Winter Energy

Winter means shoveling snow, cool brisk breezes, gathering friends and family together for the holidays, and preparing substantial whole grains and stews. Imagine falling snow, crackling Yule logs, fragrant herbs and seasonings, and warm sauces and soups.

The element associated with winter is water, which has a floating energy. Water energy goes deep inside the earth; it is the root and basis of life. This is the time of hibernation and inward self-reflection, when the energy is still on the surface, yet active underneath.

In traditional Chinese medicine, winter is a time of conservation and storage. Because the kidney, along with the urinary bladder, is predominant in this season, winter is the time to build, conserve, and store kidney chi through rest and self-reflection. During the day, the urinary bladder peaks from 3:00 to 5:00 PM and the kidney from 5:00 to 7:00 PM.

The human body is 60 percent water. The Japanese scientist Masaru Emoto has discovered that water molecules are influenced by the energy of thoughts, words, and feelings. Since your body is composed mostly of water, his findings suggest a way to support your body's healing power through the path of intention, prayer, and gratitude.

Functions of the Kidney

The kidney performs many energy functions that are important to your overall health. The kidney is the primary source of chi for your body and helps support the function of your other organs. It also regulates water metabolism; maintains bones, teeth, and hair; and governs knees and the lower back.

Stores Kidney Essence

The kidney stores kidney essence (jing in Chinese), which is a combination of “inborn chi” that you inherited from your parents along with “food chi” acquired from food. Jing is then transformed into chi or blood that is used by your whole body. Inborn chi determines your mental and physical constitution as well as your life span. Inborn chi governs growth and development of your body and supports the function of your reproductive organs. Signs of deficient inborn chi can appear as infertility, impotence, and repeated miscarriages.

Regulates Water Metabolism

The kidney is responsible for water metabolism in your body. This function includes two parts. First, the kidney distributes nutritive fluid created from food chi throughout the body. Second, the kidney disposes of waste fluids that are byproducts of organ and body functions. Signs of kidney energy imbalance can manifest as edema and frequent urination. “Flushing the kidneys” by drinking excess water, as suggested by some dietary trends, can overburden and unbalance the kidney. So monitor your water intake, and drink only when you are thirsty.

Maintains Bones and Teeth

The kidney nourishes the skeletal system, bone marrow, brain, and spinal cord. Osteoporosis can reflect disrupted energy at a deep level as well as overall body weakness. The teeth are considered to be extensions of the bone and are also supported by kidney chi. Tooth decay at an early age can also indicate weak kidney function.

Governs the Knees

Healthy kidney function manifests as strong, supple knees. Kidney chi naturally declines with age, so it is common for your knees to become weaker as you grow older.

Opens into the Ears

The ears are the opening of the kidney. Earaches, tinnitus, excess ear-wax, and loss of hearing can indicate deficient kidney chi.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, 90 percent of children between six months and four years have had what is known as otitis media with effusion (OME). OME or “glue ear” is fluid, usually pus, in the middle ear that may cause pain, but not necessarily infection. Often following colds, viral infections, or ear infections, OME usually disappears on its own without treatment.

Maintaining Head Hair

Kidney essence (jing) changes into chi and blood. Blood nourishes your hair, so healthy hair is a sign of balanced kidney function. However, hair loss, graying, and brittle hair can indicate kidney energy deficiency.

Controls the Lower Back

The kidneys themselves are located in the lower back area, so this part of the body is associated with kidney chi. Foods that weaken kidney chi, such as meat, coffee, and soymilk, can also create chronic low back pain.

Functions of the Urinary Bladder

The urinary bladder functions to receive, store, and excrete urine from the body. Urine is made by the filtering process of the kidney. Urinary bladder function is controlled by kidney chi. All urinary problems result from deficient kidney and urinary bladder functions.

Cooking for Winter

Foods with floating water energy go deep into the body and strengthen the kidney, urinary bladder, and reproductive organs. So the most beneficial foods for this time of year are deeply strengthening burdock, buckwheat, black soybeans, and black sesame seeds. Dried foods, like dried mushrooms, also contain concentrated energy to build inner strength.

The taste associated with winter and the water element is salty, so sea vegetables are strengthening to the kidney. Winter cooking includes warming soups, more oil, less liquid, fish, and rich bean dishes. Cooking styles that incorporate warming energy into the food include:

  • Baking

  • Deep frying

  • Dehydrating

  • Long boiling

  • Long picking

  • Pressure cooking

  • Pressed

  • Stews

  • Multiple combination cooking





Sea Vegetable



Aduki, black soybeans

Root plants, dried roots


Dried or storable tree fruit

Multiple combination cooking means using many cooking styles in one dish, as in fried rice, in which rice is first boiled and then fried. Adding multiple cooking styles to a dish increases its warming energy, which strengthens your body deep inside. In contrast, foods that can harm kidney function are cooling foods, like salads, tropical fruits, and sugar.

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