Spring is the time of the wood element in Traditional Chinese Medicine. This idea stems from the Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Medicine written by Huangdi around 300 BC. These ancient ideas have created the foundation of Chinese Medicine and holistic healing. This text wast the beginning of the development of eating seasonally through the 5 element system in order to help balance health and treat disease. This approach to diet helps us align to our surroundings and our inner worlds. By simply being aware of the cycles of transformation that nature is going through, from season to season, we can more naturally align to the changes and how to cope with them. Spring foods will offer energetics for growth, upward movement, opening of the eyes, stretching the tendons, cleansing of the liver, all for better movement and expansion. Lets explore more of the wood element and what spring foods are aligned with the energy so we can better understand how we can incorporate them into our diet.
Wood Energy And How It Relates to Spring
Take a moment each day to witness the natural rhythms of the season. Write down a list of what you are experiencing. Do you feel the wind gusting and the sun on your skin? Do you see the trees reaching out their branches and the hints of green that start to color the landscape? What emotional and physical transformations are you going through? Do you feel like shedding what does not serve you? Are you spring cleaning your house? And craving more fresh green salads and vegetables? Do you feel the urge to move? What does spring mean to you?
In the Inner Classic, wind in heaven represents the liver and wood represents the tendons. Green gives the voice the ability to shout and creates the eyes, sour flavor and emotional anger. Foods that tend to the body and mind during this time are focused on the liver and gall bladder. We naturally are able to eat less in spring to help the cleansing process. Foods that represent the yang process such as fresh greens, sprouts, immature wheat and cereals that are sour, sweet and pungent flavors all fall into the wood element.
In preparation for a new season our bodies begin to cleanse itself. Our liver and gut is not the only thing that begins to shed what they do not need. It is everything. Emotions of dissatisfaction, impatience, and anger begin to rise up. Shinning a light on things that need to look at in new ways so we can gain more clarity. It is a time to pay attention to your true nature and self expression. Finding herbs and foods to cope with these natural processes can help us move through these changes in a way that is healthy for the mind, body, and spirit.
Spring Foods and Herbs That Balance The Wood Energy
Spring meals are all about simplicity. The raw greens and sprouted food encourage quickness, rapid movement and outward activity that we all love to start doing once the days become longer and sun begins to warm our skin. Foods that are cleansing and cooling is exactly what our bodies are craving during this time. Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, and cabbage are often the first things that are available in early spring. In Late spring we will start to have cherries, fennel, garlic scapes, mint, peas, pine nuts, shitakes, oysters, and morels. Most trees and fruits are unripe during this time so the sour flavor is also incorporated into meals. The flavor strengthens the liver allowing the blood to nourish the tendons and tendomuscular channels.
Taking herbs that cleanse and tonify the body can be helpful especially in early spring to help ease transition. Milk thistle for detoxification. Peppermint, motherwort, pasque flower for mood elevation, especially when we are feeling stuck. Dandelion, cleavers, chickweed for liver and digestion.
Pungent and cooling herbs like basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaves are all beautiful green additions to your spring meals. Combining these herbs to the sweetness of sprouted grains, legumes, and seeds make a great base to a meal. Add vegetables like young beets, carrots and other starchy vegetables. Find these simple additions by thinning what you have growing in the garden. The pungent flavor of these plants helps stimulate Qi and blood, moving the energy up and out.
Dealing With Spring Wind and Imbalances
Fat, chemicals, intoxicants, and denatured food can congest the wood element organs. A healthy liver looks like smooth flowing energy in the mind and body. Never experiencing stress or tension. A virtue that sounds too good to be true in this day and age. Vital livers will allow a person to remain calm so the person can make remain neutral with their judgements while making better decisions. When the liver is obstructed stagnant or over heated there are many emotional and physical problems that can arise.
The spring wind can also cause problems with the liver which can cause dizziness, dryness, cramps, stiff muscles, itchiness, headaches, and ringing in ears. Foods and herbs that help prevent the wind effect are oats, ginger, fennel, basil, celery, mulberries, strawberries, soybeans, sage, motherwort, mugwort, pasque flower, and chamomile.
Depending on the imbalances in each individual you may need more or less raw foods. If there signs of heat having more raw foods everyday will help cool them. But uncooked foods in excess can weaken the digestion and can make bowel inflammation worse in individuals who are experiencing weakness or deficiency. If you notice that you’re more irritable, impatient, or your muscles are tighter or more sore than usual in the Springtime, this is an indication that the liver is out of balance. Diet, yoga, sleep and meditation are all great ways to address this imbalance. If you are experiencing an imbalance you should consult a doctor or Chinese medicine practitioner. That way they can better shape a spring diet that will help you get back on track.
Check out my recipes (with more on the way) for more ideas on what to eat throughout the seasons.