Summer Wellness Series: Herbs for Late Summer

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

Herbs for the Late Summer + Earth Element

by Erin Wood, L.Ac

Welcome to the late summer!!! This season is the transition from summer to fall, the time of the spleen organ. The spleen prefers a dry, warm environment. Cold and damp climates and certain cold or raw foods can hinder its function and gunk it up. We can balance this dampness and support the spleen by sprinkling these additional herbs and spices into our food and drink:

  • Cardamom

  • Sichuan peppers

  • Ground white pepper

  • Tangerine peel, and other citrus like the Buddha’s hand

  • Licorice root, sometimes fried in honey

  • Dried ginger root

  • Green or Jasmine Tea

  • Raspberry Leaf Tea

  • Nettle Leaf Tea

  • Turmeric, like Golden Milk

  • Garlic

  • Parsley

The category of herbs that most support the spleen is the Tonify the Qi group, which means to boost the available energy and vitality. Two of these Tonify Qi herbs are also adaptogens: Ginseng and Astragalus. An adaptogen is a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to have a normalizing effect overall. I prefer American Ginseng over Korean Ginseng, it is actually slightly cooling, thirst-quenching, helps with diabetes and doesn’t raise blood pressure. Astragalus is a sweet and warm herb that goes to the lung and spleen channels to boost the immune system. Red Chinese dates also Tonify the Qi, they are easy to digest. Dates are delicious in well-cooked rice with carrots and some ginseng slices, a super energy booster!

Read the entire article at erinwoodacupuncture.com

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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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Summer Wellness Series: Late Summer, transition and belonging

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

Late Summer is the season of the earth element.  Now is the time when the heat of summer transitions into the cool consolidation of the autumn.  It is a good idea to boost our immune systems before the fall completely sets in. Earth is associated with the color yellow, which makes me think of our golden hills in California during this time.  The fire of the summer generates ash, that is of the earth. We are seeing this perhaps too literally right now with the wildfires turning our hills and homes to ash.

The earth element is the center, just as our digestion is central to our health.  Earth presides over the spleen and stomach organs, which help us to transform and transport our food and nutrients.  The spleen and the stomach are the origin of our energy and blood. Having a condition like celiac disease can lead to absorption issues and anemia.  The spleen opens into the mouth, so chew carefully, all year round. Eat cooked food if you have any issues digesting raw food. Steamed veggies or soups are already partially broken down, making it easier to absorb nutrients.  Also, avoid too much sweet, dairy, or rich sauces. The spleen organs dislikes dampness, and dampness can be oily, greasy foods like an alfredo sauce or even ice cream. By supporting the spleen, we support the heart, which houses our spirit.  This connection reminds us of how 95% of our serotonin, which affects our mood, is found in our bowels. Check out this article for more: GutSecondBrain

Disharmonies of the earth element and this season include digestive issues and fluid movement problems such as poor appetite, loose stools, gas, bloating, and swollen legs.  The spleen controls the muscles, so if you feel tired while you are digesting after meals, you might need a spleen boost. Bleeding issues, like early periods or hemorrhoids, can be due to spleen weakness since the spleen keeps the blood in the vessels.  The spleen raises the energy up in our bodies, so be watchful for any prolapse of organs or sunken spirits. We will discuss recipes and herbs that support your earth element in the coming posts, so stay tuned.

The Earth element is the peacemaker.  Earth is about home, community, comfort, family and bringing folks together.  People who identify as being close to the earth element can be very practical, nurturing, and rooted.  Loyalty and responsibility are additional characteristics, which can have a flip-side of people-pleasing, being overprotective, and selfish.  People-pleasing or any codependent tendencies have a manipulative side to them if one is trying to get others to need them. When we help others and are of service, what is our motivation?  Is there ego involved? Is there a savior complex playing a role? We need to check our intentions when it comes to needing to be needed, looking for something in return, keeping tabs, and eventually building resentments, which doesn’t build bridges.

The Earth element tends toward worry, overthinking, ruminations and obsessive thoughts.  That is like when a song is stuck in your head or you are replaying a situation over and over again, even though nothing can truly be done about it now.  

Read more about the unique energies of this time of year at erinwoodacupuncture.com

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Summer Wellness Series!

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Summer is here! There are five seasons discussed in traditional Chinese medicine, and here in Northern California we experience all of them - Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Fall and Winter. My colleague Erin Wood L.Ac and I love learning and teaching about the art of 'harmony health' - how we can enhance our wellness and sense of well-being by moving in harmony with earth cycles. What types of illness are we prone to at certain times of year? How can we prepare in this season for the next? Over the next few weeks, we'll be sharing a mini-course in holistic practices for Summer and Late Summer. Subscribe to our blogs to get all the updates, and follow #tcmsummerwellness on Instagram

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A tale of two gingers...

Since Denise and I are both Harry Potter fans, I took my opportunity to work in a reference.

Since Denise and I are both Harry Potter fans, I took my opportunity to work in a reference.

Denise Cicuto L.Ac and I have been releasing our Five Element Healing Anointing Oils over the last several months, and have just bottled and made available our EARTH element blends. They are both fragrant and expansive scented oils, as befits the Earth element. The Earth element governs the Spleen and Stomach organ systems in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which can loosely be understood as the physical and metabolic processes of digestion and elimination. A healthy and balanced Earth element means we take in food, extract nutrients efficiently, and release waste effectively. Imbalance means this process is too slow or too fast, ineffective, or has a lot of collateral side effects like gas, bloating, nausea, poor appetite, feeling 'hangry', excess mucus production, brain fog and fatigue and aches and pains especially in damp weather.

Learn more about the Earth element and happy digestion from a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view from the resources on the TCMTalk Pinterest board for the Earth element.

In Chinese medicine, we use ginger as a herb in a huge number of formulas, but it has a special affinity for the Earth element and the Spleen/Stomach organ systems. There are two main ways we use ginger - the fresh root (sheng jiang) and the dried root (gan jiang). It can be further prepared for special use by pan frying or carbonizing. The fresh root is especially useful for colds and flus and stomach upset and nausea. The dried root is 'hotter' and is also good for digestion, as well as for pain especially caused by cold and damp.

In our Earth element blends, we use two types of ginger essential oil which are extracted in different ways. NOURISH Earth contains CO2 extracted oil, which is created without the use of any heat or solvents and has a scent much closer to fresh ginger. MOVE Earth contains steam-distilled ginger oil, which smells much more like dried ginger. Although both are beneficial for a broad range of conditions especially related to digestion, damp and cold, the different extraction methods result in differing chemical profiles for the two oils. Aromatherapist Jessica Grill points out that zingerone, a component in ginger, is only extracted by the CO2 method, and is the reason she prefers it for digestive remedies. The steam-distilled ginger is higher in sesquiterpenes, making it the choice for pain-relief. (Source)

When we began experimenting with the Earth oils last summer, we didn't know about the different chemical profiles of the gingers we were trying. We used our knowledge of the base herbs and their preparation and our experience with the blends we created to identify the different uses, but it's fascinating to see the chemical profiles as explained by an aromatherapist lining up with the traditional herbalist knowledge that Denise and I were trained in.

Try MOVE + NOURISH Earth Healing Anointing Oils, as well as WOOD and FIRE, all now available. We'll be donating a portion of every bottle of EARTH oil sold to help support Dreamers, young immigrants to the US affected by recent attacks on the federal DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

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