Posted by: corneliadavies | May 19, 2018

“Ne’er Cast A Clout Till May Be Out”

“Ne’er Cast A Clout Till May Be Out”

Old English proverb or Chinese wisdom?

Translation: “Don’t discard any clothing until June.”


(Or it might relate to May blossom, otherwise known as hawthorn flowers, which come out in late April or early May.)

This last couple of weeks I’ve noticed a rash of people coming into the clinic with unexpected May colds and stiff necks. In Chinese medicine this makes complete sense, as spring is traditionally known as a time when we are vulnerable to illness, and should therefore take extra care.

We take this care during the inclement winter months, and then we discard clothing with gay abandon (or is it relief?) as soon as the temperature soars beyond 15 degrees.

This is all very understandable, and I am as quick as the next person to reach for my shorts with utter joy, as winter seems finally to have left.

But later during a warm day, or the next day, when temperatures plummet along with the arrival of a stiff easterly breeze are you reluctant to dress warmly enough? Once the T-shirt is on the top of the clothing pile will you willingly reach for your snuggly fleece?

In Chinese medicine “language” we talk in such archaic-sounding terms as wind-cold invasion when we’re diagnosing a cold that came on after someone literally got cold. Understandably, this infuriates and bemuses Western scientists, as they ask us, “Don’t you people know that colds are caused by viruses?” Yes, of course we do! As a profession, we communicate better when we explain that we do, indeed, understand things from a modern medical perspective, and that when we say someone has wind-cold invasion this is shorthand, which may mean that a person got unexpectedly cold, and that their already compromised immune system allowed a virus to penetrate the body’s defences.

In the case of someone with excruciating neck pain that came on after turning it suddenly I would ask diagnostic questions, examine the area of pain and surrounding areas, and examine the pulses and tongue. As an acupuncturist, my conclusion will always be specific to the individual and the circumstances surrounding their injury.

Yesterday, when treating someone with exactly this issue I concluded, from palpation of her upper back and neck that she already carried a lot of tension and consequent knotting of the muscles in this area. Added to that we’d had hot days, followed by colder evenings and then a return of much colder days, during which time her body probably struggled to find an appropriate warm/cold equilibrium. Then she had put some extra stress on her neck and “ping” it made a clicking sound, followed by restriction of movement and pain. In addition to all this, she’s a cold person. That’s “Chinese medicine speak” again. It means she has a long-term tendency to feel colder that the average person, though if you took her temperature it would be normal. This is another subject in acupuncture, so I won’t go into it here.

At this time of year I am delighted that we all have the chance to get our bodies out in the sunshine and start making Vitamin D, which has become so depleted during the winter months. However, I do encourage people to carry extra clothing in their cars and bags for when the sun disappears. Scarves, leggings, socks, an extra jumper or coat: all or any of these might save you the hassle of a spring cold or neck ache.

But keep your acupuncturist’s phone number at hand, in case you need help to resolve things.

If we make the old English proverb, “Ne’er cast a clout till May be out” into a pearl of Chinese wisdom perhaps we could say something like, “Keep your fur-collared robe at hand until the spring winds have died a thousand deaths.”

© Cornelia Davies May 2018




  1. Fascinating, Nini. Thanks for the warning! And for the historical meaning of that wise saw.

    • I just returned from a trip upcountry and I was struck by the quantity of May blossom by the sides of the motorway (and it’s all very beautiful, considering the context of the m’way). Now I’m wondering if it’s particularly late this year.

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