I’ve been turning over the idea of living life with more Blood: passion, spirit, vivacity, courage and wisdom and how what we do creatively and in connection with others can be a source of nourishment and expression of what we feel.
From an emotional and spiritual perspective, we can nourish our Blood through the experiences that we have and in which we engage that bring us a sense of joy or fulfillment. Physically, we can nourish our Blood (or deplete it) based on the activities we choose to engage in, and the food we ingest on a regular basis.
Here, I touch upon a few points about the activities and lifestyle choices we make that can affect our Blood and I go into greater depth on my favorite topic of discussion (aside from Chinese Medicine): food.
We can deplete our Blood, physically, through several ways. These include:
Overworking – using coffee, soda, sugar, caffeine, stimulants, etc. to push through tiredness, working despite exhaustion, trying to do it all without adequate rest
Over-exercising or too much physical work – some folks can exercise every day for an hour, for others a half hour of aerobic activity is plenty, and some others still need small regular bursts of activity.
Overthinking – this includes worry and anxiety, excessive mental work (including spending a lot of time futzing around on the computer, playing games, reading, etc.)
Staying up too late, not getting enough sleep – sets one up to be in a vicious cycle that is hard to get out of (see list of Blood depletion signs below)
Not eating according to your body’s unique needs – this includes eating processed/fast/junk food in lieu of healthier options, and being on a restricted diet that does not adequately provide key nutrients for you and your needs (for example: some folks do great eating a paleo diet, others thrive on vegetarianism)
As we know, Blood in Chinese Medicine is more than the blood in modern medicine. In Chinese Medicine, Blood is an alchemical mixture of our body, mind and spirit which penetrates to all parts of our bodies (organs, vessels, down to the cells themselves). With blood in modern medicine, it is the physical manifestation of oxygen, plasma, minerals, nutrients, and cells.
In modern medicine, you may be told that you have iron deficiency anemia, but the anemia and Blood Depletion are not necessarily interchangeable as iron deficiency anemia signs include:
Sore and/or swollen tongue
Shortness of breath
Fatigue (lack of energy, or quick to fatigue)
Cravings for non-foods (ice, dirt, etc.)
Blood Depletion (or Deficiency) signs in Chinese Medicine are:
Dry skin, hair and/or nails
Lusterless and/or pale face, nails and/or lips
Numbness and/or weak tremors in the limbs
Insomnia (when you are so tired you cannot sleep, you are tired-wired, or you have trouble falling asleep but then sleep well)
Thinness, or emaciation, of the body
If you menstruate: scanty menses, or lack of menstruation altogether
You may also experience: heart palpitations, anxiety, unusual dreams, restlessness (these indicate that your Heart doesn’t have enough Blood for your spirit/soul to be calm and settled); muscle spasms, spots in the visual field, or possibly other signs of impaired vision(your Liver is likely to be implicated here); mental fatigue, and/or the tendency to be easily startled
How do you know if you have a depletion of healthy Blood according to Chinese Medicine?
If you have at least three of the above Blood Depletion symptoms you are in the running for making some changes to your diet and lifestyle.
As you can see, even from a non-practitioner perspective the solution to the problem is likely to be vastly different.
What you can do about Blood Depletion (aka Deficiency)
Adjust your diet:
I’m sure that everyone is sick of me writing this, in fact I anticipated a groan whilst typing this (maybe that was me groaning to myself though…)
But, we are what we eat and if we are tired and run down, and dry and pale and lusterless, it’s a good idea to take a look at not only one’s water intake, but one’s diet.
What have you been eating lately?
Does your diet need a tune-up in the form of more nutrient-dense foods like:
Liver (chicken, beef, calf – from local, humane, grass-fed, organic sources only)
Bone broths – medicinal (see below for a recipe)
Mussels, oysters, sardines, tuna and octopus
Aduki and kidney beans
Dates, figs, raisins
Longan berries, mulberries (especially the dark ones)
Black sesame seeds
Sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin
Artichokes, cabbage, celery, dandelion (greens), mushrooms (shiitake, button mushrooms)
Cooked spinach, dark leafy greens, and beets
Minimal consumption of these items is recommended:
Greasy, heavy or oily foods (fried foods included)*
Refined carbohydrates (white flour, white sugar)*
Grains (yes, grains! A couple of times a week is okay if they are whole grains like quinoa or brown rice.)
Tofu, soy milk*
Raw foods (green juice, smoothies, salads, etc.)*
Cold foods (iced drinks, beer, ice cream, etc.)*
*This is because these items are cold and “dampening” – meaning they slow your digestion down and thus make it much more difficult to extract the vital nutrients from your food. For more reasons why these items (including alcohol and grains) are recommended to be minimally consumed, if at all, please refer to my article on Elimination Diets and Spleen Qi Deficiency with Dampness (it’s free!).
Rest enough, but not too much:
Make sure you get 7-8 hours of sleep per night if you are an adult, and that you exercise but not to the point of exhaustion.
Take time at night and on the weekends to relax, “do nothing” (meditate, yin yoga, take a bath, go for a quiet walk in the woods, sit outside and watch the neighborhood or birds, have lunch at the café and watch life go by, listen to relaxing music, etc.), in short: give yourself permission to take a breath and not be productive.
Set up a bedtime ritual such as: dimming the lights as the evening develops, changing into your pajamas, brushing your teeth to calming music, taking care of your skin, meditating, then getting into bed without your phone/iPad/laptop/other back-lit device.
I have a secret: if you are run down and you keep going anyway, your productivity levels will not be as high as when you give yourself that half hour to “do nothing” and you’ll eventually feel that wear and tear in the form of the list of signs above!
Put herbs in your food (see below for recipe ideas)
Goji berries are a popular Blood Tonic (tonics are herbs/foods that build something that is depleted), so are raisins! I love the green Hunza ones, as they are often rated to have higher iron contents than a lot of the other dark raisins. Let your taste-buds be your guide here.
Goji berries can be steeped with hot water (1TB berries per mug) with a slice of ginger, to provide a lovely herbal tea that is easy on the wallet, tasty, and particularly good for the Liver and eyes. When you are done with your tea, you can eat the softened berries. I often drink this when I am working at the computer a lot. (Dragon Herbs’ goji berries are my favorite: they have the best taste and consistency out of all the other goji’s that I’ve tried.)
You can make chai with turmeric and raisins, leaving out the honey, which results in a strangely delicious drink too.
Speak with a practitioner if you would like to have more detailed information about how to handle your health situation.
Speaking with a practitioner is especially helpful if you have a pre-existing condition that requires medication, if you have been trying different approaches on your own for more than three months with little to no positive results, or if you feel overwhelmed with all of the (often conflicting) information out there.
((It goes without saying that I recommend you consult with a physician if you have health concerns.))
Nourishing Bone Broth, to be used as a base for soups or stews -or to drink on its own:
Bones – preferably beef or chicken, or even pork – organic, local, humane, all that jazz – two pounds of bones or the carcass of at least two chickens. (If using beef or pork bones, roast in the oven at 425F for 15-20 minutes to brown – to help develop the flavor of the broth.)
Water – the amount depends on the size pot you have
Ginger – 1″ piece sliced into 1/8″ rounds
Rice vinegar – 1/3 cup
Carrots – 6 large, roughly chopped
Onion – 1, roughly chopped (or 3 leeks sliced up)
Celery – 3 ribs, roughly chopped
Goji berries – 1 handful (approximately 1/3 cup)
Mulberries – optional, 1 handful (approximately 1/3 cup)
Dang gui – 6 slices
White peony – 4 slices
Shiitake mushrooms – 8, fresh or dried
Ginger – 1″ sliced into 1/8″ rounds
Bay leaves – 3
Thyme – optional, 3 sprigs
Parsley – 1/2 bunch
- Place the bones, vinegar and ginger in a large stock pot, cover with water by at least 3″.
- Cover the pot, bring it to the boil, then reduce to a simmer for at least 24 hours.
- After the first 24 hours, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for another 24 hours.
- I like to let the bone broth (bones/water) simmer until the liquid turns white, then I’ll add the remaining ingredients.
- Let the broth cool to room temperature then strain and place into freezer-safe containers for later use.
It’s a bit of time/work, but when you make a giant pot of it it is worth having all of the broth in the freezer!
I’ll use this broth as a base for soups, stews, even miso soup and hot chocolate!
My favorite way to have it is as a sulung tang type of soup.
Bone Broth with Meatballs, Vermicelli and Greens
1 handful of cooked vermicelli (rice) noodles
Small beef meatballs (see recipe below)
2 scallions – chopped
1-2 handfuls of the greens of your choice – I like spinach, baby bok choy, and other greens available at the Asian markets
Bone broth to cover
Himalayan pink salt or grey salt, and pepper – to taste
Bring a small pot of water to a boil, season it with salt.
Wash and coarsely chop (if need be) your greens.
Heat the meatballs in the bone broth in a separate pot.
Place your greens in the boiling water, boil for 2-5 minutes (depending on the greens you use, they may take more time to cook through – I like them just tender for soup. If you are using baby spinach, you can skip this step entirely.). Once cooked, strain the greens.
Place the noodles in the bottom of a soup bowl, sprinkle the scallions over the noodles, then add the greens, the meatballs and broth.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
1lb beef (I use local, organic and humanely raised, pasture fed beef)
1/2 cup cooked brown rice
1 clove garlic – minced
1 1/2″ piece of ginger – chopped
2 fresh scallions -chopped- OR 1/2 onion sautéed until brown with the garlic and ginger added at the end to heat through*** (*** this way is my favorite)
2-4TB gluten-free tamari sauce – to taste
- Preheat your oven to 400F
- Place the brown rice and eggs in a food processor and whiz until smooth.
- Once smooth add the garlic, ginger, scallions (or onions), tamari sauce, and beef.
- Pulse until blended and sticky-smooth.
- Make walnut sized meatballs, and place on a parchment lined tray.
- Roast for approximately 10-15 minutes until just cooked through.
- Cool and store in the refrigerator up to five days or freeze.
Black Sesame Hot Chocolate:
You may know this by now, but my favorite “herb” for rebuilding Blood is black sesame seeds. As mentioned in this recipe post, “black sesame is regarded as great food to keep hair healthy and dark, which is no wonder since this tiny seed is filled with a plethora of nutrients. It tonifies the Kidneys and Liver in Chinese Medicine (CM), helping to build Blood and Jing, and lubricates dryness in the intestines.”
I like to have black sesame seeds ground (in a spice grinder, mortar and pestle, or food processor) with cocoa powder and a pinch of cardamom as a base for hot chocolate. It’s delicious with a splash of milk (dairy, non-dairy) first thing in the morning, and there is a nice body to the cocoa that is just satisfying enough for those who are not keen to eat soon after waking. I notice my skin looks more vibrant and plump when I drink this on a regular basis, and the energy it provides it far more sustainable than a cup of coffee or tea.
Sometimes I’ll make this as a snack when I get home, and instead of using cocoa powder, I’ll add cinnamon, ginger and a pinch of nutmeg to make a mock-chai.
2TB ground black sesame seeds (toast the seeds before grinding)
1TB cocoa powder (note to those who avoid caffeine, cocoa powder has anywhere from 8mg to 12mg of caffeine vs 163mg in a standard cup of brewed coffee)
1/4tsp cardamom – or more to taste
Honey – optional, to taste
Milk of your choice
- Bring a kettle of water to a boil
- Place sesame seeds, cocoa powder and cardamom in a mug, stir to combine
- Pour boiling water into your mug, stirring as you go
- Add milk and/or honey if you choose
Lastly, I adore calf’s liver and for a deeply satisfying meal (albeit one that may take some time to learn to appreciate):
Calves Liver with Sauteed Onions and Cranberries, with Cooked Greens
1 calf liver (organic, local, humanely sourced)
1 onion – sliced
1 cup frozen cranberries
1 sprig of thyme (fresh or dry)
Splash of vermouth
2-3TB bacon fat
1 package of fresh baby spinach – washed and set aside
Dijon salad dressing (2 parts olive oil, 1 part rice vinegar, 1/2 part dijon mustard, salt and pepper) – optional
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Clean the liver, rinsing it under cool water, and remove any vessels or membrane – pat dry with a paper towel
- Salt and pepper the liver on both sides
- Place 1TB of bacon fat in a large saute pan and heat on medium
- Add the onions to the hot pan, and saute until golden brown (adjusting the pan’s temperature as needed)
- Once the onions are golden brown/caramelized, add the cranberries, sprig of thyme
- Cook until the cranberries have burst and released their juices, then move contents of pan to a bowl then cover.
- Set the cooked onion and cranberry mixture aside, add the splash of vermouth the the pan to deglaze the pan.
- Once the pan is deglazed, pour the remaining liquid over the onions and cranberries in the bowl
- Add another lump of bacon fat to the pan, heat over medium high heat
- Place the liver into the hot pan, and cook on each side for 3 minutes. (It should be nicely browned on each side, and just cooked through.)
- Move the liver to a plate, cover, then add the spinach to the pan with another splash of vermouth (or water) if the spinach is dry. Let steam through for 1-2 minutes.
- Place the spinach onto the plate with the liver and onions/cranberries. Dress the spinach with salad dressing. (I like my greens with a bit of dressing, especially with a rich meal such as this one)