The belief that nature is inherently intelligent shines through all of TCM, which prioritizes teaching us to align ourselves with that intelligence in the pursuit of truly vibrant health. One of the arguably simplest ways to align with this brilliance and welcome its capacity to cultivate comprehensive internal harmony is by eating seasonally, which supports balance between the Yin and Yang energies in our bodies. Because we are reflections of the earth that holds us, we can trust that the natural world will provide what we need exactly when we need it.
Life teaches us that change is the only constant, but the turn of the seasons endows us with a fundamental rhythm. Transitions become familiar as we continue to cycle through them year after year, and we cultivate adaptive capacity by aligning with – rather than ignoring or resisting against – the internal and external ebbs and flows. No one does recalibration better than the earth itself, and because the seasons directly affect changes to our physiology in much the same way that they affect changes to our environment, it is the fruits of our environment that are especially well-equipped to nourish us into energetic harmony.
During this time of year, we prioritize tonifying Yin by conserving energy, replenishing our inner stores, and recharging our batteries – primarily the Kidneys and Jing contained therein. Nutritionally, it is a time for foods rich in protein, minerals, and high-quality fats. It’s an especially important time to incorporate more warming foods and herbs, which always support digestive fire, but also help shield oneself from external cold and wind invasion, promoting balance within. Eating seasonally in winter entails root vegetables (hearty and warming), citrus (rich in vitamin C for immune support), and beans (nourishing to the Kidneys).
A season of reemergence, Spring invites the seeds planted in the fertile depths of the Yin phase of the year to bloom! It is a time for welcoming and awakening Yang with gently warming pungent herbs like oregano, arugula, spring onions, and mint. During this time, we tend to Liver health with fresh, leafy vegetables that are bursting forth from the earth, progressively increasing the consumption of raw foods as Yang energy builds internally and externally. For protein, it is wise to balance red meat with lighter proteins like chicken, eggs, and fish that are easier to digest. The flavor associated with Spring is sour, so enjoy foods like sauerkraut and lemon as the astringent quality helps to relieve dampness and counteract the greasy/fatty foods of Winter.
During the peak of the Yang phase of the year, we cultivate balance by enjoying hydrating and cooling foods that are in season, such as watermelon, cucumber, tomatoes, and celery. Although cooked foods are generally preferred in TCM for digestibility, during summer we can enjoy much more fresh, raw fruits and vegetables that are incredibly seasonally abundant. It’s an especially good time of year to optimize this abundance by indulging in juices and smoothies, being mindful not to overdo it. We can in turn support balance by nourishing the Spleen (corresponding to Late Summer) and our own earth energy with grains, beans, protein, and mushrooms.
By observing nature, we can intuit that Autumn is an especially important season for letting go, and it’s associated with the elimination pathways of the Large Intestine, Lungs, and Skin. During this time of year, we return to more cooked and warming foods to prevent the constriction of the intestines, and prioritize fiber to prevent toxin reabsorption. We also need extra internal lubrication to combat external dryness, supported by foods like pears, apples, dairy, pumpkin, persimmon, figs, honey, and nuts/seeds. Many of these foods are also high in fiber, as are beans, beetroot, and squash. It’s a time to increase protein intake and support our defenses with mushrooms.
Remember that seasonal foods are at their peak in terms of nutrient density and flavor. We can cultivate balance, fortify ourselves, attune to the present moment, and enjoy seasonal variety – all by aligning with the intelligence of nature. Visiting your local farmer’s market or signing up for a CSA membership are great ways to keep your finger on nature’s nutritional pulse.