A solar term is a period of about two weeks and is based on the sun’s position in the zodiac. Solar terms form the traditional Chinese calendar system. The calendar follows the ancient Chinese belief that living in accordance with nature will enable one to live a harmonious life. This article series explores each of the year’s 24 solar terms, offering guidance on how to best navigate the season.
Solar Term: ‘Winter Commences’
2021 Date: Nov. 7–21
“Winter Commences” is the first solar term of winter. Far from being too cold to enjoy, now is the time for harvesting grains and roots, savoring cold-hardy chrysanthemums, and partaking of (or making) warming wines.
The traditional Chinese calendar system recognizes winter a full six weeks earlier than most Americans know as winter’s start, but we can already see proof in the colder parts of the world that water is starting to freeze and frost is starting to blanket the ground.
Plants that live above the ground have mostly stopped growing because of the cold, while grains and root vegetables are at their peak. For wildlife and people, it’s the season to hibernate and conserve energy.
Now is a good time to make wine, or enjoy wines made in previous seasons, as the temperatures are perfect to facilitate winemaking without risking the further fermentation that turns it to vinegar.
And a special treat, beautiful chrysanthemums are in full bloom at this time.
The abundant petals of certain species of this flower can be enjoyed as a tea, which is especially nice to admire in a glass teapot. Petals may also be cooked into a hot soup or stew, together with meat or beans. Chinese chrysanthemum is good to cleanse the lungs and blood, and to prevent buildup inside the blood vessels.
If you want to try cooking with chrysanthemum, make the soup base, and add the petals at the end of the cooking process.
Although it’s getting too cold outdoors for most plants to grow, there’s a nice and aromatic one we can keep indoors around this time—daffodils.
Now is the perfect time to plant daffodil bulbs. Water them throughout the winter (depending on your climate) and they will be ready in early spring with both aroma and pretty flowers. The flower will lift your mood in the gray, cold days in anticipation of its delicate scent and elegant shapes.
Impact on People
It’s common to feel depressed around this time of the year. The body feels cold, the sky is dark, and we feel sleepy.
A nice energy recharge is highly recommended. Try basking in the midday sun, drinking quality herbal tea, or listening to classical music such as Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, or the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra. (The most fortunate ones may find Shen Yun performing in their area.)
Living in Harmony With ‘Winter Commences’
A midday walk in the sun helps to counteract the underlying mood of the season. It reduces the chances of suffering from seasonal depression, improves immune function, provides vitamin D, helps the body metabolize carbohydrates, and improves blood and energy circulation.
A midday walk is particularly beneficial for elderly people.
Going to bed early and getting up late is also recommended, and restraint of sexual activity in winter is also mentioned in traditional Chinese medical texts.
Always cover the skin when exposing yourself to the cold air, or it will consume too much yang energy, and the muscles and fascia will feel tight and sore in the coming spring.
Ginger is your best ingredient right now. It can be added to almost anything on the table. It can be eaten raw or cooked, in either savory or sweet dishes, and in any shape, from big chunks in soup to finely chopped bits in ginger cookies.
Ginger helps to improve circulation, repel the chill, and remove buildup in the body. It is said that ginger was the favorite food of Confucius, who was a famous teacher, scholar, and virtuous politician, who lived (551–479 B.C.) during China’s Spring and Autumn period.
Thick, hearty soups are especially suitable for this time. Try to use root vegetables and lean meats instead of heavy cream or fat. This will reduce the burden on the heart.
Nut creams, such as soaked and blended cashews, are a good option for those who love thick, creamy soups but don’t want to risk their health.
Also enjoy blackberries, carrots, curry, dates, duck, goji berries, kelp, lamb, leeks, mulberries, sesame oil, shellfish, shiitake mushrooms, spinach, sweet potatoes, and walnuts.
Seasonal Herbs and Essential Oils
Try using body or beauty products featuring seasonal essential oils, or using an essential oil diffuser to enjoy the balancing scents of birch, cedarwood, cinnamon, clary sage, ginger, rose, rosewood, rose geranium, and wintergreen.