I’m just getting back from a great two weeks in China with my Shifu, Wang Fengming, as because I’ve been traveling with poor internet connections I’m just now getting to write about the current seasonal node. One interesting part of my travel was the train I took back from Huang Shan to Beijing. I sat next to a lovely older Chinese woman who, when she realized I spoke Chinese, was rather chatty. As she was from Fujian, her Putonghua (standard Chinese) was about as good as mine, so we were on pretty even footing there. We talked a lot about Chinese culture and health, which is a topic a lot of Chinese really like to talk about. The reason I bring this up is because she had a personal Seasonal Node practice she was happy to tell me about. It turns out when her son was younger he had some sort of chronic health problem (I think it might have been asthma). She took him to see a famous old Chinese doctor (老中醫), a term they use to describe a physician with many years of experience, who in addition to treating her child gave her a Seasonal Node regimen to follow.
What the old doctor told her to do was to take a chicken, and stew it with ginseng to make a soup. This would be eaten on the beginning day of every Seasonal Node without fail, not being off by even one day. The recipe can be varied based on the characteristic of the person. For example, some people might not tolerate red ginseng and can substitute American ginseng. Blood vacuity patients can use Dang Gui instead. If people are particularly healthy already then just plain chicken soup is fine. But the important thing is without fail to do this the first day of each Node, for a minimum of three years (this is similar to the San Fu moxa being done over three years – a therapy the Chinese woman was also familiar with). She said she had followed this regimen now for several decades and hasn’t had a cold or other respiratory tract infection since she started. I thought this was a great tip to pass on to everyone.
Now, on to the current Seasonal Node… In the traditional Chinese calendar August is the beginning of Autumn, and this year Monday, August 7th, 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 will be pleasantly warm during the day, but at night the temperatures are consistently dropping into the 60s. When I got to Newark airport early this morning it was only 65 degrees outside, and where I live was in the upper 50s. After ‘Cool Winds Arrive’, the next two of the 5-day Material Manifestations also refer to the gradual shift to Autumn: White Dew Descends (Bai Lu Jiang 白露降), and Cold Season (i.e., Autumn) Crickets Sing (Han Chan Ming 寒蟬鳴).
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. In terms of Tung’s acupuncture we can needle the Zu San Tong (足三通) Dao Ma group, consisting of Tong Guan 88.01, Tong Shan 88.02 and Tong Tian 88.03. These points are the main Dao Ma group for Heart, but really they function like Pericardium channel points, which is why they are indicated for Spleen and Stomach problems. Furthermore in terms of Five Phase theory, supplementing Heart will strengthen Spleen because of the engendering cycle relationship between Fire and Earth.
Autumn is the season associated with the Lungs, and thus even though we should 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 recommendation however should be based on individual patient characteristics. For example, if patients have Spleen vacuity with dampness they should avoid overly sour foods.
In August 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)
This congee strengthens the Spleen, stops diarrhea. However it is contraindicated for patients with diarrhea due to infections, or with damp heat type diarrhea.
By the way, these Seasonal Node descriptions are going to be published this year in Qi Journal, one article for each of the next four issues. I’ve been reading Qi Journal for years and I think it’s a great magazine (mostly for the general public – not geared only to professional Chinese medicine practitioners). If you get a chance, go subscribe. They’ve been around for a long time and I write articles for them periodically. Otherwise I hope everyone is having a great early Autumn!