Yesterday, September 8, was the start of the name of the White Dew (Bai Lu 白露) Seasonal Node. We are now well into Autumn in the Chinese calendar, and the midpoint of Autumn, the equinox, is only about 2 weeks away. Autumn is one of the two Yin seasons (along with Winter), and in Five Phase theory it is associated with the Metal, the Lungs, and the direction West. The name White Dew is a direct reference to Five Phase association of Autumn, as white is the Metal Phase color.
According to the Su Wen, the movement of Autumn is the movement of harvest (收). All of nature is now in the stage of slowly winding down; for example it was only in the last few days I’ve been noticing that the mornings are not quite as bright when I’m waking up, and the sun is noticeably setting earlier. The names of the three smaller material manifestations of White Dew reflect harvesting of food for the Winter to come, and the return of birds in their migratory patterns: Hongyan lai 鴻雁來 (Swan Geese Pass Through), Xuanniao gui 玄鳥歸 (Swallows Go Back), Qunniao yangxiu 群鳥養羞 (Flocks of Birds Stockpile Morsels).
Even though we are in Autumn (a Yin time of year) it is clear that Yin and Yang are engaged in a closely intertwined dance. During White Dew, the days can still be quite warm. However, evenings are starting to dip in temperature. Therefore, one of the traditional prohibitions this time of year is wearing clothes that are too light or too exposing of the body. During the early morning hours or in the evening be sure to wear clothing that affords protection against the gradually cooling temperatures. In some places the weather continues to be fairly warm and thus slightly out of sync with this Seasonal Node. In those places guard against rapid temperature fluctuations as they may trigger colds or other upper respiratory problems.
Another caution this time of year is overconsumption of cold foods. Eating cold foods burdens the Spleen and Stomach, and this is more so during the Yin and colder times of the year when the body is trying to consolidate its Yang warmth. Thus in Chinese it is said, “bai lu shen bu lu, zhao liang yi xie du (白露身不露，著涼易瀉肚) – during White Dew be sure not to overexpose the body as cold can easily lead to diarrhea.
The conceptual idea to start focusing on during White Dew is Nourishing the Yin (養陰). Now, this doesn’t mean that we should all go out and start taking Yin nourishing herbs such as Di Huang! To understand this we need to think deeply about the real meaning of Yin and Yang beyond basic correspondences. The Su Wen tells us that the sage nourishes Yang in the Spring and Summer and nourishes Yin in the Autumn and Winter (所以聖人春夏養陽，秋冬養陰). Here, Yin means the movement of contraction/harvest (收) going towards storage (藏). These are the very defining concepts of the Autumn and Winter seasons. This time of year we should all start slowing down, going to bed just a little earlier, and taking stock of our lives (i.e., literally moving our minds inward in self-reflection).
In more concrete medical terms, some of the most common problems our patients will see this time of year are seasonal allergies and rhinitis, coughs and common colds. Here in New Jersey I’ve seen a significant rise in allergy complaints in the last week alone. Patients can be taught simple home remedies such as using a Neti pot to keep sinus passages clear and open. Alternately, they can do a steam inhalation with eucalyptus oil. Since Autumn is the season of dryness, if patients suffer from very dry nasal passageways, they can rub a small amount of coconut oil inside their nose on a daily basis.
When choosing treatment points we can focus on those that have a Lung association. In Tung’s acupuncture, some useful points include Mu (木穴; 11.17), and the Dao Ma combination of Chong Zi (重子穴; 22.01) and Chong Xian (重仙穴; 22.02). In both September and October, Mu is one of my most frequently used points. It has the association of Lung Channel in Tung’s Five Phase system, and it lies on the palmar surface of the index finger (thus placing it on the Hand Yangming – also a Metal channel). It treats a wide range of conditions of the upper burner related to Wind patterns such as the common cold, seasonal allergies, and sinus congestion. Patients can also be taught to massage these points as needed. For a more detailed discussion of these points please refer to the Practical Atlas of Tung’s Acupuncture (click here to find out where it can be purchased). Aside from acupuncture, this is the time of year to start doing preventive moxibustion on Zu San Lu (ST-36).
During White Dew the foods we eat should gently moisten dryness and protect the Lungs. While the days are still hot we can eat mildly hear clearing foods but again being cautious about eating very cold (or chilled) foods. In order to help build Yin in the body we also can increase mildly sour foods. White Dew is still a season of fresh fruits that fit these guidelines perfectly, such as peaches (although we are really at the tail end of peach season in New Jersey), apples and pears. Other foods to eat include watery vegetables such as zucchini. For those near Asian groceries, White Dew is the time to eat nagaimo (shan yao 山藥 in Chinese) and fresh lily bulbs (百合).
Rice congees are a perfect fit for White Dew in that they are gently moistening and, taken warm, supportive of the Spleen and Stomach. One of the traditional White Dew congees is Lily Bulb and Pear Congee. To make this take one large Asian pear and slice into bite sized pieces (the peel can be left on). Then take one fresh edible lily bulb and separate out the corms. Cook the pear and lily bulb in a medium sized pot of water and rice (with a rice to water ratio of about 1 to 6). Simmer until the rice starts falling apart and the mixture becomes like watery oatmeal. Finish by adding a small amount of local honey to taste.