Miso soup is fairly ubiquitous in Japanese cuisine. But did you know that it is actually based on a Chinese herbal formula designed specifically to combat the early stages of a cold? We're starting to move into fall, so listen up!
Cong Chi Tang, or Scallion and Prepared Soybean Decoction is just what it sounds like - a combination of scallions (cong bai) and prepared soybean (dan dou chi, available commercially as miso paste). Cong Chi Tang is used to unblock the wei qi of the body (the innate or nonspecific immune system) and to induce sweating to combat externally contracted wind-cold disorders. These translate as early stage upper respiratory tract infections, sinus congestion, and head colds.
As food and medicine became more intermingled over the years, modifications like black sesame seeds/oil and seaweed were added principally for medical properties but also because they make tasty additions. Hei Zhi Ma, or black sesame seeds help to replenish both the lost fluids associated with getting sick, as well as the yin of the kidneys and liver - both of which are taxed when you're sick. Various types of seaweed are used all throughout the Chinese Materia Medica (hai zao, kun bu, zi cai), and they all help to soften hardness and nodules and expel phlegm. A couple also direct rebellious lung qi (coughing and sneezing) downward.
The next time you feel a tickle in the back of your throat, or find yourself with a bit of a sniffle and a low-grade headache, go pick up a quart of Chinese medicine with extra scallions!