Jing is usually translated as Essence. The Chinese character gives the idea of something derived from a process of refinement or distillation; it is distilled, refined essence, extracted from some coarser basis. This process of extraction of a refined Essence from a larger, coarser substance implies that the Essence is a rather precious substance to be cherished and guarded.

The term Essence occurs in traditional Chinese medical books, used in three different contexts with slightly different meanings:

  1. The “Pre-Natal Essence”
  2. The “Post-Natal Essence”
  3. The Essence (or Kidney Essence)

Pre-Heaven Essence

Formed by conception, Pre-NatalEssence nourishes the embryo and fetus during pregnancy and is also dependent on nourishment derived from the mother’s Kidneys. Pre-NatalEssence is what determines each person’s basic constitutional make up, strength and vitality. It is what makes each individual unique.

Since this Essence is inherited from the parents at conception, the Pre-Natal Essence can be influenced only with difficulty in the course of adult life. For most, this Essence is “fixed” in quantity and quality, and could be described as an inherited saving account, from which one can only withdraw, but cannot deposit. Once the account is completely used, life ceases.

Pre-Natal Essence can be positively affected by striving for balance in one’s life activities: balance between work and rest, restraint in sexual activity and balanced diet. A direct way to positively influence Pre-Natal Essence is through breathing exercise and such exercises as Tai Chi Quan, Qi Gong and Yoga.

Post-Natal Essence

This is the Essence refined and extracted from food, fluids and air by the Stomach, Spleen and Lungs after birth, leading to the production of Qi (energy) for the general daily needs of the body. If more Qi than needed is produced, the surplus of Qi will flow to nourish and charge the Post-Natal Essence.

The Essence

Kidney Essence is a more specific kind of energy which plays an extremely important role in human physiology. It is a mix of both Pre-Natal Essence and Post-Natal Essence, meaning it is a hereditary energy that interacts and is replenished by Qi. This Essence is stored in the Kidneys, but having a fluid nature it also circulates all over the body. Kidney Essence determines growth, reproduction, development, sexual maturation, conception and pregnancy.

The differences between Essence and Qi:

  1. Essence is mostly derived from the parents, whilst Qi is formed after birth
  2. Essence is fluid like, Qi is energy like
  3. Essence resides mostly in the Kidneys, Qi is everywhere
  4. Essence is replenished only with difficulty, Qi can easily be replenished on a day to day basis
  5. Essence manifests in very long cycles of 7 or 8 years, whereas Qi follows shorter cycles
  6. Essence changes slowly and gradually over long periods of time, whereas Qi moves and changes quickly from moment to moment.

The functions of Kidney Essence:

  1. Growth, reproduction and development – it controls the growth of bones in children, teeth, hair, normal brain development and sexual maturation. After puberty it controls the reproductive function and fertility.
  2. Kidney Essence is the foundation for Kidney Qi – Kidney Essence, which is fluid like, is considered as an aspect of Kidney Yin, and is necessary for the transformation of Kidney Yin into Kidney Qi, through the warming action of Kidney Yang.
  3. The Essence produces Marrow – the concept of Marrow in Chinesemedicine is different from that in western medicine and does not correspond to bone marrow. The Essence produces Marrow, which, in turn, produces bone marrow and fills the spinal cord and the brain.
  4. The Essence as the basis of constitutional strength – the Essence determines our basic constitutional strength and resistance to exterior pathogenic factors. Essence (and Qi) is also considered to be the material foundation of the mind (Shen). If Essence and Qi are healthy and flourishing, the Mind will be happy and this will lead to a healthy and happy life.

Jing Nourishment

As mentioned above, Kidney Essence consists of Pre-Natal Essence, acquired from our parents, and Post-Natal Essence, acquired from the food we eat and our overall lifestyle. Thus it is important to understand that even if our parent’s essence might be poor and deficient we still have the chance to magnify our Post-Natal Essence with the food we eat, the lifestyle and the choices we make, and greatly enhance the quality of our life.

Building Jing with diet requires foods that promote the growth and development of the body and mind. Such foods should also provide renewal, longevity, reproductive capacity, and protection from premature aging.

Chinese believe that the best way to nourish an organ is to eat the same organ from an animal. Animal products that are considered strong tonics for growth and development and nourish kidney essence are kidneys, liver, brain, bone and its marrow.                                 

“longevity” (marrow) soup recipe:  An idea based on ancient practice, it is a way to extract the nutritional essence of an animal without the difficulty to digest flesh foods. Using bones from an organically raised animal, break the bones and cook them just below boiling for eight to twenty four hours. The longer the cooking, the broth will be stronger in taste and nutrients. Add water as necessary. Herbs and spices can be added according to taste: salt, pepper, parsley, coriander, thyme, cinnamon bark, ginger. Root vegetable may be added. Slightly acid vegetables such as carrots, celery, squash, and beets help to extract minerals and other nutrients from the bones and their marrows into the broth. A tablespoon of apple vinegar, tomato paste or lemon juice will do the same. When cooked, remove the bones (eating the marrow is highly recommended) and use this broth alone as a warm beverage to drink on an empty stomach half an hour before meals, as a bowl of soup or as a liquid base for other food preparations.

When using kidney, liver and other animal parts, it is important that they be from animals raised organically. This especially applies to bone and marrow.                                                   

These animal products are also rich in vitamin B12. Western nutrition has shown B12 to influence the production of nucleic acids, which protects the body from degeneration. This vitamin is also known to initiate growth and development.

In China Human placenta (In mandarin: Zi He Che) is thought to be one of the best general tonics for wasting and debility and used to build up kidney essence. It is a universal folk remedy especially used for restoring vitality after childbirth and for reproductive disorders as recurrent miscarriage, sterility, impotence, and insufficient lactation. It is dried and sold powdered form. To use fresh placenta, wash it in water and cook in soups. It can be preserved for periodic use by slicing and freezing.                                                                                     

Placenta is said to be the only meat that comes from life rather than death.

For vegetarians (and not only for them) a great way to build essence is to consume micro algae such as chlorella, spirulina, and wild blue-green. These foods are rich in nucleic acids, which protect the body from degeneration and are also one of the best vegetarian sources of vitamin B12.  

In cases that Essence is not deficient, but rather blocked by phlegm accumulation in the body channels, barley and wheat grass and other leafy greens have a strong phlegm cleansing effect which will eventually liberate the free flow of Essence.

Vitamin A richly supplied in the above animal and vegetable foods, strengthen sexual development and reproduction, as well as protects against congenital birth defects. All these properties are in the domain of Jing activity. At the same time, most such foods contain ample omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in concentration in the body wherever there is Jing storage- in the sperm, brain, liver, kidneys, bone marrow, and placenta. Omega-3 develops and maintains the nervous system, clean the arteries, and provide cellular integrity.  

Almond milk, milk and clarified butter (ghee) support ojas, a bodily essence described in Ayurveda which largely parallels the Jing concept. Milk from any animal represents a close and subtle transformation of its blood. All dairy, if it is of the highest quality and tolerated, supplements the Jing. Clarified butter improves the assimilation of nutrients, a most important factor in the formation of Jing.

Royal jelly and bee pollen: These honey bee products are thought to contain the most complete range of nutrients of any foods.  Because of the royal jelly the mother bee is much bigger in size than the other bees and fertile to lay countless eggs. Thus the energy potential of royal jelly stimulates sexuality and reproduction in humans as well.

Herbs to nourish Kidney essence: Dodder seeds (TuSi Zi), prepared Rehmannia root (ShuDi Huang), deer antler (Lu Rong), tortoise shell (GuiBan), winter cherry (Ashwagandha).

Ideal Jing nourishment must also include spiritual practice, which can mobilize Jing, infuse it with energy and spirit, and transform it into Qi.

Factors which deplete Jing

  1. Stress, fear, insecurity and overwork.
  2. Too much semen loss in men greatly reduces Jing, particularly when it occurs in old age.
  3. Women bearing too many children, especially without rebuilding soon after each birth. “Too many” means more than their particular constitution can healthfully support.
  4. Toxins in food and water; intoxicants such as alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, coffee and tobacco. Heavy metals such as mercury and lead, and aluminum (usually from cookware).
  5. Excessive sweet-flavored food.
  6. Too much dietary protein.


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