Ginseng’s Chinese name, renshen, means “human root,” because it vaguely resembles a human body: a bulbous head on top, with two “arms” and two forked “legs” at the bottom. Its appearance is significant in Chinese culture, because it’s taken to symbolize ginseng’s potent ability to cure human ills.
Specifically, ginseng is said to strengthen and replenish qi (vital energy), which is essential to the body. Qi a vital substance that sustains life, warming the body and allowing it to move and develop. Qi circulates throughout the body along with blood, providing energy to our organs and tissues.
Also known as wolfberries, goji berries have been used as an herbal remedy for over 3,000 years, with its first recorded use in The Classic of Herbal Medicine. More recently, it’s come to the attention of the West, who revere it as a “superfood” that’s packed with a potent punch of antioxidants and vitamins.
These berries taste floral and sweet, and usually come in dried form. They are thought to be anti-aging because they can benefit the kidneys and to nourish jing, or kidney essence, which underpins human vitality. Goji berries are also eaten to improve eyesight.
This essential yin (cooling) food helps to detoxify the body, expelling heat and adding moisture. Yin and yang are the opposing, primordial elements of nature. To be in good health, our bodies need a roughly equal balance between yin and yang.
Summertime is associated with yang, so it’s important to cool down our bodies with a yin food like mung beans. A refreshing bowl of refrigerated mung bean soup – quite simply, mung beans simmered in water for 20 minutes – is very popular in China during hot weather.
Jujube dates have been used in TCM recipes for centuries. They can easily be steeped as teas or steamed with congee to aid circulation and to bolster qi. These brightly-colored fruits are high in vitamins B and C, with a firm red skin, soft, sweet flesh and large seed in the middle.
The seed of the jujube is as important as the flesh. Jujube seeds are thought to promote blood flow, calm the mind, and soothe the nerves, and are often used to treat insomnia. When cooked in water, jujube seeds can reduce fatigue and regulate sleep.
The Chinese have long believed that eating walnuts can sharpen the mind and boost concentration and memory. This stems from the fact that the crinkled appearance of a walnut resembles the folds of a human brain – and according to TCM principles, like replenishes like. In fact, walnuts help to lower cholesterol and have been found to contain compounds that aid the heart and the brain, including omega-3 fats, vitamin E and folate.
In addition to helping the brain, walnuts can support kidney qi and aid digestion by lubricating the intestines. As a warming food, walnuts are a great addition to the diet during the winter months. You can snack on raw walnuts or incorporate them into stir-fries or baked goods.