It can get a bit challenging to say goodbye to all the fun we had in the summer, canuing down the creek, hopping on our bikes to get to our favorite ice cream shop or just spending endless hours outside in the warm weather. Yes indeed, it can get tricky for some of us to let go. But we have a few weeks to do it! Now we can enjoy the warm weather without the heat and maybe even the mosquitos. It kind of feels like we are rocking on a sailboat on calm waters during a sunset. But at the same time it would be wise to start thinking ahead. Yeap there is that nip in the air in the morning … the cold weather will be coming!
This transition is considered to be a short season and has been recognized by many different cultures. In the United States, it is called Indian summer, in China, the Earth season and in Hungary, old women’s summer (vénasszonyok nyara). Seasonal transitions are important to be aware of as they can be challenging on our bodies. It is worth paying attention to, especially if you are prone to problems now like having excessive mucus, digestive problems, feeling of heaviness/edema, tiredness, metabolic problems, low self esteem or craving sweets.
The ancient Chinese have observed this short time period, the Earth season (Wu Xing, 地球), to be different from all the other four seasons. This is the time of stillness when everything seems to just stop. The heat of the summer is gone, our busy lives are finally slowing down and activity becomes effortless. It is associated with stability, patience, and thoughtfulness. It is the time to stop and observe abundance around us and things we have created. As the days are getting shorter, we are moving from the time of abundance and expansion to focusing inward and cessation of abundance.
In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with a natural element so the Indian Summer is paired with the Earth element. Also, each element has corresponding western organs. The western organs of the Earth element are the Spleen, Pancreas, Stomach and the organs they control (Muscles, Mouth). (I capitalized the organs because in Chinese Medicine, it is more like an organ is considered to be the organ itself and in its energetic functions as well).
Let’s look at the nature of the Stomach and the Spleen/Pancreas. The Stomach likes to be be cool and moist. It starts breaking up the food it receives and passes it for further digestion. The Spleen and the Pancreas on the other hand, like to be warm and dry. Their main job is to further work on digestion and nourish the body. The Spleen has other functions including its role in the immune system that is important especially in the fall. The Pancreas releases digestive enzymes and also is involved with regulating the blood sugar.
Just like Mother Earth in nature, our Earth element is responsible for nourishing the body. Digestion is important all year around but especially during this time to ensure that we can ease into the cold months. There is a branch in Chinese medicine that believes the Earth element is the most important for good health. Yep this season is all about eating good, healthy food. Remember this is the Harvest season.
The flavor of the Earth element is sweet. These foods are meats, dairy, and complex carbohydrates including grains, vegetables and legumes. This flavor enters and nourishes the spleen/pancreas. It has a harmonizing effect on the body exactly what we need now. This flavor is great to have any time of the year but especially important right now. However, the sweet flavor also has a tendency to cause dampness and to slow down the body; therefore, pungent flavored foods like onions, ginger are also recommended at this time. (Just on the side, exercise has similar effects).
Choosing your sweet foods wisely is also important. I should mention that the sweet flavor should not be overdone especially by individuals who tend to gain weight and retain water easily. This is also true for the pungent spices, they should be consumed in moderation to make sure that heat does not stay trapped in the body. Definitely practice moderation. Of course, over-processed foods should be avoided.
All the vegetables that grow right now are great. If you go to the farmers’ market you will see eggplants, beets, cabbage, celery, chard, cucumber, lettuce, potatoes, mushrooms, squash, sweet potatoes, yam, bitter melon. Fruits are apples, tomatoes, pears, grapes, plums. Nuts are walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, chestnuts, sesame seeds.
To harmonize with this season, it is wise to make changes to our cooking style. The emphasis should be on moderation and creating simple, harmonizing dishes with ingredients that attune with the Earth element: round, mildly sweet, yellow or golden in color. Feel free to use herbs that help digestion like dill, oregano, ginger, anise, caraway seeds, cumin, fennel seeds, lavage etc. Also, try to avoid foods that are complicated with too many ingredients or are heavy, greasy and too spicy. In other words, we need to help our digestion so we can move into the new season effortlessly. Also, it is nice to start including more warming foods in our diet like winter squashes.
If you are looking for dishes to make during the Indian Summer time period, please, click on the Indian Summer ‘keyword’ on the right and you should get all my recipes or see a few from last year below.
- Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
- Art: Sailing by the shore by Leonid Afremov
Text by twincitiesherbs.com