Dr. Susan Saccomanno, ND, LAc - Mederi Center, OR
In Chinese medicine there is a saying, "medicine and food have the same source. Therefore, medicinal foods can either be seen as healthy foods or medicinal prescriptions" (1).
Congee, also known as Jook, is a loose rice soup has been considered a medicinal food in China since the Han Dynasty in 206 BCE. It is basically rice cooked with extra water or stock for a long time. It particularly benefits the stomach and intestines and is most suitable for babies, people with gastro-intestinal complaints, and people with long-term illnesses. Gentle and digestible, an old Chinese text states, "when treating the depleted patient, use thick rice soup. This is as good as a decoction of ginseng."(2)
This thinking can perhaps be best understood when we look at the Chinese concept of how digestion functions. What we consider our "stomach" is actually more akin to the Chinese idea of the Spleen (italicized here to denote the Chinese concept of the organ, not the physical organ in our bodies). There is also a Stomach but that merely receives the food we eat; the actual breaking down of food, unappetizingly called the "rotting and ripening" function, happens in the Spleen. Think of the Spleen like a cauldron: for food to break down appropriately, the cauldron has to be heated by a fire beneath it. In Chinese theory, the Kidney qi supplies the fire for warming the digestive fire to support digestion. Congee is a nourishing food because the warmth supports normal Spleen qi function even in times when the Kidney qi may be weakened.
The famous Chinese physician Sun Si-miao said that the superior doctor should first adjust the patient's diet and lifestyle. Only if that did not eliminate the patient's disease should the treatment progress to using acupuncture or herbs. Like the smoothie, a congee can be adapted to meet many varied medicinal needs. Along that line of thinking, herbs are frequently added to the porridge to enhance its medicinal effects.
With that in mind, consider medicinal congee as a lovely way to start the day!