Spring Frolicking: Eating with the Seasons in Chinese Medicine

Spring is here! As the world around bursts into flowers and first green leaves, Chinese Medicine invites us to align our food and life routines with nature’s renewal. Nature awakens from its winter dormancy, and Chinese Medicine also focuses on invigorating the body and promoting healthy circulation during taking advantage of natural vibrant forces. Learn from traditional medicine how to use Qi and bold attitude of Spring in our Seasonal blog series!

Spring time: Liver orders, Wood grows.

In Chinese medicine, spring is associated with the element wood. This element embodies qualities like growth, new beginnings, and fresh energy. The wood element is closely linked to the liver, a vital organ according to Chinese Medicine. The liver is believed to play a key role in managing healthy metabolism: detoxification, circulation, and overall well-being, mirroring the themes of renewal and growth that characterize spring.  Liver has strong affinity to bitter and sour tastes in food.

Upward Energy: Greens!

Chinese Medicine views spring as a time of upward-moving energy, mirroring the growth of plants reaching for the sun. To tap into this energy, fill your plate with fresh, leafy greens and sprouts. Asparagus, kale, spinach, swiss chard, collard and dandelion greens are all fantastic choices. These vibrant veggies are not only delicious but also rich in chlorophyll, which Chinese Medicine believes helps cleanse and rejuvenate the liver, a key organ in spring.  For most of these greens slight cooking is still preferred way of including them into diet.  We will discuss cooking methods at the end of this article. Delicate greens and sprouts are great raw along with your cooked meal.  If your digestion is generally weak, continue relying on cooked vegetables and include only small amounts of raw greens.

Green and Red Vegetable Plants in the Market

Sour Power: Spring Cleaning from the Inside Out

Spring is also a time to help the body get rid of any stagnation after the richer foods and somewhat slower lifestyle of winter. Chinese Medicine recommends incorporating sour-flavored foods into your diet. Think tart fruits like grapefruit and kiwi, spices like ginger and lemon juice, fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut and natural apple and wine vinegars in the fresh salad dressings. These stimulate the digestive system and help eliminate any lingering winter sluggishness.

Sweet on Spring: A Touch of Nourishment

While sour flavors cleanse, a touch of sweetness can provide a gentle energy boost to support the dynamism spring.  Moderation is key! Go for naturally sweet fruits like dates and berries, touch of honey and maple syrup. These offer a gentle sweetness without overloading your system.  Sprouts can also contain healthy sugars along with vitamins and minerals.

Sprouts and Shoots: New Beginnings

Sprouts and shoots are the very expression of spring’s new growth and they are full of Qi. Chinese Medicine views a seed as “yin” (potential energy, associated with dormancy and winter) and a sprout as “yang” (active energy, associated with growth and spring). By consuming sprouts, you’re essentially ingesting the essence of yang energy at its peak. This aligns with the body’s natural shift towards outward movement and growth during spring. Sprouted mung beans, pea shoots, and sunflower sprouts add a delightful crunch and freshness to salads and stir-fries.  But any sprouted seed is a game in the spring!  It is easy to grow your own fresh sprouts.

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Cooking with the Seasons: Light and Lively

Spring is not the time for heavy meals. Chinese Medicine suggests lighter cooking methods like steaming, stir-frying, sauteing and simmering. This allows the natural flavors of seasonal produce to shine, while nutrients to be preserved and, most importantly, easily assimilated by your body. Incorporate spring spices to highlight your meal: ginger, chives, green onions, cilantro, mint… Additionally, limit fried foods and processed ingredients that can dampen your body’s energy flow.

What about lifestyle changes in the spring?

Chinese medicine suggests following a natural change.  Get up earlier, spend more time outdoors, move more, enjoy sunlight, do gardening and spring cleaning, and take dogs for longer walks. While jumping in green pastures might be more suited to our sheep, cow, and goat friends (no worries, you can watch videos of them frolicking!), the idea is to embrace the season’s renewal.

Recipe 1: Asparagus says hi to ginger, garlic and scallions

Spring into deliciousness with this simple asparagus recipe!  Preheat your broiler to low. In a bowl, toss 1 pound trimmed asparagus with 1 tablespoon avocado oil, minced garlic, grated fresh ginger, soy sauce, and pepper. Arrange the asparagus on a parchment-lined baking sheet and broil for 5-7 minutes per side, or until slightly cooked but not charred. Enjoy hot, garnished with fresh chives.

Recipe 2: Dandelions roar and eggs listen!

Heat olive oil in a pan, sauté any type of onions and garlic until fragrant. Add roughly chopped dandelion greens (rinsed and with thick stems removed) and cook until well wilted. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs with milk (or water) and season. Push greens to one side of the pan, pour in the egg mixture, and scramble until set. Crumble feta cheese over the top, cook another minute for melting cheese, and enjoy your Scrambled Eggs with Dandelion Greens and Feta, garnished with sun dried tomatoes, olives and herbs!

In conclusion:

By embracing Chinese Medicine principles, you can create a spring diet that’s not just delicious but also supports your overall health and well-being.  Visit your farmers market, join CSA, stock up on fresh produce, grow your own sprouts and enjoy the invigorating energy of spring!

Image credits: Vecteesy, Pixelbay.

Angela Gabriel, MSOM, L.Ac, CH, SEP.

Angela practices Chinese Medicine since 2005.  She is one of senior acupuncturists at the GW Center for Chinese Medicine.  She offers acupuncture and Somatic Experiencing sessions.