It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but today, Thursday August 8, is the beginning of Autumn in the traditional calendar. 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.
As a symbol of the growing Yin time of the year, the seventh lunar month (i.e., August), is the Ghost month 鬼月 in Chinese lore (ghosts being Yin entities). This year the seventh lunar month started exactly on August 1st, and in the traditional Daoist calendar this is the day that Yama, the King of Hell, opens the gates of hell to allow all the spirits of the deceased to wander the earth – basically a one-month vacation for ghosts. This happens until the gates are once again closed at the end of the lunar month. The culmination of the month is the 15th lunar day (this year August 15), which is known as Zhong Yuan Jie (中元節).
Throughout this month there are many taboos that Chinese culture observes. These include not allowing the elderly, the very young or generally physically weak people to do various activities outside at night. This is the time of day when ghosts are most active! Qigong should also not be practiced outside late at night during this time. Whether or not we believe that this month is the time of ghosts, what this custom perhaps does is serve as a reminder of how the natural balance of Yin and Yang is shifting in a very real way this time of year.
Now back to the Seasonal Node… While the weather is beginning to shift to Yin, August can still be damp and humid. This week here in Northern NJ that is certainly the case, for as I write this torrential rains have been falling on and off. 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, increase the amount of seasonal vegetables, and eat 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).
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
1. Grind rice, Euryale seed, and Discorea to a powder. Mix the three together with sugar and blend well so evenly mixed
2. In a pan, add 50 – 100g of blended powder to cold water, enough to make a thick soupy consistency
3. Put over medium flame and warm for several minutes, stirring occasionally
4. 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.
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 Soil/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, the very weather pattern happening this week in New Jersey. 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.
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… One of the formulas specifically for Autumn is called Conserve the Spleen Pill (攝脾丸). It treats damage to the Spleen that happens during the Autumn months that leads to abdominal distension and diarrhea. The ingredients listed are Mu Xiang, He Zi, Hou Po (ginger fried), Wu Bei Zi (slightly toasted), and Bai Zhu (earth fried). These ingredients would be ground to a powder and made into pills the size of a Tung Tree seed, and 10 pills would be a daily dose.
I hope everyone is having a great end of Summer and start of Autumn!