Seasonal Harmony By Ellasara
“The wise nourish life by flowing with the four seasons and adapting to cold or heat, by harmonizing joy and anger in a tranquil dwelling, by balancing yin and yang, and what is hard and soft.” The Neijing
The more we practice Qigong/taiji, the more we experientially understand that we are energy beings connected to the vast energy network of the Universal. As related to food, all foods are also energy. The energy of each food has a “message” for our bodies. Each food substance has its own Qi value that can be understood through Five Element Theory. (In western naturopathic terms, the message of each food can be found through understanding the Doctrine of Signatures.) According to TCM, the foods that are natural to a particular season carry strong messages of Qi balancing and tonifying for that season.
Food energy is supportive and complementary to our energy, especially at certain times in certain ways. That last is where it becomes a deeper study. This can be approached in a variety of styles. One way is to study tables of foods for seasons, meridians, organ systems, yin/yang, hot/cold, etc. Learning and mechanically applying this information can have great value. Another is to listen carefully to our bodies’ messages and what we are being told. Then, relate these messages to TCM Five Element Theory and learn what it is our body is asking us for at that time. After we sort it out, give ourselves that food or combination of foods. This will develop our intuition about food and our deeper intuition in general. And, in a natural learning process, we will learn what foods work for ourselves for what conditions under what circumstances. Over time this becomes natural and we just know what we need. Usually, this intuitive style leads to more of the first style, wherein we want to study more about Five Element Theory. At least this has been my experience in observing people over the past 15 years or so.
Learning basics about each season, foods and having basic seasonal recipes become foundations from which we can easily incorporate more information and fall back upon when we have simple questions. For example, last week an elderly friend of mine got a chill and couldn’t get warm. When I went over to her home with my “ginger tea kit” her fingers were like ice cubes. I made her basic ginger tea, (recipe below) and before she finished her first cup, she felt warm and the circulation had returned to her fingers. Ginger is a yang food that aids digestion and generally balances the forces in your body.
Basic Ginger Tea
1″ fresh ginger – sliced, chopped
4-5 scallions – whites only
Rind of one dried tangerine
4 cups of water
Rock/Brown sugar/honey to taste
Add all the ingredients together and bring to a boil Simmer for no more than 5 minutes as it will get bitter. Remove the foods. Drink hot.
Additionally, I want to mention that every culture has food cures and food combinations for increasing health. Often, the purposes for these foods have been forgotten, even when the custom has been retained. For example, the parents of a friend of mine are from Poland and her mother makes bone marrow soup in the winter simply because “it is good for you to eat in the winter.” When we consult Five Element Theory, we see that bone marrow soup is an excellent winter energy soup that supports the Kidney function (recipe below).
Basic Bone Marrow Soup
1 lb marrow bones
1-1/2 quarts water
2″ sliced ginger
6 scallion whites
1 bay leaf
1 diced carrot
1 diced stalk celery
1 quartered plum tomato
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup cilantro/;parsley
Put the marrow bones, bay leaf, ginger, and scallions in the water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 3 hours
Let cool–Poke marrow out of bones and discard everything except water. You should now have about 3 cups of broth.
Add veggies, cover and cook till veggies are done. add salt and pepper to taste.. .serve and sprinkle with cilantro
To this basic recipe you can add other root vegetables, such as turnip, or green vegetables such as kale. Adjust this to your own taste. Bone marrow soup is considered to be a strengthening soup that is good for prevention and also if someone has been ill.
Further, it is helpful to have seasonal guildelines. Things that are particularly good to do or pay attention to in a given season. Often, they remind me of things my Mom said when I was growing up. Simple things such as, eat a good warm breakfast, especially in the winter.
Winter Energy Cereal
1/2 cup of rice
6 cups of water
½ cup toasted black sesame seeds
½ cup TB toasted crushed walnuts
3 TB honey
½ tsp salt
Cover the rice in 2 cups of water and soak for 2 hours.
Toast the walnuts and crush. A simple crushing method is to place the walnuts in a plastic bag and roll with a rolling pin.
Toast the black sesame seeds.
Drain the excess water off the rice.
Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and mix.
Add 4 cups of water and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the rice is thoroughly cooked and all the water has been absorbed. Stir the cereal frequently as it is cooking. The texture of the cereal at this stage is like a thick porridge or cornmeal mush. The rice is creamy and the sesame seeds are still slightly crunchy.
To make into a breakfast cereal: add ½ cup boiling water to ½ cup of cereal – optional: a touch of cinnamon Yield: 4 cups
Serving size ½ cup
1 cup of white rice (or ½ cup short grain rice and ½ cup of long grain rice)
8-10 cups of water
Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a low simmer for about 3 hours.
This makes a basic rice porridge which is very easy to digest and which can be eaten at any time of year. To it, you can add shredded ginger, chopped scallion whites, lightly steamed vegetables, pieces of fish, pickled vegetables, etc.
A few other winter guidelines that are in accord with TCM/Five Element Theory are: Raw foods are cooling and should be avoided in the winter when warming foods are best emphasized, such as eating warming, hearty soups*, cooked whole grains, root vegetables and toasted nuts. These kinds of foods warm the center of the body and their heat stay with you longer. Since winter energy is about storing and rest, it is good to go to bed earlier and get very restful sleep, lighten one’s activities list, if possible and spend more time in contemplation and meditation.
*Kidney Bean, Tomato & Winter Squash Soup
2TB walnut oil
1 medium red onion
4 cloves of garlic – slivered
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped parsnip
½ cup chopped yam
14 oz can of plum tomatoes
½ tsp rosemary
3 half dollar slices of ginger
2 small dried hot red peppers (or to personal taste)
1 15 oz can of kidney beans
5 cups of water
3 cups of Kombachu or butternut or hubbard squash, diced into 1 inch cubes
Salt to taste, ground pepper
Chopped cilantro/parsley garnish
Heat the oil in a saucepan/wok/dutch oven and add the onion. . .cook until it is just softened. Add the garlic, parsnip, yam and cook for about 3 minutes over medium heat.
Add the tomatoes, rosemary, ginger, peppers, beans and water
Bring to a soft boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 1/2 hour – stir occasionally
Add squash and simmer for about 1 hour until squash is tender. Check liquid levels, add water if necessary and don’t forget to stir occasionally.
Add salt and ground pepper, adjust seasonings to personal taste.
Garnish each bowl with a sprig of cilantro or parsley
Viewing the above chart, we can easily identify some of the major relationships that are part of the Winter season. The Winter/Kidney season has now mutated from Fall (see last season’s chart) and will continue to change until it is Spring/Liver season. Autumn, which we are leaving, is a time of harvest, reaping the benefits of our year’s work. Then it slowly mutates to Winter when we save/store energy so that this deep rest will give our Springtime the most optimal opportunity to come forward with abundant health.
Some Foods That Harmonize With Winter
Black Beans, Black Mushrooms, Blackberry, Black sesame seeds and oil, Black soybeans, Blueberry, Bone marrow, Cabbages, Celery, Chard, Cranberry, Ginger, Job’s tears, Kale, Kidney beans, Kohlrabi, Longan, Lotus seed, Miso, Mulberry, Mutton, Ocean Perch, Parsley, Pine nuts, Raspberry, Rutabaga, Seaweed, Shrimp/Prawns, Soy Sauce, String beans, Turnips, Walnuts, Wood ear mushrooms.
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