By Ellasara Kling
“The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft.” ~ The Neijing
Throughout the Nei Jing, in a myriad of ways, we are exhorted to balance our lives, be in harmony with nature and follow the flow of the seasons, adapting to each as it appears. Balancing our lives can be restated as “Everything in moderation,” including tempering our emotions so that we are not “locked” into too much concern, too much anger, or even too much joy. By letting go and not holding fast to anything, we can create an active detachment, neutrality, calmness of mind. But in our technological, modern lifestyles that seem to demand a great deal of outer focus and almost crushing levels of activity to get through the day, we may feel bewildered about how to actually live in greater balance/harmony/flow. Summer is a season that calls to us to open up, breathe deeply, relax, smile more. Just doing those things throughout the day can relieve tension and the sense of stress and urgency that can be placed upon us from external factors. Just take a couple of minutes before walking into the door at work to stand in a safe place, close your eyes, and just breathe. Nothing else. At your meal break, take another couple of minutes before and after eating to do the same thing. Make these little 2-minute breaks a regular habit. It can help you to change many things. There are more ideas related to the season in the next section – Five Element Theory.
FIVE ELEMENT THEORY
Viewing the Five Element chart with the Summer as its focus, we can easily identify some of the major relationships that are part of this season. This is the season that is ruled by the Heart and Small Intestine. Naturally, it follows that the emotion for the season is Joy. This is the Joy that comes from within ourselves and is not based on external events or circumstances. An over-excited heart may show up as too much or inappropriate laughter, or an inability to stop chatting. During Summer, Qi flows outward and upward (just like plants grow) and occupies the body surface during this season. This Yang outward movement requires that we nurture our internal energy so that we do not dissipate it too much. For example, during the summer months people tend to perspire more easily in response to the external heat. This is creates natural body cooling from the evaporation of perspiration. Be certain to replenish liquids, be careful to not dehydrate, but always drink liquids that are warm, not ice cold.
The Bitter taste which is related to this season contracts over-expansion and creates balance. Often, there is an absence of bitter foods and herbs in our diets even though they are present in nature, easy to find and seasonal for summer. Adding foods that have some bitterness to them is, according to Five Element Theory, good for your heart. The balancing “emotion” for the Heart is calm and peacefulness. Moving meditation such as taiji which, among many other things, calms and directs the flow of qi, or pleasant walks outdoors, perhaps in a park, taking in the beauty of Summer and just letting the body relax and enjoy will bring experiences of greater balance, harmony and that natural joy that is part of this season.
Eat foods that are not too rich or greasy and which are easily digested. Even though the external temperature is hot and it would seem a good idea to consume lots of cold foods and liquids, doing so can lead to digestive problems later. It is recommended that people drink flower or fruit teas (such as chrysanthemum tea) which naturally cool the body internally. Watermelon is another natural coolant that is plentiful and eating a bit of the rind adds a touch of bitter. (There are recipes below for a refreshing watermelon juice drink and for cooling teas.) The daily diet should contain more vegetables and fruits so as to stimulate the appetite and provide adequate fluids.
Always follow your own intuition about what foods are good for you as well as taking into account your own individual circumstances and situation. The principles of Five Element Theory are guidelines that are applicable universally, but who you are, where you are, how you are and when you are will affect how you apply them at any given time.
Grounding in Summer: Because the natural flow of energy in Summer is up and out, we may sometimes feel “ungrounded.” A simple, fun, seasonal “exercise” for this is to go outside, remove your shoes and stand on the grass or the sand at the beach. Really feel the ground beneath your feet and your connection with the Earth. Earth is the next season coming up and relating to it now can assist in bringing balance and centering in Early Summer.
Some Foods that are harmonious with Early Summer include: apricot, asparagus, beet, bitter melon, black coffee, broccoli, broccoli rabe, celery, chrysanthemum, chamomile, coffee, cucumber, dark unsweetened chocolate, escarole, ginger, job’s tears, lettuces such as boston, chicory, endive & radicchio, romaine, lavender, lemon balm, loquat, lotus root, lotus seed, mulberries, mung bean, okra, peach, peppermint, persimmons, pumpkin, radishes, red lentils, red peppers, red plums, rhubarb, soy beans, spearmint, spinach, strawberry, summer squashes, sunflower seeds, tamarind, teas, tomato, water chestnuts, watermelon, Chinese yam, zucchini, and others.
½ cup water
4 cups of watermelon (include some of the rind)
2 TB fresh ginger root
tiny pinch of salt
Place all of the ingredients in a blender and juice. You can add more water if you like to make it more “liquid,” but do not add ice. The addition of a tiny pinch of salt will enhance the sweetness of the watermelon. A great way to start a hot summer day or for an afternoon “pick-me-up!” This is so refreshing and delightful on hot days. Watermelon relieves heat, quenches thirst.
1/4 tsp sweet short grain rice
8 cups water
1/2 tsp tangerine rind
1 tsp grated ginger
1/2 tsp of garlic
2 TB grapeseed oil
2-3 small-medium yellow summer squash
1 cup red bell pepper
dash of salt
chopped cilantro or watercress
red beans cooked (adzuki beans)*
mushrooms – sautéed
Lightly toast the rice for a couple of minutes in your pot before adding 8 cups of cold water.
At the same time, add tangerine rind, ginger and garlic.
Simmer for a couple of hours or more until nearly finished, in the meantime . . .
Wash and cut the squash into large diagonal chunks (2” long)
Cut the red bell pepper into 1/4 inch strips and then cut in half
Heat a skillet with the oil and add the squash
Lightly braise the squash and red pepper and set aside
When the congee is almost done, add the squash and pepper; this way the yellow squash, which tends to be very tender, doesn’t disintegrate into the congee but remains in pieces and the red pepper still has some “bite” to it.
Serve with small side dishes as mentioned above, or ideas of your own.
Congee is an all-time wonderful nurturing dish. It can be combined with a myriad of foods to create a nourishing, season appropriate “soup” that nurtures appetite, digestion.
*Adzuki beans are available dry in most Asian markets and if not, many supermarkets have Eden brand Adzuki beans. Other small red beans may be substituted.
Mung Bean Sprouts and Chinese Chives with Yellow flowers
4 cups uncooked mung bean sprouts
2 cups yellow flowered Chinese Chives
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
¼ cup oil for stir-frying
1-1/2 TB minced fresh ginger
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
Wash and drain the mung bean sprouts and chives.
Cut the chives into 4” pieces
In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the salt Heat a wok or heavy skillet and coat bottom with 1-1/2 TB oil
Add the eggs and so that they cover the bottom of the pan like a pancake.
Turn them over gently and the cut into thin strips and set aside on a platter
Add 2 TB oil and add the minced ginger when the oil is hot.
Add the mung bean sprouts and stir-fry for about 1 minute then add the rest of the ingredients. Stir-fry for about another 1 – 2 minutes, until the chives just begin to be limp
Transfer to a platter and top with the strips of egg.
Chives are an aid to digestion, blood circulation and have antiseptic properties.
Mung bean sprouts are cooling, relieve dampness.
2-3 TB grapeseed oil
Sprinkle of salt
5 small-med. cloves garlic
2 large fat scallions – whites only
2 stalks of celery
4 small carrots
1 medium sweet potato – organic so you can eat the skin
1 small bunch young tender dandelion leaves – from Texas
3-5 cups (or more) of either or combination of: water/ chicken broth/veggie broth
1 cup sliced, lightly sautéed mushrooms – either button or crimini
Ground fresh black pepper
Optional – 1-2 small red hot pepper*
Slice garlic thinly lengthwise – no chopping, it gets bitter
Very thinly slice the scallions into rings
Small dice of celery
Cut carrots into thin rings
Small dice of sweet potato into little pieces
Lightly sauté the mushrooms and set aside – it’s 1 cup after cooking.
Thoroughly wash the leaves in cold water because there is often sand on them; drain and remove the leaf from the stems by hand. (Plants are smart and in their own self-defense, they increase their anti-oxidant value when they are ripped by hand over knife cutting). You can leave the more tender stems at the top. A little time consuming, but worth it.
In a large skillet/wok/soup pot (3-5 qt.)
Heat oil with sprinkle of salt (prevents splattering) – medium heat
- * If using small red chille to make this spicy, add it now and remove before serving.
Add in garlic and scallions – just heat through
Add celery and carrots – stir in and sauté for only 1-2 minutes
Add one cup of water/broth, stir and let simmer for a couple of minutes
Add sweet potato and rest of broth/water; cover and let simmer on low until the sweet potatoes are almost done.
Then, add the dandelion leaves all at once and stir in to soup. Let them wilt and cook for only 2-3 minutes on low. Turn off heat and let it sit covered for an hour or so. The dandelion leaves should still be bright, jewel green – careful not to over cook. Also, not under cook else they will be too tough or bitter.
When heating for eating, add the lightly sautéed mushroom a little black pepper. . DONE.
Dandelions are an excellent leafy green that are available throughout Spring and Summer. Their health benefits are amazing, especially from the TCM point of view. Because they are slightly bitter, many people do not like them. This soup, which can be easily eaten at room temperature, (never cold, but really doesn’t need to be “hot”) balances the dandelion flavor and the way they are cooked combats the toughness that people also find difficult. Dandelion has been used for relieving heat and dampness and it focuses the qi downwards.
TEA Recommendations for the Season: Chrysanthemum Tea with Hawthorne Berries; Chamomile Tea alone or with Lavender – so peaceful. Chamomile is a flower that is related to Chrysanthemum. It is commonly known to be cooling and drying (a mild diuretic) and relaxant.
Chrysanthemum is a natural internal coolant that is said to promote circulation and is naturally sweet. Hawthorne berries (available dried in most Asian markets) are said to be a heart tonic that assists circulation and improves digestion of fats.
Another idea is: Strawberries are prominent in this season, slice a few strawberries, mash them slightly, cover them with warm water and a squeeze of lemon juice adding a bit of honey. Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes. Strain, add a crushed mint leaf and feel the coolness, the lovely fragrant flavor and no need for ice!
Wishing you good health! Remember to smile from the heart at all things.
The information in this article is based on the theories and principles of Chinese Medicine/Five Element Theory. Ellasara, a practitioner of Wu Ming Qigong, has been studying with Master and Dr. Nan Lu for many years and has participated in special classes through TCM World Foundation and the Tao of Healing in New York City.
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