Winter Wind and Chinese Medicinal Herbs

Chinese Medicine emphasizes the benefits of living in harmony with our environment and its cycles. Winter with its coldness and increased darkness encourages us to go inward, slow down, to give ourselves time to reflect and replenish our energy and conserve our strength.



Winter is commonly a time of colds and the flu. In Chinese Medicine, the common cold and the flu arise from external wind. In particular, the wind carries the “evils” of dampness, and especially cold. The exterior of our body is considered our “fortress” against these evil pathogens. From a Western perspective, this is roughly equivalent to our immune system.

Acupuncture and herbal medicine can strengthen the fortress and help to prevent the wind from getting through our exterior, potentially resulting in a cold or flu. They are also said to strengthen our “Wei Qi” (our defensive Qi) in the superficial (close to the surface) muscles and skin layers of our body. This Wei Qi combats against the attacks of “evil” Qi that ride in on the wind. From a Western perspective these “evils” might be viewed as viruses or bacteria.

If the “evil” cold or dampness does penetrate through these defenses, perhaps because of a pre-existing imbalance or weakness in the support systems within the body, then symptoms can develop. If you have already contracted a cold, acupuncture and herbal medicine can help with the sore throat, runny nose, achy muscles, or fever that may be present.



Many herbs that release this wind and cold penetrating from the exterior are considered acrid and warming. They focus on the superficial layer of the body, as well as the lungs. Some herbs also help to open the pores and push out the pathogenic factor via sweating. Since sweating is a way that our body releases the pathogen outward to the exterior, taking a hot bath when getting sick is a helpful idea (if you are not already sweating). Take this bath, then crawl under several covers and see if you can sweat the illness to the outside of the fortress. Other ways to expel the wind is to drink ginger tea, which is warming to the body and helps us sweat. Ginger tea is also soothing to the digestive system. After the signs and symptoms have been relieved, then a practitioner can help to correct the original imbalance that made you susceptible in the first place.



Some common herbs that help to build and strengthen the body are:


Ginseng: Boosts the energy, vitality and overall health.


Wolfberry/Goji Berry/ Lycium fruit – Gou Qi Zi: Strengthens immune system, nourishes blood and moistens the lungs.


Jujube/Chinese date – Da Zao: Tonifies the energy and blood, generates fluids, supports the Stomach.


Astragalus – Huang Qi: A root that boosts the Wei Qi defensive layer of the body.


Cinnamon – Gui Zhi: An herb and spice. Invigorates circulation, and expels cold from the blood.


Ginger – Sheng Jiang: An herb and a spice. Beneficial to digestion, helps ventilate the Lungs, and treats cough.


Licorice – Gan Cao: Helps to relieve a sore throat and muscle spasms.


*These herbs can be used in the home kitchen for making teas or can be added to foods, such as congee (hot grain cereals) or soups.


About Author

Karen Litton  / L.Ac, MSW, LMBT, Dipl. OM (NCCAOM)

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