Medicinal rice porridge, or 'congee,' is the nutritional foundation for optimal health in traditional Chinese medicine. Simple and fuss free kitchen witchery, the basis of congee is one part rice to 6 parts water simmered in a slow cooker overnight with minimal elbow grease or finessing. In 'The Book of Jook', one of my favorite repositories of congee recipes both egalitarian and exotic, Bob Flaws explains that "in Chinese medicine, the prognosis of any disease is based on three things: spirit, stomach qi, and root. Spirit refers to the heart spirit which is nourished by qi. Root refers to the kidney essence which is also nourished by qi. Once the stomach qi fails, we can no longer make qi and blood postnatally and thus must decline. It is believed in traditional Chinese medicine that when the vital energy of the stomach is depleted, the disease will be incurable, and that is why rice porridge is considered to be the most fundamental of dietotherapeutic foods." My favorite part about being a Chinese medical physician is that my prescription pad is not limited to pharmaceuticals, and I get to relish in the simple transformative magic of prescribing personalized congee formulas to my patients using medicinal herbs and foods. This one is comprised of mulberries, spirit Poria mushroom, Chinese dates, and goji berries, and is for supplementing the liver and boosting the kidneys, enriching yin and blood, moistening the intestines, brightening the eyes, and calming the heart. ❤️
Preventative medicine in a porcelain pot, Si Shen Tang 四神汤, ‘Four Deities Soup’, is an old school tonic remedy for all matter of melee thwarting zest & zing. I have been all sorts of obsessed with this soup since introduced to it by my Chinese Nutrition teacher, who’s hot-blooded zeal for food as medicine is unparalleled. Slurp by slurp, I noticed near immediate relief from digestive doldrums, and felt palpable rays of puissance wash over my seriously taxed bag o’ bones. This gentle soup can be utilized in a myriad of ways, from strengthening the digestive system, increasing appetite after illness or chemotherapy, battling fatigue, boosting the immunity, and calming a jostled nervous system. Because it’s taste is placid & mild, Si Shen Tang is the perfect source of nutrition for finicky kids with digestive distress. Though I find juice fasts to be haughty, ill-informed, & positively superfluous (life is entirely too vivacious to camp out on top of a Vitamix for weeks on end, eschewing commitments, kettlebells, and spontaneity), I CAN get down with a soup detox, which grounds, nourishes, and warms the body. Where juice lacks fiber & protein, shuts down the thyroid, dampens the digestive system, and contributes to wild fluctuations in blood sugar, tonic soups are PERFECT for a midsummer cleanse. They will sustain and simplify, supporting your organ systems without dampening and depleting your inner fire.
Soup cures are this bruja’s medicine of choice, nonpareil. Though you must be proactive, prudent, and vigilant in your preemptive preparation, using soup as medicine is an infinitely rewarding and deliciously empowering alternative to medication and surly interludes at urgent care. A dash of fastidiousness in the kitchen goes a long way in the gallant fight against acute ailments, chronic fatigue, and recovery from illness, by maintaining a buoyant & valorous flow of qi throughout the body.
Though their pedigree may seem glamorously avant garde, Chinese herbs are a hoary banality, and customary staple in most Asian pantries for both healing and grubbing. All of the herbs below can be easily procured in your local Chinatown apothecary, should you have a local Chinatown apothecary. If Los Angeles happens to be your halcyon homestead, hustle on over to Tin Bo or Wing Hop Fung for a crash course in Chinese herbalism, and a fanciful frolic amongst shelves of dried fish maw, beetle skeletons, powdered horns, seahorses, and musty mystical mushrooms. Fresh fare- such as Sake and Chinese Yam- will be readily available at any Asian market, where you can also try your luck at finding rogue Chinese herbs to flesh out your budding collection.
1 Cup Job’s Tears Barley/Yi Yi Ren
A gluten-free barley (be still my heart!) that adds burly nourishment to even the most tedious soups, stews, and brews, Yi Yi Ren is a gloriously gratifying grain. Excellent for eliminating dampness, heat, and toxicity, it goes to the spleen, stomach, and lungs, aiding in digestive troubles, swelling, fatigue, urinary difficulty, abscesses, and joint pain. I was thrilled to learn recently that Yi Yi Ren is being used intravenously in China to shrink cancer cells, and has been exhibiting hefty anti-tumoral powers. It is, unfortunately, not suitable for pregnant women, though it’s wondrous in soups for conjuring postpartum joie de vivre.
1 Cup Lotus Seed/Lian Zi
A dapper bedfellow to Yi Yi Ren, Lian Zi is a meaty lil’ seed that nourishes the heart, spleen, kidneys, and vital essence. Another darling of the pantry, Lotus Seed is mild enough to beef up any feastly fête, excellent for cases of chronic diarrhea, urinary and reproductive disorders, low appetite, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, and palpitations.
1 Cup Fox Nut/Qian Shi
Completing the trifecta of tonics, Qian Shi gently supports the spleen and kidneys, for frequent urination, diarrhea, diabetes, chronic discharge, and sore low back from stress and over-taxation.
A Few Pieces of Fu Shen/Spirit Poria Mushroom, Broken Up
One of the most poetic medicinal mushrooms of the Chinese canon, Fu Shen is both a mushroom AND a morsel of host wood from the pine tree upon which she feasts. Thus she contains the rootsy, arboreal energetics of the tree, and the otherworldly, decaying detritus of the fungus. Spirit Poria nourishes the heart spirit, and the ancient Taoists believed that consuming this famed fungi 'leads to a long and happy life.’ It is used by those wishing to overcome anxiety, palpitations due to heart deficiency, insomnia, poor memory, worry, fear, edema, and urinary difficulties.
1 Raw Chinese Yam/Shan Yao, Grated and Sliced
Another boon for boosting spleen and stomach qi, Shan Yao is excellent for diarrhea, fatigue, spontaneous sweating, and lack of appetite. Also admirable for tonifying lung and kidney qi, it is an delightful herb for diabetics and those with chronic cough and wheezing.
3 Cups Sake or Mirin
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, rice wine invigorates and warms the channels of the body, quickening the flow of qi and enhancing the potency of herbs.
3 Liters Purified Water or Homemade Bone Broth
Should you be hoarding any homemade Botanarchy Bone Broth, this would add luscious flair to your brew. If water seems entirely too ho-hum for your tastes (which it won’t be, I promise), you can find my broth recipe here. I recommend a lighter broth, such as chicken, tempered with purified water.
A Heavy-Handed Sprinkling of Toasted Sesame Oil and Sea Salt, To Taste
Optional: Chicken or Pork
First, sanctify your herbal assemblage by bathing it in water, and grate the scrappy skin off your Chinese Yam before slicing. Once your herbs have been happily hallowed, grab yourself a hefty stock pot, and throw in the Job’s Tears, Lotus Seed, Fox Nut, and Fu Shen with wild abandon. Cover with a liter of purified water, boil, and then reduce to a slow simmer with lid on for about 2 hours, until your herbs have sweetly softened. Pop on over about two shakes of a lamb’s tail short of two hours, and add the Sake and Chinese Yam. Once the yam is soft, season to taste with Sesame Oil and Sea Salt. Enjoy in robust health, surreptitiously slurping your bowl of medicine daily, until you have thoroughly coaxed your mojo back to life and hoisted the heebie jeebies right outta dodge.
Mushrooms are biology’s continuum between birth and decay, teetering presumptuously on the precipice between life and death, one foot always in the grave. Ushering one poor soul across the River Styx while sowing the seeds for another sap’s claim on some prime terrestrial real estate, fungi are the entire life cycle manifest. In the spirit of Dia De Los Muertos, I celebrate the shapeshifting shenanigans of the mushroom with a savory Cordyceps soup, based on a medicinal congee recipe from Traditional Chinese Medicine.
The Cordyceps is a gloriously macabre mélange of science fiction & Greek myth. Its delicately deceitful spores coyly infect its arthropod prey, killing them softly and re-animating itself within their corpse. When the fungus parasitizes the larva, its mycelia spread through the larva’s body, hijacking its nutrients and sapping all of its succulent Qi. The Cordyceps then springs forth from the larvae’s head, birthed from the brains of its prey like Athena erupting from the head of her father Zeus (oh, the poetry of it all!).
All guts, glory and folklore aside, these lil’ fungi are truly mythical in scope. Is it really a coincidence that the Cordyceps mushroom - hailed on the street as the Himalayan Viagra- is revered for its ability to increase stamina, sex drive, virility, strength, brainpower, athletic prowess & focus? If you’d like to harness the power of the Huntress Athena, boot-up for an all-night Bacchanal, or carouse with the saints of caterpillars past, here’s a recipe for medicinal Cordyceps congee.
For one serving you will need the following accoutrements. Adjust amounts for serving sizes as needed. Cordyceps can stimulate testosterone production, so you don’t want to exceed 2-3 strands a day (I’ve been told by a fellow herbalist that Cordyceps in excess can make you feel all hotsy totsy):
2-3 organic chicken thighs, parbroiled for 2 minutes and cut into pieces
2-3 strands of dried Cordyceps Sinensis (Dong Chong Xia Cao)
I am epically stoked to dig into the bag of Munchable Cordyceps that I procured at Dragon Herbs. You could just as well pick up a few ounces of these at your local Chinatown apothecary. I have been assured that these lil’ guys are the real McCoy, bona fide fungi foraged from caterpillar craniums, nourished in the rustic bosom of Lady Nature (not cultivated in a humdrum lab). No disrespect - many fine mushies are farmed vs. foraged, and I consume them with gabs of gusto on a regular basis. Just let it be known that the wilder the berry, the wiser the Qi.
6 Red Jujube Dates (Hong Zao), rinsed
I love buying these ‘Chinese apples’ at the Hollywood farmer’s market from the sweet ole chap that encloses his hand-written tea recipe with every bag. You can buy them fresh in late summer, dry what you don’t eat, and plop these little ruffians in teas, oatmeal and broth all winter. In addition to being a great harmonizer that mellows the harsh properties of other herbs, it also provides excellent energy and is a powerful Qi tonic, replenishing spleen & stomach Qi, nourishing blood, and soothing the woes of the mind.
A handful of Goji Berries (Gou Qi Zhi)
Goji is the de rigueur antioxidant of the hipsterati elite, but please don’t let that deter you from hopping on its proverbial bandwagon. It is one of the premier anti-aging herbs of ancient Asian herbalism, and is believed to tonify the entire system against disease, improve vision (both literally and metaphorically), and provide the energy to overcome the most difficult of obstacles.
1 nice & thick knuckle of ginger
4 1/2 cups of chicken broth
Place your chicken & medicinals in a large stock pot, covering with stock. Put a lid on it and simmer for 1½ hours. Ladle into bowls, sprinkle some sea salt, and drink to your newfound pomp & circumstance!