This season is the transition from summer to fall, the time of the spleen organ. The spleen prefers a dry, warm environment. Cold and damp climates and certain cold or raw foods can hinder its function and gunk it up. We can balance this dampness and support the spleen by sprinkling these additional herbs and spices into our food and drink:
- Sichuan peppers
- Ground white pepper
- Tangerine peel, and other citrus like the Buddha’s hand
- Licorice root, sometimes fried in honey
- Dried ginger root
- Green or Jasmine Tea
- Raspberry Leaf Tea
- Nettle Leaf Tea
- Turmeric, like Kirsten’s Golden Milk recipe
The category of herbs that most support the spleen is the Tonify the Qi group, which means to boost the available energy and vitality. Two of these Tonify Qi herbs are also adaptogens: Ginseng and Astragalus. An adaptogen is a natural substance considered to help the body adapt to stress and to have a normalizing effect overall. I prefer American Ginseng over Korean Ginseng, it is actually slightly cooling, thirst-quenching, helps with diabetes and doesn’t raise blood pressure. Astragalus is a sweet and warm herb that goes to the lung and spleen channels to boost the immune system. Red Chinese dates also Tonify the Qi, they are easy to digest. Dates are delicious in well-cooked rice with carrots and some ginseng slices, a super energy booster!
For a bit of self-acupressure, there is a point just below the knee, on the outside of the leg called Stomach 36 that helps increase white blood cells and supports the spleen. Stomach 36 counteracts indigestion, diarrhea, muscle weakness, parasites, gurgling in the stomach, and soothes sore knees. You can massage it anytime or tap on it in an afternoon slump to get some endurance. See a video here!
There is evidence that various deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E can alter immune responses in animals, so it is always a good idea to eat a variety of foods and consider a mineral supplement. You can order some here.
Along with zinc, here are a few more helpful supplements:
~Fiber, also known as roughage, bulk, or dietary fiber can help our health. Soluble fiber is found in plants such as nuts, beans, apples, carrots, psyllium, and blueberries and switches immune cells from pro-inflammatory to anti-inflammatory, which helps us to heal faster from infection.
~Resveratrol, found in red grapes, can help immune function.
~Probiotics or fermented foods like kefir, raw sauerkraut, and miso can help balance the gut flora and keep the immune system ready to respond to new infections.
~Fish oil is rich in DHA, an essential fatty acid, and has been found to enhance B cell activity, which could be promising for those with compromised immune systems.
~Vitamin D, especially in liquid form, can help immunity and mood. Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce respiratory infections.
I am a fan of keeping things simple, so stick with these basics if you get overwhelmed or don’t want to add herbs or supplements:
- eat plenty of fruits & vegetables, all the colors of the rainbow!
- exercise, gentle movement, deep breathing
- quit smoking, acupuncture can help!
- drink alcohol only in moderation
- get enough sleep, at least 8 hours
- avoid infection through regular hand washing and mask-wearing
- reduce stress, find ways to decompress & get out of fight-flight-freeze
As we talk about the bigger picture in regards to health, it is important to remember that part of life is suffering. It is normal to not be well or what might be considered 100%. As health care practitioners, we are not trying to prevent any illness or death. Sometimes we need to be under the weather to build our immune systems or slow down. We are trying to find tools, foods, herbs, and habits that support us to feel less pain and more energy. We are human and life is fragile and fleeting. The ebbs and flows, the yin and yang aspects, are normal. It is helpful to remember that in a capitalist society, we are rewarded for being productive and able to work as much as possible. That just isn’t realistic. Try to rest and take it easy when you can 🙂
Related to the idea of not being well all the time, or even most of the time, here is some food for thought by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, a brilliant disabled writer and cultural worker.
Let’s keep supporting one another in a more compassionate world.
Here are some lovely recipes from my dear colleague Kirtsen Cowan, L.Ac.
The Flavor of the Season: Sweet.
Sweetness is the flavor associated with Late Summer, and is a dominant flavor in much of the produce now in season. Sweetness softens and relaxes us, and naturally sweet foods are deeply nourishing to our systems and our spirits. Too much sugar with our sweetness can overload the system, and leave us craving more sweet without feeling satisfied. Sweetness helps us the transition from the long days of summer into fall.
The Color of the Season: Gold.
Yellow, gold and orange are the colors associated with the Earth element, and are found in many of the foods in farmers’ markets right now: squash, plums, peaches, pears, sweet potatoes, corn. In biomedicine terms, orange produce is rich is carotenoids (like beta-carotene) and B vitamins that are especially beneficial for the immune system, skin and eye health.
The Cuisine of the Season: Light and Warm
The Spleen is said to like warmth and hate dampness. Dumping cold, wet foods like ice cream, cold drinks and raw veggies is a good way to dampen our digestive hearth and find ourselves with kickback like bloating, belching, distention and gas, upset stomach and diarrhea. Well-cooked, high nutrient foods are like dry, fragrant wood that burns easily and doesn’t leave stinky ash.
In short, as the days shorten and table is covered with the sweet, golden fruits of the harvest, we shift our diet to eat what’s in season, simmered soup of butternut squash, roasted peaches, corn and bean salad. Here’s a few of my fave recipes for this season in-between.
This recipe from Practical Paleo is ready in a flash and the cakes are both super satisfying (pumpkin and egg) without being too heavy for warm late summer days. I like to eat them with freshly sliced peaches or a quick simmered compote. If you’ve been eating something cold for breakfast like cereal, yogurt or smoothies, give these pancakes a try.
This sheet pan roast vegetable dish from Yotam Ottolenghi stands up as a centerpiece, side or salad. Beta-carotene is fat soluble and significantly more available to the body when eaten with fat, like the tahini and pinenuts in this recipe. Try it with a roast chicken for a Sunday dinner knockout.
Fresh peaches become incredibly sweet when baked or grilled. This simple recipe uses a spoonful of maple syrup and buttery almond topping to fancy up roast peaches into something truly fantastic.