A YEAR IN FOOD & TCM
A Seasonal Breakdown
We love cycles and routines — probably because so much of what we do and experience in life is influenced by seasons. Seasons are cyclical in nature, so they have a lot of say in our choices and decisions, like the clothes we wear, the places we visit, and the plans we make on a day-to-day basis. They also have a significant impact on our health.
Because seasons introduce so much change to our lives, they also play an integral role in Eastern Medicine or TCM. One aspect that is particularly important is regulating the types of foods and herbs you consume during each season. For example, foods that grow and thrive in winter should be consumed during that season, as opposed to foods that thrive in the summertime.
Obviously, there’s a bit more to it than that. We’ve covered each season below and what herbs and foods should be on your radar this year.
The 5 Seasons and Their Corresponding Elements
TCM teaches that there are five seasons (yes, five) that correspond to the five elements. Each element also corresponds to a vital organ. They are:
|Spring||Wood||Liver and gallbladder|
|Late Summer||Earth||Stomach and spleen|
|Autumn||Metal (or air)||Lungs|
What is late summer, exactly? We don’t really recognize it as a season in the West, but you’ve probably heard it referred to as the “Indian summer”. In TCM, late summer is the period between summer and autumn when it’s not quite fall or summer. Depending on where you live, the “change in the air” is tangible: the air gets cooler and leaves start to lose their verdant color.
Now that you know how TCM views the seasons, how should the seasons inform your dietary decisions?
As the season of new birth, spring is associated with the element wood. In TCM, wood is responsible for the liver and gallbladder. Your liver is important in the spring because it acts as a filtering system for the body and helps you combat seasonal illnesses like the flu.
Herbs consumed in the springtime should help your body detoxify and balance your gallbladder and liver. Below is short list of the types of types of foods and flavor profiles associated with spring:
- Think green: Arugula, cucumber, broccoli, lettuce, mustard greens, and spinach. These leafy greens help cleanse the liver.
- Think sour: Sour foods help cut the fat that may have been stored up over winter. They are also thought to stimulate the liver’s qi. Look for citrus fruits, like grapefruit, lemon, and lime, and combine with other springtime foods for the best results.
- Some other typical foods to consume include potatoes, yams, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and radishes.
Summertime is associated with the heart, and is a prime time for activity and motion in your life. It’s also a hot time of year (hence its element, fire), so a big part of maintaining a summer diet is keeping your body cool by way of incorporating “cool” foods.
Light and less-greasy diets are better for the summertime. Here’s a list of foods that will help cool your body:
- Think “cooling” foods: Watercress, watermelon, lettuce, cantaloupe, cucumber, and bok choy.
- Think bitter: The taste associated with fire is bitter, so make a point to consume bitter greens like endive, escarole, spinach, kale, and Swiss chard.
- Some other cooling foods you can enjoy for a healthy diet in the summer are fish and seafood.
Late summer signifies the shift from summer to fall. Any change in the weather calls for a time to regroup, and it’s extra important to prepare for the winter. The organs associated with late summer are the stomach and spleen, and the flavor associated with it is sweet.
Here’s a list of foods you should consume in the late summer:
- Think sweet: Not in the traditional sense. Foods like lentils, roots, and grains are very nutritious and help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Think whole fruits: These are naturally sweet foods that also provide the body plenty of fiber. You want to stock up on fiber before the winter sets in!
- Also consider soups and steamed orange veggies, like carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash!
In general, you should always stick to foods that are in season. During the late summer, warm foods, like soup, are also recommended.
Autumn’s element is metal, and its organ is the lungs. Why metal? In TCM, autumn is both a time of harvest and self-reflection. Metal reflects our inner core issues, allowing us to dwell on them.
As for foods, autumn is when the air gets cooler, which means you should focus on consuming heartier meals that will nourish you and warm you up. The flavor associated with autumn is pungent. Here’s what to look for in your diet:
- Think “pungent” foods: Due to the coolness of autumn, you’ll want to consume more hot soups and stews. To incorporate pungent foods, simply add garlic, onions, ginger, mustard and horseradish for flavour in your meals.
- Drink lots of water: Autumn is considered a dry time of year, so it’s extra important to drink plenty of water to stay hydrated!
Winter’s element is water and it’s organ is the kidneys. What you eat in the winter should nourish the body and keep it warm. So, avoiding raw foods is recommended. The taste associated with winter is “salty”.
Here are some foods to help you stay nourished:
- Think warm foods: This includes hearty soups, whole grains, roasted nuts, ginger, garlic, soups and stews, and root vegetables.
- Think winter greens: Consuming seasonal foods is always recommended. Some typical examples you can incorporate into your meals are kale, chard, collards, and rapini.
- Think slow cooked meals: In general, use less water and allow your food to simmer longer so that it really soaks up the nutrients of the foods you cook.
Do you have any specific, healthy seasonal recipes you’d like to share? Feel free to post your ideas in the comments below!