Winter Herbal Foot Soaks
In yang sheng - the Chinese Nourishing Life tradition - winter is seen as a pivotal time for restoring health and replenishing your resources. A Chinese proverb says:
“If you take reinforcing therapies in Winter, you will be able to kill a tiger in the Spring.”
One such ‘reinforcing therapy’ practiced in winter in China is the use of herbal foot soaks.
The body as a tree
Dr. Jiang Zaifeng - a prominent Shanghai TCM doctor - explains “the feet are very important in health maintenance. The ancient Chinese often compared the human body to a tree, with the torso as the trunk, the arms the branches and the feet the roots….a dying tree withers first in its roots, and an aging person first feels their health recede from the feet”.
This folk medicine is known by all Chinese people. In the West we worry about wearing a hat and scarf to protect against the cold, in China the main concern is for the feet. Throughout winter walk-in spas on every city corner that offer herbal soaks, massage, reflexology and foot manipulation have a brisk trade.
Each spa has a secret herbal soak recipe but they are usually based on a mixture of warming herbs to improve circulation.
Foot Soaks in Chinese Medicine
In Chinese Medicine, this 'reinforcing therapy' is sound advice. There are six acupuncture meridians (channels) that extend down the lower legs and over sixty acupuncture points on the feet. Stimulating these points and channels is a simple treatment to support good health and circulation.
In clinic, a symptom I often see among patients is cold extremities. Hands that never warm up and feet that feel like iceblocks. This poor circulation can lead to feelings of cold spreading up the lower legs through the acupuncture channels that affect menstruation, bladder function, digestion and lower back health.
DIY Herbal Foot Soak
If you are feeling the cold this winter I recommend this simple herbal foot soak as a DIY treatment to stimulate circulation and banish the cold. It is simple, safe and effective but if you are not used to doing it please take note of the following:
- Foot soaks are best done before going to bed.
- Do not soak feet within 60 minutes of eating or after drinking alcohol.
- Not recommended if you have high blood pressure.
- If you feel faint or dizzy stop your soak , and lie down with your feet elevated, or add cold water to the water basin.
Ginger & Alcohol Foot Soak
You will need:
- Ginger slices (50g)
- Grain Alcohol - Cheap Vodka or Whisky (50ml) optional
- A Water Basin deep enough to fill to mid calf level and wide enough for your feet - Garden trugs or plastic office storage boxes are good, buckets can be a bit small)
- Boil the ginger slices in 500 ml of water for 5 minutes to create a ginger ‘decoction’. You can do this is a pan or put them straight into your kettle.
- While this is boiling away lay your towels on the floor to catch any splashes, then set up your basin next to a comfortable chair.
- Add warm water to the basin, then add your ginger decoction and alcohol (if using) to more hot water in your basin. The water temperature should be about 40-50C. You can always top up with more hot water if you like. The water should come up to middle of your calves.
- Soak feet for 15-30 minutes or until you break a slight sweat.
- Pass the soaking time by relaxing or by massaging your feet and lower legs in the water.
Nourishing Life Articles
If you found this article helpful please have a look at some of the other articles in my Nourishing Life series: