The Yin & Yang Concept in Chinese Eating

By freelance writer Sally Perkins

The Yin And Yang Concept In Chinese Eating

Chinese food and Chinese medicine is based on the yin and yang concept of balance. It is never about specific foods, whether good or bad, but relationships created out of these foods and the health benefits acquired from them. The traditional concept of Chinese diets has always taken a holistic approach rather than individual foods. It is a relationship of cold, hot, and warm foods served together. The thermal nature of foods is not necessarily based on their preparation methods. Different seasons call for different foods. It is out of this combination that both delicious and highly nutritious foods are created.

Understanding Chinese Eating Concepts

Foods and Organs

According to Chinese medicine, every body organ is attached to a specific taste and a specific element. For instance, the heart is associated with bitterness and fire, lungs are associated with spicy foods and the metal element, the liver with soreness and wood, kidneys with the salty taste and water. This means that when preparing meals, they must always incorporate all the five tastes for the purpose of serving all the body organs. The composition of all these tastes ensures the body is well balanced and is protected from different kinds of diseases.

This delicious photo by Artur Rutkowski on Unsplash

Foods and Seasons

Foods are seasonal according to Chinese Eating. Summer is a period associated with yang: growth, light and energy. The heart is the organ symbol for summer. During this period, people are advised to eat cooling and hydrating foods. The cooking methods are also light, with most people preferring to sauté or steam food. The meals are light and servings small. Cool foods include lemons, cucumbers, watermelons, tofu, mung beans, sprouts, limes, apples, pumpkins and raw foods.  Flower leaf teas, the likes of mint and chamomile are great for cooling the body. During Autumn, sour and neutral foods are popular. These include pineapples, sesame, white fungus and most fruits. The organ associated with winter mostly is the kidney. Foods taken during this season are warm, spicy, dark and less salty. They include red pepper, red meat, chive, shrimp, spring onions, black fungus, ginger, vinegar, mustard, wine, leeks and mushrooms. The spices and food tonics help to heal up the body. Raw or frozen foods are shunned as they require a lot of digestive energy to be broken down. Meals taken during winter are often heavy and cooked for long periods. During Spring, a season indicating new birth, people eat sweet and cold foods like dates, spinach and coriander.

Foods and Nutritional Composition

Chinese medicine continues to champion for a balanced diet. A balanced meal with both carbohydrates and proteins ensures utmost metabolism. This combination also works in balancing the body's blood sugar as well as the insulin level. The nature of protein food is illustrated as crispy and dry, which heat up the carbohydrates that are illustrated as wet and moist. The benefits of eating proteins are numerous making them an intricate part of the Chinese diet.

Photo by Elli O. on Unsplash

How To Make Your Chinese Diet Healthy and Balanced

It is of importance to rethink what you eat as your ideal main and side dish. In different parts of the world especially in America, we often eat so much meat that it becomes the main or go to dish.  To the contrary, every meal should consist of vegetables as the main course with proteins and carbohydrates as the side courses. Chinese medicine justifies the fact that having natural vegetables, spices and herbs can actually greatly minimize your visits to the doctor. A spice such as ginger is known to be a remedy for nausea. Chillies are also very effective in easing digestion and thus minimizing chances of constipation. One does not have to believe in the curing effect of Chinese foods to incorporate them in your diet but the general fact that natural foods translate to good health in plenty is more than enough reason. When shopping for food stuffs, try going for unrefined products. This will ensure that you get your food all natural. Soups should also be a mandatory part of your meals.

A Chinese diet does not necessarily have to be of Chinese food. They may be hard or even expensive to get. You can always use the readily available foods in your locality. What matters most is the concept of the Chinese diet. Always ensure the ingredients are natural and so more balanced.

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Featured image photo by Sharon Chen on Unsplash


Eating Out the Chinese Way - The History of Chinese Medicine Nutrition

By John Voigt

One should be mindful of what one consumes to ensure proper growth, reproduction, and development of bones, tendons, ligaments and channels and collaterals [i.e., meridians] This will help generate the smooth flow of qi [life energy] and blood, enabling one to live to a ripe old age. 

From The Yellow Emperor’s Classic on Medicine.

The Yellow Emperor’s Classic On Medicine (Huang Di Nei Jing), circa second century BCE, is the most important ancient text on Chinese medicine. In it are the concepts of a balanced and complete diet, and probably the world's first dietary guidelines.

The Thermal Nature of Foods - Warming, Cooling & Neutral

Basic concerns are about Han (“cold”) and Re (“hot”) foods. Han foods such as kelp, wheat, vegetables, and pork possibly may cause diarrhea. Re foods such as ginger, pepper, mutton, and unripened guava possibly may cause heartburn or constipation. Wen (“neutral”) foods such as rice, beans, fish, and beef can help to repair the body’s tissues.  Bu (strengthening) foods such as ginseng, deer velvet, and dates may be healing.

Food Relationships in Chinese Medicine - A Holistic Approach

But this is not about one food by itself being good or bad, it’s about the relationships of food.  Chinese dietetics—as most past and present Chinese thought—is based on holistic concepts, not singularity concerns. For example, with the above foods, vegetables (a Han or so-called “cold” food) is usually cooked with some Re (a so-called “hot”) food such as ginger or pepper. That neutralizes or balances out the “cold” [yin] and “hot” [yang] aspects of each food, and helps create something good for you and delicious as well.

Along the same idea of a food gaining its meaning by its relationships to other foods, in classic Chinese cuisine we most often find the “neutral” food (the rice or noodles) along with the main meal (meat or fish), accompanied by various other dishes usually vegetables. For example, The yang of rare beef is balanced by yin of tofu or cool slices of fruit.

The Healing Nature of Foods

The foods need to be prepared in the proper way, vegetables not overcooked, but not raw either; small portions of meat or fish not fried. In The Yellow Emperor’s Classic we find, “Heavy and greasy food causes a change that may result in serious illness.”

Also from that book, from Chapter 81, section 22 we find: Five cereals (such as rice, sesame seeds, soya beans, wheat, millet) provide our basic nourishment. Five fruits (such as dates, plum, chestnut, apricot, peach) add what the cereals lack. Five animals (such as beef, dog meat, pork, mutton, chicken) give certain advantages that animals possess. Five vegetables (such as marrow, chive, bean sprouts, shallot, onion)  provide a wide range of needed substances. If the food tastes and smells good, then eat it to replenish the body’s needs.

These guidelines are approximately two thousand years old, yet amazingly from that time to today most Chinese people followed them whenever they were able to do so. This article will close on how the tradition is being automatically preserved today without the restaurant or their customers knowing what is happening.

Now to make all this simple for the health (and food loving) reader. After all, the many millions of Chinese who go to their favorite restaurants aren’t bring along any of the ancient treatises on dietetics. Nevertheless, the traditional way of ordering and serving food seems to be right on the mark on what the ancient seers taught about food and good health. All over the world you will see this standard pattern in middle and smaller sized Chinese restaurants—(the more larger ones are becoming more geared to tourists and the new Chinese upper classes who eat like their western counterparts).  Not surprisingly such non-traditional diets have been accompanied with an increase in western styled diseases.

Eating - The Chinese Way

Here’s how the “natives” eat, and how you can do the same.

Begin with those tiny bowls of free sweet and sour pickles, or pickled cabbage, or cooked peanuts, etc. that many restaurants just bring you without you asking for them. Something like an appetizer, but not quite; they prime the digestion. Then order several different vegetable dishes. And some rice. Then some fish (usually with the bones included—be careful don't swallow any); or some meat. And finish it all off with a soup. That will help your digestion. Traditionally the final close is making a big burp to show your appreciation to the cooks and servers, and remove any bad qi—but you might because of western propriety leave out that final gesture—(or is it better described as a bodily function noise?).

That’s it. Now go enjoy such a standard traditional and healthy meal.  Best done in a large group of friends and family with chopsticks.

Postscript: For more about the proper kinds of food for health from both an eastern and western point of view, see my “Color Dietetics – With a Poster to Hang on the Wall. https://www.chinesemedicineliving.com/blog/color-dietetics-poster-hang-wall/

Sources and Further Information

Ho Zhi-chien. “Principles of Diet Therapy in Ancient Chinese Medicine: ‘Huang Di Nei Jing.”  http://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/apjcn/2/2/91.pdf

Sun Simiao on Dietetics in the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine Journal (Autumn 2013, vol. 10, no. 2). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

“Chinese food therapy.” Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_food_therapy

Some Other Interesting Info (Nerd Facts)...

Sun Simiao (581-682) who was known as “The King of Medicine” - (one of is greatest credentials is that he lived to be 101 years old) - taught that the prevention of disease should come before any medical treatment. However, if treatment was required, he believed that dietary concerns should never be neglected. He wrote, “Proper food is able to expel evil and secure the zang and fu organs [the viscera] to please the spirit and clear the will, by supplying blood and qi. If you are able to use food to stabilize chronic disease, release emotions, and chase away disease, you can call yourself an outstanding artisan. This is the special method of lengthening the years and “eating for old age,” and the utmost art of nurturing life. Sun Simiao,  known as the “King of Medicine,” (581-682). https://static1.squarespace.com/static/537fb379e4b0fe1778d0f178/t/5399d890e4b0bcfc5d028d47/1402591376077/Sunsimiao+on+dietetics.pdf

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Image Credits

The featured image photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

Vegetable photo by David Vázquez on Unsplash

Bok Choy photo by Jodie Morgan on Unsplash

Soup photo by Elli O. on Unsplash


The Best Yin Foods

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

One of the things that I love about Chinese medicine (and there are so MANY things I love about it) is how practical it is. Staying healthy is really about lifestyle, and a big part is that the foods we eat are the best medicine. Got a fever? Eat some cucumber or watermelon. Have the chills and can't get warm? Try eating some lamb, or a handful of cherries. The ancient Chinese had a vast knowledge of foods and their healing properties which is why nutritional therapy is one of the building blocks of Chinese medicine and still used by practitioners today. Food really is the best medicine.

Each food in TCM is seen to have a thermal property - warming, cooling or neutral. Conversely, the body can also be hot, cold or balanced, or neutral and certain illnesses introduce heat or cold into the body, so in Chinese medicine we eat cooling foods for excess heat, or warming foods for excess cold. Today, we will look at foods that nourish the yin / cold / water aspect of the body and are particularly beneficial if you have an excess of yang, fire or heat. But how do you know if you have excess heat? Below is a list of symptoms that point to an excess of heat or yang.  If you have many of these, you might want to introduce some Yin foods into your diet to help clear the Yang and build Yin.

Signs of Heat in the Body

Signs of Excess Yang

  • Fever
  • Aversion to heat
  • Desires cold
  • Redness - swellings, inflammation, rashes, sores
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme or uncontrollable anger or frustration
  • Constipation
  • Dark, yellow urine
  • Desire for cold drinks
  • Extreme thirst
  • Blood in stools or urine
  • Stools with a strong odour
  • Red tongue with deep cracks
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Chapped lips
  • Nose bleeds
  • Canker sores
  • Bad taste in the mouth

Other Factors that Contribute to
Foods Thermal Nature

raw

There are several widely accepted factors that also affect the thermal nature of the foods we eat.

  • Growing Time - Plants that take longer to grow (potatoes, carrots, cabbage, squash) are generally considered to be more warming, and those that grow quickly (lettuce, radish, cucumber, summer squash) are considered more cooling.
  • Raw - Raw foods are more cooling that cooked foods.
  • Refrigeration - Food that is chilled and eaten cold is more cooling.
  • Fertilizer - Foods that are chemically fertilized because it is forced to grow quickly is considered more cooling. This includes more commercially grown fruits and vegetables.
  • Colour - foods that are blue, green or purple in colour are considered cooler than foods that are red, orange and yellow. This even applies to the same foods, for example, a green apple is considered cooler than a red one.
  • Cooking Methods - Foods that are cooked for longer periods of time, at higher temperatures are considered more warming. But cooking food on low heat for a longer period is more warming than cooking it at a high temperature for a shirt time.
  • Chewing - Chewing food thoroughly helps the Spleen to digest it (because we love our Spleens, right?) and creates warmth. Even cooling foods can be warmed by chewing them thoroughly. Chewing also helps to break down the food more thoroughly before reaching the Stomach and the action of chewing releases saliva that helps break the food down further which helps assimilation and absorption and we want as much of that as possible!

The Best Yin Foods

Green Tea

Green Tea Yin Food

Kelp and All Seaweeds

seaweed yin food

Tofu

tofu yin food

Goat Milk / Yoghurt / Cheese

goat

Sardine

Sardines Yin Food

Alfalfa Sprouts

Sprouts Yin Food

Bok Choy

Bok Choy Yin Food

Cilantro

cilantro yin food

Banana

banana yin food

Watermelon

watermelon yin food

Blackberries

black berries yin food

All Citrus Fruits

citrus fruits yin food

There are many yin foods, and these are only a few. Introducing yin foods into your diet is not only a good idea when you are suffering from an excess of yang like a fever, they are also good to eat in hotter months like the peak of summer to keep us hydrated and cool. So, next time you feel overheated or come down with a case of excess yang, reach for one of these yin foods (or many) and you will be amazed at how quickly you feel relief. :)

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Acupuncturist Mug


Chive – The Mega Food for Your Health

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Chive is a grass like perennial vegetable with long green leave tubules, is very inexpensive and can be found in most grocery stores. It is in the same allium family as garlic, onions, scallions and leeks. Chive is very popular in Chinese cuisine because of its many health benefits. Many households grow chives in their backyard or in containers because it is easy to grow and can be handy in times of need. Besides, after each harvest cutting, all the leaves will grow back very quickly giving continuous yield from early spring to late autumn and year after year without much work. To maximize chives' healthful effects, homegrown organic chives and freshly cut momentarily before cooking is the best way to receive the maximum benefit.

Chive Recipe

Chinese medicine defines chives as warm in nature and pungent in taste. It is a yang food which acts on the liver, stomach and kidney, warms the middle region and promotes energy circulation. Chive is commonly known as a ‘rising yang vegetable’ because it is used to treat men with impotence. Chive is also known to be effective in dispersing blood coagulation, treating diarrhea and intestinal infections, treating difficulty in swallowing and improving appetite, relieving stomach aches of cold nature and stopping nosebleeds. The best season to eat chive is spring because the new growth has the most nutrients to offer and they work more effectively with the spleen system.

Modern science has found chives to be low in calories but high in folates, anti-oxidants, plant fiber, minerals (copper, iron, manganese, zinc, and calcium) and vitamins (K, B, A and C). It can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and prevent dangerous blood clots. Chive also has anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and has some cancer-fighting properties.

Chive is certainly more than just a vegetable. It is almost like a standby home remedy which can come to the rescue for many ailments. I can remember when my brother was about 3 years old and he swallowed a dime while playing with it. My parents quickly cooked some chives and fed him and the dime came out with his stools in just a few hours. Chive is also effective in treating nosebleeds, stomach discomfort and overgrowth of intestinal bacteria or worms, especially in children.

Many people eat chives to treat erectile dysfunction. Chive is also god sent for people with kidney deficiency which has manifested as incontinence or difficulty in passing urine, or water retention in the lower legs and feet. Taking chive regularly for a few weeks to a couple of months can cure these problems permanently. The following is a very simple but effective recipe just for that.

Please have a look at our website www.nourishu.com to find other recipes for cooking with chives. You can also put chives in your noodle, soup, or dumpling, or stir-fry them with meat or shrimp and seafood. The distinctive pungent taste and the crunchiness will make your food more inviting and tasty.

Chive and Egg Stir Fry Recipe

Stir-fried Chives with Egg

SYMPTOMS

Kidney deficiencies with symptoms such as too much or too little urine, incontinence, swelling of legs and feet, lack of energy and/or impotence.

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Nourishes kidney and promotes yang energy.

INGREDIENTS  (2 to 3 servings)

  • Chinese chives – one bunch (about 300gm)
  • Eggs – 3
  • Minced ginger – one spoonful
  • Cooking wine – 2 table spoonfuls

DIRECTIONS

1.   Rinse chives a few times, strain and cut into bite size sections.

2.   Beat eggs and mix in seasoning to taste (salt, pepper, one spoonful of cooking oil).

3.   Warm 2 spoonfuls of oil in a non-stick pan. Add minced ginger and stir for half a minute. Add chives and stir for another minute until just cooked. Add cooking wine and a small pitch of salt. Mix and put chives onto a plate.

4.   Warm another spoonful of oil in the pan. Pour in egg mixture and scramble to egg until its about 80% cooked. Return chive to pan to mix with egg, then put everything onto a plate and serve.

USAGE

Can be eaten with no restrictions.

Chive and Egg Stir Fry Recipe


Snow-Ear Mushroom - The Natural Internal Moisturizer for our Bodies

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

The best part of Chinese food culture is to eat according to the seasons. With fall in the air and the weather getting dryer, it is important to eat foods that can combat dryness and promote vital fluids to lubricate our lungs, joints and skin.

The best food that can do just that is snow-ear mushroom. The botanical name is Tremella fuciformis.  It is a species of fungus producing white, frond-like, gelatinous fruit bodies. They grow wild in the tropics on recently fallen branches of broadleaf trees. Nowadays, they are commercially cultivated and are one of the most popular fungi in Chinese cuisine. The snow-ear mushroom is commonly known as silver ear fungus or white jelly mushroom and is referred to as the poor-man’s bird’s nest because of its low price but with comparable health benefits.

Chinese Snow-Ear Mushroom

Chinese medicine defines snow-ear mushrooms as neutral in nature, sweet in taste and are known to lubricate lungs and joints, promote vital fluids, promote cell regeneration and blood circulation, moisturize and whiten skin and promote energy.

The mushrooms are sun-dried and are very light in weight but they can expand to 2 or 3 times their size after soaking in water for 5 to 10 minutes. The best ones are slightly yellowish in colour (the very white ones are probably bleached), but will become whiter after soaking, rinsing and cooking.  They are softer after being cooked but still retain some crunchiness. Snow-ear mushroom is mostly used in soups, desserts and vegetarian stews.

Chinese Snow Ear Mushroom Soup Recipe

My favourite recipe for snow-ear mushroom is to make soup with apples or pears (or both) and with pork. The ingredients can vary according to your taste and liking. The soup is very refreshing with fruity, sweet and sour taste and yet is also meaty and rich. It is very easy to make. With apples and pears being so abundant at this time of the year, it is the best soup for the whole family, both for taste and health benefits. Please also search the NourishU website  for other snow-ear mushroom recipes.

Chinese Snow Ear Mushroom Soup Recipe

Snow-Ear Mushroom, Apple and Pork Soup

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Promotes yin, improves vital fluids, benefits lungs, clears phlegm, moisturizes skin and the large intestine, promotes digestion, and improves skin complexion.

INGREDIENTS (6 to 8 servings)

  • Snow-ear mushroom 雪耳 – 2

  • Apples - 4

  • Northern / Southern apricot kernel 北南杏 - a handful

  • Lean pork / pork with bone- 240gm

  • Citrus peel (chen-pi) 陳皮- one piece (soak and scrape out white membrane)

  • Ginger – 2 slices

  • Dried figs – 3 to 4 (rinse and cut into halves)

Chinese Snow Ear Mushroom Soup Recipe

INSTRUCTIONS

1.   Wash pork, cut into large pieces and put them in boiling water to cook for a few minutes. Remove and rinse.

2.   Soak snow-ear mushroom for about 10 minutes or until fully rehydrated. Cut out the brown stem and separate them into smaller pieces, and rinse.

3.   Put pork with about 2 to 3 litres of water in a soup pot and bring to a boil. Remove foam if necessary. Add all other ingredients except apples and let it cook over medium heat for about one hour.

4.   Remove skin and core of apples and cut each into large slices and add to the cooking. Add more boiling water to the cooking if necessary and let it cook for another 30 minutes.

4.   Add salt to taste and serve.

Chinese Snow Ear Mushroom Soup Recipe

USAGE

No restrictions.


Spring Recipe for Nourishing Liver

By Vicky Chan of Nourish U

The arrival of spring brings a new season of growth to all living things on earth. That is why Chinese medicine identifies spring as wood. According to the TCM five-element theory, wood represents our liver and gallbladder system. What this means is that spring is the season when the liver energy is most intense; therefore it is the best time to address and promote liver health.

The liver is the only organ in our body which is responsible for removing poisons and toxins from our blood, making bile to support digestion and making new blood and protein to support growth.

Diet has an immediate impact on liver health. Over eating, especially rich and greasy foods can make the liver system sluggish and can slow down liver functions. Too much alcohol can damage liver cells and can cause hardening of the liver and cancer. Besides food, exercise and emotions can also affect liver health. Too much sorrow is known to suppress liver energy and cause system failure. Unhealthy lifestyle such as not sleeping at night can interfere with the liver detoxification and blood building cycles. Therefore, a healthy diet and lifestyle and the right state of mind and balanced emotions are the keys to good health.

Spring cleaning is not only necessary for our homes and gardens, it is also necessary for our bodies, especially the liver to clean out toxins after a winter season of heavy foods and indulgences. A cleansing diet with emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables is most appropriate. Adding a bit more sour taste to our foods and drinks such as lemon and vinegar can produce effective contracting, astringent and cleansing effects.

After cleansing the liver, nourishing it is also very important. There are many foods and herbs which are excellent for promoting liver health such as asparagus, dandelion, goji-berries, bean sprout and chives. Liver meats are best for promoting liver health. One common misconception about liver or organ meat is that they are full of toxins and cholesterol and therefore is not good for health. In fact, liver meat has exceptionally high content of quality protein, vitamin A, B vitamins and in particular B12, folic acid, minerals such as copper, zinc, chromium, copper and CoQ10. The by-products of liver detoxification cannot be stored in liver cells because there is no room for them. The World Health Organization has just recently included pork liver as one of the most healthy foods to eat.

Please refer to our website to see more foods and herbs suggestions and recipes for promoting liver health for spring. Here is a recipe using pork or chicken liver to nourish our liver. It is very easy to make, delicious and suitable for the whole family.

IMG_3080

Stir-fry Liver with Chives and Goji-berries

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Nourishes liver, promotes good eyesight and increases yang energy.

INGREDIENTS: (2 to 3 servings)

Chicken or pork liver – 250gm

Chinese chives – one bunch (about 300gm)

Astragalus (huang qi) 黃耆 - 30 gm

Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 - 20 gm

Minced or grated ginger – two tablespoons

Soy sauce – one teaspoon

Potato starch – one teaspoon

Cooking wine – 2 tablespoons

IMG_3082

DIRECTIONS

1. Rinse astragalus, cut into short sections and put with 2.5 cups of water in a pot and
let it soak for 30 minutes. Then bring water to a boil and lower heat to medium low and
cook for 30 minutes to yield 1/3 cup of tea. Discard astragalus and put tea aside.

2. Rinse chives a few times, strain and cut into bite size sections.

3. Wash liver with salt, rinse, cut liver into thin slices and season with soy sauce, half
portions of ginger and wine, and lastly mix in starch.

4. Soak goji-berries for 10 to 15 minutes with water and rinse a few times. Soak goji-
berries with half of the astragalus tea.

5. Warm one table spoon of oil in a pan. Add the remaining ginger and stir. Add chive
and stir for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Add the rest of the astragalus tea and
cook for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and put chives aside on a plate.

6. Warm another spoon of oil in the pan and add liver. Let liver cook for one minute
each on both sides. Add in goji-berries with tea and cook for 2 more minutes or to liver
is just done. Put chives back into the cooking and mix. Put everything onto a plate and serve.

USAGE

No restrictions

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.