Here is the season that we had been waiting for since the winter! We have been witnessing the buds emerging on the plants and maturing into full grown plants … oh and the days getting longer and warmer. Now finally we can appreciate what nature can give: warmth, light and food. This is a great time to get outside, socialize, travel, eat the abundant fruits and vegetables or just have fun. We can take an advantage of all the gorgeous flowers blooming outside and bring them inside.
In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with a natural element so summer is associated with Fire. Also, each element has corresponding western organs. The western organs of the Fire element are the Heart and the Small Intestines and in addition, the Pericardium and the Triple Warmer are included. Also, this element contains the Mind, a rather difficult concept for Westerners. (I capitalized the organs because in Chinese Medicine, it is more like an organ is considered to be the organ itself and its energetic functions)
One of the elements in nature is Fire, in fact, it is probably the most important one for our survival. Fire or warmth is essential to keep the body going, our metabolism and our whole body depends on it. According to Karl Jung, Fire is needed to have clear perception. Also, “psychotherapists believe that ‘cooking’ is important for meaningful changes to occur in their patients”. In fact, “throughtout the history of humankind, the symbol of Fire has always been synonymus with life”.
In Chinese Medicine, the heart, the Emperor of our body, is not necessarly treated directly as it depends on other organs for its nourishment. Basically, you are to take care of your body in order to keep the heart healthy. For prevention, we are supposed to attend to all the other organs all year around to help the heart function properly. There are several foods that are beneficial for the Heart but this list is pretty short. So this could be a quick write-up if I just wanted to list these foods but there is so much to this element and it is quite fascinating.
It is believed that if the heart is not happy, nobody is happy. So let’s see what would be ideal for a happy heart. The heart needs to be warm, neither cold or hot. So avoid getting overheated during the summer and getting too cold during the winter. Another factor that can influence our heart is our emotions. Emotions out of balance can negatively effect the heart. Furthermore, the heart’s energy tends to move downward that the bitter flavored foods support.The heart also enjoys nourishing foods.
The heart’s ‘partner’, the Small Intestine is responsible for sorting out the pure from impure, separating the wheat from the chaff. It absorbs the usable food for assimilation and gets rid of the useless material through the colon. This is also true not only at the physical level but at the spiritual level, too. The Small Intestine helps the body sort through important information and toxic information. So the healthy Small Intestine helps us in letting go of unneeded things in our life and by the same token an unhealthy Small Intestine will accumulate toxins leading to the pollution of our body, mind and spirit.
We can certainly nourish the small intestines with food. It is part of the elimination system so food would be important. Fiber rich foods will make the intestines work more efficiently and hence result in a more efficient absorption of nutrients. Foods like nuts and seeds can supply this necessary protein and fiber. Of course, any kind of whole grain is helpful as well in providing fiber. In addition, it is summer, so we can take an advantage of all the fruits and vegetables, they are an excellent source of fiber. Probiotics such lactobacilus and bifidobacterium can be beneficial for the small intestines as well which can be found in yoghurt, kefir, fermented foods etc.
The biggest issue during the summer months is the heat. So all cooling foods especially the brightly colored fruits and vegetables are great. In Chinese Medicine, the red color is associated with the Fire element. It is believed that consuming foods that are red (watermelon, strawberries, red beans, goji berries, red peppers, chili peppers, hibiscous flower) and heart shaped (chickpeas) are beneficial for the heart.
Also, to help calm the mind and deal with the heat of the summer, it is recommended to eat a more simple diet with light foods and avoiding complicated dishes. Oyster shells, whole grains, mushrooms, barley, oats, cucumber, basil, mulberries, lemon, ghee are especially useful. The flavor of the summer is bitter and it is recommended to eat bitter foods because it brings energy from the brain, the mind down to the body. (Summer bitter foods include all whole grains, bamboo shoots, celery, dill, lettuce).
To work with the summer season, mainly its heat, we need to make some changes to our cooking methods. Of course, most people will eat some raw foods; however, cooking some food is still recommended supplementing the raw foods. Cooking should be quick on high heat using little salt and more water. Add hot, pungent natured foods to your meal and eliminate heavy foods to avoid sluggishness. In hot climates, it is customary to add lots of hot peppers to open up the pores and release the excess heat from the body. (Of course, this should be done with some caution as too much hot pepper can injure the stomach).
Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
Gary Dolowich: Archetypal Acupuncture