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July 4, 2015 / Karen R Adams

all soup, all the time

nettle soup
This is a reprint of a post from early 2014.  I got inspired to share it with you because I’m just making my first ever batch of nettle soup.  That’s right, soup made from that plant that stings and causes a rash.  Why?  Because it’s nutrient dense, and supports the Liver and Lungs which is why herbalists will recommend it for allergies.  It’s delicious (and the sting is gone in the preparation, though I advise gloves during the prep).  Now I’m trying to figure out how I can freeze enough fresh nettle to last long into the winter!

Last week, about the time I hit the 35th iteration of my dissertation on the value of soup, I thought ‘I’ve got to write this up.

Then I can just hand it out!’  Every week my patients seem to present me with a different theme, and last week’s was definitely about eating in a way that will truly – and easily – nourish.

The first principle is that, in all we do, we should try to create more Qi than we use.  We could create and use the same amount, and that’s ok, but there’s no way to move or grow from that place.  Using more than we create just doesn’t end up well.

This is most easily understood with food: if we eat food that is difficult for us to digest, we use more Qi than we get from the food, which means we are not replacing the Qi we expend to eat.  If we eat food that is easy to digest, then we get great nourishment for little outlay.

You raw food and cold drink lovers take note: at the very least, your Stomach expends extra Qi to get the food to the optimum temperature for digestion, which is close to 100 degrees.  So unless you do something to help out your Stomach (like juicing), you are actually draining your resources.

Next: in CM the Spleen is hugely involved in digestion.  The Stomach ‘rottens and ripens’ food, grinding it up until it can be used by our cells.  The Spleen ‘transforms and transports’ the Qi of the food and drink around the system.  The Spleen is also the Official that tells us when we have enough, and it is seriously abused and ignored by many of us, to the point that food doesn’t break down properly, and/or it just accumulates.  Most people I see have some form of Spleen Qi deficiency, which can lead to Blood Deficiency, internal Heat (inflammation) and Damp (fat, mostly, but also obsessive thinking).

(By the way, the Spleen doesn’t just digest the carrot and decide what parts of that carrot go where, what we keep or what we don’t.  It also digests the experiences we have and the information we are exposed to.  See where I’m going with this?  It’s a wonder – really, a wonder – that it functions at all.  If it is not functioning well, the knock-on effects on the other systems in our bodies causes them to overwork, or just give up.  The first to be so affected will be the Lungs – which is why allergy treatments nearly always place emphasis on supporting the Spleen.)

There are lots of systems put forward to help digestion.  In my opinion, they fall on the scale of truly awful not to say life-threatening like medicines like Prilosec (which puts out digestive Fire) and statins (do your own research on these), to problematic because they may ease things for one system and completely stress out another.  Fasting is an example of this.  If you don’t eat for a while, your stomach and gut do get time off, but your liver may have to deal with the die-off of certain organisms, or your Kidneys will give up Essence so that you have energy.

Back to the first principle, applied to food: eat in a way that helps you create more Qi than you use.  Eat soup.

Soup is brilliant, in that it can take just about any food and, depending on how long you cook it, give you a great leg up on the digestive process. Crock pot cooking really starts breaking down the food, so you’ve got a head start before you even start to chew it.

Chinese Medicine puts much more emphasis on meals having all Five Tastes than it does on trying to meet some little understood ideal of nutrient content.  This is because each system in the body is nourished by a specific Taste, which is shorthand for the energetic properties of food that help that system.  In soup, you can have them all:

  • Pungent (Lung/Large Intestine) from onions, garlic and the like
  • Salty (Kidney/Bladder) from the water of the stock, and from things like fish and chicken.
  • Sour (Liver/Gall Bladder) and Bitter (Heart/Small Intestine) from the green things you add to your soup, or the lemon juice.
  • Sweet (Stomach/Spleen) from the root veg, grains, beef and beans.

I’m a big fan of crock put soups and stews.  Ok, that’s partly because I’m really busy and I can make a pot on the weekend and eat all week and… oh! another benefit.  I’m currently experimenting with chicken soups of all kinds; send me a note and I’ll send you my favorite recipes.

A word about bone broth.  Bone broth is a most excellent stock for all your soups, especially if you are older, or if you live the kind of life that is full of adrenaline and so constantly drains your Kidney Essence.  It’s pretty simple.  Get some

organic animal bones of any type and roast them for about 1 hour at 250 degrees.  Put them in your handy crock pot, cover with water, add a large dash of cider vinegar, and cook on low for two days.  All the wonderful minerals stored in those bones are now in the stock, as is the gelatin.  These benefit our bones, joints, teeth and hair – all of which make up part of Kidney Essence.  You can use it as soup stock, or freeze some in ice cube trays to use when cooking your veg, pasta or rice.  If you’re vegetarian, add seaweed to your soup stock.  If the larger kinds gross you out, you can cut them into little pieces so they’re not so overwhelming.

Salad eater?  Switch to steamed veg.  Raw food in salad form is energetically Cold, and so hard to digest.  You might get away with this kind of food in the summer, but not now.  And btw: you can water fry your veg, and add a little oil after cooking.  Oil is good for us, but changes energetically if we fry with it.

All soup, all the time.  There were several folks I saw who could benefit from having soup three times a day.  Doing this would go a long way to relieving the strain on the Spleen and other digestive systems, and thereby help build  up their Blood and other resources.  Can’t face the idea of soup for breakfast?

Try congee.  Congee is grain of any kind that is cooked in a large amount of water (1 cup grain/6 cups water) for six or more hours.  It is a staple of many cultures, though it goes by different names.  Try using whole oats (that’s right, looks like what they feed horses), and you’ll end up with a wonderful, warming, easy to digest porridge to which you can add dried fruit and maple syrup or honey and cinnamon for a great, easy to digest breakfast.

another me

Karen is an acupuncturist in Greenfield, MA.  She has a Facebook page where she likes to philosophize, comment on and pass on the things she’s learning.  You can visit her on Facebook, or on her website:  If you’d like to speak with her, use the form below.  She promises to get back to you – and expects she will really, really enjoy meeting you.

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