Friday Oct 28 | BY |
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In 1985, when I was completing hospital rotations in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) in Shanghai, I was introduced to the importance of boosting energy and fortifying your blood for a harsh winter.

My mentor, Dr. Wu, head of TCM cardiology, was famous for his secret knowledge of traditional herbal winter tonic soups. Every day, more than one hundred patients lined in the hospital hallway up to see Dr. Wu. One by one, each patient was ushered into his tiny office where he sat behind a large wooden desk. A troop of assistants and students stood by his side, ready to help at a moment’s notice.

One crisp November morning, I arrived at the hospital at the usual time of 7:00 AM, to a line of patients that wrapped around the hallway, out the door, and into the courtyard. I estimated that over four hundred patients waited in the cold for Dr. Wu. But, I was perplexed. What was going on? Why so many?

It was already winter in Beijing, and the cold was bearing down on Shanghai, eight hundred miles south of the capital. On that cold morning, I learned that besides his expertise in cardiovascular diseases, Dr. Wu was renowned for putting together personalized winter tonic prescriptions. When soaked in rice wine to make an elixir or cooked with chicken to make a revitalizing soup, dried herbs transform into a powerhouse energy boosting and immune enhancing prescription.

We do not have the advantage of Dr. Wu’s prescriptions, (actually, I have one tucked away that includes about twenty herbs!) but we can take advantage of the traditional Chinese way of slow cooking herbs with chicken to make a tonic soup.

Benefits of Traditional Chinese Tonic Soups:

  • Enhance Nutrition
  • Boost Immunity
  • Restore Energy
  • Build Strong Blood


  • Chicken: Benefits the spleen and stomach. Improves digestion and nourishes qi and blood, plus when herbs are added it fortifies the kidney jing.
  • Garlic: Benefits the spleen, stomach, and lungs. Garlic promotes digestion, especially meats. It alleviates intestinal infections and boosts immunity.
  • Carrot: Benefits the spleen, liver, and lungs. It promotes healthy digestion, treats weak vision, eases a cough.
  • Winter Squash: Benefit the spleen, stomach, and lung. It promotes healthy urinary tract and alleviates a cough.
  • Celery: Benefits the liver, stomach, and bladder. It improves loss of appetite and eases difficult urination.
  • Green onion (scallion): Benefits the stomach and lungs. It warms the lungs and relieves congestion.
  • Black fungus (wood ear): Benefits the lung, stomach, and liver. It treats a dry cough and throat.
  • Lotus seed (qian shi): Benefits the spleen, kidney, and heart. It improves appetite and strengthens digestion.
  • Goji berries (gou ji zi): Good for the liver and kidney. It cures weakness due to overwork, aging, for weak vision, and imbalanced yin.
  • Longan (long yan rou): Benefits the heart and spleen. It improves the blood and treats poor memory, heart palpitations, and weakness.
  • Astragalus (huang qi): Benefits the spleen and lung. Builds up the qi and strengthens immunity.
  • Dioscorea (huai shan): Dried Chinese yam benefits the spleen, lung, and kidney. It strengthens the body tissue and restores energy.
  • Codonopsis (dang shen): Counteracts mental and physical exhaustion, and improves digestion. Chinese herbalists use dang shen as a substitute for ginseng.
  • Polygonatum (hu zhang): Benefits the lung and stomach. It corrects yin deficiency and treats dry mouth and throat, and dry cough.
  • American Ginseng (hua qi shen): Improves digestion, benefits the spleen and kidney, and balances yin and yang in the body.
  • Jujube red date (hong zao): Helps restore body strength and boosts immunity.

Combine the herbs and vegetables with one small whole organic chicken or Cornish hen in a slow cooker and simmer slowly for four to five hours. Strain ingredients and drink only the soup.

There are many variations of traditional Chinese herbal chicken soups. Some call for a dark purple skinned chicken and Chinese Angelica root (dang qui) cooked together into a tonic soup for women’s health.

A simpler, but no less useful version of the one listed above uses ginseng or dang shen, goji berries, red date, and huang qi for general health. An even simpler version that I often make uses American ginseng slow cooked over night with organic chicken breast.

Vegetarian Alternative:

Cook the herbs together as above but without chicken; when adding the vegetables, also add one pound of tofu as a protein source. If desired; just before removing from heat, blend in four tablespoons of miso paste (or more to taste) in place of the tablespoon of soy sauce.

Health through the seasons is a hallmark of traditional Chinese medicine. October and November are the months to make your own herbal tonic chicken soup that is good for body and soul.

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. June Hanson says:

    I, sure need some of Dr Wu or your, Dr Williams Chicken Soup. Glad you brought it out of hiding. Except, half of it, is hard to find. So, maybe, you can cook up a pot of it and bring it to my IV and acupuncture visit ! ! Am the worlds worst soup maker. Think my digestive system needs a rest from eating, not happy, with even healthy food. Even Smoothies. Change of weather, make me hungry for good home made soup, that is not packed with salt. Love our SW Fl weather now, but even dropping into 60’s at night, is big change for us Southerners. So…bring on the soup, love your Chinese recipes, just need help with them.

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