An Acupuncturist’s Favorite Immune-Supporting Tonic For Winter

An easy way to recognize foods that are thought to protect Jing is by their color: Many of them are very dark or black. Examples include lentils, seaweed, black sesame seeds, black beans, wild rice, bone broth, oysters, blackberries, and, one of my favorite nourishing foods, the black Wood Ear mushroom, also known as cloud-ear mushrooms or black fungus (Auricularia auricula).

Though it’s relatively new to Western cuisine, this mushroom has been used in Asian cooking for hundreds of years. From a TCM perspective, Wood Ear mushrooms are healthy for all five major organs: The heart, liver, spleen, lungs, and kidneys.

Research shows that this little mushroom has immune-supporting, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and anticoagulant properties. It’s also high in melanin, which can protect your hair and skin from free radicals and UV rays, polyphenols, and micronutrients such as copper and iron, the essential components in red blood cell formation. In a recent study on rats, the potent antioxidant in Wood Ear also demonstrated liver-protective properties.

In general, edible mushrooms are high in dietary fiber and prebiotic fibers in the form of beta-glucan. Prebiotic fibers are the precursors in the production of probiotics in the gut microbiome. As we know by now, having a healthy gut microbiome is fundamental to our digestive health, metabolic health, and immune health. 

Wood Ear mushrooms are available at most health food stores and Asian supermarkets. They’re typically sold dry and therefore have a long shelf-life. (Before cooking, you just need to soak dried Wood Ear in cold water for a couple of hours to rehydrate them.) Their chewy texture and neutral taste make them a versatile ingredient for salads, stir-frys, stews, soups, warming congees, and the following recipe—my favorite winter tonic that’s basically dessert in disguise.

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