Today Friday, April 20 is the beginning of the Grain Rain (Gu Yu 穀雨) seasonal node for 2018. Grain Rain is the last seasonal node of Spring, as early May marks the beginning of Summer in the Chinese calendar. Considering overall this April here in New Jersey was colder than most, it feels odd writing that Summer will begin in just 2 weeks. It was cool enough this year that New Jersey farmers are behind their usual schedule in getting plants in the ground, meaning our farmers’ markets will be a bit empty for the early weeks of their season. However, in the traditional Chinese calendar seasons are tied more to the changes of day length than actual temperature. Believe it or not, in only about 2 months from now the days start getting shorter again – so despite chilly outside get out and enjoy the sunshine!
Grain Rain is the 6th step of the 24 seasonal nodes thus corresponding roughly to the 3rd watch of the day (7-9am). Furthermore it is the time of transition from Spring to Summer correlating to the Earth phase (the Earth phase is the transition between seasons). Thus, Gu Yu is the time of year associated with the Stomach channel. The general movement of Spring is the movement of Liver-Wood, but the Earth phase is also in charge of movement and transformation. Because of this, during Grain Rain we need to ensure that Qi and Blood are moving smoothly. This year this is even more important in that the weather so far has been colder than usual, and cold means stagnation. Watch for signs of Qi stagnation in yourself and in your patients. This is why a good basic recommendations for this time of year is performing regular self-massage to ensure smooth circulation of Qi and Blood in the body.
One of the easiest points to massage for the average person is the collection of points known as the Shi Xuan 十宣穴. These points are located one at the tip of every finger and every toe. The word “Shi” means 10 – there is a point on each finger and toe adding up to 10 total. The word “Xuan” means to spread or diffuse. Since all the channels of the body connect to the fingers and toes, these points together spread or move all the Qi in all the channels of the body, and can be massaged as a general way to prevent and treat stagnation in the channels. To massage simply squeeze and rub the tip of each finger and toe in succession. Repeat throughout the day, but preferably at least once each morning and once each evening.
As the weather does get a bit sunnier and warmer it is important to increase outside activity – consider walking or gardening. However, since Spring is a time of temperature ups and downs, be careful to dress appropriately as dictated by each day. This is the tail end of the cold season, so pay attention to preventing colds, and seek treatment as soon as any cold or allergy symptoms start. Grain Rain is a time when Lung Heat is thought to be a potential problem (over the last week or two many allergy sufferers have been manifesting with Lung Heat signs and symptoms). Consider needling (if you’re an acupuncturist) or massaging (if a patient) Da Zhui DU-14 this seasonal node. Other points include needling or massaging Tung points Chong Zi 22.01 and Chong Xian 22.02.
Getting back to the idea of stagnation, it is vital that during Grain Rain we prevent stagnation in the Stomach (since this is the time of Stomach channel). To this end, the traditional thing to avoid this time of year is overeating or overdrinking. Similarly, this is the time of year to avoid oily and greasy foods. Other foods to avoid are very cooling fruits, such as a lot of citrus.
Start eating lighter and easier to digest items and in-season vegetables such as asparagus. Other foods to emphasize should help boost Qi and Blood, and gently strengthen the Spleen and Stomach (since the Yang of the Spleen/Stomach is still fragile now, especially since Liver-Wood can over-control Earth) – rice or rice congee, Bian Dou, yams, nagaimo (Shan Yao in Chinese), peanuts, and cherries (a slightly warming fruit). If you didn’t know, this is also egg season. Yes… Eggs have a season! Most chickens naturally lay eggs only when day length is about 10 hours or more (commercially grown eggs are available because farmers trick chickens with strong artificial lighting year round). One of my favorite early spring recipes is steamed asparagus with scrambled eggs – delicious and light, and good for you too!
Here’s a traditional Chinese recipe for Grain Rain – Tofu and Spinach Soup:
Tofu and Spinach Soup 菠菜豆腐湯
- One small bunch spinach
- One block fresh organic tofu (about 4-5 oz.)
- 5 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Toasted sesame oil
- Wash spinach thoroughly and remove thick stems
- Drain tofu and cut into small cubes
- Place tofu and spinach in the broth, bring to a boil and simmer just until spinach is cooked through and tofu absorbs the flavor of the broth
- Add some salt and toasted sesame oil to taste, and serve; optionally can add some chopped scallions as garnish
This recipe boosts the blood, nourishes yin, and at the same time is easy to digest and strengthens the Spleen and Stomach. As an alternative a raw egg can be stirred in at the end to make a type of egg drop soup with spinach and tofu.
Another Spring herbal formula
Last blog post I posted a formula from the Zun Sheng Ba Jian (遵生八箋) – the Eight Treatises on Following the Principles of Life. Written by a scholar by the name of Gao Lian at the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the text is an almost encyclopedic collection of all manner of Nourishing Life (養生) recipes, techniques, theories, etc… Here is another seasonal formula for spring from this text.
Xing Xing San (Clear Headed Powder) 惺惺散
Ingredients: Jie Geng 30g, Xi Xin 15g, Ren Shen 15g, Fu Ling 30g, Gua Lou Ren 15g, Bai Zhu (Tu Chao) 30g
Instructions: Grind all ingredients, make into honey pills, like size of pellet (crossbow pellet or Go piece), take down with warm water
This formula was indicated for a sense of heaviness or dullness in the head or eyes, dizziness, heat in the body, headache, lumbar pain, and symptoms looking like exterior patterns (in my opinion, allergy symptoms). The herbs Jie Geng and Xi Xin both treat the upper jiao and the exterior, while Ren Shen, Fu Ling and earth fried Bai Zhu supplement the middle. This addition of Spleen and Stomach supplementing herbs is particularly useful for Grain Rain because of the association with Earth phase that is discussed above. Gua Lou Ren transforms phlegm in the Lung and clears heat, but at the same time moistens, assisting with the treatment of the upper jiao as well as with making sure the bowels move appropriately.
This formula was originally prepared as a honey pill. For those of you who’ve never made honey pills it’s great fun. Our friend Lorraine Wilcox has a class on eLotus where she explains how to make and use them (click here to see that class). However, for modern consumption I would suggest substituting Bai Zhi for the Xi Xin. Bai Zhi treats the exterior, opens the sinuses and is useful for the seasonal allergies we are starting to see now. Xi Xin is mildly toxic, and while I think it is useful in decoction I would not take it as a honey pill. The aristolochic acid in Xi Xin (the nephrotoxin) is poorly water soluble. Thus, when decocted the toxic nature is minimized, yet when consumed as a whole herb it is absorbed at a much higher rate. Finally I would suggest substituting Dang Shen or Xi Yang Shen for the Ren Shen (ginseng). In the early medical literature such as the Shang Han Lun ginseng is seen as a mildly cooling substance, yet most high quality modern red ginseng is prepared in a way to make it warm. Dang Shen or Xi Yang Shen (American ginseng) are either moderate or slightly cooler in temperature, and thus I feel will work better in the formula.