According to National weather forecasts, this coming winter in the Northeast & the rest of the country promises to be the coldest in a decade. Along with the frigid temperatures comes a host of immune deficiency-related issues, such as the common cold/flu/allergies plus that untraceable malaise that comes with physical aches & pains that affect one's energy leading to an overall feeling of depletion.
There is an old saying that comes from China's rural past, reflecting the life or death struggle of a people tied to the cyclical nature of the seasons, it is as follows: "take a good tonic in the winter, kill a tiger in the spring". One of the main axioms of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is prevention or preparing the body to withstand & ward off disease. It is with this mantra in mind that Acupuncturists & practitioners of TCM prescribe Herbs/Acupuncture/Exercises to help boost the body's immune system and help prevent seasonal afflictions.
A time proven remedy for the effects of the cold weather are Herbal Tonics, also known as Medicinal Wines/Elixirs which help fortify one's innate defenses, thereby curbing ailments during the long winter. I am going to discuss 2 tonics, one in liquid form the other as pills, that I normally prescribe to my patients around this time of the year (October/November) to get a head start on boosting the immune system. It should be noted that these tonics do not help at the onset of a cold, the whole point being to prevent illness in the first place. There are plenty of other remedies in the TCM canon that will help one at the early/acute phase of said affliction.
Chinese Herbs used in the Health Tonic.
Health Tonics & Medicinal Wines
These tonics or formulas are called Gaofang in chinese. Gao means paste & fang is short for chufang or prescription. For lack of a better name, the first formula I will talk about is called a "Health Tonic". It is a tradition for Chinese Herbal pharmacies to have their own custom made version of it. The one I prescribe contains about 60-plus herbs that have been soaking in rice wine for up to 3 months & then strained into a 750 ml bottle. A daily shot of this is taken, usually in the mornings, for about a month & a half. This health tonic helps improve circulation, boost the immune system and increase overall energy. I don't prescribe it to women that are pregnant or in the midst of their monthly cycle. Infants, people with high blood pressure & patients with chronic ailments or chronic ailments in flare up should not drink this as well. A good herbalist can tailor the formula to specific concerns, such as making it free of any animal products or balancing these warming, blood moving herbs with more cooling ones, for a person's unique constitutional type.
The tonic I use is made at a good friend's family herbal clinic in NYC's chinatown. it contains herbs such as Astragalus, Chinese & American Ginseng, Echinacea, Goji Berries, Cinammon Twigs, Red Dates plus 52 other herbs that act as Adaptogens or metabolic regulators that increase the ability of an organism to adapt to environmental factors and to avoid damage from such factors. I normally don't use commercially made tonics as something gets lost during the process of mass production. If you're interested in obtaining this, I would suggest you seek out a reputable chinese herbal pharmacy near you, either through online research or referrals & ask about their particular formula: how long has it been soaking in wine, exactly what herbs are in it & if a custom blend can be made if so desired.
You can also order directly the health tonic I use from this pharmacy in NYC, they ship anywhere in the USA/World, contact them for details at:
Jade Windscreen Pills
If the prospect of taking a daily shot of medicinal wine doesn't sound too appealing or if you don't drink alcohol all together; an ideal alternative is the herbal formula known as Yu Ping Feng Sang or literally, Jade Windscreen Powder. The formula comes in pill, tincture or powder form. It's composed of 3 herbs, the main one being Astragalus (Huang Qi), widely used for strenghtening the immune system. It is a also one of the main Adaptogens in the herbal cornucopia, a natural substance that helps the body maintain its normal balance of health. The other two herbs, Atractylodes (Bai Zhu) and Ledebourellia Root (Fang Feng), help support the autoimmune system by building up its defenses. I prescribe the pill form, dosage being 3-5 pills 3 times a day, taken with warm water 30 minutes before a meal or one hour after a meal. I advise my patients to start taking this before the full onset of winter & one bottle of 100 to 120 pills should be done per month. The formula is safe for all ages & body types, it won't contradict any chronic ailments. The one exception being, as stated earlier, it is not suitable if you're in grips of a cold or flu. It works best as a preventive armor for those that tend to get sick often at this time of the year.
The companies that make Jade Screen & that I use are: Kan Herbs, Plum Blossom, Golden Flower & Treasures Of The East. You can find them at the Vitamin Shoppe, GNC, your local health store/vitamin supplement outlet or readily available online from various distributors. A modern variation on this traditional formula is available through Health Concerns, which makes 2 wonderful products, one called Astra C, which is basically Jade Windscreen along with Vitamin C & Zinc Citrate added to it for its ability to prevent viral infections.The other is Astra 8: Jade Windscreen's 3 core herbs plus 5 more immunity building chinese herbs.
An alternative that I also recommend to my patients, is to focus on the preventive properties of Astragalus by pairing it up with Echinacea. The first week of each of the winter months, one takes 8-10 pills of Astragalus by itself, 3 times a day. Along with Echinacea in tincture form, 8-12 drops, 3 times a day. You do this 1 week out of the month, and all throughout the winter season, mainstream vitamins/supplements purveyor sell Astragalus & Echinacea by itself.
If you are more of the industrious, hands-on kind of person & wish to explore as well as make your own decoction. I highly recommend the following book, Chinese Medicinal Wines & Elixirs, written by long-time TCM practitioner Bob Flaws. As the book jacket states:
"This book contains the ingredients, method of preparation and administration, indications, and contraindication of over 200 authentic Chinese medicinal wines. Translated from both premodern and contemporary Chinese sources, this book is the largest and most complete on this subject in English.
These wines are easy to make, often requiring only one or two ingredients. Thus they do not require a huge, on-site pharmacy. Many of these ingredients are available at health food and Oriental food stores. Ninety-five percent of the rest of the ingredients listed in the formulas in this book can be obtained by mail from any of a number of suppliers whose addresses are given inside. That makes these formulas perfect for use as adjunctive remedies for acupuncturists. In addition, patient compliance in taking these wines is high."
As I write this, I am about to take my daily shot, so to your health!
Any issues or questions, drop me a line at:
Good instructional video on making Medicinal Wines:
These formulas should NOT be used at the early or acute stages of colds or the flu, they are for preventative purposes only. Please be sure to consult with a Licensed Acupuncturist or Chinese Herbalist to make sure there are no contraindications for pre-existing medical conditions.