If not available substitute with kale
1 bunch parsley
1 burdock root, sliced lengthwise and chopped a bit.
1 4 inch piece of kombu sea vegetable, or dulse
2-3 slices of raw ginger root
Place all the ingredients except the parsley and greens in a large pot with the water and bring to a low boil. Low boil until the vegetables are almost fully cooked, and add the greens. Simmer until the greens are well darkened.
How to Use as a Cleanse
Drink a tall glass of this first thing in the morning, and at least three times a day for two days. The rest of the day eat just small amounts of very simple, low-fat, low protein food, like whole grain sourdough rye (Pacific Bakery, or French Meadow are good brands, but they both need to be toasted, as they are undercooked at the bakery), cooked starchy and green vegetables, like potato and broccoli. If you need protein, try some tempeh roasted with ginger or tofu and bean sprouts stir fried with a green veggie.
Delete the beet if you don’t want the red color. If you want it more savory or sweeter, add a sliced yellow or red onion. If you must, add some sea salt to taste. You could also use this basic recipe, or a variation, for miso soup. Just add some mellow or sweet white miso at the end and simmer for three minutes.
I might add chopped scallions at the end in that case
As the basis for a meal you could add some fish, like halibut or salmon or scallops and cook the veggies a little less long, and serve them with the fish over buckwheat soba, having the broth at the side. Who says you can’t eat your cake and have it, too?! Eden brand Soba and Udon are excellent.
The idea here is to liberate the minerals and other nutrients from the cellulose of the vegetables and into the broth, so don’t worry about over-cooking. Keep the heat relatively low. This is more like cooking Chinese herbs; when the soup is cooked all the goodness is in the broth, and the veggies you can eat or compost.
It’s well worth searching out dandelion greens. I found them, albeit non-organic, at Balboa International Market and at North Park Produce, here in San Diego. They are also, organic, at Whole Foods Market and other health food stores. Dandelion greens are a diuretic, and foods eaten over the holidays tend to cause water retention. So this is an excellent remedy. They also have a cleansing effect on the gall bladder.
Dandelions are very rich in nutrients. Traditionally, the roots and leaves of the plant have been used as medicines for breast maladies, bloating, digestive disorders, aching joints, fevers, and skin disorders. The leaves of the plant are very rich in vitamins, including A, C, D, and B-complex. They also have high levels of minerals like iron, magnesium, zinc potassium, manganese, copper, choline, calcium, boron, and silicon. The most active ingredient in dandelions, eudesmanolide and germacranolide, are found only in dandelions.
Burdock is a traditional cleansing vegetable that is used in East Asia to remove toxins from the blood and improved the function of organs like the liver, kidneys, and intestines, which play a role in detoxification. It has gentle laxative, diuretic, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Eyton J. Shalom, M.S., L.Ac.
Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine since 1992
copyright eyton shalom, san diego, ca, january 2009, all rights reserved, use with permission