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Kumquats and Congees: Eastern Cold and Cough Remedies

Why not resolve to make 2023 the year you begin to utilize the medicine Nature has graciously provided and reap the undeniably miraculous benefits?

My grandmother warned me to always cover the back of my neck to avoid getting sick and of course I'd scoff at her because how could weather make me sick? But it's not really so much the weather as it is the strength of your immune system. In Chinese Medicine there is an acupuncture point at the base of the neck where all the Yang meridians meet - essentially an energetic vortex where cold air can penetrate and result in illness if your system is compromised. Somehow my grandmother instinctively knew that when your neck is exposed to cold air it may lead to a series of symptoms familiar to us all; the initial chill down your spine, an overall achy feeling and within a few hours alternating chills & fever across your entire body. If really compromised and allowed to go deeper into the body there may be accompanied symptoms like congestion, headache or cough. In Chinese Medicine that is called a wind invasion. My grandmother may not have had the fancy language for it, but she understood how it works. Luckily there’s a cornucopia of natural remedies to help assist your body's defense system and cut the duration of your cold if already in the throes of it or better yet, prevent it in the first place. And although it can be a daunting task figuring out which remedies are right for you, the best way to begin is with simple, nourishing foods. Start off with a few basics and slowly add to your arsenal of remedies as needed. I am going to share a couple of my favorite tried and true cure-alls based on Eastern medicine. Simple, effective and delicious, kumquats and congees will change the way you approach the common cold and annoying coughs.

Kumquat Cough Syrup

If the thought of making your own cough syrup sounds eh . . . messy, let me assuage your fears. Even with no cooking experience you can have a delicious, vitamin and antioxidant rich homemade cough syrup that won't leave your kitchen in shambles in the process. Kumquat, a citrus plant with small fruits grown in China may be diminutive in size but packs a powerhouse nutritionally. In oriental medicine, the fruit is said to have sweet, sour and warm properties. Kumquat can treat cough, hoarse throat, and congestion.

– To beat cough or hoarse throat: Place rinsed kumquats in a pot and pour enough water to cover the fruit. Add 5g of rock-sugar or any sugar of your choice along with a pinch of sea-salt or even better Himalayan salt. Optionally, you can also add a squeeze of half a lemon or sliced ginger. Bring to a boil and continue boiling until water is reduced half way. Smash the kumquats (I use a potato masher) to release their juices and boil until about 1/3 of the liquid remains and has a more syrupy consistency. Store in a mason jar and refrigerate. Consume twice a day until the cough or hoarse throat disappears.

- To treat sinus/nasal congestion: Simply eat raw kumquats whole (although it should be noted that it is the peel that contains the phlegm-transforming properties, not the interior flesh).

You may be asking yourself "And where might one procure these incredible fruits?" and the answer is that it just depends. Most Asian supermarkets will carry them more consistently although I've purchased them from Mariano's, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's in the past. Luckily they are in season from November until March which happens to be cold and flu season.

Coincidence? Perhaps not.

Congee Cure-All

Congee, also called jook, is a Chinese traditional breakfast food. You may be more familiar with the terms rice porridge or gruel (those of you versed in Dickens novels may understand the negative connotation that evokes). But don't be fooled, congee is a medicinal rice porridge used preventatively to promote good health. It is made by simmering one part rice (long-grain white rice) in 6 to 8 parts water until it achieves an almost soup-like consistency. Easiest method is to place the rice and water in a rice cooker and voila, 90 minutes later you have congee. The key is much more water than rice and longer cooking time. If you don't have a rice cooker simply bring the water and rice to a boil on the stovetop and reduce to a simmer stirring occasionally for as long as it takes for the rice grains to start breaking down and sort of losing their individual borders (usually around 2 hours). The longer the congee cooks the stronger its healing power. That is why my favorite method is to use a crockpot overnight. Cook the rice and water on low for 6 or 8 hours and in the morning wake up to pure deliciousness. Either way you cook it, congee is incredibly good for you. In Chinese Medicine, rice or grains are considered neutral and sweet in nature making it nourishing and easily digestible, thus supporting the function of the spleen and stomach. And when other ingredients are added to address specific ailments, congee can act as a tonic restoring health and well-being. Although you can dress up congee an endless number of ways including both sweet and savory, for the purpose of this article I will share a recipe well known to facilitate getting over a cold or flu.


1 cup uncooked white rice (long grain)

6 cups water

2 chicken thighs (optional of course if vegetarian)

3, 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh ginger

1 clove garlic, smashed

1 green onion, tied into a knot

1/4 of a whole yellow onion

Soy sauce or salt to taste

Sesame oil for drizzling (optional)


Shredded chicken meat (from the thighs above)

Green onions, chopped

Fried garlic

In a medium pot, combine the rice, water, chicken, ginger, garlic, green onion, onion and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim off any scum or foam that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to low and cover. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. If using chicken thighs, remove them after 20 minutes and scrape off the meat and shred. Set the meat aside and return the bones to the pot. Continue cooking for another hour and a half. When the rice grains are swollen and the mixture is as thick like porridge, the congee is ready. If it gets too thick, add more water. If it’s too thin, cook it until it reaches the desired consistency.

Remove the bones, ginger, garlic, green onion and onion. Add soy sauce or salt to taste.

Ladle into bowl, drizzle with sesame oil and garnish as desired and let the healing begin!


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