Yesterday, Sunday August 23rd was the start of Chu Shu 處暑, ‘End of Heat’, the second seasonal node of Autumn in the Chinese calendar. The change from August to September is the transition to the end of warmer weather. While the days here in northern New Jersey are still warm, evening temperatures are back down in the 60s and 70s.
Autumn is the time of year when Yin grows. All things are moving towards the hibernation phase and many plants are being readied for harvest. The names of the smaller 5-day periods of this seasonal node are quite interesting and illustrative of what Autumn represents. The first is called Ying Nai Ji Niao 鷹乃祭鳥, Hawks Start to Sacrifice Birds. This time of year starts the slow march towards the death phase of nature, and many plants and animals with short life spans won’t make it to next Spring. The image of hawks harvesting or killing smaller birds then fits perfectly with this image. The next two 5-day time periods are Tian Di Shi Su 天地始肅， Heaven and Earth Become Austere, and He Nai Deng 禾乃登, Rice Plants Are Harvested and Presented as Offering. Just as this is the time of year for bringing things to harvest, it is also the time for us to start becoming quieter and more introspective, for us to take stock of what, out of the myriad things in our lives, is really important (i.e., we become austere like heaven and earth).
In more tangible respects there are things to keep in mind to maintain health this time of year. The first traditional recommendation for Chu Shu is Ben Franklin’s favorite – ‘early to bed, early to rise’ (zao shui zao qi 早睡早起). When Yin predominates in the natural environment we can mimic that in our own body by getting more sleep. In the summer it is permissible to stay up later and still wake up early. In the Yang time of year less sleep is just fine. However, now that Autumn (a Yin season) is upon us, we need to get a little more rest. My general recommendation to patients is to get into bed a bit earlier, preferably before 11pm or midnight. Here’s a little quiz for other Chinese medicine providers – why is it important to get to bed before this hour (hint – it isn’t because of the Liver hour just afterwards)?
The weather pattern associated with Autumn is dryness. Another caution during Autumn is becoming too dry. One way we do this is through diet, and now is the time to focus on shao xin, zeng suan 少辛增酸 – ‘less spicy, more sour’. Spicy flavors have a mild drying quality as well as a sweat promoting quality, both of which dry the body. To the contrary, sour foods are gently moistening and hold in sweat. Increasing the amount of foods such as vinegar, pickled vegetables, and fruits such as plums is appropriate to the season. Other moistening foods include milk, soymilk, and fruit juices (especially apple or pear).
One traditional recipe for this season is Pear and White Wood Ear Soup. This dish is just simply delicious, and it is effective for supplementing the Lungs, nourishing fluids, and moistening dryness (without being so cloying as to create dampness).
Pear and White Wood Ear Soup 雪梨銀耳湯
- 1 large Asian pear 雪梨
- 2 dried white wood ear mushrooms 銀耳
- 1 small fresh edible lily bulb 百合
- About ½ cup white or rock sugar
- Soak wood ear for about 30 minutes, until softened
- Rip wood ears into bite sized pieces, peel and cut pear into medium bite sized chunks, and separate out lily bulb into individual corms
- In a pot, put about 6 cups of water together with all ingredients; bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes to 2 hours on a very low heat
For those who like wood ears crisper, go for the shorter simmer time. For those who like things softer and more gelatinous, cook longer. My suggestion is to take small tastes along the way. This soup can be served warm or chilled (depending on preference and outside temperature). An alternate recipe can include Gou Qi Zi 枸杞子 (i.e., Goji berries) if patients have Liver, Kidney or Blood insufficiency.