Seasonal Harmony with Natural Whole Foods
by Ellasara Kling
“The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food.” Hippocrates: Greek physician (circa — 460BC – 377BC)
Creating and maintaining health occurs primarily as a result of our daily activities (mental/emotional/physical) and very primary among these is something that we are fortunate enough to do regularly: eat. But what do we eat for good health and what information do we follow to guide us through the roller coaster of daily living? Certainly magazines, news reports, newspaper articles, internet sources (excellent to suspicious) do their best to give us information that we can use. But can we actually use it? Apply it? Understand what it really means to ourselves, our families and friends? And does one-size really fit all?
When we read articles about the health giving benefits of a particular food, rarely does the article help us determine: how much of the food to eat, when to eat it, the interrelationship between the person, their current health; it and how that would affect the quantity eaten, how to cook it, is the food affected by the time of year, fresh, frozen; country of origin; use of certain pesticides in growing; ripeness when picked, and so on. How does the person’s digestive system come into play for digesting, assimilating, and dispersing the food? It sounds so complicated — determining what foods are beneficial and how to use them and combine them? Are foods just a conglomeration of “nutrients” as defined by bio-medicine or is there something more?
According to the principles of Traditional Chinese Medicine, (TCM) the food we eat gives us energy, or not. It gives us the energy we need at that time, or not. We choose foods that support and harmonize with our bodies, or not. Applying the principles of TCM, we can pretty easily discern what we need and choose foods that are health giving and enlivening.
Traditional Chinese Medicine takes the person into account especially body constitution (gender, age, occupation, current balance of health, temperament, stress factors, climate, season, weather conditions at the time, along with other circumstances) before prescribing a healing diet for an individual. It is not a one-size fits all program of eating. There are, however, general guidelines and lots of information about food and applying it to oneself and family. Eating seasonally, although becoming “fashionable”, is a TCM guideline that has stood the test of time (thousands of years) as it takes into account where you are, what you need to live in harmony with where you are, and the prevailing conditions of your environment. A simple example would be that we probably would agree that in the cold of winter, eating internally chilling foods would not be beneficial. Indigenous peoples in extremely cold climates, such as the Inuits of North America, eat whale fat for internal heat and insulation. And, that just makes sense to us. We don’t read that statement and think, “Oh no, they should have ice cream.” That just doesn’t make sense to us.
A Foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine is Five Element Theory
This very beautiful and elegant theory can assist us in choosing foods for ourselves and family that enhance our health. Five Element Theory is, as the name states, the relationships of the Universe viewed from five points of view. There are thousands of relationships, but for general purposes and choosing foods, there are about 13 relationships that are generally useful on a daily basis.
Viewing the chart below, there are five circles, each containing information about an Organ System, its element, and if you look at #7, the Season followed by #8, the environmental factor of that season. In order to work with Five Element Theory, especially at first, it is not necessary to memorize all the relationships. Many of these relationships you already know without stating it to yourself that way. For example, the Liver Season, Spring, has green as its color. This makes intuitive sense as Spring is time for new plants of all sorts which are generally green in color. It is windy in Spring and we see that #8, the Environmental Factor is Wind. Notice #10, color. This is often a key to foods of the season. Sprouts in Spring, Corn in Late Summer, Watermelon in Summer; Cauliflower for Autumn, and black beans in Winter. Each of these foods have specific properties that are health enhancing for the season they are categorized in.
Does this mean that you only eat the foods that are identified for the Season? No. It is best to always have a “balanced plate” that represents all of the seasons. That can be in a particular dish or as the meal overall. If you are working on healing a particular set of symptomatology, it is always recommended that you visit your local TCM practitioner so that you can understand the underlying root cause. Then you can gear some or all of your meals to bringing balance to that Organ System and obtain specific recommendations for your unique self. If you are generally healthy, then learning how to harmonize your eating with the seasons will enhance your health even more. Also, by following this column, you will learn recipes for foods that prevent illness from encroaching or minimize its effects should one, such as a cold, force its way in!
That being said, there are foods that are specific to each season and below you will see some of those that harmonize most with Autumn, the season we are in now. There are also a few recipes for Autumn and a discussion of how the season affects us and what we can do to harmonize with it more.
Harmonious Food Therapy in the Autumn Season
Viewing the above chart, we can see how Fall (Lung) has emerged from the Late Summer (Spleen) and will be changing into Kidney season (Winter). The Late Summer’s heat which balanced the dampness of Early Summer now brings dryness to the environment. Too much dryness may adversely affect the Lung/Large Intestine which requires some moisture to function well. Therefore, highly spiced foods are not recommended as spiciness increases dryness. When we refer to the foods that harmonize with the season, we notice that many of them add moisture or help to retain moisture, such as Snow Fungus, Pears, Spinach, and so on.
Because the movement of the Autumn season is to begin the process of contraction towards oncoming Winter, foods that are part of that movement are beneficial to eat and would include tart apples, red grapes, and plums. The tartness inherent in these foods has the effect of contraction and therefore harmonizes with the season.
As the Autumn progresses, and we move closer to Winter, adding winter-flavors and foods assists that transition. As you can see, there is always this brilliant movement of one pattern emerging so that another pattern can unfold from it as it reaches its zenith. This glorious mandala can inform our lives at any time about a myriad of items.
Natural Foods that Harmonize With Autumn
Apples, Apricot, Bamboo Shoots, Barley, Basil, Bai Mu Er – aka White Fungus or Snow Fungus, Cauliflower, Chicken Egg, Chickweed, Cilantro, Coriander, Cow’s Milk, Eggplant, Fennel bulb, Garlic, Ginger, Honey, Job’s Tears (Chinese Barley), Kohlrabi, Kumquat, Lily Bulb, Lotus Root, Lotus seeds, Mustard – leaf and seeds, Onions – Green, Yellow, Red, Shallots, Parsnip, Peanuts, Pears, Peppermint, Persimmon, Pine Nut, Radish, Sauerkraut, Spinach, Strawberry, Walnut, Water Chestnut.
Yang Sheng Issues in the Autumn Season
The organ system for this season is the Lung/Large Intestine. Among its many other functions, we are most familiar with the idea that the Lungs are in charge of the flow of air in and out of our bodies. They connect our “insides” with our “outside” through the nose, its sense organ. The Lung is literally the highest organ in the torso and directs the qi it receives downward to the other organs. It is the administrator. The Lung is known as a “delicate” organ and is, indeed, very sensitive to changes in hot, cold, dryness, dampness, and wind. The Lung is responsible for providing proper moisture to the skin and similarly through its paired partner, the Large Intestine, dry hair and/or skin are signs of a tired Lung. Grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the Lung and crying is its “sound”.
A situation many of us who work in office buildings face is the lack of fresh air. We breathe “recycled air” and with the cooler weather the heating systems are cranking up and drying the air even more. It is very important at this time to eat foods that moisten the Lungs/Large Intestine such as pears, honey, snow fungus (a personal favorite and available at your local Asian markets – a little goes a long way), persimmons to name just a few. See, the recipes below for easy to make dishes and soups that have this effect.
Learning a bit more about the Fall season: Autumn’s emotion is Grief/sadness and its balancing action can be deep understanding with acceptance which brings neutrality. There is often the desire to “set things right” in Autumn and this desire for rectitude is another balancing action for feelings of sadness and grief. It’s important in Autumn to create as much balance as possible as the oncoming Winter season has fear as its emotion, which is contracting. Kindness and benevolence, which are expanding energies, can balance the contraction and anxieties of Winter – kindness to oneself as well as others. By observing Five Element Theory we can find ways to cultivate emotional healing in any season, at any time.
On these crisp, clear Fall days, be sure to get lots of fresh air
and fill and empty the Lungs completely.
Breathe in Life and keep a smile in your heart!
Autumn Yang Sheng Recipes
Lung Chuan Vegetables from Mrs. Wang.*Ingredients: 2 large carrots cut in half lengthwise 2 large white Russet potatoes cut in half lengthwise 1 small pumpkin, kabocha, hubbard, acorn, butternut, or other dense gourd-like squash cut lengthwise in 3” wide pieces with the skin. ½ red bell pepper ½ tsp. garlic 2 TB ginger whites of 6 green onions – all minced dried small, red, hot peppers, 2-3 not too many, only to warm the food not to make it hot/spicy (use less if you are sensitive) ¾ cup fresh cranberries (optional) 1 TB salt or to taste ½ cup Walnut or Grapeseed oil ½ -1 cup water
DirectionsCut the vegetables into chunky, triangular wedge shapes leaving the skin on the potatoes and the squash. Heat a large, heavy skillet or wok, add some oil – heat the oil. Add the carrots, potatoes and squash and cook until the vegetables sweat. At this point, add the other ingredients and stir-fry for a few minutes. Add some water and cover. When the water is absorbed the vegetables should be cooked, but not mushy. If the vegetables are not yet cooked, add a v. little more water and cover again. When they are fully cooked – but not mushy – remove the lid and stir fry for a couple more minutes. *I added the cranberries to add a little tart flavor and red color.
Pear and Watercress Soup
Adapted from ZEN: The Art of Modern Eastern Cooking By Deng Ming-Dao
Ingredients:¼ cup walnut oil 2 TB minced garlic 1 medium yellow onion – chopped finely ¾ cup celery hearts – tender light colored stalks only – no leaves – chopped finely 3-4 cups of peeled chopped pears – try to choose fragrant pears such as Barlett, Williams, Asian. 4 packed cups finely chopped watercress leaves only 1 bunch flat leaf (Italian) parsley – finely chopped – leaves only 1-1/2 cups spinach leaves – baby preferably 1 qt vegetable stock salt and white pepper, sugar or honey to taste Garnish with sliced scallion whites, or a small scallion white cut into a “brush”.
Directions:Heat the oil in a large pot and add the garlic, onion, and celery. Sweat for about 15 to 20 minutes stirring constantly to prevent any browning. Add pears and cook for another 10 minutes Add all the greens and when they wilt add the vegetable stock Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat Remove from heat and puree soup in small batches in a blender When blended, pass through a sieve into a clean pan Reheat and adjust seasoning if too thick, add more stock or a little water. Garnish each serving separately
Ginger disperses qi, increases circulation
and pear is cooling and moistens the Lungs/Large Intestine as does honey.
Ingredients:3 medium to large pears cut into matchsticks 2 quarts of water ½ tsp salt 1/8 tsp ground white pepper ¼ cup rice wine or dry sherry 2 TB chopped fresh ginger (or 6 thin 1” diameter slices) Honey to taste
Peel the pears and cut into matchsticks.
Place with all the other ingredients in a soup pot and simmer until the pears are soft but not mushy. Yield: serves 6-8 people
This recipe can promote Lung strength.
Ingredients:2-3 lb Kabocha Pumpkin 1 chicken breast – boned 2 cloves garlic A: 2 tsp soy sauce 2 tsp. Cornstarch 1 tsp dry sherry ½ tsp sesame oil B: 3/4 cup chicken stock ¾ tsp salt
Cut the chicken breast into even dices and marinate in A for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile. . .
Carefully wash the pumpkin and then cut the top off below the stem area so that you can scoop out the seeds and separately some of the pumpkin pulp and make a bowl. Let the walls of the pumpkin remain thick. Scrape off some of the pulp from the “lid” and cut all of the removed pulp into cubes or some sort of pretty even pieces.
Add 2 Tb. [f oil to a wok and heat. Stir fry the sliced garlic and add the chicken breast, stir fry until it is just lightly cooked. Add the pumpkin pulp and B and cook until lightly tender.
Then fill the pumpkin with the cooked ingredients and cover with “lid” and steam until tender. . about 30-45 minutes.[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, email@example.com]