According to Chinese Medical philosophy, health is something we cultivate. One of the ways we do that is by taking our cues from nature, and collaborating with it — like eating seasonally.
When we can eat anything we want any time of year thanks to our industrialized global food system and things like indoor heating/ cooling systems that separate us from the ecosystem outside our homes, we’re less in touch with how to do this than our ancestors were.
Apart from just “eat what nature makes available to you where you live,” Chinese Medicine guidelines for spring eating include:
- Lighter food than the heavy foods winter. Think spring cleaning for your body.
- Shorter cooking times: steaming, sauteeing, stir-frying (roasting and making soups still great to do) and even some light raw food if it feels right
- Eating younger plants, shoots and leaves: sprouts, microgreens, asparagus, raabs
- Green leafy things: kale, collards, chard, spinach, dandelion, mizuna
- Include the taste of pungent— the taste that gets us (and our winter sludge) moving upward and outward. Think black pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander, ginger, parsley, rosemary
- Making life easy for your Liver — the organ we associate with spring. Here it’s about subtraction more than addition: less alcohol, caffeine, sugar, artificial stuff can make the Liver’s life easier. But if you want to add something, try a cup of hot water with lemon in the morning. The taste of sour astringes and stimulates the Liver.
How this translates in my kitchen
In Oregon, where I live, April, a.k.a. “Third Winter” isn’t very springy: damp, rainy, 45-55 degree days interspersed with the occasional pop of sun. So my body still wants the warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest.
Every weekend, I’m still making a big soup, like I’ve been doing all winter. Every day, I sautee some greens (kale, chard, collards, spinach, mizuna, dandelion or the especially delicious brassica raabs, of which broccolini is the most famous. You can eat the stalks, stems, leaves, and flowers.
Everyday Greens or Raab
Heat 1 TB olive oil in a pan over medium heat, and throw in a teaspoon chopped garlic. Add your greens/ asparagus/ raab, 2 teaspoon coriander powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, and a little water. Cover for a few minutes. Cook until the stalks are soft. Squeeze some lemon over the top and enjoy.
Super-Simple Sauteed Cabbage
This was the year I feel in love with sauteed cabbage via a recipe from wellplated.com. Raw cabbage has never appealed to me; I found it boring and hard to digest. But cabbage thrown into a pan and cooked until it’s slightly caramelized and melt-in-your-mouth tender? Both my husband and I now crave it. It goes on the shopping list every week.
Throw 1.5-2 TB olive oil into a pan over medium heat. Add an entire head of chopped cabbage (1/4 inch wide ribbons), salt and pepper, 2 tsp. dried thyme, and cook it for 20 minutes, stirring just occasionally so it caramelizes and gets tasty. Then add a half a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice to brighten it up.
The Mashed Rutabaga You Never Knew You Loved
Like mashed potato but with 108% fewer calories and carbs, a rutabaga is both sweet, and slightly pungent. It feels grounding but fortifying. Peel and chop a rutabaga, boil it until soft (15-20 mins). Drain the water. Combine rutabaga with a TB of butter or ghee, salt and pepper, and mash or whip to your desired consistency.
If you deal with seasonal allergies involving itchy eyes and brain fog, try making yourself a cup of chrysanthemum tea. Chrysanthemum flowers in tea can not only help reduce seasonal allergy symptoms, but have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain. Place 1 TB of the flowers in a cup of water, steep 5 minutes, strain, and enjoy.
Spring Lifestyle Tips: Think Ease
The Liver’s main job in Chinese Medicine is to keep energy flowing freely through the body. Its nickname “the free and easy wanderer,” suggests that when the Liver is healthy, we’re able to move through our lives without getting stressed or ruffled or ramping up the sympathetic nervous system.
Easier said than done. But these two things help:
Keep Time Spacious
Under-schedule if at all possible. If not, overestimate the amount of time you think it will take you to get things done. Research suggests we’re pretty bad at estimating how long things will take by a factor of 4. When we tell ourselves “there isn’t enough time to do it all,” our nervous systems contract: we get tense and tight. Feeling under-resourced means feeling stressed, and feeling stressed doesn’t actually make us more productive.
Have fewer desires
It’s an axiom in Chinese Medicine that “unfulfilled desires thwart the Liver qi.” When we want more, or expect more of ourselves, it’s easy to feel frustrated. Practicing being content with what we can in the present moment moves us helps us stay calm and relax into the now. This isn’t to say don’t have dreams and goals and desires: just don’t have more than you can have the energy for. Get clear on what’s most important and let the rest go on the back burner so you’re not always pushing and striving and potentially exhausting yourself.
As I get increasingly comfortable with doing less than I’m humanly capable of, my nervous system is so much more relaxed. Not activating the HPA axis all the time has means better sleep, hormone balance, digestion, weight management, energy, immunity, and access to joy. I love helping people with this: 1:1 coaching, my Level Up Your Life Healthy Habits course, my Basics of Chinese Medicine: Your Inner Ecosystem courses are potential resources for you. And of course, acupuncture is a fantastic way to relax your nervous system, take down inflammation and pain. Feel free to reach out at 541 757-4868 to set up an appointment series.