This is the time of year when many of us will succumb to the dreaded common cold and/or flu. While the flu shot may prevent more serious consequences, it cannot protect us against the common cold, which is the most infectious disease in humans. It keeps more people off work and school than any other and there is no cure for it. Both the common cold and flu are viral infections of the respiratory tract and symptoms can only be alleviated somewhat by bed rest, warm drinks and over the counter medication.
In China however, prevention of colds and flu is available in the form of herbal drinks and ancient herbal formulae. Schools and colleges offer their students herbal teas to drink and, at home, most every family medicine cabinet has a herbal cold and flu formula in it. It is also a tradition for people to visit their doctor before the onset of the winter season to obtain prescribed herbs, roots and bark to take home. These are soaked in rice wine for a number of weeks and the resulting drink is sipped daily to ward off illness in the coming months.
If a cold or flu has not been prevented it is said that the body’s protective energy (wei qi) is not strong enough to keep the virus from entering the body on an exterior level. Protective qi is the body’s strongest energy and is responsible for warding off all viruses and influences of the weather. During the day time it is distributed primarly in the skin and muscles. Colds and flu are seen as an exterior condition first affecting surfaces exposed directly to the environment, such as skin and mucus membrane of nose, throat and lungs. If the symptoms of stuffy head, runny nose and thin tongue coating are caught early enough it is possible to prevent the exterior conditions from becoming interior and to restore balance by choosing spices and herbs such as peppermint, garlic, fresh ginger, that will reach the periphery of the body and expand the sweat glands to sweat out the exterior condition.
Other useful foods are carrots, parsley, grapefruit, cabbage, broccoli, beef and mutton, rice porridge – and to celebrate Spring Festival (Chinese New Year), try some nian gao, or “dispelling cold cake”. Made from sticky rice this cake is said to warm the body and provide nourishment in the coldest part of the year (time of the last solar term called “major cold”), at the same time bringing good luck and happiness.
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