By understanding what seasonal transitions represent and including a few simple herbs and foods in our diets, we can maintain optimal health throughout the year.
Early Chinese doctors were astute observers of the natural world. They noted that the seasons and environment directly affect the various organs and meridians of the body. They observed that as the year steadily progressed from yin to yang and moved through the seasons, the body became more vulnerable to external factors like heat, cold, dampness and dryness.
The Chinese observe five seasons, including late summer. Each season corresponds with an element:
• wood = spring
• fire = summer
• earth = late summer
• metal = autumn
• water = winter
Additionally, each season has a corresponding organ/meridian system.
For example, autumn is the season of metal. The lungs and respiratory system , which are associated with the metal element, are more vulnerable during the dry days and cool autumn evenings. Foods and herbs for autumn health include moistening and warming foods like pears, apples, sweet potatoes, yams, oats, and lamb. The herb Huang Qi (astragalus) is an excellent herb to include in your stews and soups during the fall.
Winter is the season of water and the kidney. Kidneys and their associated body parts, the bones and back, are negatively impacted by winter’s cold and damp days. Warming foods, including pork and warm, aromatic spices like garlic, cardamom and cloves are ideal for warming the kidney qi during the dark, cold days of winter. Warming tonic herbs like He Shu Wu ( Polygonium multiflorum ) and Ren Shen (ginseng) are ideal. They can be taken as a tea or included in cooking.
Spring is the season of wood and the liver. Spring is the time for growth and renewal and the climate becomes windy. As spring approaches, we should consume light foods that help transition into this season: young plants, sprouts, leafy greens, plums, wheat, rye and barley flavored with rosemary, dill and basil. Herbs like milk thistle ( Silibum marianum ) and Chai Hu ( Radix bupleuri ) are ideally suited to liver health and its associated tissues: the eyes, tendons and ligaments.
Summer is the season of fire and the heart, the season of development, joy, activity and creativity. Cooling and hydrating foods suited for transition into the heat include watermelon, apricot, cantaloupe, mung beans, bamboo, lentil and chicken. Cooling herbs like Ju Hua (chrysanthemum) and Bo He (mint) make a lovely and hydrating summer tea .
Late summer is the fifth season recognized by the Chinese. Here in the west we call it Indian Summer. Its element is earth and its organ is the spleen. Its environmental influence is humidity-like dampness and is associated with digestion and nourishment. Foods that support the spleen are rice, millet, dates, ginger and beef. Herbs like Fu Ling (poria), Da Zao (jujube) and Gan Cao (licorice) make a wonderful earth-nourishing tea.
As the pages fall off the calendar and the year moves along, I recommend seasonal acupressure “tune ups” as preemptive, wellness interventions. With herbal assistance and mindful eating, we can make the year transition smoothly.
While the seasonal foods are “people-oriented,” the herbs for each season may be offered to our horses, too.
Gloria Garland is a Licensed Acupuncturist, Chinese Herbalist and the author of the Equine Acupressure Therapeutics Workbook Series. She lives and rides in Oakhurst, California, near Yosemite National Park. Whole Horse Herbs™, her line of herbal formulas, was developed to bring complementary herbal supplements to the equine community. She teaches hands-on classes, empowering horse owners with accurate, useful information and equine health care tools. www.wholehorse.com , 559-683-4434