Spring formally arrive next Thursday, the 21st. Where we live we have had several days with lovely, warmer weather interspersed with the warnings of a late winter snow storm, but that is how it is in our region. I personally was glad this time not to see snow because it is so late in the season. That is a lot said from someone who grew up with real winter with long Sunday ski trips and skiing in the mountains at easter. Lovely memories. I love a good snowstorm, don’t get me wrong, but let’s have it at a time when it is appropriate for the region you live in and not after the fragile flowers have made their entry and hopes of sunny warm days .
Even if it a week early I decided to go talk about the energies of spring and how that may change how and what you eat, how you prepare it, as well as the lifestyle adjustments you may want to make. Some of you will remember this from last year. Paul Pritchford, author of “Eating with Whole Foods” who is one of the authorities on food and Chinese medicine can give you a much deeper understanding of this whole issue. Spring as seen from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is the time of new, emerging energy, renewal, rebirth, new hope. New growth bursts forth from soil and branches. On the farms lambing is under way, calving and foaling not far behind. If you haven’t already noticed, you will soon hear the frenzied activities of the birds as they search for the best nesting places in proximity to food and water. All this activity is carried out with the proactive, creative force of Yang Qi. The seasonal change from Winter to Spring brings us the energy of the Liver/Gallbladder organ system, its color is green, it’s taste sour. The Liver energy is responsible for making sure the energy is circulating through the whole body and also for “storing” the Blood at night. Everything must work according to the laws of nature to stay healthy. This energy can get stuck and cause stagnation in TCM terms, which among many other things can create bloating and gas. If Liver doesn’t “store” the Blood well, there may be sleep disruptions. Of course these issues can come up at other times of the year, because of individual health problems. It is just easier to go awry at this time of year. For more about TCM
The sensory organ of the Liver is the eyes and the energy shows up in the nails and tendons. These people look health and engaged, joyful and full of energy. Spring climate brings wind, the emotion is anger/irritation and the direction upwards. One may want to fling ones arms out and up and shout out in anger or joy. All this energy is brought out of the internal, stored up energy from Winter and Yin. The change means we need to make adjustments in how we now live and eat. In stead of sleeping late, it is time to get up early in the morning, go for brisk walks, spend some time in nature, getting more light in through the eyes. For some it may mean its time for a cleanse, rejuvenation, but a cautionary note on cleanses here, it has to be appropriate for your constitution, age and health situation. If you are uncertain if you can tolerate a juice fast or need something a little more gentle, seek help from a herbalist like myself. Remember keep the balance, don’t go overboard with anything. If a little of the sour flavor of spring in your diet stimulates the Liver energy a lot can aggravate it. If a little sweet stimulates the Spleen energy don’t have a the whole pie or cake or chocolate bar.
Spring is the time for lots of new fresh green vegetables, the color green being good for the liver; spinach, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, chard, dandelion leaves, peashoots and all the other new young vegetables that are more readily available fresh from the ground. In my garden the cold weather loving plants; kale, spinach, chard and peas are started in cold frames, waiting for the last chance of a late frost to pass. In the lawn and the garden itself, there is nettle under way, chicory has started coming up. I’ve seen a chickweed plant, dandelion and lesser celandine (pylewort). Plantain, violets are coming soon, to be followed by hogsweed, wild lettuces, Lambsquarters, and much more. All of them are edible. You don’t have to buy fancy things in bottles and jars if you know how and where to harvest them. They are all around us these wild plants, ready to be picked by the adventurous and best of all, they are free for the taking. Have a plateful and you will eat exactly the same food that has been eaten for centuries.
As far as food preparation Pritchford says in his book “Raw and Sprouted foods can (now) be emphasised“. Cooking should be light; stir frying, steaming (bamboo steamers), light cooking in water so you just to wilt the veggies and greens. Sprouting seeds and beans like peas and chick peas is easy. They are great in breads, sprouted just so the you see the plant emerge. They provide all the energy of the whole plant as the shoot emerges from the seed. The favor of grain in spring is wheat (also sprouts delightfully) and the favored protein is chicken. But this week’s recipe is Rosemary Lamb Saussages with roast vegetables and sauteed mushrooms.
- Nettle for soup
With spring the season of Allergies become a problem for many. I have mentioned in an earlier blog that the herb Nettle can be used as a remedy with seasonal allergies to reduce the reaction. Using this wild prickly friend needs to start around 2 weeks before the season begins to get the most benefit from it. Nettle is by the way a very versatile herb. Nutritionally it is high in vitamins and minerals. It can be stewed like spinach, cooked in the pot with other foods that call for dark greens, made into a soup, etc. Use of Nettle goes far back into time. Vikings were buried with a cache of seeds for use after they went to Valhalla. Perhaps they too made soup with it? I like knowing I am using the same herbs as the iron age family, that the tradition lives on. The Romans brought Nettle seeds with them on their long walk to conquer England. It was cold up there they had been told and they planned to whip themselves with the plants, since it stung, brought up velts and made you feel hot, at least for a minute. A really unpleasant way to stay warm, I’d say. Nettle was also grown, especially in Eastern Europe, so their mature stalks could be harvested, threshed, spun and cloth made from the resulting yarn. It makes a lovely linen like cloth.
In my practice I use Chinese Herbal Medicine, for seasonal allergies and create formulas individualized for my clients specific symptoms. I have seen great results, quickly. There are also over the counter TCM formulas that work well. In other words there should be no need to suffer. Additionally Homeopathy has some great formulas. With these over-the-counter remedies one may need to try different ones to see which one works best.
If you experience a lot of watery discharges (Dampness), stay away from dairy products, from too much sugar or sweets, sweet flavored foods and other Damp making foods, use the greens, they tend to be drying, stimulate appetite and clear heat Properties of Foods. Allergies are also associated with the Liver energy and the TCM formulas help Course the Liver (allow the Liver’s energy to circulate easily and freely), when it gets stuck it can create Wind, with causes sneezing, itching.