Introducing Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup – a soup that heals the mind, body and soul.
As a part of traditional Chinese cuisine, the use of food as a way of healing and nourishing the self (食疗, shi liao) is extremely vital to health and longevity.
Food and herbs have a synergetic effect, working together to draw out the benefits they otherwise wouldn’t release on their own. By combining them, they target certain health concerns such as digestive problems, headaches, or high blood pressure. The best part is, the entire healing process is all-natural and made with real, chemical-free food — no manufactured ingredients included.
The most popular form of Chinese healing food is slow-cooked soup (煲汤, bao tang). Whether it’s lovingly made for an older member of the family, a patient recovering from surgery, kids who are facing challenging exam or a new mom who’s nursing her baby, a bowl of slow-cooked chicken soup is just the right thing for feeling good.
Not only is herbal soup one of the most popular dishes among Chinese people, it has started to gain much-merited attention in the western world as well. Last year, Chinese lady Tu Youyou won the Nobel Prize for medicine for her groundbreaking research into herbal medicine for healing malaria. Actress and food writer Gwyneth Paltrow has also famously blogged about herbal medicines. Recently I found out that even NFL quarterback Tom Brady’s health advisor and business partner is a Chinese medicine practitioner. I’m hoping that Chinese medicine becomes the next big trend after kale!
Chinese Herbal Soup Mix
There are many ways to design a herbal soup according to the specific health concerns you’d like to address.
For winter, we select ingredients that provide energy for our bodies to fight the extreme conditions: cold, snow, and wind. Winter is also a time when our body goes into hibernation mode and experiences a renewal process, much like how nature around is rebuilding herself for Spring. During this time it’s really important to nourish our bodies with nutrients and immunity boosters so our organs can keep us healthy and ready to bloom.
The herbs for winter soup include:
Astragalus Root (黄芪, Huang Qi) – Strengthens the inner energy of the body and boosts the immune system, increases energy levels and builds up resistance particularly when your immune system is lowered by overworking and stress.
Codonopsis Root (党参, Dang Shen) – An excellent anti-aging herb that helps combat tiredness, chronic fatigue, stress, adrenal fatigue and digestive problems.
Dried Chinese Yam (淮山, Huai Shan) – This herb enhances energy, aids digestion and absorption, repairs worn-out tissue, and helps alleviate bodily weakness.
Goji Berries (枸杞子, Gou Qi Zi) – Benefits the liver, which manifests in improving eyesight especially if poor eyesight is caused by malnutrition, vessel expansion, inflammation or eye strain from staring at computer screens and documents for long periods of time.
Longan (龙眼, Longyan) – Full of vitamins and containing active anti-aging ingredients, longan helps to promote restful sleep, replenishing blood and Qi.
Red Dates (红枣, Hong Zao) – Also known as jujubes, red dates are widely considered as the “living vitamin pill” by the Chinese. It contains Vitamin B, C, E, P, phosphorus, calcium, iron and more. It helps calm the central nervous system, protects the liver, inhibits cell mutation, and improves muscle strength.
These six herbs are very common in Chinese cooking for preventing colds, boosting the immune system, and ingesting post-surgery to support recovery. Best of all they’re suitable for all ages! The ingredients naturally help flush toxins from the body and restore the Qi, which is necessary for feeling balanced and re-energized.
My personal favorite winter soup is cooking these fine herbs with either chicken or pork. In the southern parts of China (particularly the Cantonese region) where soup culture is the most entrenched, many people consume this kind of soup daily. Just as we use slow cooking here in the US, all the ingredients are added to a large clay pot or a electric cooker in the morning and left to cook all day. A pot of fresh and hot soup is ready just in time for dinner.
Herbal Mix – Where to buy
You can get each of these herbs in an Asian market or even on Amazon. However I highly recommend the herbal soup mix from Root and Spring. Root and Spring is an online store owned by the Mai family, who originate from Hong Kong. The Mai family ran a Chinese herbs store in Chinatown, NYC, and after moving to LA, they decided to open this online store to bring innovation and accessibility to traditional Chinese medicine. According to Cindy Mai, “the best, most reputable importers and manufacturers for Chinese medicine and herbs are in LA.”
There are a few benefits of the Root and Spring herbal soup mix:
- The soup mix is pre-portioned and prepped, so you can simply rinse and add chicken and water. That’s it!
- Each soup mix is designed by an expert herbalist in LA to guarantee the health benefit and good flavor.
- All the herbs are curated locally and hand crafted in small batches to maximize their freshness, so your soup will be extra fragrant.
- Every order comes with a recipe and information on the healing properties of each herb. No more guessing work while cooking!
I was so impressed with the freshness of these herbs. When I opened a bag, I immediately noticed an almost-sweet, fragrant nutty aroma. The semi-dried goji berries are plump with a vibrant color, and all the roots have been carefully cleaned, retaining their original light color. Compared with the herbs I got from my local Asian market, Root and Spring Soup mix is 10 times fresher.
I’ve been obsessed with these soup mixes and have been drinking hearty chicken soups for a week. Most of the time I drink them on their own as a side dish, but when I want a quick and light meal, I throw in noodles and vegetables, to make a comforting noodle bowl. Sometimes I also add cooked whole grains, such as brown rice, barley, or wheat berries, to make it into a wholesome grain soup.
- You can cook herbal chicken soup on a stovetop, in a slow cooker, or a pressure cooker. The cooking times are – 1.5 to 3 hours on stovetop, 2 to 8 hours in slow cooker, 20 to 30 minutes in pressure cooker.
- The herb mix is designed so that the longer you cook it, the darker, richer, and more herby it gets. If you’ve never tried Chinese herbal soup before, start from the minimum cooking time and taste the soup throughout the cooking process to figure out your favorite flavor.
- To serve the soup, simply add a pinch of salt and serve it as a side. I also like to spoon out the red dates, goji berries, and Chinese yam and serve them in the soup — so delicious!
- To make a quick one-bowl dinner, you can cook noodles or whole grains separately and add them into the soup. You can also boil some vegetables to add at the end of cooking.
- How to serve the boiled chicken 1: shred and serve in the soup. If the chicken tastes too plain, make a dumpling dipping sauce or serve with fermented bean curd (which is my favorite: it may sound unusual but it’s actually surprisingly tasty).
- How to serve the boiled chicken 2: use the trick in this post to make super crispy chicken on the stove top (and which tastes as good as fried chicken).
- What to do with leftover chicken: make Sichuan chicken chicken, bang bang chicken, fried noodles, or chicken fried rice.
Just as popular as chicken is in the US, Chinese culture passionately believes in the power of chicken soup to heal the mind, body and soul. I hope you love the Chinese version as much as I do. Happy cooking!
More Chinese herbal recipes:
Disclosure: I’ve received these herbal mixes to test recipes but this is not a sponsored post. I love the quality of the soup mix so much I wanted to introduce it to you as well. The owner of the shop Cindy is an expert in Chinese herbs and medicine, and helped me to better understand healing soups and introduced me to the benefits of Chinese herbs. Thank you again Cindy!
- 1.5 to 2 kilograms (3 to 4 pounds) bone-in skin-on thigh (or whole chicken) (*Footnote)
- 1 thumb ginger, sliced
- 4 green onions
- 1/4 cup goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)
- 10 dried longan (Long Yan Rou)
- 10 pieces Chinese wild yam (Huai Shan)
- 5 dried dates (Hong Zhao)
- 5 pieces codonopsis (Dang shen)
- 4 pieces astragalus (Huang Qi)
- Chopped cilantro or green onion for garnish
- Salt and pepper
- (Optional) Cooked noodles for noodle soup
- (Optional) 4 to 6 cups vegetables such as baby spinach, broccoli, and / or mushrooms
- Add chicken into a medium size pot. Add 6 to 8 cups water, until just covering the chicken. Bringing the water to a simmer over medium-high heat and turn to medium-low heat immediately. Simmer for 30 minutes. Skim off the brown foam from top of the soup and discard.
- Add ginger and green onion. Rinse the herbal mix under tap water and add to the soup. Simmer for at least 1 hour for a milder soup, or up to 3 hours for a darker and richer soup.
- Add chicken, ginger, green onion, and herbal mix into a slow cooker and 6 cups water to cover. Cook on low for 6 to 10 hours or on high for 2 to 4 hours, depending on the richness of the herbal flavors you prefer.
- Add chicken, ginger, green onion, herbal mix and 6 cups water in a pressure cooker. Cook at high pressure for 30 minutes. If using an Instant Pot, choose manual, and set timer to 30 minutes. If using a stovetop pressure cooker, cook over medium high heat until high pressure is reached. Turn to medium low heat. Continue to cook 30 minutes.
- Skim chicken fat from top of the soup and discard. Filter the soup with a fine mesh to remove the herbs. From the herb mix, the red dates, goji berries, and Chinese yam are all edible. You can either serve them with the soup or discard them with the rest of the herbs.
- At the end of cooking, remove chicken from the pot and transfer to a plate to cool, so you can begin to shred it.
- (Optional) Add vegetables into the soup and simmer until the vegetables are just cooked through.
- (Optional) You can add cooked noodles to make the dish more substantial.
- Garnish with chopped cilantro or green onion and serve hot.
- Check this post to learn more ways to cook with leftover chicken.
Alternatively you can use the chicken back and neck with a longer cooking time (3 to 4 hours on stove top or 8 to 10 hours in slow cooker). Please note, the longer cooking time also means a darker and more herby soup.
If you like like white meat, add chicken breast at the beginning and take it out once its just cooked through. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes simmering on the stove top and about 3 hours in the slow cooker (on low). The weight of chicken breast should not be included to make this soup.
If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.