I’ve been a bit behind these last few weeks in my blog posts, meaning I missed the last seasonal node - Bearded Grain (Mang Zhong 芒種). Bearded Grain started this year on June 6th. The name, ‘Bearded Grain,’ is a reference to crops. The word Mang (芒) refers to the maturing crops, especially the winter wheat, which is harvested about this time of year. The word Zhong (種) is a reference then to the new rice crops that are planted at this time. This gives us the image of one thing coming to maturity (as in the growing Yang of the season) so that it can eventually perish (i.e., be harvested), then allowing a new crop to be started. The image of transfer and renewal is characteristic of the transition period that this time of year is.
This time of year damp and heat evils in the environment start to predominate, and even now as I’m writing this blog post this morning there is an incredible downpour of rain – I nearly needed a boat to get into the clinic today! This year here in New Jersey it has certainly been damp. In Chinese medicine the Spleen is susceptible to dampness, the disease evil associated with the Soil (i.e., Earth) phase. The Spleen governs the flesh and the four limbs. Damp evils encumber the flesh of the four limbs making them feel heavy and weary, leading our body feeling fatigued and without strength. Napping is a way to recuperate vitality, especially when done during the most Yang/hot time of day. Napping traditionally allowed people a rest from the summer heat and dampness, and offered a way to support the Latter Heaven (hou tian 後天) of the Spleen.
But moving on from Bearded Grain, today is a tremendously important day in the course of the yearly cycle. Tomorrow the days will slowly start getting shorter, heralding the cosmic transformation from Yang to Yin that has just been triggered… Today is the Summer Solstice (Xia Zhi 夏至).
In addition to being one very important day, the Summer Solstice is also the name of the current seasonal node. This node marks the apex of Yang in the natural world as well as the rebirth of Yin that will eventually culminate with the longest night on the Winter Solstice in December. In terms of the time of day, Summer Solstice corresponds to high noon, and is the time of the Heart channel. When we break down Summer Solstice into the smaller five-day periods of time, it includes the time periods know as Deer Shed Antlers (Lu Jiao Jie 鹿角解), Cicadas Begin Singing (Tiao Shi Ming 蜩始鳴), and Pinellia Grows (Ban Xia Sheng 半夏生). Notice that this time is when Ban Xia is growing, the king of drying damp and getting rid of phlegm turbidity (a Yang herb to treat a Yin pathology). Likewise, in China this is the time of year to harvest Aconite (fu zi 附子) to enhance its Yang nature.
In Yijing (I Ching) symbolism, this time period is represented by hexagram 44, made up of Qian-Heaven trigram (3 solid yang lines) over Xun-Wind trigram (1 broken yin line under 2 solid yang lines). Thus, the complete hexagram is 5 solid Yang lines over one broken Yin line at the bottom – Yin is being birthed once again. One of the translations for the name of Hexagram 44 is “The Queen,” also showing that this time of year begins the transition towards returning inward to the hidden, the Yin, the Blood, and the Dark Mother that is referred to in the first chapter of the Dao De Jing.
Practically speaking, although this is a time of transition to Yin, this is still a hot and damp season. The first health recommendation for Summer Solstice is to focus on clearing summerheat and draining dampness. For example, various skin problems due to external contraction of summerheat damp are commonly seen now. It is also common to see other symptoms of summerheat strike such as malaise, fatigue, low-grade fever or heat effusion, low-grade headache, nausea, etc… There are several ways we can help ourselves as well as our patients when they present with summerheat damp symptoms. First, is to regulate diet, which we will discuss more below. We can also counsel basic lifestyle recommendations, such as dressing appropriately to the weather (such as wearing light clothes made of natural materials that breathe well), staying in shade in the midday when temperatures are highest, and drinking plenty of light and clear fluids. This is especially important for our older patients, since as we age we lose the normal ability to adapt to more extremes in temperature. Furthermore, seniors are more likely to be on prescription medications or may have chronic medical problems that inhibit perspiration or make extremes of temperature less tolerable. Some medications also increase sensitivity to sun raising risk of sunburns (examples include tetracyclines, quinolones such as Cipro, Celebrex, and some chemotherapeutic agents).
In terms of therapy, Dr. Zhong Yong Xiang of Taiwan suggests bleeding the jing well points on all the fingers for more severe cases of summerheat strike. This bloodletting method is described in my book Pricking the Vessels. We can also consider performing Gua Sha on the back to help move stagnant summerheat damp in the exterior muscle layer.
The next recommended “to do” during Summer Solstice is Shui Hao Zi Wu Jiao 睡好子午交. This means sleep well during both the Zi and Wu hours. Certainly, sleeping well is something we should be doing all year long. Zi and Wu refer to the time periods of midday and midnight, with Zi being the 11pm – 1am hour, and Wu being the 11am – 1pm hour (to be adjusted for standard time in locations that observe daylight savings time). In general it is important to get into bed before the Zi hour. Remember, the Zi hour is the time of transition from Yin to Yang, representative of the Winter Solstice. After this time period our bodies are already in a state of Yang expansion, the movement contrary to good sleep. Getting to bed and sleeping through this hour ensures that we really rest, that we really go into the state of storage that replenishes our vital substances.
The Wu hour is also a time of transition, and like the Summer Solstice, represents the change from Yang to Yin. The traditional recommendation is to take a short nap during this time to harmonize the body with this movement of Yang to Yin. That said, the recommendation is just a short nap of maybe only 30 minutes time (this is just the beginning of Yin after all). After that, don’t linger. Get up and back to normal activity.
Diet for Summer Solstice
As already mentioned, Summer Solstice is the time of transition from Yang to Yin in the natural world. That said, Summer Solstice is still a time of damp and heat in many places. Therefore, the basic strategy of clearing heat and draining dampness can help guide us in our diet strategy. It is important to keep in mind that during summer over-sweating and prolonged exposure to heat can deplete the Qi and fluids of the body. So, once we are clear of heat and damp, if there is vacuity we can focus on supplementation. However, since this is a hot time of year, cool supplementation is best.
In summary we can generalize this is the time to eat foods that clear heat (especially summerheat), drain dampness, nourish the Qi and boost fluids. Examples include cucumber, winter melon, luffa, tomato, honeydew melon, star fruit, peach, plumb, and mung beans. This is also a good time to eat bitter melon (ku gua 苦瓜). When I lived in Okinawa as a graduate student, bitter melon was a basic staple of food since Okinawa is a very hot and damp climate.
Here is one recipe that is appropriate to the season that includes mung beans…
Licorice and Mung Bean Congee (Gan Cao Lü Dou Zhou 甘草綠豆粥)
Mung Beans (lü dou 綠豆) – 50g
Chinese licorice root (gan cao 甘草) – 50g
Rock sugar to taste
Rinse the rice and mung beans, wrap gan cao in teabag to make removing easier (optional)
Place gan cao in about 1750 ml (about 7 cups) of water, bring to a boil and simmer until water is a yellow color
Add in mung beans, bring to boil again and then simmer on low for about 40 minutes until beans soften
Add in rice and continue cooking for about 30 minutes until the rice starts to beak apart and mixture is the consistency of congee
Remove from heat, add in rock sugar to taste (optional)
This recipe aromatically opens the Stomach, strengthens the Spleen and transforms damp, and clears heat and disinhibits damp. It should be used with caution in patients with Spleen and Stomach vacuity cold, or patients with chronic diarrhea.
Here’s 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 a seasonal formula for summer from this text.
Cardamom Powder 豆蔻散
Cao Dou Kou 草豆蔻 120g (toast until yellow together with 120g of fresh ginger, then remove the peel for use)
Mai Ya 麥芽 300g (dry fry until yellow)
Shen Qu 神曲 120g (dry fry until yellow)
Zhi Gan Cao 炙甘草 120g
Pao Jiang 炮薑 30g
Grind all ingredients to a fine powder. Take a small amount daily with water or tea. During summer as heat and dampness increases, occasionally this will negatively affect people’s digestive function and appetite. This formula opens the Stomach, increases appetite, treats abdominal distension and is particularly useful if weather is cooler or damper than usual.
I hope everyone is staying cool and dry. For those who would like to read more about Summer seasonal recommendations in general, please click here.
I also have a more comprehensive course on acupuncture and the seasons, including how to use diet, acupuncture (even Tung’s acupuncture) and other lifestyle recommendations to harmonize with all the seasonal nodes. For more information on that class, click here.
I hope everyone is having a great Summer and staying healthy!