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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Summer Wellness Series: Eating for the Heat!

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

A guiding principle of holistic health systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine is harmony or balance. So healthful eating in summer means feeding ourselves in a way that offsets the extremes of the seasons and keeps us in harmony with the earth's energies. What this is exactly will vary depending on the climate - traditional seasonal foods from where you live are the best place to start! For those of us with hot, dry summers like Northern California here's three things to consider

1. Hydration: we're in the dry season - the earth is parched, fires are burning and it's a long way to go before the rains of winter. 

2. Seasonal produce: what's fresh, local and available right now? These foods are naturally in sync with what our bodies need, and make meal times tasty and fun.

3. Energetics: part of 'food medicine' - certain flavors help us balance the external energies coming at us and keep us on an even keel

Hydration - healthful and tasty summer bevvies:

There's something so 'summery' about a big glass of a refreshing, beautifully colored beverage, even better if sipped on a patio with friends and your feet up! There's a lot of options out there that might not help you feel great, like sugary sodas and alcoholic beverages. It's great to have options that will restore you, rather than leaving you having to recover the next day!

Sun tea: brew herbal tea in a half gallon mason jar or jug in a sunny spot. Great choices for cooling summer hydration include hibiscus, mint, lemon balm and chrysanthemum. Put 1/4 cup of herbs in half a gallon of water and leave in the sun for a few hours until it's strong enough. Strain to drink.

Shrubs and switchels: delightfully refreshing old fashioned drinks. Vinegar, sweetener and ginger are added to water, along with fruits or other flavorings. You can buy readymade shrub bases in many health food stores and liquor stores, or experiment with making your own. Try this strawberry shrub recipe from Erin.

Earth Wisdom: seasonal foods have what we need!

Foods in season at this time of year are light, refreshing, usually easy to digest even when raw, and packed with water. Melons, stonefruit, grapes and berries, and veggies like summer squash, artichokes, cucumbers, snap peas, broccoli, tomatoes and lettuce. In general, most people don't do well with a ton of raw foods in their diet - we evolved to eat cooked foods and it is easier on our digestion. At the height of summer we can often tolerate more raw foods - but if you still find you have gas, bloating and indigestion with raw veggies, try a cooked veg salad.

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Energetics: Healing with the Flavor of the Heart.

Last week Erin talked about the energy of Summer - it's the season of the Fire element and the Heart. We're 'fired up' and open to connection, eating together with friends, family and lovers, and especially tuned to beauty and love in our mealtimes. The flavor of the Fire element is bitter. Bitter has a cooling, descending quality, and a small amount can help us cool off and feel more grounded. It's a flavor that's often neglected in Western diets. Try adding some bitter greens like escarole or dandelion to your salad, sprinkling a few raw cacao nibs on a bowl of diced peaches, or have some herbal bitters in water -especially if you're feeling overwhelmed with the fiery energy of summer, too hot, too much, overdrawn on social energy or having trouble sleeping or 'coming down' after fun and exciting times.

Seasonal eating is the heritage of all people! Here's a few of my favorite sources to learn more (and get lots of recipes!) Please let me know some of yours in the comments!

Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection, Jessica Prentice

Staying Healthy with the Seasons, Elson Haas MD

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni PhD and Cathy McNease

Nourishing Traditions, Sally Fallon Morrell

Recipes for Self-Healing, Daverick Leggett

The Ayurvedic Cookbook, Urmila Desai

The Yin-Yang Diet, Tara Akuna R.Ac. & Sara Ward R.Ac.

 

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Summer Wellness Series: The Energy of Summer

This article is the first in a special Summer Wellness Series I'm collaborating on with my colleague Erin Wood L.Ac. Next week: my fave recipes for keeping cool in high summer. Subscribe to my blog to get each weekly installment or follow on Instagram #tcmsummerwellness

What is the Summer Energy All About?

Welcome to Summer!  The summer season can be divided into two time periods and elements in Chinese Medicine.  First comes full summer, the true heat of the season and is associated with the fire element.  Full summer transitions into late summer, which is connected with the earth element, which then leads into fall and the metal element.

Challenges we face in the summer are heatwaves, dehydration, sunburn, trouble sleeping, and agitation.  We might also experience digestive distress from eating at BBQs and too much ice cream or chilled beverages.  Cold and damp foods like ice cream can extinguish the helpful part of the digestive fire. Like anything, we are looking for balance here.  We don’t want too much fire and we don’t want too little. We need to cook the food without scorching it. We want some sunshine and Vitamin D, but we don’t want to get sunburned.  

Full summer’s fire element is connected with the organs of heart and the small intestine, the color red, the bitter taste, and the emotion of joy.  And as in all aspects of life, there can be too much of a good thing, and that too much joy can look like mania. It can also manifest in a milder way as agitation, anxiety, or insomnia.  We can also get a natural boost of energy and enthusiasm for new projects and adventures starting in the spring that can carry into the summer.

Read more at www.erinwoodacupuncture.com 

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Summerheat: The Seasonal Pathogen

“When in the skies there is heat, and on the earth there is fire...its nature is Summerheat.” (Su Wen, Chapter 67)

We still think of “flu season” or “cold season” but our ancestors had to be exquisitely sensitive to the seasonal and environmental conditions that could trigger illness. Whether from the prevalence of disease carrying insects or animals at certain times, spoiled food in warm weather, crowded, airless conditions in cold weather, or the weather itself… as in the case of Summerheat. I enjoyed refreshing my memories about the theory, diagnosis and treatment of Summerheat, and hope you do as well!

We don’t see a lot of Summerheat in the clinic these days. If someone has heatstroke or sunpoisoning, they are probably (and unfortunately!) not coming in to see their TCM practitioner. But it’s helpful to understand the mechanisms of Summerheat and how to treat it, both for home care and first aid, and as a reminder of how heat can enter the body, and be guided out of it.

The onset of Summerheat invasion is very abrupt. It’s considered a yang pathogen, moving quickly and strongly. Someone can go from fine to showing symptoms in minutes. Mild Summerheat is something we’ve probably all seen and experienced personally. It’s characterized by thirst, headache, profuse sweating, dizziness and dry mouth and tongue. Severe cases will have fever, mental confusion and even convulsions. The tongue will be red and the pulse will be rapid and surging. The external heat pathogen is injuring the Yin energy and fluids of the body - a classic example of ‘excess transforms to deficiency.’ The Yang nature of Summerheat leads it to move upward and outward (the Yang directions). Summerheat invasion can be complicated with Damp, Cold or Wind, either from internal or external sources, bringing other symptoms into the mix.

Treatment of Summerheat

Acupuncture treatment for Summerheat focuses on clearing Heat - needling Du 14, UB 40, LI 11 - the classic cooling points. PC 6 is also appropriate - it clears heat, but also directly connects to and regulates the Heart, the organ of the Fire element, and most vulnerable to attack from a heat pathogen.

Gua sha is an excellent heat clearing remedy and can easily be done at home (or at the beach!) Gua sha the back, neck, shoulders and even the armpit and the crook of the elbow.

Classically, the focus of herbal treatment would be on heat clearing, such as Bai Hu Tang. I have used shi gao (gypsum) alone topically (dissolved in water) to good effect on a sunburn, although it’s unlikely your patients have it in the medicine cabinet. Bai bian dou (hyacinth bean), he ye (lotus leaf) lu dou (mung bean) and xi gua (watermelon) are the summerheat clearing herbs in the materia medica, and all are the kind of food herb that can be kept on hand and either added to meals or at the ready should someone get overheated. Fresh apricots are also a folk remedy for summerheat. I’ve suggested an easy recipe for treating mild cases, using cucumber and mint, at the end of the article.

Treating complicating patterns

Damp: Summerheat Damp is very common, and some texts indicated that all summerheat patterns have a damp component. Certainly in hot humid climates, Summerheat Damp is what you’ll see and suffer from. It can also be caused by drinking large amounts of cold drinks in reaction to hot weather, damaging the spleen and adding damp to the heat. In addition to heat signs, the patient may feel a sense of oppression or obstruction in the chest or stomach, congestion in the ears, and have a phlegmy cough, scanty urine, or clear, watery diarrhea.

Cold: Summerheat can easily be complicated by cold in modern times! Hot weather outside and frigid air conditioning brings the two pathogens together. The Cold constricts the energy of the body and causes pain, leading to symptoms such as headache and body aches, fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

Patient education: This is a great time to teach TCM based health habits! Eating and especially drinking appropriately to the season, protecting the body and especially the back of the neck from wind in air-conditioned offices, and regular acupuncture treatments are all habits to share with your patients so they can thrive during the summerheat season.

SummerHeat Rescue Drink.

I’ve suggested cucumber here as a substitute for xi gua. Cultivated melons are quite sweet and can be too hard on the spleen or increase dampness. The cucumber will cool you off in a jiffy.

In a blender puree a whole cucumber (about 1-2 cups of flesh) and a small handful of fresh mint. If the cucumber is not organic or has a thick skin, peel first. Dilute with an equal amount of room temperature filtered water and sip slowly. You may add a squeeze of lime to taste.

Angelica & Peony: Radiant Natural Health and Beauty products are created by an acupuncturist and herbalist. Contact me for samples and information about enhancing your practice with Angelica & Peony!

Sources:

Bensky, Dan and Randall Barolet. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Formulas and Strategies. Eastland Press, 1990.

Bensky, Dan and Andrew Gamble. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Eastland Press, 1993.

Deadman, Peter and Mazin Al-Khafaji. A Manual of Acupuncture, Revised Edition. Eastland Press, 2005

Deng, Tietao. Practical Diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, 1999.

Maciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists and Herbalists. Churchill Livingstone, 1989.

Ni, Maoshing, PhD, and Cathy McNease. The Tao of Nutrition. Seven Star Communications, 1987.

Xinnong, Cheng. Chinese Acupuncture and Moxibustion. Foreign Languages Press, 1999.

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