Summer Wellness Series: Tasty Kitchen Medicine

This article is sixth in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: herbs, tonics and supplements for Late Summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

Late Summer is a season that might be unfamiliar to you. In traditional Chinese medicine we use the five element system of natural cosmology to understand the rthyms of our bodies and the earth. Even if we didn't grow up thinking of Late Summer as a specific season, we probably know what it means - harvest, end of summer, the transition between the unbounded expansion of Summer and the contraction and endings of Fall.

Read about Late Summer and its element, Earth, in Erin's article from last week.

Seasonal foods are one of the best ways to be in harmony with the natural world, and help us surf the energies of climate, day length, temperature and so on that might impact our health. 

Since my practice and patients are in the Bay Area, I'll talk about specifics with regards to our climate - Late Summer is a clearly delineated season for us here! However the Earth element affects all of us, wherever we live.

By eating to support our Earth element in late summer, we can ease ourselves into fall and protect ourselves from the coming cold and flu season. In Traditional Chinese Medicine we're taught 'phlegm is created in the Spleen (Earth) and stored in the Lung (Metal). Supporting our Spleen by eating easy to digest, anti-inflammatory and immune boosting foods is a great way to buffer our Lungs from fall allergies and cold and flu.

The Flavor of the Season: Sweet.

Sweetness is the flavor associated with Late Summer, and is a dominant flavor in much of the produce now in season. Sweetness softens and relaxes us, and naturally sweet foods are deeply nourishing to our systems and our spirits. Too much sugar with our sweetness can overload the system, and leave us craving more sweet without feeling satisfied. Sweetness helps us the transition from the long days of summer into fall.

The Color of the Season: Gold.

Yellow, gold and orange are the colors associated with the Earth element, and are found in many of the foods in farmers' markets right now: squash, plums, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, corn. In biomedicine terms, orange produce is rich is carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and B vitamins that are especially beneficial for the immune system, skin and eye health.

The Cuisine of the Season: Light and Warm

The Spleen is said to like warmth and hate dampness. Dumping cold, wet foods like ice cream, cold drinks and raw veggies is a good way to dampen our digestive hearth and find ourselves with kickback like bloating, belching, distention and gas, upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, high nutrient foods are like dry, fragrant wood that burns easily and doesn't leave stinky ash.

In short, as the days shorten and table is covered with the sweet, golden fruits of the harvest, we shift our diet to eat what's in season, simmered soup of butternut squash, roasted peaches, corn and bean salad. Here's a few of my fave recipes for this season in-between.

Pumpkin Pancakes

This recipe from Practical Paleo is ready in a flash and the cakes are both super satisfying (pumpkin and egg) without being too heavy for warm late summer days. I like to eat them with freshly sliced peaches or a quick simmered compote. If you've been eating something cold for breakfast like cereal, yogurt or smoothies, give these pancakes a try.

Roast butternut squash and red onion with tahini and za'atar

This sheet pan roast vegetable dish from Yotam Ottolenghi stands up as a centerpiece, side or salad. Beta-carotene is fat soluble and significantly more available to the body when eaten with fat, like the tahini and pinenuts in this recipe. Try it with a roast chicken for a Sunday dinner knockout.

Peach Crumble with Almond Flour Topping

Fresh peaches become incredibly sweet when baked or grilled. This simple recipe uses a spoonful of maple syrup and buttery almond topping to fancy up roast peaches into something truly fantastic.

Golden Milk

Golden milk is a traditional healing beverage from South Asia and Ayurvedic medicine. Its golden color and sweet flavor put it squarely in the Earth element, but its sweetness and richness are tempered by the addition of spicy black pepper and cardamom.

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