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Soups and stews for the soul

We are in the depths of winter – gray skies, colder temperatures, shorter days and snow upon snow! This is the season of slowing down, staying home and reflecting inward.

Many of us do not feel like we have a lot of time to decelerate, so we can “make up” for it in the kitchen. We can balance low digits with warmth that comes from within.

While most of us cherish a hearty winter soup, did you also know they have special medicinal powers that can be especially helpful during this season? Traditional spices added to soup like garlic, ginger, pepper and onion are known to reduce inflammation, boost circulation, help thin out mucous and ease breathing. Not to mention their inherent warming qualities to balance the external cold.

Research has demonstrated that chicken soup specifically has anti-inflammatory properties and inflammation has been linked to myriad chronic diseases. (And we all know the power of the inflammatory response in colds and flus – it’s what makes us feel achy, stuffy and generally crummy.) Science has also discovered that chicken soup contains an amino acid closely resembling acetylcysteine, which is often prescribed for bronchitis. Acetylcysteine is the key ingredient in medications like Mucomyst, Fluimucil or Parvolex. In natural medicine, N-acetylcysteine is often prescribed to help support bronchiole and immune function in the lungs.

Simply drinking a water-based food like soup and breathing in the steam can help decongest the respiratory system. Winter is the season of the kidneys, so offering them support by drinking more water and mineral-rich herb teas is a great way to support your kidneys. Wrapping a scarf around the waist to cover the kidneys is another idea to help support these essential organs that regulate the water in your body.

Soups and stews are often cooked for longer periods over low heat to maximize flavors and nutrition. Some are assembled in phases, with sauteing vegetables or soaking beans or searing meat first. Others are much-beloved recipes that have been passed down for generations, while others are inspired via a quick internet search. Either way, the special ingredient to any amazing soup is the time and love put into each ingredient added.

I remember my mentor talking about his mother’s passing. Months later, he and his sister got together to make her chicken soup. They had her exact recipe and had watched her prepare it dozens of times. They did everything by the book. Used the exact ingredients. And once they were done, they both looked at each other and said, “It doesn’t taste the same!” This story illustrates so clearly that it is our presence and energy that makes each meal so special.

This time of year, it is important to support your body, mind and soul in every choice you make, and that can start with making a hearty (and heartfelt!) soup.

Nicola Dehlinger is a naturopathic doctor at Pura Vida Natural Healthcare in Durango. She can be reached at 426-1684 or www.puravidahealthcare.com.