Eating and Cooking For the Seasons
Introduction to Seasonal Eating
Nature mirrors our internal environment, so observation of elements in nature gives us a sense of our connection with life. This observation can also get us in tune with what we actually want to eat. This is skillfully reasoned out and intuitively grasped. It is an art and a science. By using thermal opposites to balance our condition, we can remain healthy with less effort. For example, in warm weather, we eat more cooling foods and use dispersing cooking techniques. Following the guidelines in this book can help people discover their temperaments (less changeable aspect) and their conditional natures (more changeable).
Our organ systems (at a cellular and macro level) have a synergistic relationship with the season of the year. As the climate changes, our bodies need to adapt to what is occurring in nature. We are a part of nature. We can no more help or change the way life works in its inherent rhythms than we can try to change the shape of the Earth.
If we are out of balance in some way, a disorder can show up most often during a particular season or weather phenomena. This is due to a system in the body trying to balance itself during its time of strength or weakness. Each day also mirrors the seasons, as mentioned earlier. A disorder may appear more often during a certain time of the day.
This thinking goes deeper than our usual way of looking at organs as strictly physical, or isolating an organ function to a particular part of the body. Did you know that each cell has its own process of digestion, detoxification, respiration, and other functions that mirror our larger organs? Many other health systems around the world know about a level of energy that animates life. Some call it an aura, chi, Qi, life force, prana, and other names. While it is not important to know the name, it is important to understand that our symptoms can be alleviated by preparing for a problem season in advance, and by taking measures during the season to keep our bodies healthy and in balance. We can use this force as it changes in each of us throughout the year and our lives.
Below is a chart showing the season and its associated organs, along with the elemental energy associated with that season and organ according to Chinese medicine. An important note is not to take the elements such as wood with liver literally. In Chinese medicine, the processes the organ “liver” carries out are also occurring through the cells in the body. So using the term “wood” is a way to sum up this function or force in the body, mind, and spirit. As Michael Tierra puts it in his Herbology Correspondence Course (p. 2, lesson 6), “Paradigms such as the yin-yang and five element doctrine are merely a method of understanding certain aspects of an underlying truth or reality and are not to be construed as literal explanations, as with the elements of contemporary science.”
The aim here is not to get caught up in analysis, but to learn adaptation to the changes in nature and ourselves so we can remain happy and healthy.
Aspects of Nature Mirrored in Our Bodies
Temperature – thermal nature affects skin and core temperatures. Certain foods bring more or less energy to the surface of the body. Other foods bring energy to the core. An example of the same herb can illustrate. When using fresh ginger, the pungency tends to cause us to sweat (releases the surface). This is called diaphoresis. So the heat of ginger goes to the skin. Dried ginger, however, tends to bring heat deep to the core of the body. I have seen this to be true in my own experience. Dry ginger will work more efficiently at raising the core temperature. Following this reasoning, it would be more skillful to use dry ginger in the winter, when it is cold. Fresh ginger would be used to disperse surface level toxins (the beginning of a cold or flu), help digestion (surface of the gut cells), and/or to calm spasms. A lot of fresh ginger could be used in the summer to open the pores and actually cool off.
Moisture – affects digestion, joints, and water balance. Temperature and moisture support and antagonize each other. When we run warm, we need more water to balance the inner fires. When it is wet outside, we do not need as much water going inside, to generalize. We can see this very clearly as a storm approaches and an old injury begins aching. My knees and groin always get a little stiff and achy when a new rain blows in. I injured my left knee years ago, and have an inguinal hernia. The ache in these areas is due to increased moisture and lower pressure in the environment when a storm approaches. Our internal metabolism will change to adapt to the situation. Many people feel very heavy and have muddled thinking in humid wet weather. This is natural.
Growth/decay – during growing seasons (spring/summer) we have opportunities for enhanced growth. During colder seasons (fall/winter) we have opportunities for enhanced restoration, repair, letting go, and inner journeying.
Amount of sunlight (warmth and drive to create) – longer days = quicker, more activity, more growth
Air movement – equated to “wind” in TCM. Wind is often considered a detrimental influence because it can carry cold or heat “evils” or germs. Mold and other microbial spores are carried with the wind, as are environmental toxins, such as air pollution. I see wind as analogous to the Earth’s nerve impulses that mirror our own nerves. It is pretty difficult to remain calm with a lot of activity and wind around us. If one sits silently long enough and consistent enough, one can feel the inner currents of consciousness (internal wind). Some classic internal wind imbalances are spasms or tremors. Depending on where one lives, each season will offer varying levels of wind, or air movement. By eating more grounding and calming foods during these times of strong wind, we can remain balanced. Or, if our internal wind (nervous energy) is up, we can eat more calming, grounding foods also.
Animals/birds/plants behavior – by observing nature, one can see the innate intelligence of the flower that opens for the sun and warmth, closes for the evening, reproduces before the winter, and puts its energy into its roots for the cold season. Animals also show us innate wisdom of gathering, mating, eating, sleeping, and other activities that follow the sun, the moon, and the seasons. Nature does not need to think or reason. It just flows on and on. It is.
Why follow seasonal eating?
*Easier adaptation – plants and animals concentrate the environment for us (air, water, soil, sunlight). If we eat bananas (a food with cold energy due to its growth in a hot, tropical climate) we cannot expect to adapt easily to cold, wet winter weather. But if we eat local kale, onions, buckwheat, and cow’s milk, we can expect to feel warmer, be less bothered by sudden weather changes, and feel more at “home.”
*Better health/energy – by eating seasonally, we will also be eating more locally grown foods (see easier adaptation). Seasonal foods are fresher, which means they carry more of an immeasurable life force that can be experienced through higher energy levels, less illness, and a more positive outlook on life. Also, by eating local, wild, seasonal herbs, fruits, and berries, one is also tapping into nature’s energy. This will help with organ imbalances such as excess liver or deficient digestive energy.
*Long-term awareness building/knowing what to expect from ourselves – if we get allergies every spring, we can make changes to prepare for this problem season. I had allergies most of my life, up until three years ago. By working with diet, supplementing with probiotic microbes, and eliminating “toxic/poisonous” foods such as refined sugar, the allergies progressively got better. The surprising thing I learned about my own “disease” was that I often would sell out my own convictions to fit in with the crowd I was with. Now, I have relationships with people who accept me unconditionally.
*Planning ahead for problem seasons/times – for the allergy example above, we can begin to work with the dominant element a season ahead to decrease our imbalances. Since water is the dominant element of winter, it often goes out of whack during spring, if I don’t address it. By working with kidney/adrenal tonics in the winter, using more water element foods (such as beans, diuretic herbs, roots, and drying foods such as buckwheat) we can keep the waters flowing smoothly.
Our body’s weaknesses can show up more clearly the season after the organ system associated with the imbalance has its dominant time. An example would be the water element organs of kidney and bladder being dominant during the winter. If they are weak, and/or if we do not treat them well during the winter, then chances are we may have some water imbalance during the spring such as edema, allergies, or even dryness.
To embrace and understand the process of living, it is helpful to change perspectives from isolated, linear, definitive labeling of life, to feeling, experiencing, and tasting life. This is the language of yin and yang. It is also the language of almost all native peoples. In the modern world, this is what is missing from the equation of wholeness and health. If you read the previous chapter on yin/yang, then this chapter will be a lot easier to grasp, understand, and experience. Understanding actually is not as important as being open and able to feel nature, feel your life, and feel the order of the universe.
In the model below, fire and water work together, growth and decay also. In this model, fire and decay are paired under yang, and water and growth with yin. Growth is paired with yin because yin embodies fullness, substance and matter. As life decays, it loses these things, making the initial organism less solid, and finally, completely dissolving in death. Yang in this paradigm is paired with heat, light, and energy. We can see that these are much less solid than a rock or a body part. Time and space also fall within this paradigm. Time is contracted, pinpoint, and helps us maintain order. We could not have time without a sun, without a planet orbiting the sun, and without light and dark. Time and space are dependent on each other. So are yin and yang.
Water and fire are also symbolically dependent on each other in our body’s processes. Our body’s waters provide fuel for the fires via sugars, oils, fluids and tissues. The fires are our metabolic processes, our thinking, our motivation and creativity. Fire needs fuel to burn. Our bodies need substance to produce heat. But something deeper, something unseen also fuels our life. It’s in our DNA, and it’s very hard to measure life-force.
Water/Fire Polarity - see diagram to right
Yang burns excess yin
When our bodies get in excess, they either store substance or burn it. Some people are heat producers, while others are substance producers. The yang of our life burns excess yin. Or the yang can make more substance. The burners we call type A people. The storers and accumulators we call “overweight” or “heavy-set.” Type A people tend to be lower weight than the “storers.”
Another duality reflected in the seasons, and in ourselves, is the process of life and death. On the West coast of the US, we have a lot of growth in the spring and summer. Then plants flower, produce seeds, and fall to the ground. The plant itself decays, and then dies. This is true for all plant life, even perennials. Life speeds up during the warm seasons and slows down in the cold. We can see this on the trees. Leaves begin on deciduous trees in the spring, then wither and die in the fall, going barren in the winter.
All parts of ourselves are living and dying
This chapter will help us understand that we are changing with the seasons and with time. Every day mirrors the whole year (see chart below). And every moment inside our body mirrors life as a whole outside. Cells are made every moment, and cells are dying every moment. Thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise every moment, and they pass away. Seeing this allows us to embody grief, or letting go continuously. Nature grieves naturally. Humans tend to hold on, which causes suffering. This is because minds use static pictures, images, and data to solve problems. Part of this tool we call mind is very effective at the problem solving, building, tearing down, but it has no place in the feeling world. Does a computer feel bad when it is hot? Minds are like computers and cannot grasp the feeling world.
One of the greatest misunderstandings we are taught is to identify with our minds, with our thoughts, and with what goes through our heads. This identification is the glue that keeps us stuck. It causes energy to stick in the lung and large intestine channels. This can inhibit our ability to breathe deeply, let go of waste (mental, emotional, and physical), and plant seeds for new growth (physically, emotionally, mentally).
If one watches animals, they will mourn greatly for a period, then let go naturally. Watching plants, there is absolutely no process of “feeling down” about its neighbor dying. Watching humans who have seen through this identification, they mourn naturally, let go without effort, and follow what is already occurring naturally.
Exercise – go outside and observe the same plants in each of the four seasons. Pick one or two and really get to know how it changes throughout the year. Watch the leaves, the growth, the dying parts, the colors, how it flowers, what insects it attracts, how it blows in the breeze, and what happens when it is watered versus drying out.
Daily Breakdown of the “Seasons”
AM = spring
Midday and early afternoon = summer
Evening = fall
Night = winter
Let us begin with spring and its symbolic element in Chinese medicine, metal. The organ systems associated with this element are the liver and gall bladder. I choose to begin with spring because it is commonly thought of as the beginning of a new cycle in the Oriental health systems.
Exercise – inquire as to what, in your own experience, the liver and gall bladder systems have to do with what is said in the following paragraphs. Look for an answer in your feelings, in your body and soul. Taste the answer, touch the answer. The question might be posed like, “how does all this information relate to my body?”
Spring – creation, new life, beginnings, ideas into concrete plans, wind, highly changeable weather with large temperature swings.
Spring is the time of renewal and new growth. Seeds that were sown in the previous seasons are now sprouting, delicate, and seeking light and warmth. With this in mind, we can see the liver systems, and the cells of our bodies are trying to regenerate new tissue and expel accumulation. Many people experience allergies and hay fever during this season due to a hypersensitive immune system and liver (see allergies chapter). Fasting for one day a month during the spring, or, at a minimum, skipping a meal a day here and there can be especially beneficial. Eat more sprouted foods during this season, such as sprouting your grains and beans before cooking. Vegetable, bean, and other fresh raw sprouts are some ideas. Some people may need to steam their sprouts for a few seconds before consuming them if they are thin, weak, have loose stools, are pale, and are often fatigued. (See the section following on suggested foods to eat during this season.)
The dominant weather patterns of this season are highly changeable. There is turbulence in nature, mirrored in tornadoes, strong winds, violent thunderstorms, very cool nights to warm days, and soaking wetness followed by sun and dryness.
On a more subtle level, this is the season to begin manifesting the dreams of winter. If clear intentions were not set for the year, we can “float” in the soup of universal roulette. We can practice this by setting daily intentions when we wake up, or by setting monthly intentions with the new moon. We are always creating, so if our mind and feelings are sending contrary and conflicting messages to the universe, we will see this mirrored in our lives. The wood element that dominates this season (according to TCM) has to do with the courage to move ahead with plans and dreams. When we do not do this because of lack of energy, lack of clarity, or lack of risk taking, then we may feel frustrated. Frustration can be seen as the blocked creative energy of water. This energy wants to move into form, and if we are “getting in the way,” then we suffer with difficulties and obstacles. Depression could follow.
Without modern transportation, this season involved the challenge of winter’s storage being used up, and not having as many food choices, which meant fasting and light eating. The wisdom in this is to let the blood change for summer heat, and allow the liver system to clean up the congestion of winter. Good foods to eat a lot less of, or eliminate for a few weeks, would be eggs, cheeses, alcohol, hard fats (saturated), and meats.
If you have cold Spring weather, or you are a Protein Metabolic Type, then include the winter cooking methods also. As the weather warms, then go to lighter methods of cooking.
The sour flavor can be used medicinally during this season. Sour causes contraction initially, then leaves an alkaline residue, which is helpful for livers that are overused and acidic. Sour also has attributes of fire in it, which can tonify, warm, and contain the fluids, especially in the liver. Adding a little more pungent or spicy foods can help with the expansion of the body and the change of the blood. Spicy foods have a significant relationship with fire. This can warm up our organs after a cold, contracted winter. As a general rule, use spicy foods to reduce excess water, flush out cold, stimulate the system, and to carry nutrients into the body. And keep in mind that sour, such as lemon juice, is more beneficial to an overactive liver than something spicy such as hot peppers. Use strong spices during this season only if your liver is in good shape.
Mildly contractive foods such as rice, umeboshi plums and vinegar, lemons, limes, tangerines, sour apples, sauerkraut, sourdough breads, and pickled and fermented foods can be used to slow the spring expansion in the body. Decrease your salt intake slightly. This will allow the tissues to let go of winter’s excess water.
Grains and grain products to be emphasized (according to the Macrobiotic tradition and if you are a Carbohydrate Type) include oats, wheat berries, barley, wild rice, kamut, and other forms of wheat, noodles, and sprouted breads. Vegetables include all sprouts, broccoli, wild local vegetables such as lamb’s quarters, plantain, dandelions, miner’s lettuce, young milk thistle leaves, nettles, and your local “weeds” or wild greens sprouting up in clean places. Other cultivated vegetables that can be useful are celery, chives, all young leafy greens, green peas, leeks, fresh mushrooms, asparagus, artichokes, and scallions. Fruits include the many types of plums, loquats, strawberries, and all local tree fruits that are ripe in this season in your area. Other foods are tempeh, green lentils, flax and poppy seeds.
Foods to avoid include strong alcohol drinks, excess caffeinated beverages, fried and very oily foods, excess meat and flesh foods, and excess dairy products, especially hard cheeses. All these foods congest the liver and may slow down the cleansing process begun during this season.
Herbs that are young and vibrant can energize the body, such as fresh greens of sorrel, dandelion, nettles, and watercress for balance of the liver, and dandelion, gentian, and barberry for cleansing of the liver and bowels and strengthening of the digestion.
The green color “goes” to the liver organ systems and can be used daily and often. Fresh wheat grass juice, liquid chlorophyll, and eating lots of leafy greens will help balance the liver and help one prepare for summer.
Nerve calmers – oats, rice, all whole grains, parsnips, celery, chamomile, sweet rice, lemon balm
Liver helpers – bitter roots such as burdock, dandelion, radishes, artichoke leaf, milk thistle seeds (or young milk thistle greens cooked for a few minutes), wheat or barley grass juices, nettles, beets, aloe vera, mung beans, celery, seaweeds, vitamin C whole complex, clean the colon, eat lighter, eat before dark then stop. Use foods with moderate pungency (see expansive foods below).
Young plants – sprouts, small carrots, beets, radishes, new greens such as arugula, wheat/barley/oat grass juices 1-2 oz per day, parsley, small/young wild herbs and greens such as plantain
Green suggestions – chlorophyll cools the liver heat, provides magnesium, and is calming. Leafy greens (especially young tender ones) such as dandelion, arugula, kale, collards, parsley, radish greens, beet greens, romaine lettuce, watercress, asparagus,
Less salt – use sea vegetables, powdered kelp, umeboshi plum or its vinegar, miso
Bitter/sour polarity – bitter opens the liver and is detoxifying, and it increases bile production. Sour contracts the liver, acting as a solvent for fat and protein, releasing and squeezing out excess. Sour works for deficiency and cold, bitter for excess and heat.
Expansive foods/herbs – fennel, ginger, basil, oregano, caraway seeds, anise, bay leaf, radishes, turnip, taro potato, mints, marjoram, dill, horseradish, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, onions, scallions, rosemary, kuzu root starch
Contractive foods/herbs (to counterbalance excessive expansion during this season) – vinegars, citrus juices, cultured foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, pickles (radish, daikon, beets very nice), tempeh, brown rice, rye, barley
Cooking tips – upward and outwards energy to facilitate the growing energy this season
Steaming – very expansive and light
Soaking – to make seeds, grains, nuts, and beans more digestible
Raw – freshly picked produce will offer higher amounts of energy, and more inherent energy comes from raw foods.
Culturing – to help with microbial balance and eliminate certain compounds such as thyroid inhibitors in cabbage family vegetables
Pressing – a raw technique used to make vegetables more digestible by breaking down the cell walls and tenderizing the tough cellulose fibers
Summer – growth, maturation, plans into action, heat/fog/humid or dry, consistent weather
Summer is the time of heat, growth and activity in nature. The feeling of joy and lightness are our birthrights during the summer. This is a time to increase our physical activity, eat lighter foods and smaller meals to help balance the heart and small intestinal fires, and help nurture the “yang” influence of this season. It is very important to feel warm, yet not to become too active, because this wears the body out for winter.
A general guideline to follow is to eat more freshly picked local fruits and vegetables, less or no animal flesh during very warm weather, eggs during the cool hours also, no nuts/seeds in excess, and avoid heavy grains on hot days – (oats, rye, barley, wheat, spelt, kamut, and sweet rice), more raw foods in general, lightly cooked vegetables, and some light grain dishes such as pastas, millet, quinoa, and corn.
One paradox of summer is to eat fewer salty foods because this can cause congestion, yet we sweat more in the heat and need to replenish our electrolytes. The key lies in the type of “salts” we take in. We need less sodium during the summer months, so the potassium and magnesium based salts in fresh fruits and vegetables are a great way to do this. Sea vegetables are another way to replenish electrolytes. If we do not replenish gradually and consistently, we can crave sweets and ice cream type of treats, which can cause problems in the long run. Another aspect of summer, seemingly paradoxical, is to drink warm liquids and take hot showers to disperse heat. Cold causes contraction, which actually ends up holding heat in the body.
This season embodies the desire of manifestation coming into form (wood changing to fire). The fires of clarity help refine the goals for the year. The fire of activity helps productivity. Dominant patterns this time of year are fire/heat syndromes, dryness, congestion (from lack of fluids or blood that is too viscous), and fatigue from excess work.
This season embodies the adult stage of life, maturity. Plants show this with full leaves, lush green growth, and vibrant smells. Insects are buzzing about, birds singing, and the cool wind refreshing the heat. Water is very important to balance the fires of summer.
Dietary choices – juicy, wet, light, quick and easy meals, circulatory helpers, salads of all kinds, roots to ground our energy when we feel scattered and overwhelmed, cold soups, very little animal food (during the really hot periods), and reduce salty foods (unless extremely active and sweating, then potassium salts are necessary).
Bitter flavors can be used if one feels overheated, congested, and full of infection. Such foods as chicory, lettuces, watercress, dandelion tea, roasted grain drinks, and bitter herbs (to be mentioned at the end of this paragraph) can be used.
Grains to be emphasized (according to Macrobiotics) include corn, quinoa and long grain brown rice. You may notice a lack of desire for grain during this season. If you feel this way and need carbohydrates for energy, then quinoa, corn, pastas, tortillas, millet, and lighter legumes like lentils will give that needed energy without feeling heavy.
No overeating – this can be fatal to the energy of this season. Obviously, if we are weighed down by food, then we will feel sluggish after eating. Vegetables are a great staple during this season. Carbo rich veggies are carrots, summer squashes, turnips, green beans, fresh peas, potatoes, tomatoes, and the sprouts of any seed, bean or grain. Light, juicy and refreshing veggies are the theme on hot days and can be bok choy, daikon and its tops, cucumbers, endive, escarole, mustard greens, snow peas, string beans, summer squashes, Chinese cabbage, vine-ripe tomatoes, arugula, turnips, lettuces, and zucchini. Fruits are plentiful, which include strawberries and all berries, tree fruits such as peach, apricots, cherries, nectarines, plums, and others. Melons will come into season and are very good for thirst and dehydration, but not to be combined with other foods EVER, and used carefully by those with fungal infections such as Candida. Other helpful foods for excess heat are millet, tofu, mung beans, bitter herbs such as dandelion and lettuces.
Red colored foods can be eaten daily during this season to help with adaptation to the environment and to help bring more energy into the heart and intestines (the paired organs most dominant during the summer). It may seem paradoxical to eat more of a warming color during a warm season, but each color has a frequency, and this is what carries energy and information on very subtle levels deeper into our being.
Activity in the sun will help bake off excess fungal growth from the cold months. The higher heat during the summer is great opportunity to get some sunshine. Our internal and external environment of our body tends to harbor more fungal growth in the damp cool weather. By taking advantage of the heat and sun’s natural anti-microbial factors, we can rid our bodies of pathogenic growth.
Herbs not mentioned above include red clover, peppermint, chrysanthemum, dandelion, or other herbs/flowers to cool the body if you are hot, and they strengthen the heart and small intestines, nourish the blood, and help eliminate excess fluid and cholesterol from the blood. Chilies, peppers, and curries are good to open the pores and create perspiration to cool the body.
Large Bitter Greens – collards, kale, romaine, daikon, mustard, bok choy, Chinese cabbage, burdock, Swiss chard
Salads of all types: grains, beans, or seaweeds with vegetables, raw vegetable salads, cooked vegetable salads, or combinations thereof. See Part II summer foods for specific suggestions.
Fruits and natural sodas – to refresh and replenish liquid reserves
Herbs/Spices – to enhance water and fire balance: cumin seeds, fennel, parsley, cilantro, dill, basil, chamomile, skullcap, valerian, chrysanthemum, roasted grain teas (chicory, dandelion, rye, barley, etc.)
Heart/Mind Synergists – since this is the season of the heart/fire element, it is important to remain in harmony. When the heart is in harmony, we feel genuinely friendly. We also feel humble, clear, and joyful. This is a byproduct of touching the wonders of life.
Signs of heart-mind imbalance are scattered thinking, inability to laugh or excessive/inappropriate laughter, problems with talking, depression, mental illness, memory loss, poor circulation, aversion to heat, and a very red or very pale face. These foods will help nurture balance and synergy – wheat, mung beans, rices, oats, chia seeds, jujube seeds, lemons, mulberries, and poria cocos tea.
Silicon foods (to help increase/balance calcium metabolism and create ease with life) – oat straw tea, barley, celery, cucumber, lettuces, horsetail tea
Cooking tips – use quick cooking techniques with high heat, small cuts of food, and larger more expanded produce such as collards. Use lighter pots, cook with lids off or slightly off, and use pressing/culturing of vegetables, raw more than in other seasons.
Stir-frys – lightweight pan with high heat, tossing and turning the vegetables constantly
Roasting/Toasting – increases bitter, which is cooling
Grilling – not too much because this causes carcinogenic compounds to form
Boiling – with a lid off to release heat
See Spring for raw, pressing, culturing
Late summer (fall equinox) and seasonal interchanges – harvest, calm, stillness, centering, finishing planned projects, heat, cool nights, eating small balanced meals, round foods. More than any other time, the late summer and transition periods offer very calm, balanced energy. These times are ideal for looking within because the mirror of our mind is usually calmer which allows awareness to look deeper like a glassy lake or river where we can see very deep under the surface. Fasting is ideal because the body usually goes through a period of adjustment, such as blood quality changing for different temperatures. The bland colors such as earth-tones, yellows and tans facilitate energy going to our digestive organs.
LATE SUMMER AND SEASONAL INTERCHANGES
Late summer is the time of maturation in nature. Animals are gathering for winter, the winds are dying down, the sun is at a balance point (equal light and dark). The climate will begin to cool and energy begins to descend back to the Earth. This is the time to begin eating heavier, more filling foods, and to reap the harvest of wonderful fruits, vegetables and herbs.
The physical root organs (In TCM) associated with this season are the stomach, spleen and pancreas. This is a time of wonderful calm, centered energy, like a sigh of relief that the day of work is done. This is the mirror of what these Earth Element organs bring us – the harvest of our food into ourselves.
Another mirror of this is the ocean (or any body of water) during this time of year presents a mirror-glass like appearance from calm winds. Our birthright for this season is to feel our connection, to empathize with others, and to have time for reflection. In many areas it is still hot, but you can tell late summer has arrived when the nights become cooler and the days become a few hours shorter.
Unfortunately, our society does not make slowing down easy. The autumn season offers brand new enticing TV programs, a new school year for kids, and the beginning of the Xmas shopping season. All these things are distractions from the calm, silent presence that unfolds most naturally in the early fall/late summer. These are layers put upon the shining peaceful presence.
Another layer can be the romantic notion of a year round summer. We all feel it would be nice to “save” some of the summer. Once a fire loses its fuel, it is natural to slow down and then go out. So it is with nature. The fuel of extra sunlight is going away, and so is the fire. The embers glow during the early fall. This is the fire of activity becoming something tangible, or harvest season.
As far as seasonal interchanges, the other three seasonal changes: winter, spring, and summer, also offer very centered energy, although the outward weather will be more different than the fall equinox. The week before and after the seasonal changes offer wonderful chances to feel the forces at work in nature that are mirrored in us. These times are huge opportunities to walk the middle way, so to speak. These are invitations to eat simply, relax more, and look at our lives more objectively.
Complementary cooking methods for late summer are pressure-cooking as well as the summer methods if your area has long summers. Use the fall methods if you have short summers and it is cooling rapidly. Begin to increase salt intake when you notice cooler nights and overall cooler weather. The full sweet flavor can be increased during this time.
Grains that can be helpful during this season (according to their energetic nature) are millet, sweet brown rice, amaranth and mochi (made from sweet brown rice). Vegetables include round ones such as cabbages, carrots, fresh green beans and green peas, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, fall and winter squashes, string beans, and cooked daikon and turnips. Round fruits include sweet apples, figs, persimmons, currants, melons, grapes, pears, and raisins.
Helpful herbs are ginseng, codonopsis, dioscorea, and fu ling to strengthen the digestion. Other herbs are comfrey, slippery elm, dandelion, hawthorn, licorice, marshmallow, ginger, cardamom, and citrus peel.
As for the other seasonal interchanges, use seasonal produce, eat less in general, and eat simple food combinations to facilitate easy bodily chemical changes. The changing seasons tell our bodies what to do to adapt. Use the cooking techniques for either season at the interchanges, changing depending on what season seems to be most dominant at the time.
Dietary choices – simple combinations of foods, mildly sweet foods, round foods, and the earth tones colors such as yellow, browns, oranges, and skin tone colors. Other techniques include light seasonings and salt, and not too much food preparation. All this will allow one to “see” the energy of this season/time period. It allows us to slow down, see another level of perception occurring in nature, and surrender to presence.
Round foods – turnips, onions (cooked for this season), millet, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, rutabaga, amaranth, rices (short grain), corn, cantaloupe, carrots, chickpeas, soybeans/tofu/tempeh, squashes, potatoes, yams, peas, chestnuts
Earth tone foods – the colors tan, light brown, orange and yellows: specifics are lima beans, rices, ginger, and garlic, in addition to the above foods showing the correct colors
Smaller greens – parsley, arugula, all cresses, small leeks, sprouts, amaranth greens, purslane, baby lettuces, plantain, beet greens, cilantro
Late season fruits – apples, pears, persimmons, berries, grapes, melons, pomegranates
Integration foods – choose one type of food such as rice (or other grains), dairy, nuts/seeds, meats, with one or two vegetables. This keeps our energy light by not putting all our blood into digestion. It allows more awareness because we are not slothful from a “heavy belly.”
Cooking tips – heavier pots, slower cooking with lower flame, cook with lid on; add more salt, full sweets, beginning to end eating earlier in day
Pressure cooking – to hold energy in
Stewing/Nishime – combining foods gives greater nutrition with less work
Fall – 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. 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. 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.”
Taking 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 the 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 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, 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, 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)
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
Winter – going within, “floating” energy, dream-time, wet, dark, think of the seed waiting for conditions to be right to sprout, resting, time of storage, nurturing. Winter is a time of cold, dark, and wet, sometimes wild and windy. These are not good times for a lot of activity and cold foods. The body tends to need warming rich foods, lots of oven cooking, big fires, and communion with our loved ones, family, and friends. More than any other season, this is the time of the kitchen.
Winter is the time of storage of energy and hibernation for some plants and animals. Observe nature around us and see that life has turned inward and is waiting for the first signs of spring’s warmth. Because many of us spend more time indoors, sickness often spreads quickly. Water balance, bloating, edema, infections of the bladder and kidneys, high or low blood pressure, headaches, colds/flus, and other symptoms may manifest more often during this season. Also, more than ever during this season, protect the righteous inner energy of your body. Keep covered up and avoid strong winds and downpours. Spend time reflecting on life.
Very subtle patterns in our lives can emerge during this time period. This is the close of one cycle (year) and the beginning of another. The contraction of the previous year (which mirrors all living cycles no matter how short or long) ends with the symbol of metal in the 5-element system. Funny thing is that when water (the element of winter) passes over metal or rocks long enough, part of the metal (minerals) leach into the water, feeding another cycle. Water carries information. Water is a storage vesicle for other substances. Humans tend to become attached to things. Have we fully let go enough to open space for new things in our lives? This is what spiritual edema is like. We cannot dream new dreams until we let go of the old. In addition, if we live from fear, this will be mirrored in fear of the unknown, fear of silence, dark and emptiness. Can we float like a raft upon the water? That is the image of winter in TCM. Floating energy. The opportunity of this season is to recharge our batteries, so to speak, for the coming cycle of manifestation of dreams. Those dreams begin during winter (or death and afterlife cycles). Annual plants die off before winter, spreading their seed so that another cycle can begin in the spring.
Dietary choices – traditionally a time to use up the prepared foods from the warm seasons such as canned and dried foods/herbs. Macrobiotic people believe sun-dried foods are high in Vitamin D. Sun-dried foods absorb the sun’s essence, which is what our skin does on a sunny day. This essence is “translated” into a “hormone” called vitamin D. This is also a time to acclimate to cold. We do this by taking in cooling elements like bitter and salts (in small amounts). This helps our energy to go deep and inward/downward. The exterior body adapts and we feel less “chilled” during this season.
Another excellent method to adapt to cold is to take “air baths” of varying lengths with less and less clothing. One gets covered up and warm, then takes off layers of clothing, leaving the body exposed for longer and longer periods, before covering back up again. This can be repeated over and over. Begin by exposing yourself for 10-20 seconds, then cover up, then do it again. Over time, you will see remarkable results in your ability to adapt.
However, for those in poor health, especially those who have deficiencies (feel cold, skinny or soft type overweight, pale, no drive, soft voice) need to use bitter sparingly. Bitter can be combined with tonics like licorice and full sweets like animal food, grains, beans, nuts/seeds, and vegetables. Another warning is to eat salty foods in moderation, as excess salt can make us like beef jerky, tough, tense, and inflexible.
Since this season is dark, dark colors are indicated to eat. This energy of dark colors tends to take more energy to the symbolic and cellular reproductive organs and kidney/adrenal system. We need more grounding foods, more oil, salt, and heat to maintain our balance during this season. The taste associated with this season is salt, so all salty things — like sea vegetables, sea salt, and long-time pickles, are good to include in the diet. It is very important to eat more warming foods during this season, to drink hot liquids and avoid cold soft drinks, ice cream, beer, and cold wine if we are prone to feeling “chilled to the bone” during the winter.
Many winters I experimented with eating more hot foods, avoiding sweets, most raw foods, and cold liquids, and I experienced no illness and felt warmer on those bone-chilling days. Try to eat local root vegetables also during this season — carrots, burdock, daikon, parsnips, turnips, rutabaga, radish, ginger, onions, and garlic. Cooking styles include tempura or quick deep fat frying, fried foods, long-time sautéing, stewing, and simmering. Grains to make staples are buckwheat, quinoa, short grain brown rice, and soba noodles (made from buckwheat). Vegetables to make staples are winter squashes, cabbages, Kale, kuzu or kudzu (a thickener made from the root of a vine), and dried vegetables. Fruits should be minimized, but if you live in a subtropical bio-region, then citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, pomegranates, persimmons, and more, will be in season. Dried fruits can also be consumed. Other foods are all beans, azuki beans, dark sesame seeds, chestnuts, kombu and ginseng tea (decocted together), and spring or well water. Take herbs suited to your temperament in hot teas, soups, baths, and other ways. Some herbs to help with maintaining and building heat are ashwaganda, ginsengs, garlic, cloves, cinnamon, dry ginger, fenugreek, ho shou wu, and rehmannia. A good herb to add some MINERALS to the diet is nettles.
Mild bitters – burdock root, turnip, daikon radish (better cooked in this season or try dried daikon), lettuces (on warmer days), parsley, endive, escarole, celery, rye, oats, quinoa, amaranth, ginsengs, citrus peels, chicory
Salts – unrefined salts, barley, miso, celery, Swiss chards, beet greens, umeboshi plums or the vinegar, shoyu, seaweeds
Warming tonics – ginsengs, carrots, ginger, onions, cloves, black beans, fenugreek, walnuts, fennel seeds (seeds only), lamb, oats, eggs, quinoa, sardines, clams, salmon, trout, cinnamon
“Yin tonics” – asparagus, millet, barley, tofu/soy, seaweeds, mung beans, black beans, potato, wheat, crab, dairy, ghee, soft cheeses, aloe vera
Beans – darker beans are more indicated by the Macrobiotic teachers, but eating more beans during this season will keep one drier and water metabolism better
Water metabolism foods/herbs – seaweeds, parsley, fennel, barley, nettles, millet, black soybeans, mung beans
Roots – eat more roots to nourish your own roots (reproductive organs, bladder, kidneys, colon, legs)
Vegetables – choose darker vegetables and more fibrous sturdy ones such as kale instead of soft lettuce type vegetables. The more fibrous foods make the body work harder to digest, which creates more body heat.
Cooking tips – take time in the kitchen this season. Use the oven regularly. Prepare warm, hearty, rich foods from the bounty of summer, or from local harvests. This season is about the rationing of heat, using heat to remain comfortable. The ways we do this are by insulation, penetration, and skillful use of cooking techniques. Thicker pots such as cast iron, big pieces of food that absorb more heat than tiny fragments, and cooking under low heat for longer periods of time. We can also leave tight fitting lids on while cooking, use preserved/canned/cultured/dried foods, and eat warm foods.
Baking – a cauldron of heat, absorbed by the food
Stews – gentle simmering offers wet, warm energy
Pressure cooking – penetrating warmth from this technique
Animal foods preparation – see section on animal foods
Skillful cutting and use of heat absorption – cut vegetables and other pieces of food much bigger than other seasons. Full rounds, big stew type pieces, thick coleslaw cuts for greens, and big diced pieces make for fun and variety. In macrobiotic cooking schools, we speak of “friendly sized” pieces, so don’t leave your vegetable cuts too big so you cannot chew them comfortably.