Health Tips for the Dragon Boat Festival

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The Dragon Boat Festival 端午節 (for 2023, it falls Thursday, June 22) is not only about boat races and delicious rice dumplings, but since ancient times was a time to focus on health.  The lunar date of the Festival, the 5th day of the 5th month, was considered a poisonous and evil day in the minds of the ancients. In fact, as this date signaled the beginning of hot, dry/muggy summer weather, people were prone to get sick, and plagues and epidemics were not uncommon. In addition, snakes and insects multiplied in the summer and bit people, bringing more illness and death. Various customs developed to ensure peace and avoid disaster, such as collecting herbs, hanging moxa, sprinkling realgar wine on walls, doors, and windows and drinking Pu huang wine. These activities grew from superstition but were actually good for health. As such, the Dragon Boat Festival can also be regarded as a traditional Chinese medicine and health festival, a festival for people to fight against diseases and poisonous insects.

Many of these folk customs are still practiced today. Fun things you can do this holiday:

  • Exercise to move Qi and Blood. Dragon Boat Festival is the time when the Yang Qi is at its peak. High stress leads to stagnant Qi and Blood, possibly leading to irritability, melancholy, palpitations and chest tightness. To stay in good health during the summer, smooth Spleen, Stomach, Heart and Lung Qi through exercise. As you exercise, imagine the power and grace of the Dragon Boat racers, arms and lungs pumping as Qi and Blood flows throughout the body, improving cardiopulmonary function, blood circulation, and boosting endorphins!

  • Eat Zongzi 粽子(rice dumplings). The main ingredient in Zongzi for the Dragon Boat Festival is sweet, glutinous rice. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) terms, glutinous rice is sweet in taste and warm in nature, entering the Spleen, Stomach and Lung meridians. It replenishes Lung Qi, nourishes the Middle and strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. The TCM characteristics of their Bamboo leaf wrapper is sweet in taste and cold in nature. Bamboo leaf clears Heat and irritability. Other traditional Zongzi ingredients include red dates to tonify Blood, peanuts to enliven the Spleen and Stomach, mung beans to cool Heat, and lotus seeds to nourish the Heart and calm the Shen.

  • Hang fresh Ai ye 艾葉 or burn a bit of moxa. Ai ye (Mugwort/Wormwood) was readily employed to guard against Du 毒 “toxins” and eliminate Xie 邪 “Evil”.  In traditional Chinese medicine, Ai ye is bitter, acrid and warm, and taken internally to warm the Channels and dispel Cold and Dampness. Externally, it can be used to clear Heat and toxins. Folk customs included wearing Ai ye sachets on the body, hanging Ai ye throughout the house, eating Ai ye cakes, and smoking Ai ye. The smell of Ai ye warded off disease-carrying pests and was believed to purify the air, playing a role in disinfection and disease prevention. There is a folk saying: Wormwood can cure all diseases and recruit a hundred blessings.”

  • Make your own herb sachets. 2 grams each of Ai ye, Bai zhu, Huo xiang, Wu zhu yu, Rou gui, Sha ren, and Bai zhi plus 1 gram of Ding xiang. Pulverize and pour the mixture into a dense cloth bag and stitch closed. Your sachet can be worn on the chest, waist or belly button, or can be hung at the door or in the car. It is believed that the scent of this herb mixture will dispel wind and cold, strengthen the Spleen and Stomach, regulate Qi and relieve pain, and generally prevent disease.

For more on the history of the holiday or if you would like to try making Zongzi using the Lau Family recipe, check out our article Dragon Boats, Dumplings and a Patriotic Poet.

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