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.
How to prepare congee:

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.

Healing Properties of Congee

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

17 comments on “Healing Porridge – Congee

  1. Ana Veitch on said:

    Do you cook the vegetables with the rice at the same time or cook them separately?

    • Michele Salinas on said:

      Root vegetables or tubers should be cooked in the beginning with the rice. Leafy vegetables should be added at the end or else they will cook away due to cooking too long.

  2. Joyce Crawshaw on said:

    How do I prepare the Chestnut Congee? Are you using raw chestnuts and grinding them?

    Thank you! Joyce

    • Michele Salinas on said:

      You would put the chestnuts in the night before with the grain. Alternatively you may add chestnut butter when you are ready to eat the congee, but I think cooking the nuts all night long is better. (Or cook all day). Enjoy!

  3. Dr Steve Lai on said:

    I am a trained medicinal chemist and spent many year in drug discovery/design in 2 US pharmaceutical companies. I know how difficult it is to find new drugs (natural or synthetic). So I was very amazed when I took just the liquid part of rice congee (on the advice of a friend) for a mild boutof food poisoning. The “cure” was almost instant!!! The typical “weak” feeling in the stomach which goes on for 2-3 days typically for mild food poisoning was gone. This still puzzles me.
    I suspect there are macromolecular carbohydrates in rice liquid (after boiling to a congee form) that chelates or traps the residual micro-organism or changes the ionic composition thereby producing a “healing” or “soothing” effect in the stomach. This remedy is very simple and cheap. Apparently this cure is known amongst many Chinese. Anyone heard of this?

    • I’ve never heard of that remedy for food poisinings but ginger is also a good one, raw, simmered as a tea. I have fallen in love with congee after acid reflux experience. It is soothing emotionally and physically. I made a white rice with mushrooms and organic breast of chicken congee and himalayan salt/ ginger to taste. Added one tablespn of high quality olive oil. Feels good!

      • Pls email me how you prepare

        • Staff on said:

          I personally like 1/4 cup of whole grain–a combination of quinoa and brown rice–especially short grain and slightly more quinoa in proportion to brown rice is my favorite breakfast many mornings except in the hot summertime. I place a little bit of raisins, 1 1/2 cup of filtered water, cook it in a small crock pot over night (a single serving crock pot). In the morning I put about a tablespoon of tahini in it, and I am good to go. This is what I had this morning as a matter of fact. You can use any combo of whole grain that you like. Processed grain will not work although steel cut oats would. Really this is just the foundation and you can add anything you like–cinnamon, cardamon ( I like that with the oats), clove, maple syrup, and so on. Enjoy!

    • singapore xiaojie on said:

      Yes this is a common chinese go-to recipe to stop vomiting. They call it rice water. But it has to be clear not thick and starchy rice water

  4. This is awesome information. Thanks so much for writing!

  5. Carole Carlson on said:

    My son has long-standing gastrointestinal issues. He is 17 now and digestion very painful.
    Very modified diet. What congee best to address chronic acid reflux, weak/dirty blood,
    inflammation. Should I use several things in combination or just one food item per congee?

  6. Dona costello on said:

    Where do I get the recipes for the multiple congree you itemize?

    • Staff on said:

      The recipies on the website are my recopies. However, there are many books out there also with some suggestions of ingredients, so just try and see what you like!

  7. Staff on said:

    Comments are closed now. Thank you!

  8. corazon bawingan on said:

    Well this kind of food is very delious , helpful for some illnesses like me suffering acid reflux I just remember to do this today and I found out that I don’t feel the same I mean my throat is better when I remember to cook and eat this Lugaw for us Filipinos we usually eat this porridge or lugaw in our Language… Filipinos love rice we can cook this porridge with salt or with sugar adding some simple ingredients and it taste good!!!!very easy to swallow and nice passing through the throats.

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