I studied a beautiful martial arts while still in graduate school. For many years I practiced with the sensei that was constantly bring us back to the first kata, which is the first form that was considered the foundation of all forms of martial arts. Since having the privilege of this way of learning it has occurred to me at many life transitions that the returning to the basic form is life yielding, a way to bring one’s life back to the mindset of experimentation, renewal, and vitality.
My sensei would simply say, “again!”
It seems our culture is somewhat counter to the first form of life so it is easy to lose it and fail to go back to it again and again. At least for me it seemed there was much, too much cluttering it to even know what it was. It took considerable time and effort to reunite with this vital, essential root which I now understand is the base of all wellness, the base of all that life is nurtured from, it is what we call essence.
What can we do to nourish our essence?
Root medicine. Root food. This is the root season in the north part of the world, a time when winter is settling in and the life forces of plants and trees go deep. Dormancy is occurring. Our teacher inside nature educates about life to anyone willing to observe in a state of curiosity. If we want to live well, this is the time to gather it all in to the core, the root and the unseeable places.
Though the light is returning, we are in the early days of winter, and more than “doing,” this is a time to turn inward, a time for “being.” It is the space from which visions will grow, a time of dreaming without acting.
root medicine | root food
Food is medicine, and one of the most direct ways to alter health. It takes energy either way. It takes energy to be sick and it takes energy to procure really quality food specific to each individual person, which is something one has to learn through trial and error. There is no one diet to fit all. We are all unique. Even in each person what might be a great food in one time or season, is not in another. Written over the entry to the Greek temple of Apollo at Delphi in the first millennium BC were the words “gnōthi santon” (know thyself). This is foundational, root wisdom.
So to begin, learn by trial and error what is the most powerful food for your body, then make sure you feed yourself with it the majority of the time. In this season, consider experimenting with various root vegetables, the closer to home they were grown, the more life force they will hold for you when you consume them. Soups, stews, steamed and fermented root mixtures are a good place to start in the cold months. Consider getting to know your local farmers if you cannot grow your own food. There are not only many things to learn from your locals but often they will plant crops specific to your needs. It is a great way to support others who are dedicated to the local healthy food movement. Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) groups often do autumn planting and can offer you a fine selection of squash and roots into the winter. Buy extra and store it if you have a cool dry place in your home. Visit the closest farmers market you can find in the summer and ask about autumn shares. Good food can be much about thoughtful relationships and mutual support. I cannot emphasize enough how vital it is to support our country’s local small farms. If these go away, our foundations will certainly be questionable!
So start there, find quality, whole food year round. A current experiment sitting on my countertop is beet kvass. Normally beets are too sweet for me to have any remarkable quantity at one time. Kvass is made by a fermentation process that eats the sugars to produce a fantastic probiotic rich juice that will in turn fortify gut flora. It is such a rich and beautiful color and the fermented root adds compatible flair to most any dish. In these colder months it seems to take closer to seven to ten days to ferment the beets but in the warmer months it can be done in just a few days and can be kept in the refrigerator up to a month or more. There are many recipes on line for fermented vegetables and beet kvass. I am particularly partial to the recipes and advice in her book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon.
root medicine | ginger root
I want to start my compilation for you with one that is easy to obtain in any quality grocery store: ginger root. There is a way to use ginger root with almost anything and I encourage you to explore recipes that will expand your understanding of where and how you might get more of this amazing root in your diet. Very simply, you can make tea. Clean the root with a soft brush, slice it thin or grate it, then put it in a cup of boiling water to steep for 3-5 minutes. Drink as it is or add honey, citrus, spices such as cardamom or cinnamon or anise, something savory like dill or spicy like cayenne and it might become your most favored beverage. I love to use ginger root flagrantly. It is anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, aids in digestion, promotes intestinal health, I can go on forever. If you don’t know what to try, try ginger (unless you are allergic or inordinately hot or dislike the flavor) it is worth giving it a shot first to cure whatever ails you. Even if you are hot, young ginger can often bring down a fever (where more aged or dried ginger can bring warmth to cold conditions.)
The version of ginger root that we use in Chinese medicinal formulations is known as xi xin in the dry powder form and sheng jiang in the fresh young root form, gan jiang is the ginger mother which is tougher, hotter and and more dispersing | asarum, Chinese wild ginger. The very best quality of the thirty different Chinese species is considered to be wild crafted from the Liaoning province in the north. Chinese ginger is very powerful and tends to be used in smaller doses than one might of a root bought in the produce section of the stores in America. If it has been powdered, around 3 grams maximum. Ginger enters the channels of the lung, heart and kidney. It relieves pain and reaches the head, lungs, bones and joints to disperse wind, cold, dampness and phlegm. Typically we will not prescribe this form of ginger if there is profuse sweating in deficient conditions or headache. In the Chinese Material Medica ginger can be found under the category “herbs that release the exterior.” We prescribe it regularly to treat common cold patterns, relieve vomiting, indigestion, nausea, flu, unblock urination and relieve pain. In the Divine Husbandman’s Classic of the Material Medica, sheng jiang, fresh young ginger root, “unblockes the clarity of the spirit.”
additional note of interest
According to the famous poet Su Shi and the celebrated natural philosopher Shen Gua, in their eleventh century compilation Fine Formulas of Su and Shen, combining green tea leaves with ginger root in equal parts can relieve travelers dysentery and vomiting. I have used this combination successfully when I did not have access to other remedies and find it absolutely invaluable.