Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By JK DeLapp - February 13, 2018
Crossing The Barrier: Applying TCM Food Therapy to American Cuisine

By: JK DeLapp

There are some practical uses of traditional Chinese medicine food in a Western diet. Below is a list of TCM foods and practices to help your healthy lifestyle.

Oh the weather outside is frightful, 

But the fire is so delightful,

And since we’ve no place to go,

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

It doesn’t show signs of stopping,

And I’ve bought some corn for popping,

The lights are turned way down low,

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

When we finally kiss goodnight,

How I’ll hate going out in the storm!

But if you’ll really hold me tight,

All the way home I’ll be warm.

The fire is slowly dying,

And, my dear, we’re still good-bying,

But as long as you love me so,

Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!

The wonderful Christmas song Let It Snow was created by lyricist Sammy Cahn and the composer Jule Styne in 1945. The lyrics reflect the feeling of warmth and security associated with Christmas and bring in the more modern customs of popping corn, a previously long-forgotten Native American tradition!

Winter is upon us! The solstice was on the 21st of December, officially moving us into the winter season.

We are past the time of storing, and are now moving into the three months of hibernation. A time of quiet and solitude of spirit, to be spent indoors with family around a wood fire… it is exactly what the soul is craving!

Winter is a time of early nights to bed, a respite inside from the cold weather, rich and nourishing foods, and plenty of rest. Winter is a time of taking a back seat in life. Early dinners, early nights, refraining from heavy workouts and sweating, light workloads, and plenty of warmth. This is what the ancients have recommended to us for millennia.

Sadly, the world that you and I live in is one where the end of the year is full of quotas, bottom lines, paperwork, holidays and travel—and the beginning of the year is just a reset of the daily grind. There is little time for resting before January. I don’t know about all of you, but after the seasonal fun of Halloween and Thanksgiving, endless holiday parties and everything that must be done before Christmas and Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve… I am just shy of exhaustion. If you are like me, you are in some dire need of TLC!

So what can we do to show ourselves some TLC?

That’s a good question. What is it we are supposed to do to show ourselves some tender love and care? I’m not sure what nurtures your soul when it’s hurting for a hug, but I’m happy to share a few of the things I do for myself.

A wood fire. Nothing melts the icicles of the soul quite like sitting around a wood fire. I can literally sit for hours watching logs burn. I have no idea what it is about the transformation of wood into vapor, but it touches something deep inside me. Especially on a cold winter’s night while watching a movie!

A hot salt bath. Relaxing back in salty waters (and great for your Water ElementàSalt = Kidneys & Urinary Bladder), especially with some essential oils splashed in there! Need I say more?

Flowers. There are plenty of winter flowering plants out there. Several types of cactus, bromeliads, and plenty of other “Christmas flowers” are available for a winter bloom. A few around the house can really transform the energy—so pick a few up and enjoy the flare of color!

Massage. Getting a massage loosens up the knots and kinks in our system and feels great. Personally, I tend to prefer medical massages over a general “feel good” massage. Shiatsu and Thai are just two of many examples of medical massages—and with a little communication with your caretaker, it does not have to be uncomfortable. I also recommend 5-15 minutes of self-massage a day on the hands, feet, face, or ears, all of which are great ways to share your love for one another with your spouse or children or roommate. Why the hands, feet, face, or ears? Each of them is a microcosm of the entire body—all your body’s systems are connected in those four areas. The easiest way to get a full body massage for all of your insides is as simple as a few minutes in one or more of those areas! They are best administered upon waking, or before heading to bed.

Smell Goods. Haha—that’s also what I call Scented Goodness. Aromatherapy. Beeswax candles scented with all natural essential oils, or natural perfumes from The Rising Phoenix Perfumery ( or Floracopeia ( are fantastic ways to nurture yourself, calming your spirit, and giving yourself that little acknowledgement of love. Tailor your needs by purchasing products—and maybe even mixing a few—that really strike a resonance within you. Your mood, and the moods of those around you, will take notice of your newfound aromas!

EVERYTHING on the market that is not real is fake. Do your homework on the companies you purchase scented products from so as not to be wasting your money on synthetic neurotoxins. This goes for everything from candles to body care to cleaning products.

Incense. I have to admit… it kinda falls under the same category of Smell Goods, but I think it deserves its own mention. Incense is something that I’ve always enjoyed, but over the last few years, it’s really found a special place in my life. The smell of really quality incense wafting through the air as I sit at my computer working, reading, cooking, hanging out with friends over a bottle of wine is magical! Everyone always comments when at my home, even when any incense hasn’t been burned for hours, just how clean and sweet-smelling the house is. They really do a great job of purifying the home—and the soul.

A few companies I’d suggest looking into:

Shoyeido ( is a Japanese company that makes some of the most subtle and magical blends. I use these daily when I wake up, and when I’m working—and even now as I type! They also make a body powder that is like an old-school deodorant. Fantastic for meditation, as well—just rub a little on your ear lobes and let it work it’s magic!

–The second company is Mermade Magickal Arts ( Mermade brings you the finest in natural incense blends and Materials, as well as artisan perfume oils and fine frankincense.

Rising Phoenix ( Given that we work in medicine, Rising Phoenix’s work with tan xiang (sandalwood) and chen xiang (agarwood) is worth mention. Sandalwood and agarwood form the backbone of the incense and perfume industries, and Rising Phoenix offers the finest selection of quality of both the woods and the oils distilled from them. If you’re looking for potent aromatic medicine, look no further. I hear the owner of the company is a graduate of PCOM and also an LAc.

Now, what to put in my food?

“It’s the crazy notion that the longest, coldest, darkest nights can be the warmest and brightest. And when we all agree to support each other in that insanity… something even crazier happens—it becomes true.”

–Christmas 2010 episode of Community

Ren Shen: Ginseng

Sweet and slightly bitter in taste and slightly warm in temperature, Ginseng enters the Lung, Spleen, and Stomach channels to strongly tonify qi, improve digestion, and assist in recovery from illness. Red and white ginseng come from the same plant, but differ in their preparation. We could talk about ginseng for hours, so I’ll break it down in a very simple way:

Chinese White Ginseng: Good for tonifying qi and strengthening the lungs, spleen, and stomach.

(Most often Korean) Red Ginseng: good for tonifying qi as well as nourishing Blood. Is warmer in temperature than Chinese white ginseng.

American Ginseng (Xi Yang Shen): A true ginseng, is cooler in temperature than white ginsengs, and is less about tonifying qi and more about nourishing yin and jing.

All three can be used in cooking, and are great for adding into soups. Just take a second to think about what you are trying to accomplish in your dish (i.e. tonify qi, warm, or moisten/nourish) and that will guide your choice in which type to use. If you don’t like thinking… maybe throw in a root of each!

**If cooking a soup for a short amount of time (1-2 hours), reserve the ginseng for a second use. May also be consumed as a root vegetable in the soup, which is my favorite thing to do.

Huang Qi: Astragalus Root

Sweet in taste and slightly warm in temperature, Astragalus enters the Lung and Spleen channels to tonify qi and improve digestion, as well as being considered an immune tonic. There are several thousand types of Astragalus, so make sure to purchase from your friendly herb purveyor to make sure you are getting the medically active real thing. Great in soups (just don’t eat it… it’ll get chewy/woodsy, although it certainly won’t hurt you to eat) or in tea with goji berries and a half lemon, which is great for boosting your immune system and soothing your Liver. (Boil goji berries and Astragalus together for 15 minutes, then pour over a half lemon in a cup and add honey to taste). Great to use through the winter as it tonifies the metal element, the mother of water, who reigns during the winter months.


Oxtail is a food, but I include it here as an herb, as it is an extremely powerful meat. Literally the tail end of the spine of an ox, oxtail warms and strongly nourishes the Kidneys and strengthens the spine. Not offered in all grocery meat departments, so it may take a little looking around for. Check your better-stocked grocers and butchers. Best, of course, if you can find it organic or grass-fed. If you live in a more rural area and know someone slaughtering a cow or an ox, ask them kindly if you can have the entire spine, as they are not sold on the open market anymore. This is an extremely invaluable herb, and quite tasty to eat! Recipe to follow!

Guinness and other Dark Beers

Yes, I’m talking about the beer! Warming in temperature, Guinness enters the Kidney channel to warm and tonify the Kidneys. The ancient Irish were actually very accomplished herbalists. In fact, many of their most accomplished herbalists were members of the clergy and beer makers (often one and the same guy!) throughout Europe. To this day, there are still herbal beers (called worts) that are made in small breweries and are available if you’re ever traveling through the Emerald Isle, or Europe at large. Beers have been used in the West over the last two thousand years within the clergy for fasting, and darker beers such as Guinness were drunk by everyone throughout Europe and the New World during the cold months up until recent history.

American brewers have picked up on the brewing tradition of dark, nourishing beers, and now many holiday or Christmas brews are available at this time of year. They offer many of the same benefits as Guinness. Darker beers such as Guinness were often common breakfast beverages, especially for labor-intensive workers, as they are quite strengthening, especially as they often tonify the Kidneys. I suggest drinking a dark beer by a wood fire, or while watching a movie, or as an after-dinner drink. Also great to use in place of water if making a soup, especially if beef or goat-based. Great as a snack (they literally call it “food” in Ireland), and if you are in the tradition of fasting, I’d recommend a proper dark beer as your beverage of choice during those sacred moments. An interesting breakfast recipe to follow!

Now let’s talk about some food!

Everybody knows the holidays are as much about the food as they are about the family.

Some interesting things to think about that we’ve lost sight of are the great variety of winter meats that once adorned the tables across this country. The colder months were, in the days of yesteryear, best for some of the richest varieties of meats, as many game animals are quite warming, or even hot in temperature.

A quick guide:

**All of these meats supplement qi, build Blood, and stimulate yang.

Duck and Goose, which are two of my favorite birds to eat (especially if wild!), are the least warming on this list. In years past, they were the most common meats on the table at Christmas dinner in this country, along with lamb for its symbolism. The skin is fantastic to be rendered into oil, and can be reserved for sautéing throughout the season. If skinned, reserve the meat and bones for soup. Otherwise, the whole bird can be roasted for a succulent, delectable dish, for which there are endless recipes.

Beef, which is generally considered the strongest acting to replenish spent energy, is particularly good for tendons and bones, as well as for strengthening the Stomach to address a weak appetite.

Buffalo, which is native to North America, is similar to beef in its properties and is becoming more readily available in grocers across the country. It is slightly warmer than beef, and is quite delicious.

Lamb, which is even more warming than beef and buffalo, is great for dispelling cold, and is the perfect meat for the elderly, and for anyone who has a difficult time staying warm during these cold months.

Goat, which is even more warming than lamb, is very quick at dispelling cold, and is the perfect meat for persons with cold extremities. Goat is great for everyone once a week during the cold months, and is great to have more frequently for those suffering from the shivers and has trouble staying warm through the winter. Goat is pastured, by law, and tends to be a bit tough. Great for long roasts, and the perfect meat for stews and soups. Make sure to cook it long enough to get it nice and tender.

Deer and Caribou, both even more warming than lamb, are borderline hot. Perfect meats for those living in areas where these animals are native. If you are a hunter, now is the time to think about hunting and providing for yourself. If you live in an area where hunting is common, check with your local butchers, as they often keep portions of the animals as their payment and then offer the fresh meat for sale.

Surround yourself with the warmth of food, friends, and family to help stave off the cold of the coming months. Really take some time to be intentional about properly nourishing yourself, both with some TLC, and on your plates. And best of all, have some fun exploring the vast array of winter meats and meals that have all but disappeared from our memories. With their disappearance, so too is gone the warmth our spirits so desperately need. Enjoy revisiting and reviving the warmth and nourishment of our ancestors!

As my former roommate Dennis Reid liked to say, “what you put out in the world goes out and makes friends and comes back to visit you”. I hope that this winter season brings back all the love and intention you have put out into the world and revisits you in these coming months with love and warmth manifold!

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy New Year to you, my friends and readers!

Recipes Revisited:


Mint-Rubbed Leg of Lamb for Christmas Dinner:

Oxtail Soup

Especially Good For:

This is a staple in my home as soon as the weather starts cooling down. I make it in a crockpot so that it is always ready, and makes for a great breakfast food or snack, as it takes little to no effort since it will be already made and warm and is just waiting to be ladled into a bowl. Makes for a great main course for dinner as well.

Any meaty marrow bone or cut of ribs can be used to make this dish, but using an oxtail gives the added benefit of strongly strengthening the Spine, as it is literally an appendage of the ox’s spine. Marrow bones, of course, also strengthen the Kidneys and jing, as marrow is jing.

This is the perfect dish for a staple throughout winter as it is a great dish for your Kidneys, warming and tonifying the water element. My roommates love stealing a bowl of it, and always comment on how it makes them feel really rested, as well as helping them to get really deep sleep. Just a cup of the broth also makes for a great warming drink and does wonders to boost a sluggish body out of exhaustion.

It generally takes me, if I’m eating it solo, 2-3 days to finish. I leave it in the crockpot the entire time. It will not go bad, and the flavor will continue to develop as it continues to stew on the “warm” setting. If making it on the stove it can, of course, be refrigerated if not all consumed in one sitting. But if you’re making it in a crock-pot, I highly recommend letting it sit and continue to develop until the last bite. It really is magical!

This is not a difficult recipe to make, and there are infinite variations of how you can make it. Be creative with each batch and make this style of a meal a staple through the coming months, and enjoy!


**Every crockpot or pan is different in size. I’ll let you eyeball all the amounts of the ingredients to fit your cooking needs, so I will just mention the ingredients and leave the specific amounts up to you. Remember—there is no right or wrong on this recipe!

**Organic and grass-fed meats or game animals are best!

3 pounds of oxtail


4 large meaty marrow bones


4 pounds of ribs


Any combination of the above

**Can be made from lamb, goat, deer, or caribou as well.


  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Potato or sweet potato
  • Cabbage (my favorite!)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Any beans
  • Any squash or pumpkin
  • Any mushrooms

**Herbs that can be added:

  • Ren Shen/Ginseng, either Red, White, or American—3 or 4 pieces
  • Shu Di Huang—3 or 4 slices
  • Gou Qi Zi/Goji Berries—1 to 2 large handfuls
  • Huang Qi/Astragalus—1 large handful
  • Kombu/Kelp/Seaweed (great for the Kidneys)—1 to 2 large pieces

You’ll also need:

  • Mirin/Japanese rice cooking wine
  • Soy sauce
  • Guinness or another dark beer or water, to cover


  1. Heat your oven to 450° F
  2. In an iron skillet or oven-safe pan, roast your meaty bones one or two at a time until they are brown and very fragrant, and then transfer to your cooking pot.
  3. With the last batch of bones, when finished, cover in a generous amount of mirin and soy sauce. The more you use, the more depth of flavor your soup will have. Simmer down the liquid a little bit, and make sure to use a wooden spoon to loosen all the great meaty stuff that sticks to the pan—you want this for flavor. Transfer all of it to your cooking pot.
  4. Add your sliced vegetables of choice and any herbs you’d like to add in.
  5. Cover with dark beer or water.
  6. Set the timer on your crock-pot and let it cook all night long.

**I like making a batch of this in the evening, or before going to bed, as it will take all night to cook. It’ll need the long, slow cooking time to tenderize the meat, as the cuts that are used for this are usually a bit tough to eat outside of stewing. If making it on the stove, just set it on low and let it cook with the lid on all night, making sure there is enough liquid in there so it wont dry out. If using a crock pot, set the first round on high for 4 hours, and the second on low for 4 hours. From there, it should switch automatically to “warm”, and will be ready at all times to eat. Perfect for breakfast the next morning.

Roasted Christmas Duck or Goose

Especially Good For:

Duck and goose are commonly hunted, and in many parts of the country can be found in the meat department (farm-raised) of your grocer or at a butcher’s shop (either farmed or hunted). If you can get your hands on one from a friendly hunter, or are a hunter yourself, I highly recommend keeping your eyes to the sky for one of these delicious birds.

Ducks and geese were common favorites of hunters, and still are to this day in the areas that you can hunt them. No longer widely common today, in years past, they were also kept alongside chickens for their eggs as domestic birds. Every Christmas, one would end up on the dinner table. They are absolutely delicious, and their fat can be reserved for use to make the most delicious fried eggs, sautéed vegetables, or French fries. In France, it is traditional to pan-fry potatoes in duck fat, and they are the most delicious potatoes you’ll ever come across! Pan-fried duck fat potatoes are a favorite of my mother’s!

Duck and goose fats are also very easily digestible, and also greatly nourish the skin and elasticity of it, as the fat from these birds is literally coming from their thick layer of skin.

**Ducks tend to be smaller, and geese a bit larger. Take this into account when buying them, as you may need 2-3 depending on the number of people you’ll be feeding.


  • 1 large goose or 2 ducks
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper, freshly cracked
  • Paprika
  • Mashed potatoes or oven-roasted carrots and potatoes make a great side dish.


  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  2. Rinse the duck thoroughly, inside and out, under a cold running tap and pat dry with a paper towel.
  3. Pierce the skin of the duck all over with a cocktail stick, fork, or a thin bladed knife, at 1-inch intervals.
  4. Rub salt, pepper, and paprika into the skin of the duck, inside as well as outside.
  5. Position the duck on a rack placed in a roasting tray, breast side up.
  6. Pour a few cups of boiling water into the roasting tray and place into the preheated oven.
  7. Roast the duck for up to 3 hours or until no fat remains and the skin is crispy and brown, turning the duck over every 30 minutes. Basting the duck with the juices may help to release more fat whilst cooking, although this is not necessary.
  8. Once the duck is cooked, remove it from the oven and transfer it onto a carving board. Let it rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.
  9. **The savory juices will taste great over mashed potatoes.

**You can also reserve all the juices in a container and place it in the fridge. The fat will separate from the liquid, and can be removed and stored in a separate container. Make sure to store it dry, so any remaining liquid does not cause it to spoil.

This fat can be used to make French fries, fry an egg, or sauté vegetables, and will add the most delicious flavor to whatever you cook!

The remaining liquid that separated from the fat can be used to flavor just about anything, and will add a rich, meaty taste to mashed potatoes, or cooked with rice to make a delicious rice dish (my favorite!).

Irish Oatmeal: A New Take on an Old Breakfast

Especially Good For:

Oatmeal is great for nourishing Blood, and if you make it with Guinness instead of water, you increase the nourishing Blood property of this dish, as well as tonify the Kidneys.

This is a simple breakfast recipe that is best prepared by soaking the night before. Traditionally, oats were fermented before cooking them, unlike how we commonly make them today. Fermenting them overnight will ease their digestibility, will decrease any food allergies you may have to oats, and will greatly reduce their cooking time.

This is an age-old recipe used across Europe and North America until the 1930s, and is a nice way to pay homage to our ancestor’s abundant spirits. The simplicity of the meal makes me think the Chinese would approve.

I suggest purchasing whole, raw oat groats, as most oats purchased at the store are adulterated in some way to lengthen their shelf life and decrease their cooking time, and are often rancid. They can usually be purchased in bulk and organic from a local grain supplier or ordered online, and can be found in most well-stocked healthy grocers or Whole Foods.


**This needs to be freshly course-ground and stored in an open Ball jar the night before to allow time to ferment.

  • 1 Cup of freshly ground oat froats
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • Guinness, dark beer, or water to cover
  • Honey or maple/birch syrup, to taste
  • Butter, to taste


  1. Coarsely grind the oat groats in a food processor and put it in a quart-sized Ball jar. Add a pinch of sea salt, and cover with Guinness, a dark beer, or water, and allow it to ferment overnight. Do not put a lid on this—just cover with cheesecloth or a piece of plastic wrap.
    **You will not be using all of this, and it should last you 2-3 days.
    **Does not need to be refrigerated—just lightly covered.
  2. To cook, take a few large scoops from the Ball jar and put them in your pan.
  3. Cover with water or Guinness.
  4. Simmer for roughly 5 minutes. The oats will expand quite a bit. You can cook this so that it is soupier, or cook out the liquid, keeping a close eye and stirring so as not to burn the oats. This does cook rather quickly!
  5. Add butter, honey or maple or birch syrup to taste!
  6. Optional—if you’re really feeling Irish, you can pour yourself a small glass of Guinness to drink alongside your oatmeal. It’s more amazing than you’d ever guess!

An Herbal Remedy for winter:

Especially Good For:

This is a modified recipe from the Bencao Gang Mu, and I have my friend Nathan Hart to thank for drawing my attention to it.

The herbs in this formula, when cooked together, are a fantastic way to nourish jing—a property none of the herbs individually are able to accomplish. A truly magical feat of Dui Yao principles.

I recommend taking this formula 3-5 days each month. Perfect for the winter season, it is safe to take throughout the year for a few days each month. This formula is not too sticky, despite its strong nourishing properties, and should not give you any problems with your digestion.


  • Xi Yang Shen 9g
  • Mai Men Dong 9g
  • Gou Qi Zi 9g
  • Shu Di Huang 6g **NOT Sheng Di Huang, as it is too sticky
  • Tian Men Dong 6g
  • 1 Package of organic tofu, crumbled by hand
  • **He She Wu 9g, if you really would like to add some color back into your hair


  1. This is best made in a ceramic herb pot, but glass or stainless steel will do.
  2. Add all the ingredients into your pot and cover with water, with an additional 1-2 inches of water.
  3. Simmer on low for 5-7 hours and then drink the liquid.

Winter Immune Booster:

Especially Food For:

This is a great drink to be had throughout the winter. It’s simple to make, and tastes quite yummy. As the name suggests, it’s an easy way to give your immune system a little boost.

The Huang Qi tonifies the Spleen and raises clear yang. The Gou Qi Zi will gently nourish Liver Blood, and the lemon will gently cleanse the Liver (clears damp heat)… the perfect combo for an immune booster!


  • Gou Qi Zi/goji berries—a generous handful
  • Huang Qi/Astragalus—5-8 large pieces
  • ½ lemon
  • Ginger—sliced, optional
  • Honey to taste


  1. In a ceramic herb pot or stainless steel pot, simmer the Gou Qi Zi and Huang Qi together for 15 minutes. The Gou Qi Zi is edible.
  2. Pour the liquid into a cup with the ½ lemon in it, squeezed and with the rind.
  3. Sliced ginger is optional.
  4. Add honey to taste.

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JK DeLapp headshot

JK DeLapp

JK DeLapp has over fifteen years experience as an herbalist, with five years of formal education in Chinese Medicine & East Asian Medical Herbalism from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine-San Diego (PCOM-SD). He has spent time working in three hospitals in Shanghai and is currently in private practice in metro Atlanta. While pursuing his Diploma of Oriental Medicine from PCOM-SD, JK was exposed to the ancient world of herbal medicine, perfume, incense, and the global spice trade. It was during this time that he formulated his idea for The Rising Phoenix Group, which is focused on making more naturally-minded aromatic products. He considers his ‘sweet spot’ to be the intersecting point of the fragrance, cosmetic, and medicine industries.

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