April Crowell Dipl. ABT (NCCAOM), AOBTA CI & CP, CHN
In Chinese medicine, each of the 5 Seasons has its own energetic dynamics and movement of Qi (energy). Autumn’s arrival shifts the Qi that had been expanding outward (Yang) in the Summer to begin to shift inward (Yin). We glide through Late Summer at the equinox and then slide into Autumn–the season of Yin within Yang.
Autumn is the time of harvest and a time to start storing to prepare for Winter’s cold. After shedding their leaves or ripened fruits and seeds, plants die back or their energy retreats to their roots. Appropriately, Autumn’s abundant food is perfectly suited to help our body’s Qi move inward. This allows our bodies to have greater energy to fend off common ailments, a chance to replenish and provide the opportunity to embrace the season’s delights.
A little about the organs and climate of Autumn
The 5 Elements of Chinese medicine correlates Autumn with the Lungs and Colon. Hopefully, we enter each season in health and can use the season to strengthen and build the corresponding organs and body overall. However, weakness in the organs that correspond with the season may become more pronounced during their season. In such cases, the Chinese medicine practitioner would work to strengthen the system before the start of the season. Certainly, any organ can be affected in any season–this principle simply helps practitioners recognize patterns that commonly appear in the season.
Each season has numerous correspondences by which we can identify their nature. Autumn corresponds to the Metal element and its organs the the Lungs and Colon. The Lungs are the Yin organ of autumn Called the “delicate organs” as they are easily affected by exterior pathogens, especially wind, cold and dampness. They govern Qi and respiration and the creation of Wei Qi (immunity). Their descending function (activated with inhalation) moves Qi downward in the body and their dispersing (activated with exhalation) functions moves the Qi, Blood and fluids outward to the extremities. Disharmonies of Lungs appear as allergies, common colds, bronchitis, asthma, weak immunity, and overall lack of vitality and circulation. The emotion that corresponds to Autumn, grief, affects the Lungs, causing the Qi in the chest to dissipate, leaving the person depleted and struggling for breath.
The Yang organ of autumn, the Colon is considered the lowest most organ in the body. Like the Lungs, it is easily affected by damp or dry conditions. Disharmonies in the Colon can appear as diarrhea, mucus in the stools, IBS, Crohn’s and constipation. It is common for Yin/Yang organ pairs to suffer together. In the case of the Lung and Colon these often appearing as “above and below” phenomenons. Meaning if the child has a runny nose, they may also have loose stools or mucus in their stools. And dry sinus issues often accompany constipation.
Dryness arises in the body because of overly dry conditions like central heating and forced air, food imbalances including eating too many dried foods or simply not drinking enough fluids. It can also arise from an interior organ disharmony. Whatever the cause, the Lung and Colon are particularly vulnerable to dryness. Symptoms of dryness appear as thirst, dry throat, lips, nose, itching, dry cough, constipation, dry skin and eczema. In these conditions use a few Yin (moistening foods) like spinach, barley, pear, apple, honey, a little dairy, seaweeds, almonds and tofu to moisten. Dry sinuses? Consider steaming or using a humidifier.
Dampness can also plague the Lung and the Colon which is apparent in pattern of phlegm and mucus in either or both organs. Damp conditions include sinusitis, rhinitis, allergies, cough with phlegm and phlegm or mucus in the stools. To drain dampness use squash, roots, onions, greens, spices and sours to astringe and drain dampness.
Damp and Dry?
Can you have damp and dry in the body at the same time? Yes. It’s actually quite common if imbalance have been allowed to go on for too long. The protocol would then also focus on regulating and moving stagnation–that’s a bit simplified, but you get the idea.
Eating in Autumn
To embrace Autumn choose foods that are ripen during the season. Heavier grains, grass seeds, nuts, roots and squashes will help move the body’s energy inward.
Onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes–if it grows underground it is an autumn food. This is a very broad category, so I can’t list all their vitamins or specific healing properties–but all roots create strength, tonify the center and the digestion. Sweet roots, like sweet potatoes, specifically benefit the Spleen and Stomach. Pungent roots, like onions and turnips, drain dampness and benefit the Lungs & Colon. Eat a wide variety.
Nuts and Seeds
Tight little bundles of nutrition and energy. Nuts and seeds build and strengthen the body. They add on weight and fight deficiencies. Yin building (fluids and fats) and warming nuts are good for thin, weak and frail types. Limit your intake to about a handful a day and use a wide variety. Use fresh nuts, keeping them in the shell until ready to use or freeze hulled nuts to avoid rancid oils that will aggravate allergies and weaken the immune system. Nuts should be avoided if there is excess dampness, phlegm or yeast. Read more about nuts.
Hubbards, pumpkins, delacota, spaghetti, acorn, red kuri, turban….you get the idea. Winter squash have the hard skin and keep well through the autumn, winter, spring and even into early summer if stored right. Squashes correlate to the season of Late Summer and help us bringing balance and core stability during times of transition. Squashes should be a part of everyone’s diet. They are high in vitamins C, B1 and B6, niacin, fiber, potassium, folic acid and carotenes–which protect against cancers. They warm the core, drain damp and tonify Qi and their neutral, sweet flavor lends to either sweet or savory dishes. Baked pumpkin?
Grapes, apples, pears and peaches–oh my. Most of the delicate berries are done–hopefully, you’ve frozen or stored some for later use–but now it’s time to reach for Autumn’s fruits. Here in Idaho, that means the peaches, pears, nectarines, grapes and apples. Pears in particular benefit the Lungs. Apples are beautiful for nourishing yin. Poached pears?
Lentils & legumes
High in fiber, protein, and vitamins lentils and legumes are complex meaning they regulate blood sugar–great for diabetes. They contain properties that counter cancer causing compounds in the intestines, they help relieve depression and fortify the body overall. In CM terms, they recharge Kidneys and adrenal glands while calming the nervous system. They encourage growth and stimulate the brain, spine and bone marrow. They also drain damp excess conditions like edema and obesity.
Warming Spices and Herbs
Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise and ginger are all sweet and warming herbs. Their fragrance helps to stimulate the appetite, increase digestion and create warmth and circulation. Add them to mulled ciders, warm applesauce, baked fruits and desserts or simply sip on a warming cup of tea. Aromatic herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme similarly circulate Qi, warm and stimulate the digestion and lend themselves to savory dishes.
How you cook a food will affect your body and shift the food’s energetics a little. In Autumn, include more foods that are cooked slowly for a longer period of time like soups, stews, slower cooker foods, roasting and baked dishes. These methods create a deeper warmth and supply greater energy. If you suffer excessive dry conditions, use more stewing or poaching–which add in moisture. If you suffer excess dampness use dryer methods, like baking and roasting. Time to dust off the crock pot.
Here’s to a warm, memorable autumn!