The days are slowly getting longer, and flowers are now in full bloom. As of today, May 6, summer has begun in the traditional Chinese calendar. Thus, this Seaonal Node is simply called “Beginning of Summer” – Li Xia (立夏). At this point the Yang of the natural world is close its fullest, and correspondingly the hexagram that represents the time of year is the Qian Gua (乾卦) – six solid-Yang lines. In only about 1 ½ months the days will start getting shorter again.
Summer is associated with the Fire phase, although the 4th month belongs to the Spleen (the 4th month in the Chinese calendar is May, since February is the first month). This is interesting as in ancient times the Heart was associated with the Earth phase as well as the Fire phase. For example, in the Shuo Wen Jie Zi, the Han Dynasty dictionary that gives the etymology of ancient characters, the definition of Heart is 人心土藏 – “human Heart, the Earth zang-viscera.” The Spleen channel also has a direct connection to the Heart Zang. In the Ling Shu this time of year is Early Summer (孟夏) which corresponds to the hand Shaoyang sinew channel.
To remind everyone, each of the 24 Seasonal Nodes has a traditional set of health guidelines where we should focus on certain things and avoid others. For Beginning of Summer the tradition things we should focus on are preserving a good mood, nourishing the Heart, and thereby entering stillness (保持良好情緒，養心入靜). The things to avoid are allowing Heart fire to become too exuberant and intemperance in food and drink (心火過旺，飲食沒有節制).
As we just mentioned, the Heart is primarily the fire organ. This means that occasionally it is prone to excess heat, sometimes called ‘Heart Fire’. Signs of Heart Fire include insomnia, irritability, dry and hard stool, red eyes, and thirst for cold beverages. One way to avoid excess Heart Fire is to dress appropriately for the warmer weather as it starts to come. Avoid strenuous work in direct midday sun, instead taking advantage of the slightly cooler temperatures in the early morning or later afternoon. Be sure to consume plenty of clear fluids such as water or herbal teas. Mint tea and chrysanthemum tea are both gently cooling to the body, and additionally they help with allergies that are so prevalent right now in northern New Jersey.
Another way to avoid problems of Heart Fire is to maintain a good mood. One of the best prescriptions for stress relief is moderate exercise. Take advantage of the improving weather and go for a short walk in the cool early morning hours. Also consider taking a few moments throughout the day to simply take some quiet deep breaths.
With the new seasonal node come new dietary suggestions. One of the first, as already mentioned, is to avoid intemperance in food and drink. Overeating, especially of very heavy, sweet or greasy foods, places a burden on the Spleen. Overeating these foods, and overconsumption in general, also create internal heat that can worsen Heart Fire.
In terms of traditional flavors, this time of year we should focus on eating slightly more sour, a little more bitter, and light or gently cooling foods. Eating sour foods helps build fluids and blood so as to nourish the Heart, and bitter can drain fire. As the heat in the environment increases it is understandably appropriate to eat more light fresh vegetables and other foods that will gently cool the body. Specific foods to consider this Seasonal Node include bananas, peaches, plums, umeboshi (Japanese salted plums), asparagus, cucumber and corn. Since this time of year is associated with Fire and Heart, red foods are also good to incorporate – think of strawberries, tomatoes and hawthorn berries.
It is appropriate to increase slightly intake of water or herbal teas. Patients who tend towards excess heat can drink chrysanthemum tea. Even though the beginning of Summer means more heat, some patients still may be cold and deficient internally. Since Summer sees increased environmental dampness, these people can drink a very light ginger tea or fennel seed tea, sweetened with a little local honey. Allergy sufferers (right now in New Jersey we are in the middle of a pollen tsunami) can take mint tea with some local honey, as local honey is used as a traditional allergy remedy.
Two traditional Beginning of Summer recipes are Celery Congee (芹菜粥) and Suan Zao Ren Congee (酸棗仁粥). For Celery Congee take several stalks of celery, remove the leaves, clean and cut into small pieces. Take an appropriate amount of white rice and cook in water to make a porridge (i.e., congee), and then add celery for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. Add salt and pepper to taste. This recipe clears heat and extinguishes fire, reduces blood pressure, and eliminates vexation. However, it should be avoided by those with Spleen-Stomach vacuity cold patterns. Celery Congee can be taken daily in the morning as a warm breakfast. This recipe originally comes from the Ben Cao Gang Mu.
For the second recipe, Suan Zao Ren Congee, use about 50g of Suan Zao Ren (酸棗仁) to about 100g of white rice. Add an appropriate amount of water and boil until you have congee. At the end, add a small amount of sugar or honey to taste. This recipe can be taken as an evening snack as it can treat Heart vacuity and vexation to help sleep.
I hope you are all enjoying the gradually improving weather. Happy Summer!