Chinese Herbal Chicken Bone Broth for Recovery from Bronchitis, Colds, Flu and Pneumonia

Not counting the home made Chicken soup I grew up with, made by my grandmother and mother, I discovered Chinese Herbal Chicken bone broth in 1991, when I was in my second year studying Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture and was going to school full time, while also working full time as an apprentice in two very busy San Diego Acupuncture Clinics under the world renowned Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist, the late Alex Tiberi, may his soul be blessed, and the other under Orthopedic Specialist Mark Kastner.

Due to a combination of stress and overwork I got caught a cold that winter that I did not nurse well (half of the treatment of colds and other respiratory illness is the nursing–lots and lots of rest, pushing hot fluids, staying warm) and it  turned into bronchitis, which developed into walking pneumonia.  Its not insignificant that I had also just gone through a very difficult and painful divorce, since, in Chinese Medicine, excessive grief weakens the Lung Qi.

Lung Qi can be thought of as the life force that resides in your lungs, another words the “force” that enables you to breath in and out deeply and well, and which provides the strength in your voice. Everyone has had the experience that, when you are very sick your voice weakens. Teachers and lecturers will have had the experience that, after lecturing for 3 hours your voice weakens, on your death bed, your voice weakens; these are all cases where the life force of the Lung, which provides the motive force for speaking (the air that causes the vocal chords to vibrate) has weakened. On the other hand, we all know those people with very strong voices, some of whom become opera singers. These are people with naturally strong Lung Qi.

In any case, with my walking pneumonia, I had a constant dry cough day and night,  I felt weak and my lungs were very irritated. I had slight elevated temperature of 99.5, and a constant light sweat that got much worse with only slight exertion. It is very important to shut down cough when you have a cold or bronchitis, because chronic coughing itself further weakens the Lung Qi. Indeed, we know from science that people not infrequently develop asthma secondary to bronchitis. In the view of Classical Chinese Medicine, this is because the Lung Qi became so seriously weakened that the Lungs became invaded by pathogenic Cold, and now the ability to grasp the pure essence of the air, another words, Oxygen, is impeded, and the patient is left gasping for air and with wheezing. Now the Lung Qi is very weak.

This is why it is so important to push hot fluids with bronchitis and colds, esp hot fluids that are light and nourishing, (like bone broth)  which enables the body to replenish the Lung Qi and Yin, the aspect of the Lungs that has to be healthfully cool and moist, ergo, the mucus membranes. When the lungs are inflammed, they feel hot. This is pathological heat. When the lungs are filled with cold, you get allergy, fluid accumulation, and asthma. This is pathological cold and cold damp. In their healthy state the Lung Qi is considered slightly cool, which is shorthand for “not inflammed.” On the other hand Qi is warm, so when there is pathological cold trapped in the lungs this obstructs the flow of normal physiological Qi. That is why in the past asthma was treated with mustard plasters, mustard seed being very hot, to drive out the trapped cold and restore the flow of normal Qi.. So pushing hot fluids that are lubricating and moistening helps the keep the lungs physiologically balanced between the warm yang of Qi and the cool moistness of Yin so they can grasp the essence of the Air and transform it into healthy blood, akin to the extraction of oxygen by the heart and lungs in western physiology.

When we are sick, our body’s overall Qi becomes weakened, and typically our digestive capacity with it. So one way to “trick” our body into absorbing the benefits of herbal medicine tonics like Astragalus, Lily Bulb, Glenia, Ophiopgon, Ginseng, and Dioscorea that nourish the lungs and Qi is to cook the herbs with soup. When we smell and see food that looks and smells delicious our digestive juices begin flowing. But when our digestion is weakened, or when we want to heat up the body rapidly, then soup is the perfect food, light and easy to digest, and a fantastic medium for the administration of herbal medicines..

 Drinking Chinese tonic herbs that have been cooked in with soup, especially bone broth, in which all the essences of the deepest part of an animal, its bones, have been extracted, is a very very effective way to get the herbs into your body, because now there will be increased absorption of the herbal medicine, because now your digestive juices–hydrochloric acid, pancreatic and liver enzymes, and bile that are flowing due to the flavors and qualities of the soup help you absorb the herbal medicine, whereas if you just take the meds on an empty stomach, none of these digestive juices are stimulated.

In essence, when herbs are combined with food you take advantage of the fact that all the digestive processes are in free flow when eating, whereas taking herbs on an empty stomach you may not absorb the herbs as well. This is especially the case for tonic herbs, which can be a little harder to digest due to their naturally cloying effect. Chinese tonic herbs that we use to prevent and recover from illness, are dense and heavy, in the same way that meat and dairy is heavy compared to brocolli or bok choy. Whereas other types of herbs, like the ones that clear heat and toxins, used in the acute infectious stage and with fever and lots of phlegm, such as echinacea, goldenseal, isatis/ban leg gan,  lian qiao/forsythia,  are best taken on an empty stomach with a little ginger tea between meals because they are so bitter and cold they wont go well with foodstuffs and you need all of your gut energy to process them.

Getting back to my bone broth testimonial. It was late winter, and  a student in the clinic at my acupuncture school who was giving me acupuncture for my weak lung Qi, and who was immersed in Chinese medicine, culture, and the martial arts, and he taught me how to make Chicken bone broth with Chinese tonic herbs, (see recipe, below) or what we call bone marrow soup in Chinese medicine, made into a porridge with rice.  Rice is a good source of energy and is the go-to grain for sick and convalescing people in both China and Inda, in both cases cooked into porridge the consistency of a thin oatmeal.

After three days of consuming this , my strength returned and I felt much better.  My cough started to reside. I continued eating this soup for a week and a half, and made three batches.  At the same time I did make a foul tasting Chinese herbal medicine decoction with sea vegetables Kombu and Wakame that are used for dissolving lumps and decongesting the lymphatic system and bitter cold herbs like lonicera and forsythia that I drank between meals.  It really worked! In two weeks I was back to normal, completely. Here is the recipe I used:

Chicken Bone Broth Soup with Chinese Tonic Herbs for Recovery from Respiratory Illness

Bone Broth, Winter, Kidney Qi, and Illness: Bone Broth Nourishes the Deepest Layers of our Body, the Kidney Qi, Directly. We need strong Kidney Qi to recover from any kind of illness.

Winter is an excellent time for deep tonification of the internal organs.  Winter is the time of year associated with the water element in the Chinese 5 transitions or 5 element system that describes the seasonal transformations of energy in the natural world.   Bones in Chinese Medicine relate to the deepest level of the bodymind energy, just as winter is the time when energy in nature is stored and accumulated, a Yin function, for the coming year when in Summer it reaches its ultimate flowering and fruiting, a Yang function. The deepest bodymind energy in Chinese Medicine is the energy of  the Kidneys, which govern the bones, so when you eat/drink bone broth/bone marrow soup, you are nourishing your Kidney Yin and Yang directly. We call this strengthening the root in Chinese Medicine because the Kidneys are the root of all Yin and Yang in the body, another words what we describe as the “Kidneys” is the deepest layers of being. That is why the Kidney Qi is associated with our will, which is a deep layer of being, the will to survive is fundamental.  Its interesting that our physical Kidneys are our  lowest solid/Zang organ situated near the low back. And they distill and extract intense substance from our blood, and discharge the waste downward, whereas the lungs, the canopy our organs, discharges its waste, CO2, upward, via the nose and mouth.  The Kidney acupuncture channel, too, begins at the center if the sole of the foot. When you walk barefoot you absorb earth energy directly into the Kidney channel.)

The Kidney Qi is associated with our reproductive energy, our will, and growth and development in children. The Kidney Yin and Yang are the source of all the Yin and Yang in the body, that is why it is associated with Winter in the seasons because winter is when the energy is stored for the coming year. Our kidney Qi is like the storage depot for all the body’s energys. That is why people gifted with naturally strong Kidney Qi and Yang are vigorous and remain healthy and live long. They have strong sexual energy and the capacity to work very hard without fatigue. This corresponds to Kapha Pitta types in Ayurveda.

So Chinese medicine is very keen on restoring, and preserving, the Kidney Qi as much as possible. Kidney Qi is preserved through a lifestyle of moderation, ample sleep, moderate work, good stress management, good food, not overindulging in stimulants or drugs or sexual activity devoid of a relationship with the heart (the heart is the emperor and in direct relationship with its minister, the kidneys) and avoiding over exercise of the aerobic type especially, depending of course on your stamina. Kidney Qi is restored by meditation, yoga, tai qi chuan, good food, rest, vacations, normal exercise,and Chinese tonic herbs.

Chicken bone broth naturally tonifies the “Qi and blood.” It is not a specific Kidney tonic in the way certain foods like walnuts, organ meats, scallops and oysters are, but all bone broth, any kind of bone broth, because you are drinking the essence of bones, strengthens the Kidney Qi. And since the Kidney Qi is the source of all Qi then building and replenishing Kidney Qi transmits Qi to the Lungs that helps you overcome respiratory and other kinds of illness. Any food that is said to tonify (the Chinese term translated as tonify, Bu is better translated s fill or reinforce, as in filling an empty pot) the Qi and Blood, like Chicken Bone Broth or even Chicken soup without the bones is a food that strengthens the internal organs and essential substances of the body, increasing resistance and boosting immunity. This effect is multiplied ten-fold when such foods are cooked with Chinese tonic herbs like Astragalus/Huang Qi, White Ginseng/Ren Shen, and Dioscorea/Shan Yao. The recipe below includes other herbs like Bai He and Mai Men Dong to specifically restores the Yin moisture of the Lungs that has been scorched and consumed by the Yang Fire of the Infectious disease leading to dry cough. They also restore the Qi  to the Lungs after illness, but can also be used to prepare the Lungs for Autumn and Winter.

  • If there are colds going around or if you feel run down, make the following recipe and eat it for two or three days in a row.
  • If you do catch a cold or flu, then also eat this soup but omit the ginseng and cook the soup with rice in it.
  • If, as in my testimonial, above, you are recovering from a cold, or bronchitis, or walking pneumonia, so long as there is no fever and there is a dry cough, then ginseng is a good ingreident.



One Whole Free Range Organic Chicken

1 cup white Chinese or Thai rice

2 carrots, slice

1 parsnip, sliced

2 slices celery root

1 cup scallions, chopped

6 large ginger slices

6 garlic cloves, whole

1 tbsp toasted black sesame oil

2 tsp sea salt

1-2 tsp ground white pepper


Chinese Herbs

7 slices Huang Qi/Astragalus root (treats fatigue and abnormal sweating, strengthens Wei, or Defensive Qi, immune tonic)

4 slices Shan Yao/Dioscorea root (treats fatigue and spontaneous sweating, a key symptom in the aftermath of strong febrile illness, tonify Lung Qi and Yin-chronic cough)

2 inch piece Ren Shen/Chinese White Ginseng root  (calms the mind which is disturbed by the heat of febrile illness, restores healthy fluids to lung, nourish the lung-chronic cough)

3 pieces Dang Shen/Codonopsis  (tonify the lungs, lung vacuity with chronic cough, strengthens the gut)

1 tbsp Gou Qi Zi/Goji Berry (nourish the kidney energy weakened by illness)

1 tbsp Mai Men Dong/Ophiopogon  (moistens the lungs and nourishes lung qi and yin)

2 pieces Bei Sha Shen Glenia Root  (clears heat after febrile disease, especially with dry throat)

1 tbsp Bai He/Lily Bulb  (moistens the dry lungs, clears heat and stops cough, calms spirit)

1 tbsp Wu We Zi/Schizandra Fruit (tonifys Kidneys, inhibits abnormal sweating, astringes Lung Qi so it can re-accumulate, for chronic cough, wheezing, calms spirit)

Note: You can see what a beautiful formula this is, because it treats all of the symptoms of walking pneumonia–fatigue, spontaneous sweating, chronic dry cough, dry throat and mouth. Also, as a bonus, three of the herbs have a calming effect on the mind or spirit, which is very useful since well all become a bit anxious and impatient when remaining sick for a long time. And febrile illness itself can disturb sleep.


Place your whole chicken and all of the herbs  in a large pot with enough water to cover  very well.

Bring to a boil, and cook on a fairly high heat with a lid for at least four hours, until all the meat has fallen off of the bones, and until the bones themselves are soft enough so that you could bite through the end of a leg bone, for example. Depending on how big your pot is you will have to add water as you go. Some folk use a pressure cooker which is fantastic and shorten cooking time. After doing this once you will figure out how big a pot you need so you dont have to keep adding water.

Now add the vegetables, ginger, garlic,  and rice and cook at a medium heat till the veggies are sufficiently soft, at least 30 minutes.

Now separate out the bones, (though i like to eat the ends of the leg bones,  but leave the herbs. You can eat any and all of them, some are starchy, others sweet

Now add the scallions, black sesame oil, and white pepper, stir, let sit a minute or two and serve.

Depending on how much water you use you will either have a very soupy or thick porridge. Its up to you.

Buen Provecho! Bon Appetit! Salud!


copyright eyton j. shalom, november 2015, san diego, ca. all rights reserved, use with permission.


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