One of the strictures of Chinese postpartum retreat (zuo yuezi) is that women must not drink water for a month after childbirth. This does not mean she should not drink fluids; it is important for lactating mothers to drink at least two to three liters of fluid a day. Rather, she should instead drink soups, Chinese medicine, Chinese herbal teas and weirdly enough, water distilled from rice wine.
During my first few days in hospital, I forgot about this rule once or twice. I was thirsty, so went and filled a thermos full of (warm) water. Only later did a realise that most new mothers came to hospital equipped with special herbal teas for bottles of distilled rice wine water (Mr Taiwanxifu later bought me some so I could try). Once home, my postpartum doula (yuepo) fixed me a large pot of Chinese herbal medicine and another of Chinese herbal medicine infused pork rib soup. I lived on this for over a month, and during this time did not touch ordinary H2O once.
Having lived through the ‘thou shalt drink no water’ experience, I have reflected on why zuo yuezi forbids plain water. I suspect it is part of using every available opportunity to increase the nutrients that a women receives. Many of the drinks and fluids have properties that help assist lactating mothers produce milk, and often also have warming and restorative effects. Some of the fluids, such as those containing barley water, have a diuretic effect (important after all that pregnancy swelling). Perhaps also there is concern about ingesting too much water; witness people who have died from drinking too much water when exercising in hot weather because they did not get sufficient electrodes. And before plumbing and filtered water, drinking ordinary water may have been unsanitary.
A popular type of tea during zuo yuezi is a simple concoction made from Chinese red dates (jujubes, 红枣) and goji berries (aka Chinese wolfberries or gouji). Goji berries have become popular in recent years as a super food; they are indeed high in antioxidants and have natural healing and anti-ageing properties. In Chinese cuisine they are usually paired with Chinese red dates. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine theory, both help to restore liver and kidney energy (weak after childbirth) and have restorative, warming properties. Chinese red dates help rejuvenate the blood, and have eighty per cent more vitamin C than grapes and apples. And all dates, including red dates, also have lactogenic properties.
In addition, the combination of Chinese red dates and goji berries is believed to help insomnia and anxiety. Let’s face it: caring for a newborn baby who rarely sleeps longer than 3 to 4 hours a a time (if you are lucky) is tiring. And while a new baby is a source of joy, dealing with a crying baby can be so stressful that it throws an unfortunately high percentage of new parents (both mothers and fathers) into postpartum depression. So why not try a cup or two of soothing, warming jujube and goji tea?
This tea is delicious, and naturally sweet, when made simply from Chinese red dates and goji berries. Some people add a little bit of brown sugar or honey, but I don’t think it is necessary unless you have a real sweet tooth. But you can augment it with slices of ginger (especially useful in winter), and you can also add Chinese herbs the most popular for confinement being dong guai. (It is best to consult your Chinese Traditional Medicine practitioner before taking any Chinese herbal medicine as it is not suitable for everyone.)
Red date tea can be made with dried longan, sometimes served at weddings as an auspicious drink to wish the couple a large and happy family. In this form, it is served more as a sweet soup rather than a tea so that people can spoon out the sweet longan flesh.
Basic red date tea:
2 liters water
1/2 cup jujube (Chinese red dates, also known as hongzao — 红枣) — around 15
1/4 cup goji berries (also known as gouji or Chinese wolfberries — 枸杞)
Rinse the red dates and goji berries in water. Put them in a saucepan with two liters of water, and bring to boil. Simmer and cook for around 45 minutes. Turn off the saucepan and allow to cool. Serve warm.
- Shell around ten dried longans. Place in a bowl and cover with warm water, and allow to sit for around ten minutes. This will help the longans expand and wash them of any remaining outer shell. With a small paring knife, cut the flesh away from the kernel.
- Add the longans to the red dates and goji berries as per the method above.