In the traditional Chinese calendar August is the beginning of Autumn, and this year Saturday, August 8th, marked the beginning of the new season. Although in the western world Autumn is a summer month, the Chinese calendar is concerned with the relative balance of Yin and Yang in the natural environment, which is closely tied to day length. Summer Solstice in June was the longest day of the year. By now the days are getting gradually shorter, and we are only 6 weeks away from the Autumnal Equinox, a day of balanced light and dark. Even though August weather can still be hot we are in the time of Yin and contraction in the natural environment.
The first five days of this seasonal node are called Liang Feng Zhi (涼風至) – Cool Winds Arrival. There is a Chinese saying that goes, “in the morning, once Autumn has arrived, in the evening the weather is cool and dry” (早上立了秋，晚上涼颼颼). The weather here in New Jersey this week has been pleasantly warm during the day, but at night the temperatures are consistently dropping into the 60s.
While the weather is beginning to shift, August can still be damp and humid. In Chinese medicine, weakness in the Spleen and Stomach leads to damp accumulation. In early Autumn we therefore should avoid dampness and simultaneously strengthen the digestive organs. One way to accomplish this is to eat light and clear foods, increasing the amount of seasonal vegetables and eating a little less meat. Vegetables can be consumed lightly steamed or stir-fried, or in the case of light salad greens, raw. In general avoid overly hot, spicy foods. Congees are appropriate to help strengthen the digestive organs and one traditional congee recipe for this seasonal node is Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou 芡實山藥粥; see below). In addition to dietary recommendations we can perform acupressure on supplementing points such as Zu San Li (ST-36). If patients tend to cold and vacuous patterns of the Spleen and Stomach, gentle direct thread moxa at Zu San Li is also applicable.
Autumn is the season associated with the Lungs. As such, even though we want to avoid very spicy foods, mildly acrid foods are good this time of year for Lung function. These foods include ginger, scallion, leek, and black pepper. Mildly sweet and slightly sour fruits also help moisten and benefit the Lungs, including the now in-season stone fruits (i.e., plums and peaches).
This season we need to be cautious of sudden return of very hot and humid weather. In Chinese this is called “The Old Tiger of Autumn” (Qiu Lao Hu 秋老虎), and is similar to what in the west we would call an Indian Summer. When the old tiger rears its head again Summerheat pathogens are a risk – symptoms of this include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, poor appetite, stuffy chest, heavy or fatigued limbs, and possibly diarrhea. If intense hot and damp weather returns, focus the diet on foods that are cooling and moistening. Foods to consider adding on a daily basis include all sorts of sprouts (e.g., mung bean or alfalfa), cucumbers, muskmelon, winter melon, tomato, and loofah. Mung beans are very cooling, and in hot weather they can be made into a sweet dessert soup. For more serious conditions consider giving patients formulas such as Huo Xiang Zheng Qi San.
Euryale Seed and Discorea Congee (Qian Shi Shan Yao Zhou) 芡實山藥粥
- 1 cup rice (use glutinous rice if available)
- 200g Euryale seed (Qian Shi )
- 200g Discorea (Shan Yao )
- 200 g sugar
- Grind rice, Euryale seed, and Discorea to a powder. Mix the three together with sugar and blend well so evenly mixed
- In a pan, add 50 – 100g of blended powder to cold water, enough to make a thick soupy consistency
- Put over medium flame and warm for several minutes, stirring occasionally
- Enjoy in the morning on an empty stomach (consume warm)
Functions: Strengthens the Spleen, stops diarrhea
Contraindications: Diarrhea due to infections, damp heat type diarrhea