How to Choose Food Using Chinese Medicine principles

[Season’s Harmony]

Food – It’s More Than You Think

By Ellasara Kling

“Traditional medicine and food share a common origin”ys41

Diet Therapy is one of the healing modalities of Chinese medicine.  Diet Therapy is applied not only to alleviate ailments, but is utilized for day-to-day living. Choosing foods that are fresh, unadulterated, follow the patterns of nature, and are appropriate for your individual state at that time, are basic general criteria for everyone at all times.

The choice of foods for supporting one’s health using the principles of Chinese medicine need not be exotic, nor cost a great deal. Rather, local, seasonal foods are utilized to address out of balance conditions, and/or to reinforce/augment the health that one has obtained. It has long been understood by Chinese medicine that the correct daily diet can prevent dis-ease, prolong life, strengthen the body/mind.

Diet Therapy utilizes the principles of yin/yang; hot/cold; dry/damp; calming/stimulating; internal/external; color, taste; relationship to the organ systems; the five elements; cooking techniques; and much more.

Even though that seems to be a complex list, it is possible to incorporate this method of considering food into one’s daily life with a little attention, practice, some guidance, and by following one’s intuition.

Five Element Theory is an excellent place to start. For a person who is practicing some method of energy cultivation (qigong/taiji/yoga/meditation, for example) or receiving treatments from a TCM doctor or acupuncturist, then paying attention to diet can be of significant support to these activities, and can be viewed as an extension of them.

Viewing food from the framework of Five Element Theory is quite different than the usual western food lists. Foods are categorized by season, taste and flavor along with the organ system that they support. Foods are meant to be appetizing through aroma, visually and taste. Preferably, foods are combined in dishes to enhance each other and help to bring about greater health balance. In these ways, even simple meals can add health benefit.

Consider these ideas: Each item we ingest has its own level of life force available to us – clearly, the fresher the food, the greater the vibrant energy. Each food item also has its own distinct message within its energy pattern. It has its own level of consciousness.

When we eat some food, we are literally taking into ourselves a form of energy and incorporating that energy into the fabric of our physical body. From this point of view, every time we eat it is potentially an act of healing. We give our body/mind/spirit powerful messages through the choices that we make regarding our diet.

What would it be like for you to choose your foods for just one day keeping in mind this idea? How would that change your choices? What changes would you make? How would that affect how you feel? Perhaps, you would like to challenge yourself.

avocado salad

This year’s Building Bridges for Traditional Chinese Medicine Conference October 17-20, 2013 ( will have seminars on Food as Medicine by James Gordon, M.D. (Center for Mind-Body Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, DC) and The Spirit of Food by Nan Lu, OMD. Additionally, featured speakers include Dr. Amit Goswami (Professor of Theoretical Physics (retired), University of Oregon) The Quantum Physics of Vital Energy and Energy Healing and Lama Surya Das, Tibetan Buddhist Teacher/lecturer/author, among many others.

Some important relationships of Late Summer:  In Chinese Medicine, Late Summer starts around mid-August and lasts until the Autumn Equinox. It is related to the Earth element, the color yellow, the Spleen/Stomach organ-meridian systems, it is nourished by the sweet/bland flavor, it comes forth from the bitter taste and is going into pungent taste. The flavor which balances it is Spring’s sour taste. Its environment is damp, its direction is Middle/Center. The Late Summer flows out of Early Summer and then into Fall.

This placement of Late Summer is one of balance. In order to stay in balance, a person must have a deep feeling of trust/faith. The deeper our trust, the stronger our balance. During Late Summer, the early summer heat is beginning to cool and the earth’s energy is beginning to prepare for the Fall. The environment is going from damp to dry. Although fruits are prevalent in this season, overeating of sweet fruits can cause too much internal dampness later on.

Some Foods That Are Harmonious With Late Summer Include:.

Almond, Apple, Barley, Blueberries Buckwheat, Cabbage, Carrots, Cherry, Chestnuts, Chicken, Chive, Coconut, Cooked onion, Corn, Cow’s milk, Crab, Cucumber, Dates, Duck eggs, Eggplant, Figs, Fruits (sweeter), Garlic, Ginger, Grapes, Hawthorne Berries, Hazelnuts, Honey, Job’s tears (Chinese Barley Coix Seeds), Lamb, Licorice, Lotus root, Mangos, Melons, Millet, Molasses, Mushrooms (especially button mushrooms), Oats, Oranges, Peanuts, Peaches, Peas, Potato, Pumpkins, Red Chinese Dates (Jujube), Rye, Squashes, Strawberry, Sugar, Sweet potatoes, Tumeric, Water chestnut, Watermelon

Get that midafternoon drowsy feeling? A cup of Spearmint tea will perk you up without any shaky side effects. It’s refreshing and easy to find at your local market. Two good brands are Traditional Medicinals’ Organic Spearmint and Bigelow’s Plantation Mint. Peppermint tea does not have the same effect, it’s purpose is somewhat different.

Dill Weed (used as an herb in many salads and soups) is great for the stomach as both a stimulant and for its carminative properties. Additionally, it will “diffuse Qi” which is where its stimulant properties come from. 

RECIPES diabetic food

Red Date Congee w/Toasted Sesame and Peach (or Mango)


  • 1 TB each: Sesame seeds black and white
  • ½ cup dried red dates – rinsed
  • ½ cup short grain sweet rice
  • **6-8 cups cold water
  • 1 Peach or 1 cup mango
  • Optional:Raw Honey/sugar as needed


  1. To make congee, place 6 cups cold water in a pot with the well-rinsed short grain sweet rice; bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer.
  2. Add the rinsed red dates, cover and simmer.
  3. Toast the sesame seeds and add to the congee.
  4. Add honey to sweeten (if necessary).
  5. Dice the peach(mango) and garnish each bowl with some.

Benefits: Helps reinforce yang energy and boost circulation

** Depending on your pot, heat, and so on, you might need to add water to the congee so that you have a “cereal-soup”  from the rice and not simply overcooked rice.


Cucumber/Pineapple/Goji Berry

Per Person:


  • 1 cup cucumber
  • 1/2 cup pineapple
  • 1 TB goji berries
  • 1 TB walnut oil
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • salt/ground pepper or red pepper flakes – to taste
  • 1/4 cup either ginger rice or ginger Chinese barley

Optional garnishes: cilantro leaves, crushed toasted walnuts, sesame oil, mint leaves, other ???


  1. Unless using organic cucumber, peel the cuke.  Cut lengthwise into wedges and then horizontally into 3/4″ chunks.
  2. Cut pineapple into small pieces – not too thin so that they maintain their integrity and do not melt into strands.
  3. Rinse and then Soak 2 TB goji berries in warm water till soft and then strain.


  1. Heat the walnut oil in a skillet/wok until shiny.
  2. Add the cucumbers and heat for 30 seconds, then add the pineapple, and rice wine – toss.
  3. Saute for 1 minute, add the goji berris and sauté everything until well-heated through.
  4. Remove from heat and add the salt and pepper – toss lightly.
  5. Put the rice or barley on a plate, making a thin layer of it, place the cucumber/pineapple/goji berries over it.

Use a bit of any or all or other of the garnishes and serve/eat.


Refreshing Summer Breakfast or Dessert


  • 1 cup Chinese Barley (coix seeds/jobs tears)
  • ½ cup diced pineapple
  • ½ cup diced papaya
  • ¼ cup goji berries
  • 2-3 fresh mint leaves
  • 1 tsp honey
  • ¼ cup chopped walnuts or almonds


  1. Rinse the barley thoroughly and let soak for about an hour in cold water.  Cook it thoroughly in 3 cups of water.
  2. Soak the goji berries in a little warm water to rehydrate.
  3. Make a small dice of the pineapple and papaya.
  4. When the barley has cooled down a bit, add all the other ingredients except the nuts and mix them together.
  5. If using right away, add the nuts.  If not, store in the refrigerator and let come to room temperature, add the nuts and serve.

(2 servings)

Making this several hours before serving will allow the flavors to meld.  This is a very cooling recipe that also aids digestion.


Carrot/Celery Root/Apple “Salad”

Ingredients Per Person

2 tbs walnut oil
1 rounded TB finely minced ginger
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
½ cup diced carrot
½ cup diced celery root
½ cup diced apple – preferably red
2 TB fresh squeezed orange juice
1 tsp. orange zest
1/3 cup toasted cashews



  1. Heat a wok or heavy skillet and add oil.
  2. When the oil is warm, add the ginger and salt and pepper and heat until the ginger is heated through, but not browned.
  3. Add the carrot, celery root and apple (please note that the dices should all be about the same small size) and stir into the ginger, add the orange juice and zest and stir fry for a couple of minutes until the vegetables are tender but still a bit crunchy.

Serve over steamed greens, or rice, or Chinese barley, and put the toasted nuts on top.

The kidney shaped Cashew is balanced in its energy nature and neutral/mildly sweet in taste.  Cashews are a good complement for sweet carrots and sweet and sour red apples, both of which are cooling in nature.

Simple Lotus Root Stir Fry


  • 2 tbs walnut oil
  • 1/2 lb lotus root sliced into thin circles
  • a couple scallion whites cut into 1″ pieces
  • 1/2 a red pepper sliced into thin strips
  • 1 cup mushrooms – sliced
  • 1 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 1 1/2 tbs rice vinegar
  • 1/2 tbs Hsiao Xing wine
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds



  1. Heat a wok or heavy skillet and add oil.
  2. Add the lotus first for a couple minutes.
  3. Then add the scallions and red peppers and mushrooms just until they begin to wilt.
  4. Add all the seasonings and stir-fry well.
  5. Plate and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Tip: This is a fibrous root and cutting it crosswise against the fibers is best for most uses.

Lotus root has a cold nature and sweet flavor. Among other things it can stimulate the appetite (in a good way), produce muscle, relieve diarrhea, and is also a Yin tonic food. It has a crisp, fresh taste. The pretty, lacy look of the cross sections are created from the plant’s air channels. Lotus root can be sliced and steamed, added to soups, and stir fried with other vegetables. Some people shred it raw and use it in salads. When eaten raw it is said to “cool the blood



Looking for a sweet tea treat? Red Dates and chrysanthemums that you can sweeten with a bit of rock sugar produce a sweet tea that is cooling on hot, humid day. The dates and flowers are both sweet, so you may not want too much rock sugar.

Red dates are said to calm the mind and make your skin glow. Chrysanthemums are cooling and refreshing especially on a hot humid day.

Preparation:  Do not boil the water. Use water that is just about to boil to allow the dates and flowers to steep for several minutes in the hot water while the sugar (if using) dissolves for a few minutes before drinking it warm – not overly hot.

Wishing you good health!  Remember to smile from the heart at all things.


Ellasara KlingThe information in this article is based on the theories and principles of Chinese Medicine. Ellasara 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.

For comments, questions, consultations,


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