Summer Wellness Series: Summertime Herbs

This article is third in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: self-care practices and essential oils. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Summer is the most sunny, energetic, and yang time of the year.  And as we mentioned in previous posts, the season of summer is associated with the fire element, which is linked to the bitter flavor.  That cooling and detoxifying bitter taste clears the heat in the summertime. Kirsten talked about foods and beverages that you can consume in the summer to balance that rising fire, like an escarole salad or cacao nibs sprinkled on diced peaches.  Below are some bitter herbs that you can also use both medicinally and in your kitchen. And since heat can cause irritation, agitation and insomnia, we can also take calming herbs like valerian root or passion flower and minerals like calcium and magnesium that will help settle and anchor the spirit.  

The bitter taste is pharmacologically active and stimulates digestion and our taste receptors.  We even have bitter taste receptors in our sinuses and nasal passages that can protect us from bacteria and viruses!

Bitter subdues the rebellious Qi that is moving in the wrong direction, like nausea or belching.  The bitter taste can also be strong and cold, which can injure the spleen system that helps our digestion absorb nutrients properly.  Once again, it is finding the balance of regulating the energy without overdoing it. Always remember to chew well! This helps the spleen system begin the breakdown and absorption of all the nourishment we need for each of our cells.  Also, don’t take in too much liquid during your meal, especially cool liquid or ice water, which can slow down digestion and dilute digestive enzymes. If you are going to have an iced beverage, melt it in your mouth, almost like chewing your drink, before swallowing it.

Bitter counteracts heat.  Heat can invade from the exterior, causing both chills and fever as your body tries to defend you.  Exterior heat can also come with headaches. Wind tends to bring heat in through the sinuses or back of the neck.  Heat can be internal, only causing fever, since the heat has already reached past the skin level. Once it is internal, you might see symptoms like dark urine, dry mouth, and either constipation or diarrhea.  Below are quite a few common bitter, heat-clearing herbs used in Chinese Medicine. If you have specific symptoms that aren’t resolving or you have any questions, please ask your acupuncturist for a custom formula.  Western herbs are often used alone, Chinese Herbs are mainly used in formulas that can be tailored to you. There are Chinese herbs that go to certain areas of the body, like the head or the skin. Heat can also combine with other factors, like dampness, wind, or toxins and there are specific herbs for each of those situations.  

Common Chinese Herbs that can be easily used in the summertime to cool down the system are mint, chrysanthemum flowers, various parts of the lotus plant, mung beans, and watermelon fruit.  Barley tea is easy to find at Asian markets and makes a tasty sun tea. Note: If you are gluten sensitive or intolerant, skip the barley tea

Read more about herbs for summer ailments at www.erinwoodacupuncture.com

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