Asian-Inspired Ways to Beat the Winter Blues

BJI/Blue Jean Images/Getty Images

BJI/Blue Jean Images/Getty Images

As harsh winter conditions wreak havoc on the mind, body, and spirit, some turn to thicker coats and richer foods while others obsessively layer occlusives on every exposed patch of skin. But beyond stew and petroleum jelly, what are some other ingredients and practices that help us conquer the seasonal blues? Prior to their event at Asia Society, health and wellness experts Danielle Chang, Stanley George, and Sophia Tsao shared their personal tips on how they make it through the winter.

Danielle Chang is the founder of LUCKYRICE, a platform and events company that celebrates the food and cultures of Asia. 

"[I drink] Lots of ginger and lemon tea that I brew fresh with grated ginger. I'll add a small teaspoon of honey to it to sweeten things up. I love drinking a shot of this in the morning — really helps to increase my energy levels and is a great wake-up call. 

Buddha's hand citrus fruit
Buddha's Hand lemon (wonderferret/Flickr/Creative Commons)

For the skin, I lather myself head to toe with sweet almond oil straight out of the shower. I also cleanse my face with the oil, which acts as a natural moisturizer. Unless it’s really dry, I often don’t need any additional moisturizers. 

It’s really important to keep your internal body moisturized and hydrated, so I drink tea (in particular, I love chamomile or lotus flower) all day long. When I’m at home, I’ll often toss home-grown lemongrass, verbena, or mint into hot water with a squeeze of citrus. I love Buddha's hand lemons in particular for the zest."

In addition to these practices, she swears by yoga, quality time reading, and leaving a pot of aromatic herbs simmering on the stove when she's at home.

Stanley George is the founder and proprietor of Stanley's Pharmacy, a wellness bar and pharmaceutical practice on the Lower East Side of New York.

Rhodiola plant
Rhodiola rosacea with new leaf growth (Amazonia Exotics U.K./Wikimedia Commons)

"What I think is unique about my practice is that I take all these elements from Chinese medicine, [Indian] Ayurveda, European homeopathy... All of the cultures that happen to have alpine regions with such good herbs. In a traditional sense, when it comes to combatting the harshness of winter weather and rebuilding immunity, I turn to rishi. It is an immunomodulator and thought to have the ability to increase the body's ability to fight off infection and reduce allergies. 

Another herb I frequently use to combat stress is rhodiola. When our cortisol levels shoot up, it compromises the body's immunity and leaves us more susceptible to illness and infection. Rhodiola is an adaptogen that's been used in both traditional Chinese and Siberian medicine to cope with long winters, fatigue, and weakness. Rishi and rhodiola both go into my energy and stress formulation. The combination is both extremely popular and very suitable for getting through New York winters!"

Sophia Tsao is the executive vice president at Po Wing, a family-owned specialty Chinese food and traditional health product market and wholesaler.

Wild American ginseng
Wild American ginseng (John Carl Jacobs/Wikimedia Commons)

"If you're feeling fatigued or recovering from a cold, I would recommend making a simple ginseng soup. All you have to do is double boil ginseng — I like using dried American ginseng for its potency — and goji berries for a few hours. It's a very simple soup that will really revitalize you and make you feel more energetic through the winter months.

Another basic winter soup with a similar purpose would be pork rib with a bunch of different herbs. You add dried Chinese yams, yuzhu or Solomon’s Seal herb, dried lotus seeds, dried lily bulbs, dried longan meats, and qian shi or euryale seed to pork ribs and simmer for about an hour."

She has an unconventional recommendation for banishing dry skin: bird's nest. "There are studies in Asia that show eating bird’s nest can increase epidermal growth [factors] — it's basically regenerating your skin — [and] especially during the winter months it's really good for when your skin is dry and you want to restore some of its natural glow and strength."

So there you have it: A panoply of ways to face the dregs of winter ranging from the medicinal to culinary to practical. For more ways that traditional Eastern medicine has influenced mainstream and Western lifestyle and medical practices, come see Chang, George, and Tsao at Asia Society for Beauty, Wellness, and the Best of the East and West on March 5.