By Ellasara Kling
There are obvious benefits to eating foods that are local to you and in accord with the season you are in. These include freshness, greater availability, more energetic value, supporting your local farmers and so on. But, there are other benefits that may not be as obvious as they do not necessarily “show up” immediately. A very important one is supporting your health and another is supporting your energetic practice, even though we may not “see” the results of this immediately. It’s one of those things that usually become apparent over time. (However, if one’s health is not very good, even small changes can make an apparent difference pretty immediately.) We are all an aspect of Nature and our bodies are deeply aware of the energy of each season, even if our minds are only relating to the weather reports of variations in hot/cold, dry/damp. Our bodies are nonetheless experiencing the upward and outward flow of Spring or the downward and inward flow of Autumn, for example. Eating foods that follow the energy of the season supports our body’s natural efforts to be in accord with the energy flow. By increasing our awareness of, participation in and experience of Nature, we decrease stress and increase our health and energy practice. Doing what we can to harmonize as much as we can with Nature as it is, increases our energy and reduces our body’s struggle for balance, which in effect increases our energy. Essentially, I am of the view that a multitude of dis-ease manifestations find their source in a lack of energy and energy flow. One way to gather energy is through the foods we eat; therefore, it is best to eat foods that have the optimum possibility of increasing our energy and harmonizing with our bodies at any given time. Eat Seasonal, Eat Local, Think Global!
Having listed many foods that harmonize with Spring last month, I would like to highlight Artichokes this month as an above-average, often overlooked and under-appreciated Spring/Liver season food. The artichoke is an excellent food for supporting Liver function. Its ability to support the Liver and Gall Bladder functions has been recognized for hundreds of years in Greece, Egypt and Italy where it was commonly used medicinally as a tonic and/or detox for the liver/gall bladder. But, it doesn’t really take an infusion or medicinal formula to gain benefit from this wonderful plant.
Exactly what is that strange looking, green, round, thorny-tipped, bud-like vegetable? The artichoke is the immature flower (bud) of a type of thistle. When fully mature, the leaves open and a lavender/blue/purple flower emerges from the green bud. This flower is not edible and its beginnings are found in the center of the artichoke “bud” that we eat. Large artichokes come from the upper portion of the plant and small (“baby”) artichokes grow lower on the plant. The type we see fresh in the U.S. come from California where the climate allows them to grow year round with a definite peak from March through May. The artichoke is a root stock that is planted and harvested by hand. Although there are now varieties that can be planted with seeds, they are not the artichokes that are most prevalent in the marketplace. And, artichokes are a non-GMO food.
For information (and mini-videos) on how to select, prepare, and eat artichokes visit www.artichoke.org (the Artichoke Advisory Board). Ways to prepare artichokes include soups, baked, steamed, stuffed, fried and marinated. It lends itself to many flavorings and sauces. My personal favorite is to simply steam the artichoke and savor it leaf by leaf with a little fresh lemon juice and salt. Regardless of how you choose to prepare it, this is a satisfying and excellent food for Liver/Gall Bladder system support.
And one more small thing: We all know that flowers are at their peak when they blossom. Buds contain the “condensed energy” of the flower in a similar way as an acorn contains a tree. Artichokes as a bud contain condensed energy in the same way that fiddleheads contain the condensed energy of the fern. Lots of energy is expended by the plant in opening and giving us its beautiful show. We can derive extra benefit from the stage of some flowers/plants when they are buds.
This soup ends up with all five basic flavors being harmoniously present.
10 cups water or stock
6 “ lemon grass
1 TB (three large slices) ginger
½ tsp red pepper flakes (adjust to your taste – you can always add more)
10 oz of sliced mushrooms (usually straw, but use your favorite)
6 oz sliced bamboo shoots (fresh if possible)
6 oz sliced water chestnuts (fresh if possible)
3 TB fish sauce
½ cup lime juice
1 TB honey
2 plum tomatoes – cut in eighths
1 cup cubed pineapple
½ cup thinly sliced scallion –white and green separated
1-2 cups of bean sprouts
½ cup of thinly sliced lime
1 lb. cod or other solid white fish or medium size shrimp
2 TB chopped cilantro leaves – garnish
Very thin slices of lime – garnish
Bring water or stock to a boil and reduce to a simmer
Bruise the lemon grass and put in the stock with the ginger and red pepper and simmer for about 5 minutes or so
Stir in the rest of the ingredients except the green part of the scallion and garnishes and simmer 10 – 20 minutes till veggies are tender but not over cooked (if using fish, the fish should be flaky) At the last few minutes add the green part of the scallion
Garnish each serving with a thin slice of lime and cilantro and serve
1 medium eggplant
Large bowl with salted lemon water
1 large green pepper
5 large plum tomatoes
3 small zucchinis
5 large button mushrooms
¼- ½ cup safflower oil
2 cloves garlic – chopped
10 -12 young scallions
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ cup parsley – chopped
Salt to taste
Cut the unpeeled eggplant lengthwise into ½” slices and place in salted lemon water. Press the eggplant under the water with a heavy plate a let sit for about 15 minutes
Cut the pepper into strips, chop the tomatoes into chunks, cut the mushrooms into quarters, and slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/4” strips.
Cut the scallions greens into 2” pieces and the slice the whites into small rings – keep the whites and greens separated
Heat ¼ cup oil in a wok or large skillet
add the garlic and scallion whites — sauté for one minute
Add the pepper and zucchini, cover and cook for about 5 minutes
Drain the eggplant and pat dry
Add the eggplant to the wok/skillet stir fry till soft and sweaty
Add in the tomatoes, pepper, parsley, and scallion greens
Cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes – add more oil if necessary.
2 TB walnut oil
four thin slices fresh ginger (approximately 1 TB)
3 small garlic cloves
4 scallion whites sliced into little rings
2 medium fennel bulbs – sliced thinly lenghtwise
2 TB herbs de province
1 large red pepper cut into ¼” wide 3 inch strips
10 kalamata olives
greens from the 4 scallions cut in 2 inch pieces
In a heavy skillet or wok heat 2 TB walnut oil and add the ginger, garlic and scallions whites.
Sauté for 2 minutes and add the fennel,
as the fennel begins to wilt, toss in the herbs de province
Add the sliced red pepper
As the red pepper wilts add the olives and scallions and toss the ingredients lightly
Sauté until everything is heated through.
Sometimes the change of season from Winter to Spring or too much work can cause feelings of fatigue. This simple tea made from ingredients that are easy to find — perhaps in your own pantry — can be a refreshing restorative.
Put together 1 TB chopped, raw peanuts with the red skin still on and about 1 TB of chopped fresh ginger in 2 cups of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1-2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Add 1 TB of Whole Leaf Black Tea, cover and let stand 5 minutes. Strain and drink. . .sweeten a bit, if you like.
Health Topic: Eyes In TCM, the eyes are the opening for the Liver. While the hallmark of the Spring/Liver season is openings/beginnings/emerging, the tensions and stresses of our day-to-day lives may cause us to narrow our focus mentally/emotionally and this narrowing is often reflected in our visual systems as well. When we are tense and stressed, we close down and contract and that tension may be reflected in our eyes. Perhaps they become red, itchy or tired feeling. We may get “floaters” or slightly blurry vision. Remember, the eyes reflect our Liver function. If we remember a time when we were completely relaxed (it could have been now), we will recall that our eyes were gently focused without strain. When we are relaxed, we are involved in opening, emerging. When we look at our eyes in this state, they are clear and bright. Additionally, when completely relaxed, the eyes are not “going out there” to see. Rather, relaxed, open eyes, allow the world in naturally with a fairly broad peripheral vision.
Seasonal Self-massage: Relaxing the Eyes with Palming This exceptionally simple technique, deeply relaxes the eyes, leaving them feeling refreshed and free of strain. Palming can be done almost anywhere, including your desk at work. Sitting with your back straight, shoulders relaxed (or lying down), gently rub your hands together for a minute to warm the palms. Let your eyelids close and place the heel of your hands on your cheekbones. Slightly cupping your hands, let your fingers fall gently over the “third eye” area of your forehead and one hand crosses over the other. Do not put any pressure on your eyeballs. Your thumbs should fall naturally alongside of the outside of your eyes. Keep your fingers together so that no light enters between them. Your breath is natural, without strain or special attention. Try to do this for at least 3 minutes at a time. This is especially helpful for people who spend long periods of time at a computer screen.
Wishing you good health! Remember to smile at all things.
[Following the threads of her personal tapestry, Ellasara, a long-time student of Master Nan Lu, weaves her life around the exploration and sharing of self-healing through a variety of modalities, primarily focusing on food, common herbal plants, Qigong Meridian Therapy and Qigong for Women’s Health. For comments, questions, consultations, firstname.lastname@example.org]