Winter officially arrives December 21, with the Winter Solstice — which means, that as of last week, we have already welcomed it. For thousands of years, winter has been viewed as the time to conserve resources, rest, and restore. Modern life, however, no longer perceives the season in this way. Not surprisingly, the December holidays find many of us frazzled, frantic, frenzied and frankly fried because we are trying to do more (travel, shop, cook, gift, entertain) instead of less.
One gentle step toward better balance this winter: a cup of Art of Tea’s Cran Marnier, which is Caffeine Free for a blissful winter’s night of sweet slumber. Spices in this blend – Cinnamon, Cloves and Nutmeg—are traditionally associated with warming, across many cultures. The jewel-bright, holiday cranberries which give this blend its name and its tangy, citrus-y finish, are considered by many to be naturally supportive of bladder, kidney and urinary tract health.
This second point is significant in the context of Traditional Chinese Medicine. This 10,000 year-old system of wellness associates the season of winter with the kidneys. The kidneys are considered the source of all Qi, Chi, or life-force, and during the deeply Yin (dark, cold, damp, quiet) period of winter, protecting and replenishing the strength of the kidneys is considered essential to well-being.
If you live in the Sunbelt like I do, it may be difficult to connect with the archetypal experience of winter. Here in Los Angeles, Uggs and a bikini-top are often worn together as a fashion statement. A bit confusing, from both an energetic and a sartorial standpoint.
And, apart from climate, our modern lifestyle no longer corresponds to the seasons. For instance, many health-conscious people eat a crunchy, chilled, raw diet year-round, or at least eat many raw foods (fresh fruit, cold salads, sushi) throughout the year. Our immediate ancestors, on the other hand, did not have access to peaches and tomatoes and cherries in February, as snow drifted past their doors. Foods were cooked, cured, smoked and preserved any way possible, to provide nourishment during lean times.
A traditional winter diet in the Northern hemisphere would, by necessity, have consisted of warm, long-simmered stews and soups, based around leeks, onions, garlic, potatoes, turnips, beets and other root vegetables which could be stored for many weeks without refrigeration, as well as dried legumes like lentils and beans. Marrow and bones often provided rich protein, fat and flavor. These “slow” foods would still be considered harmonious and consistent with winter energy by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine today.
Winter typically also brought a slowing of activity, with the focus shifting inward—close to the hearth, close to home. But those of us in the industrialized world do not make space for rest, although spiritual stillness and deep reflection also have traditionally defined winter. Occasionally a massive snowstorm will close down a major airport, leaving thousands of travelers stranded. They always seem surprised –often outraged– by winter’s self-assertion.
A warming cup of tea addresses this potential imbalance on a number of levels. First, and perhaps most importantly, a cup of tea persuades us to stop, slow down, take a breath. This moment of reflection may be solitary, or shared with others.
And, specific ingredients in the blend take the chill off. Another Art of Tea favorite this winter: French Lemon Ginger, also Caffeine Free. The “heat” of Ginger root, paired with zesty, tart Lemongrass and Lemon Verbena, will energize and comfort even as the days grow short. This tea can be slipped into and savored, like a haramaki, an ancient Japanese garment worn around the midsection, to keep the lower back and kidney area deliciously warm all winter long. Wearers of low-riders and hip-huggers, take note.
Consider the act of making tea itself: water, the quintessentially Yin element, associated with winter, encounters fire, which is the blazing essence of Yang. Heat creates steam, a rolling boil, a brew. This meeting of elemental energies borders on alchemy, and merges in a cup of tea—to your health this season.