Healing Porridge – Congee



Congee is a grain based, medicinal porridge served for centuries in traditional East Indian and Chinese homes. It is as common in some homes as pizza & mac and cheese are here!  This is an easy and affordable dish to incorporate into any diet.  It is used preventatively to promote good health and strong digestion.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the stomach holds the food, while the spleen transports and transforms the food. Their ability to work properly is considered so important that the qi, or energy, of the human body rests on the proper function of the spleen and stomach.

Congee is simple and easy to make. A small amount of grain with 5-6 times more water and a pinch of sea salt. The dish can be made with a single grain, such as brown rice, or a combination of grains, beans, vegetables, or medicinal herbs.  When you incorporate this as a regular dish, you’ll see improvement in digestive functions and the consistent level of energy throughout the morning.  Congee is healing in the sense that those who need to lose weight will lose it and those who need to gain weight will gain it when congee becomes a regular part of the diet.

Congee is most easily prepared overnight in a crock pot.  All you would need to do is set it up and cook on low while you sleep.   If you do not have a crock pot, it can be simmered on the stove over very low heat.  The grain to liquid ratio is 1:5 or 1:6.  It is better to use too much water than too little, and is is said that the longer congee cooks, the more “powerful” it becomes.  It is particularly excellent with a homemade stock.


This simple grain soup is easily digested and assimilated, tonifies the blood and the qi energy, harmonizes the digestion, and is demulcent, cooling, and nourishing. Since the chronically ill person often has weak blood and low energy, and easily develops inflammations and other heat symptoms from deficiency of yin fluids, the cooling demulcent and tonifying properties of congee are particularly welcome; it is also useful for increasing a nursing mother’s supply of milk. The liquid can be strained from the porridge to drink as a supplement for infants and for serious conditions.**

Other therapeutic properties may be added to the congee by cooking appropriate vegetables, grains, herbs, or meats in with the rice water. Since rice itself strengthens the spleen-pancreas digestive center, other foods added to a rice congee become more completely assimilated, and their properties are therefore enhanced. Listed below are some of the more common rice-based congees and their specific effects.*


THIRTY-THREE COMMON CONGEES:michele and congee 225x300 Healing Porridge Congee
  1. Aduki Bean: Diuretic; curative for edema and gout
  2. Apricot Kernel: Recommended for coughs and asthma, expels sputum and intestinal gas
  3. Carrot: Digestive aid, eliminates flatulence
  4. Celery: Cooling in summer; benefits large intestine
  5. Chestnut: Tonifies kidneys, strengthens knees and loin; useful in treating anal hemorrhages
  6. Water Chestnut: Cooling to viscera; benefits digestive organs
  7. Chicken or Mutton Broth: Recommended for wasting illnesses and injuries
  8. Duck or Carp Broth: Reduces edema and swelling
  9. Fennel: Harmonizes stomach, expels gas; cures hernia
  10. Ginger: Warming and antiseptic to viscera; used for deficient cold digestive weakness: diarrhea, anorexia, vomiting, and indigestion.
  11. Kidney from Pig, Sheep, or Deer: Strengthens kidneys; benefits knees and lower back; treats impotence (use organic kidney)
  12. Leek: Warming to viscera; good for chronic diarrhea
  13. Liver from Sheep or Chicken: Benefits diseases of the liver; very powerful (use organic organ meats)
  14. Mallow: Moistening for feverishness; aids digestion
  15. Mung Bean: Cooling, especially for summer heat; reduces fevers; thirst relieving
  16. Mustard: Expels phlegm; clears stomach congestion
  17. Salted Onion: Diaphoretic; lubricating to muscles
  18. Black Pepper: Expels gas; recommended for pain in bowels
  19. Red Pepper: Prevents malaria and cold conditions
  20. Pine Nut Kernel: Moistening to heart and lungs; harmonizes large intestine; useful in wind diseases and constipation
  21. Poppy Seed: Relieves vomiting and benefits large intestine
  22. Purslane: Detoxifies; recommended for rheumatism and swellings
  23. Radish: Digestant; benefits the diaphragm
  24. Pickled Radish (salt): Benefits digestion and blood
  25. Brown Rice: Diuretic; thirst-quenching; nourishing; good for nursing mothers
  26. Sweet Rice: Demulcent; used for diarrhea, vomiting, and indigestion
  27. Scallion Bulb: Cures cold diarrhea in the aged
  28. Sesame Seed: Moistening to intestines; treats rheumatism
  29. Shepherd’s Purse: Brightens the eyes and benefits the liver
  30. Spinach: Harmonizing and moistening to viscera: sedative
  31. Taro Root: Nutritious; aids the stomach; builds blood
  32. Wheat: Cooling; used with fevers; clears digestive tract; also calming and sedating due to wheat; nourishing effect on the heart
  33. Yogurt and Honey: Beneficial to heart and lungs

*Adapted from Chinese Medicinal Herbs, translated and researched by F. Porter Smith and G. A. Stuart; San Francisco; Georgetown Press, 1973, p. 470.

**Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford