Fall is a time of squeezing the sponge, where our bodies contract, our energy goes into our roots and core, cooler temperatures and less sunlight mean eating heavier but earlier in the day, adding white and pale colors, and shedding the desire for warm active days, letting ourselves enjoy the memories of the past year, and beginning to prepare for winter’s cold.
Gathering/processing the year’s activities, preparing for inward journey of winter/darkness, decay of year’s growth, driest time of year (in the West), letting go. Another less appealing aspect of fall and winter is the decay and dying. We may have a hard time accepting that parts of ourselves decay and die, while other parts live on. The dying process dominates during the cold seasons, so our challenge is to see what needs to be pruned from our diets, lifestyle, and mental/emotional patterns.
Autumn is a time of preparation for the winter ahead, at least in traditional cultures without modern appliances, and in nature. The energy in nature is condensing. Watch the progression of a tree as its leaves go from green to yellow to brown or red, then fall to the Earth, signaling winter. This is the life force of the tree condensing inward in preparation for the cold season ahead.
This is a time to eat heavier foods, more cooked foods, hearty casseroles, more animal flesh, and ground/root vegetables such as carrots, burdock, daikon, pumpkin and squash. Eating heavier and richer foods facilitates more caloric warmth from the digestion of the “high octane fuels.”
Take more time alone to meditate, read, walk in nature, and accept the coming dark months ahead. It is also a time for letting go…letting go of the wonderful warm summer months, letting go of attachment to activity and light, and letting go with every breath, leaving space for unknown things to come to us.
A potentially dominant pattern of this season is dryness of the body’s tissues (in the west coast of the US) and a low-grade sadness/depression. These are natural. The dryness can be counteracted with moisturizing (yin tonics) foods and herbs. Sadness and depression are opportunities to look at what wants to die in us, then letting that part die. This can only be done with acceptance and feeling what wants to be let go of. It cannot be understood or intellectualized. It must be experienced with the light of awareness and feelings.
In this season, our blood quality changes to protect our tissues from damage by cold. It is like changing the oil in your car for different climates…thicker oil for hot climates and thinner oil for cooler ones. Think of the omega 3 fats in salmon. These fats are very unsaturated. They are so because the fish is swimming in freezing cold water. If the fat was hard and saturated, it would not move in the cold conditions. This would cause the cells to stop functioning. The same thing is happening in our bodies with the change of climate.
Imagine squeezing a sponge. This is what is happening in the fall. The excess of our being is squeezed out, for winter adaptation. Our plans and growth for the year have slowed or stopped (sometimes only symbolically). This is the energy in 5-element TCM theory of earth solidifying into metal. It is the letting go of old, dying parts of our lives and, paradoxically, the breathing of air into metal/contractive states. If this energy is blocked, then we may feel the low-grade depression or sadness. This feeling is nothing more than an invitation to come back to presence and accept what is occurring. Also, this season is one of setting aside part of the harvest for the bleak months of winter (at least in those areas with very cold and dark winters where little will grow).
As mentioned earlier, our foods can become more strongly seasoned, salt intake increases, and cooking methods have a more warming aspect — baking, long time sautéing, and sautéing for longer periods with water. Pungent and spicy seasonings and herbs may be employed in moderation to facilitate energy going to the lungs. This expansive energy helps counteract the excessive contraction of autumn, which can be unpleasant for some people.
Pungents such as onion, ginger, horseradish, mustard, garlic, wasabi, rosemary, sage, chamomile, oregano, thyme, basil, and others (see expansive foods of spring) offer gentle medicine.
Grains to focus on (according to Macrobiotics) are short and medium grain rice, wild rice, and rye.
Vegetables include all fall and winter squashes, pumpkin, the pungent foods mentioned previously, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots and their tops, daikon and its tops, lotus root and seeds, mustard greens, parsley, watercress, red radish and turnips.
Fruits include grapes, berries, apples, pears, persimmons, pomegranates, kiwis (late fall), watermelon, and others in season in your area.
Miso and black soybeans for their softening effects
Stronger herbs to take for illness are spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, citrus peel, and raw ginger. Take licorice with the previous herbs if you feel dry, lightheaded, or ungrounded periodically, to “soften their stimulating effects.” (Herbs of Life, p.120) Do not eat spices in excess, as they will cause dryness and possibly have a “rebound effect,” cooling the body. The coolness is caused when the pores are stimulated to remain open and exposed to the cool fall winds. If you have problem with constipation and/or slow digestion, try extra sea vegetables, purslane, well-cooked barley, aloe vera, elecampane, comfrey root, young malva (mallow) leaves, and flowers, coltsfoot, and cascara sagrada.
More animal foods – fish, beef, pork, liver and organ meats, and soft dairy foods all will nurture the body during the dry fall weather
Yin nurturing foods/herbs – soy products, tomato (early fall with warm weather only), honey, potato, almonds, pine nuts, eggs, shellfish, seaweeds, aloe vera, spinach, apple, pear, persimmon, fenugreek, flax seeds, barley, oats, peanuts, sesame (black is best), mallow flowers and leaves, comfrey
Contractive foods/herbs – sourdough breads, pickles, olives, sauerkraut, lemon, limes, leeks, azuki beans or any bean, umeboshi plums, rose hips, nettles, soft cheeses, vinegars, yogurt, grapes, sour plums (use the jam at this point as plums are out of season)
Expansive foods/herbs (used medicinally to counterbalance excessive contraction) – see spring list of expansive foods
White/pale colored foods – rices, chickpeas, onions, cauliflower, horseradish, milk, yogurt, daikon radish, oats, potato, mushrooms
Cooking tips – longer, slower cooking begins to dominate. Use heavy pots with tight fitting lids, cook under lower heat for longer periods of time, choose bigger cuts/pieces of foods, and more dense foods like small fish and game, contracted produce like apples, root vegetables, and persimmons, and nurture the fluids of the body as on the West coast we are ending a very long dry period.
Long sauté – to store heat and soften foods
Baking – for storage of heat energy in the food
Braising – a moistening form of baking (see cooking techniques)
Stews – combinations of foods for simple meals, covering a wide range of needs
Hearty soups – complete meals for ease of preparation and warming qualities