In Chinese Medicine the digestive system belongs to the Spleen organ system (including both the Stomach and Pancreas) and each organ system within Chinese Medicine contains a collection of symptoms that make up a pattern that we look for when a patient comes to see us.
Underneath the umbrella of a Spleen organ system in disharmony are probably some obvious or intuitive symptoms such as upset stomach, bloating, changes with bowel movements, nausea, but as Chinese Medicine also includes things of a mental and spiritual nature, symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, a tendency to ruminate and worry are also relevant. Other things we might see if there is an issue with the Spleen system is dampness in the body which can manifest as edema, weight gain or mucus production.
There are flavors that are associated with each organ system, and sweetness is the flavor connected with the Spleen. This means that sweetness can be both beneficial to the Spleen (for example, cooked yams and root vegetables are typically easier to digest, especially for those who have irritated gut linings as they contain high soluble fiber and low insoluble fiber)
and its demise when in excess (for example, obesity and/or insulin resistance as a result of excess consumption of refined sugars).
Chinese medicine is very based on cycles in nature, and associates different seasons with each organ system. They break down the year into 5 seasons, not 4, separating summer from the late summer (aka Indian Summer) that usually occurs during the September and October months. This late summer season is Spleen time (and, arguably, the best season here in San Francisco).
Often times the foods produced during a given season, are ones that are good for our bodies given the nature of the climate outside. Late summer is a good time to eat the naturally sweet foods that are available, such as berries, apples, pears and carrots. To support a healthy digestion, Chinese medicine recommends eating with others, eating slowly and in moderation, and taking time to really chew your food.
If you are having any digestion concerns, acupuncture can help ease discomfort and reduce inflammation. There are also many Chinese medicinal herbs that can be soothing. Here at Tiny Needles we carry a very popular TCM formula - brazenly named Curing Pills - for addressing all manner of digestive distress from stomach pain, to bloating, to nausea, to loose stools, and even hangovers. It is a good one to keep in the just-in-case drawer at home. Feel free to ask us about it the next time you are in.
Chinese Medicine suggests that we should never drink cold water. In a previous post about how Chinese medicine looks at the common cold, I discussed briefly how cultural differences can influence our thinking around everyday things. The ideal temperature for drinking water is another example of this.
In another prior post about why we look at tongues in Chinese Medicine, we talked about how each person has their own internal "weather system". Accordingly, TCM believes that what we take in via food and drink can have an effect on this weather system.
Chinese medicine refers to our metabolism as our ¨digestive fire¨. If we drink ice water, the body then has to work to heat it up to our body´s temperature before it can be absorbed for use, slowing down its ability to do its primary job of breaking down food. Therefore, drinking room temperature or warm water, helps keep our digestive fires strong.
A person´s constitution as well as seasonality can also come into play. Although TCM will always recommend room temperature or warm over cold water, it would make more of a difference for a person who has a tendency towards running cold, a weak digestive system and during the winter months, than for a person who has robust digestion, always runs hot and is battling the warm sun of mid-summer.
Before studying Chinese Medicine I didn't really pay much attention to the temperature of the water I was drinking. Here in the United States, we operate under the assumption that water should be served chilled or with lots of ice.
On a personal note, and speaking as someone who often runs cold and lives in the typically cool and damp climate of San Francisco, it now strikes me as odd to walk into a restaurant on a cold and rainy day and still have an ice cold glass of water plunked down in front of me. The point of this post is not to suggest that ice water is wrong, but to offer up an alternative perspective as food for thought and invite you to explore if changing the temperature of the water you drink can improve the way you feel.
I grew up eating this soup throughout the cold winters in New Zealand. My mother had a pot on the stove the entire time. swearing that if we ate it regularly we would never catch cold. I would even take it to school in a thermos (sometimes having to run the gauntlet of other kids teasing me for smelling funny) and rarely caught cold while all those other kids were sniffling and sneezing all around me. Garlic has magical anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties due to it's chemical constituent allicin. Numerous studies have also shown allicin to increase your T Cell count. T Cells are our best immune system building blocks and essential in the fight against bacterial and viral infections.
Baking the Garlic Cloves makes the allicin more potent and upping the infection fighting properties. Next time you turn on the oven through in lots of garlic to have on hand and start feeling better.
Total Prep Time : 1 hour
Cook Time : 30 minutes
Preheat oven to 350F.
In a small glass baking dish add the unpeeled garlic cloves with the olive oil and sea salt to taste.
Cover the dish with foil and bake for about 45 minutes until the garlic becomes brown in color and tender to touch. Set aside and cool.
Squeeze the garlic between your fingertips to release the cloves and put aside
In a heavy saucepan melt the butter over a medium heat (do not brown) and add ginger, garlic, onions, thyme and cayenne pepper.
Cook until the garlic and onions become translucent (approx 6 minutes) then add the baked garlic.
Add the broth, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and puree with blender until it is smooth. Transfer back to the saucepan and add coconut milk and heat through.
Serve with salt and pepper, lemon wedges and fresh herbs.
Can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.
Sweet Potato "Hummus"
Fall is here and there is no better time to highlight the wonder vegetable that is sweet potato.
In my previous post I talked about great foods to eat during the second half of your cycle and the mighty sweet potato was mentioned there.
I love this recipe because it combines the sweet grounding properties of sweet potato with the amazing benefits of sesame seeds in the form of Tahini. Sesame seeds are naturally anti-inflammatory and rich in iron, which your body needs once you enter the beginning of your period. It's also super easy and you can trick yourself into thinking you're having something naughty when in actual fact you are eating nothing but good. The sweet potato replaces the traditional chick peas which can create inflammation and therefore increase your pain during your period.
Spread on whole grain toast or eat dolloped over roasted vegetables like Broccoli and Cauliflower. Deelish!
Total Prep Time: 40 Minutes
Cook Time: 30 Minutes
1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Wash, peel and cube sweet potato and peppers. Season with paprika, chili powder, a little olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Roast until soft, about 30 minutes.
2. Allow vegetables to cool for 10 minutes. Once cooled, add to a food processor or strong blender with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and additional seasonings to taste.
3. Puree until smooth. Tip: Add small amounts of water to thin out hummus, if necessary.
Keeps for about 4-5 days in the fridge.
Carrot and Ginger Soup
This soup is great use of autumnal root vegetables - but this doesn't only work in the fall, it's a great summer soup as well as the ginger gives it a lovely zing. Ginger has long been used as a natural treatment for colds and the flu and also has wonderful anti-inflammatory properties. Many people also find ginger to be helpful in the case of stomach upset and it is used in Chinese medicine for the treatment of menstrual cramps.
Prep Time: 5-10 minutes
Cooking Time: 25-30 minutes
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or equivalent in refined coconut oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
4 inches of fresh ginger - finely grated and peeled
4 cloves of garlic - minced
1 1/4 pounds medium carrots, peeled, chopped (about 3 cups)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
3 cups (or more) chicken stock or canned low-salt broth (chicken is best but vegetable stock can be substituted)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Green onions, sea salt and pepper to serve.
Melt butter or coconut oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until beginning to soften . Add ginger and garlic and sauté an additional 2 minutes. Add chopped carrots and lemon peel and fry until the veggies are just starting to brown and there is some lovely sticky stuff on the bottom of the pot.
Add 3 cups stock, scraping the sticky bits up and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.
Puree soup in batches in blender or use an immersion/stick blender. Mix in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper.
Bring soup to simmer, thinning with more stock, if desired. Ladle into bowls. Top each with green onion and black pepper.
The Ginger flavor is fuller the next day so this a great soup to make the day ahead. Be sure to cover and keep in fridge.
Sweet Sensation Soup
This is one of my absolute favorite comfort soups and I thought I would share it after Tanja's blog post on Digestion in TCM. Parsnip, Cabbage, Onion and Carrots are all vegetables that give our bodies the sweet it craves. They soothe the internal organs and energize the mind. Add sweet potato to the other vegetables and you get an energetically grounding mix that counteracts the spaciness that can sometime occur after eating sweet things. Eating this sweet soup can help minimize your cravings for other, less healthy, sweets. It balances your blood sugar levels and helps break down animal products.
Oh, and it's bloody delicious!
Cooking time: 30 minutes
4 Parsnips - chopped into equal sized chunks
2 Carrots - chopped into equal sized chunks
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
6 cloves of garlic - peeled
2 medium sized sweet potatoes - chopped
1 large onion - chopped into equal sized chunks
2 cups of chopped cabbage
6 stalks of thyme
6 cups of vegetable stock (I make my own using stalks from organic chard, kale and broccoli, some herbs and leek tops boiled for about an hour in some lightly salted water)
2 tablespoons of your favorite curry powder
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
Chopped cilantro/coriander leaves and roasted pumpkin seeds to serve
Toss parsnips and carrots in olive oil and place into a moderate oven and roast until golden brown and soft (approx 20-25 minutes)
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, place potatoes, garlic, onion, cabbage and thyme into the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Boil until sweet potatoes are soft.
Remove stalks of Thyme.
Add the parsnip and carrot to the mix with curry powder. Stir through.
Using a stick/immersion blender blend until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with some chopped cilantro/coriander leaves, roasted pumpkin seeds and a drizzle of olive oil.
Kimchi - Fermented Wonderfulness
Fermented foods are lacking in the modern day American diet. Cabbage season is in full swing so now's the time to make yourself some delicious Kimchi. Did you know that Koreans eat so much of this super-spicy condiment (40 pounds of it per person each year) that natives say "kimchi" instead of "cheese" when getting their pictures taken?
Total Prep Time : 1 hour
Cook Time : 0 minutes
Ingredients for Day One:
One large Head of cabbage
6 tablespoons of salt
Ingredients for Day 2:
4 scallions, including tops
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons Sriracha (or substitute another garlic chili sauce)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup sliced or grated apple (I love Fuji for their wonderful tart sweetness but any kind will do)
1 tablespoon salt
Cut cabbage into 1-inch square pieces, or a large shred like thick coleslaw (I find this cut makes it easier and more versatile once it's done).
Place in a bowl, and sprinkle with salt.
Add water to cover, and mix well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand in a cool place overnight.
Drain the cabbage and rinse quickly under cold running water.
Cut the scallions into 1-inch lengths, then cut lengthwise into thin slices. In a bowl, combine the scallions with the rinsed cabbage, garlic, chili sauce, ginger, sugar, apples, salt and enough water to cover.
Mix well, and place in a quart jar with a lid. Close the jar, and let stand for a few days in a cool place.
Taste mixture every day, and when it has a good balance of flavor and acidity, place in the refrigerator (this usually takes four to five days depending on the warmth and humidity in your kitchen)
The kimchee will keep for two weeks.
Make a Kimchi Fried Rice, Serve with Eggs for Breakfast or make a delicious kimchi bibimbap
Birds are flying South, leaves are changing color, squirrels are gathering last-minute seeds, and bears are starting to yawn…fall is here! This is the time of year when nature begins to dramatically slow down, conserve energy and rest. Taking a page from nature’s book, it is an important time of year for us to pump the brakes and take care of ourselves, too. Here are some ways we can slow down and embrace this beautiful time of the year.
~Eat warm, nourishing, seasonal foods~
As the temperatures begin to dip, it is important for us to eat meals that keep us warm and energized. Lucky for us, this time of year has exceptionally great seasonal foods that do just that! Incorporate seasonal foods such as squashes, root vegetables, and vegetables from the brassica family such as broccoli or brussel sprouts into your meals. Spice up your meals by adding warming herbs such as garlic, cayenne or cinnamon. Soups are easy to make and can be packed with good-for-you veggies to keep you warm, healthy and happy throughout fall and winter. Starting your day with a warm meal such as oatmeal is also important during this time of year to give you the energy and warmth you need to take on the cold day ahead of you.
Though it may be chilly, this is a beautiful time of year to get outside and enjoy the changing of the seasons. If you have the proper layers you can take a daily stroll in your neighborhood or nearby park to watch the seasons change day to day. Walking in the fall and winter can be beautiful and give perspective to the cycles of life that surround us daily but often go unnoticed. There is beauty to be seen for those who take the time to look; the trees begin to expose their intricate fractal branches to us, the grass turns gold, the shadows stretch out and leaves begin their beautiful dance with the wind. Giving yourself time to enjoy the seasonal change in nature can reconnect you to your own changes during this time.
~Keep your body warm~
Beyond just eating to stay warm, we can also dress properly for the weather. Living in the Bay Area (San Francisco in particular), we all know how important it is to bring layers and just how quickly the weather can change! If your throat feels a little sore, be sure to keep it warm and protected with a scarf or a turtleneck. If you get cold easily, bring your hat, scarf, gloves and extra jacket along with you throughout the fall and winter. Make sure you have proper footwear for the weather--no one wants cold soggy feet on a rainy day! Keeping our core warm as well will help our bodies maintain balance and decreases the likelihood that we will get sick.
Take note from the nature that surrounds us and slow down. Give yourself the proper time to rest and adjust to the changing of daylight and temperature. If you’re feeling tired, allow yourself to go to bed before you are overly tired and try to give yourself a decent night’s sleep or take naps as your day allows. Take care and try not to rush through your day. Though this time of year can be hectic for many--especially as we inch toward the holidays--giving yourself time each day to rest, meditate, sip tea, or engage in any restful activity will immensely help with tackling the stress and fatigue that can come with these approaching months.
WISHING YOU A HAPPY FALL!