Cailey Halloran L. Ac., Dipl. O.M.
If you suffer from digestive issues, you are not alone! According to the National Institutes of Health, sixty to seventy million Americans suffer from GI issues such as: chronic constipation, loose stools, reflux, hemorrhoids and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). To help provide an overall picture of your health, a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioner will ask you about your digestion. In TCM philosophy, seemingly unrelated issues with your sleep, skin, pain, or energy can also be related to poor digestion. In Chinese Medicine, food related headaches appear in the forehead. If you ever notice a frontal headache, think about what foods you ate and perhaps it could be related. Foods producing phlegm also indicate digestive imbalance. Acupuncture and Chinese herbal formulas are specifically targeted to improve digestive health. Still, you are your best advocate. We encourage our patients to explore another branch of Chinese medicine that can greatly affect their health: nutrition.
In Chinese medicine, the spleen and stomach transform your food and fluid into nourishment and deliver it to the four limbs of your body. When digestion is compromised, your body runs less efficiently. Take a moment and picture the last embers of a campfire. Imagine a pot above those embers. In this image, the pot represents your stomach and the embers are the digestive fire warming and breaking down food into usable energy for our bodies. When we first wake up in the morning, it is ideal to stoke the embers of the fire. The best way to do this is with the right meal. Ideally, we want to keep the pot warm, and starting with something light, hot, and nutritious will deliver the most energy.
What is a Congee?
Congee translates to Shi Fan or “water rice”. It is a traditional breakfast porridge enjoyed in many Asian countries. Typically, congees are served with steamed, sautéed, or pickled vegetables, as well as some kind of meat. Chinese medicinal herbs are also added for general well-being and vitality, and can be tailored to a person’s individual ailments. In the United States, the general population uses herbs to season or flavor a dish. They are not utilized for their medicinal properties. In China, common fruits and herbs, such as cardamom, cloves, ginseng, go ji berries, and many more are used to awaken the digestion, warm the stomach, and nourish the body. Rice itself is considered an herb, benefiting the lungs and soothing digestion.
The beauty of a congee is it is easy to make. Ingredients can be placed in a crock pot before bed and be ready upon waking. Check to see if your rice cooker, crock pot or pressure cooker has a “porridge” setting. While rice (either white or brown) is the most commonly used ingredient, you can substitute other grains such as millet or spelt, or use a combination of grains. Cook the rice and water in a covered pot for six hours or more on the low setting. The ratio of rice to water is 1:6 cups of water. You can play with this ratio to get the consistency you want. I like a more watery porridge. Congee is easily digested, boosts energy and is very nourishing. The beauty of a congee is it can be made sweet or savory according to your preferences, and what you wish to treat.
The Spanish have a dish called Paella which literally translates to, “the kitchen sink.” I make a congee in the same fashion and grab what is readily available in my refrigerator or cupboard. I try to limit my congee recipes to three or four ingredients; that way I can tell how I feel after I eat. Most days I keep it simple:
-a scoop of kimchi
-a scrambled egg
-honey and some slices of fruit (apples, bananas or berries) to satisfy a sweet craving
Two Warming Congees for the Tail-End of Winter:
These recipes have warming properties and help circulate energy, nourish the lungs, and fortify the body’s ability to fight the oncoming allergy season. They are great to strengthen your body and transition into spring.
Savory Winter Congee:
1-2 cups of roasted squash (I recommend kabocha or butternut)
1 clove sautéed garlic
1 chopped spring onion stalk
A handful of sautéed almonds (optional)
Sweet Winter Congee:
1-2 cups diced roasted or sautéed yam or sweet potato
1-2 cups apples sliced (can be added into the congee at the beginning for weaker digestion, or the end for more crunch)
1-2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tbsp. honey (or to taste)