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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Looking into your Heart

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Valentine's day is here, and we're inundated with images of hearts as a symbol for romantic love. February is also 'Heart Health Month,' focused on heart disease in a literal sense. It's also Black History Month, a good time to acknowledge the burden that experiencing racism and oppression have on health, notably cardiac health. Hearts have been on my mind so I dug into the Traditional Chinese Medicine view of the Heart energetically, as well as the physical organ.

The Emperor

The heart holds the office of lord and sovereign. The radiance of the spirits (shenming) stems from it. - Nei Jing Su Wen

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Heart is the seat of consciousness, the Shen. Like an Emperor seated in a vast cinnabar throne room, our heart requires stillness and calm to make the highest level decisions that keep our spirits in tune with our deepest selves and our heavenly destinies. In the vision of the human as a well-ordered society, the Heart-Emperor is protected and aided by the other officials, the organs and conduits of the body that allow it to remain in contemplative meditation and connection with our true self. When we're balanced, we're able to respond appropriately to life events, to avoid over or underreacting, and to proceed in harmony with our true desires and natures.

Circulating Health

Traditional Chinese medicine texts recognized all varieties of heart conditions and understood clearly blood circulation and the role of the physical heart. Acupuncture and herbal medicines can be very helpful in preventing and treating heart disease. From the kitchen pharmacy, there are many food herbs which can be taken daily as tonics for cardiovascular health, including maintaining healthy blood pressure and circulation. Here are a few faves:

Hawthorn Berry Tea: Hawthorn has been extensively studied as a cardiovascular health supplement, including all parts of the plant, berries, leaves and flowers. In TCM, the berries are used to aid in the digestion of fats, and from a Western perspective seem to lower serum lipid levels.

Chrysanthemum Blossoms: I often use the bitter, refreshing tea of these flowers to aid with allergies and eye irritation, but the same energetic action that sends energy down to calm eyes and headaches can act to lower blood pressure. Hawthorn berry and chrysanthemum blossom tea is a tasty cardiac combination.

Heart-friendly Foods: Despite what we were taught for many years, fat consumption by itself is not the guilty party in heart disease. Overconsumption of sweet, refined and processed foods increase inflammation in the body and our bodies reaction to it can result in stagnation and impaired circulation. Eating a whole foods, balanced diet with an emphasis on vegetables and fruits is a vital move for all of us. Foods with an especially beneficial effect on the heart and circulatory system? Try celery, onion, garlic, carrots, apples, pears and tangerines. Black fungus, shitake mushrooms, water chestnuts and mung beans are other tasty recommendations.

The Emotions of the Heart

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

'Symbolic image of the heart: Chinese/Korean/Japanese' . Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY

The Heart holds a powerful symbolic role in many cultures. Associated with the element of Fire in the 5 Element cosmology, spiritual and emotional dysfunction of the Heart can show up in a variety of ways.

Too Hot: An excess of Fire element affects our Heart energy with overexuberance. We can't stop talking, our minds race. Our sleep is disrupted, especially falling asleep. Anxiety and restlessness can make us feel overwhelmed and make it difficult to think clearly. In addition to proper treatment with a practitioner, cooling foods and herbs and calming activities such as meditation can help chill us out and give our Hearts room to breathe.  

Too Cold: Deficiency in the Fire element often manifests in physical symptoms of coldness and poor circulation, but emotionally we can feel detached, listless and depressed, unable to access our feelings or communicate them. Together with treatment, warming herbs and foods and gently stimulating activities can help stoke our Heart fire.

Check out 5 Element Healing Anointing Oils for some gentle aromatherapy designed to support the 5 elements and our emotional well-being.

Wishing you a happy heart!

Sources:

The Tao of Nutrition, Maoshing Ni and Cathy McNease

The Treatment of Modern Western Medical Diseases with Chinese Medicine, Bob Flaws and Philippe Sionneau

Nourishing Destiny: The Inner Tradition of Chinese Medicine. Lonny S. Jarrett

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine, Giovanni Maciocia

Chinese System of Food Cures, Henry Lu

Healing with the Herbs of Life, Lesley Tierra

Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) in the treatment of cardiovascular disease, Mary C. Tassell, Rosari Kingston, Deirdre Gilroy, Mary Lehane, and Ambrose Furey


 

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