Fall, the Time of Letting Go from a Traditional Chinese Medicine Perspective

In Chinese Medicine, autumn is the season of the Metal element. The changing of summer to fall is connected to the emotion of grief or sadness. In autumn we are saying farewell to the abundance of summer and preparing for the reflective time that is to come.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) focuses on energetics rather than the physical making correspondences between nature and the body. The organs connected with the Metal element are the Lungs and the Large Intestine. We all know that fall and winter is a time that people are more vulnerable to colds, bronchial infections, and allergies. Household air pollution, as well as the cold winds of autumn, stress our immune reserves, making it a good time to support the immune system with some herbs and supplements.

Photo credit from AcuProAcademy.com

The Lungs are the organs of respiration, responsible for supplying oxygenated blood to every organ of the body and eliminating the waste matter from the cells through our expiration.  In TCM the climactic “evil” in Fall is dryness. The lungs are like giant tissue paper in which the tissue is the fine mucosa of the alveoli. The lungs, like the nasal mucosa, need to stay moist, not “damp,” and cool but not cold. During illness, the lungs often become hot, which dries them out. Which is why people recovering from bronchitis often end up with a lingering dry cough. Having a large pot of simmering water with herbs on the stove or woodstove throughout the winter can be helpful.

At first glance, the Lungs and the Large Intestine seem to have little in common with each other, with the lungs involved with respiration and the Large Intestine involved with digestion. The bowel is the organ of elimination and is responsible for helping the body eliminate waste. Only when the body is cleansed of toxic matter can it receive the more refined energy brought in by its partner, the Lung.

Increasing immunity by the consumption of herbal tonics can all be helpful.  These herbs are slow-acting and should be taken for a length of time. 

Elderberry-elderberry has antimicrobial actions against two strains of influenza and several bacteria.  It has immune-stimulating and diaphoretic action.  It has been shown that it can lessen the duration and severity of colds and flu. Making elderberry syrup is easy, I personally preserve my syrup with 25% alcohol rather than sugar, which can degrade the immune system.

Garlic-the active ingredient in garlic, allicin sativum, is proposed to have antiviral and antimicrobial effects on the common cold, but high-quality clinical trials comparing garlic supplements to placebo are lacking. A Cochrane review identified only one trial of reasonable quality following 146 participants. Those taking the garlic supplement for 3 months had fewer occurrences of the common cold than those taking a placebo, but after contracting the cold virus, both groups had a similar duration of illness.

Green tea-cell studies have shown that tea catechins such as those found in green tea can prevent flu and some cold viruses from replicating and can increase immune activity. Human trials are still limited. Two randomized controlled trials found that green tea capsules produced less cold/flu symptoms or incidence of flu than a placebo; however, both studies were funded or had author affiliations with tea industries.

Astragalus is used to protect and support the immune system, preventing colds and upper respiratory infections, lowering blood pressure, treating diabetes, and protecting the liver. Astragalus has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties additionally researchers have looked at astragalus as a possible treatment for people whose immune systems have been weakened by chemotherapy or radiation.

Medicinal Mushrooms-Turkey tail and Reshi mushrooms are both known as immune modulating tonics to boost immunity levels.  Adding astragalus and medicinal mushrooms when making broths for cooking or soups is an excellent way to incorporate them into your daily regimine.

Foods for strengthening the Metal element-sweet potatoes, onions, pears, walnuts, leeks, miso, navy beans, almonds, parsnips, adzuki beans, chestnuts, and dark leafy winter greens.

Spices: bay leaves, black pepper, chili, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, and rosemary.

Additional thoughts on increasing immunity:

Reducing stress-Building immunity during this time of a global pandemic is particularly important. For starters, we know the toll that stress can have on our immunity. Chronic stress suppresses the immune response of the body by releasing the hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with the T-cells(a specific white blood cell) to reproduce and receive signals from the body. Cortisol also reduces the antibody secretory IgA, which lines the gut and respiratory tract, which are our first line of defense against pathogens. To keep your stress in check, practice yoga, meditation, or deep breathing in your regular routine.

Reduce Sugar Intake-Studies have shown spikes in sugar intake suppress your immune system and increase inflammation. When your immune system is compromised, you are more likely to get sick.

Increasing Pro and Prebiotic Foods-A high-fiber plant-rich diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes appear to support the growth and maintenance of beneficial microbes. Certain helpful microbes break down fibers into short-chain fatty acids, which have been shown to stimulate immune cell activity. These fibers are sometimes called prebiotics because they feed microbes. Therefore, a diet containing probiotic and prebiotic foods may be beneficial. Probiotic foods contain live helpful bacteria, and prebiotic foods contain fiber and oligosaccharides that feed and maintain healthy colonies of those bacteria.

  • Probiotic foods: Kefir, yogurt with live active cultures, fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, and miso.
  • Prebiotic foods: Garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, bananas, and seaweed.

Exercise-Working out on a regular basis has been scientifically shown to boost the immune system. Regular exercise stimulates the T cells, a type of white blood cell which guards the body against infection. That being said, all things in moderation, in that continuous rigorous workout weakens the immune system, leaving you more prone to flu and viral infections.

Sleep-Lack of sleep can cause the inflammatory immune response, reducing the activity of T cells in the body. This can weaken your immune system and response to vaccines. Try to sleep for 7–8 hours.

Get Outside– Natural light is one of the major contributors to the production of Vitamin D in our body. Vitamin D is essential for the healthy functioning of the immune system as it helps the body to produce antibodies. Additionally, the correlation between response  to COVID and low Vit D levels has been linked. 

Letting Go-Holding on or grieving the passage of summer to fall increases the likelihood of stagnation in these organs. We can look to nature to see examples of letting go. Just like the dying leaves on the trees these need to drop away so that new ones can grow next year.  A starting place is address stagnation is to practice letting go both physically and emotionally.  An example is to create some rituals or practices for letting for.  For example, write down a list of your joys of summer then burn or shred the paper, tossing the ashes or paper into the compost bin.

Dress warmly and cover your neck-wear a scarf- add some style to your look!  The back of the neck is particularly vulnerable to invasion by wind and cold. 

Warm Foods-No more cold salads, or summery gazpacho type soups or drinks.  Always eat foods that are available seasonally- fall veggies such as the squashes, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers. 

Keep Hydrated-Preferably warm. The fall is a season of dryness, and staying hydrated helps the lungs and the large intestine function optimally.

Embrace the Fall, recognizing the turn of the seasons.

Crack Leather: Fermented Fruit and Herb Leather

img_1635What do you get when you mix together a sprouted cracker recipe with a fruit leather recipe.  You get crack leather. Recently I was playing around with making fruit leather, based on another blog which I had written a while back, https://herbalgoddessmedicinals.wordpress.com/2015/04/18/making-medicinal-herbal-fruit-leather/.

I teach a class on cooking with medicinal herbs and am always trying to push the envelope with different creations.  In the class, we explore how one can incorporate medicinal herbs into cooking.  The use of tonic herbs (gentle food like herbs) into everyday cooking is prevalent in food from China and India.  One of the easiest techniques  is to combine astragalus in cooking broths and soups.

Now to get back to crack leather. For this experiment, I decided to incorporate sprouted seeds and nuts into the fruit leather along with some powdered medicinal herbs.  Sprouting of seeds and nuts replicates germination, which activates and multiplies nutrients (particularly Vitamins A, B, and C), neutralizes enzyme inhibitor’s, and promotes the growth of vital digestive enzymes. Taking it a step further,  I also opted to ferment the leather before I dried it.  After checking in my with local fermentation expert, Kristy Shapla the author of the Brew Your Medicine, on whether fermentation would destroy the healthy probiotic fermentation, she assured me that if I kept the temps below 110 degrees it would be fine.  I am a firm believer that the fermentation of herbs assists with the bioavailability of their chemical constituents, not to mention the added benefit of incorporating fermented food into your daily diet. The fermenting of herbs is increasingly finding its way into supplements and has been shown to increase the herbs bioavailability,

I am a firm believer that the fermentation of herbs assists with the bioavailability of their chemical constituents, not to mention the importance of incorporating fermented food into your daily diet. The fermenting of herbs is increasingly finding its way into supplements and has been shown to increase the herbs bioavailability, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.2758/abstract

The results were delicious.  This recipe is fairly loose and is open to lots of substitutes including the addition of other herbal powders, nuts, and dried fruits.  The secret is to make sure the mixture is not too liquid or too thick, rather the consistency of thick pancake batter.

Equipment:

  • Food dehydrator or lowest temperature in the oven
  • Fruit leather latex sheets or cookie sheet
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Wooden spoon

Ingredients:

  • 2 cup flax seeds
  • 1/3 cup tbsp chia seeds, sprouted
  • 1 to 1-1/2 cup herbal tea (I used nettle, ginger and rose hips)
  • 1 Tablespoon maca and Shatavari (you can use any combination of herbal powders)
  • 1/3 cup sunflower seeds, sprouted
  • 1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, sprouted
  • 1 1/2 cup of chunky applesauce
  • 1/4 cup of yogurt
  • 1½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  • 3 tbsp za’ atar

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients together in large bowl, adding more herbal tea or water to the mixture so it is the consistency of pancake batter.  Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit in dark warm place for 24-48 hours. When ready heap a couple of large spoonfuls of mixture onto food dryer sheets or  cookie sheet.  Spread evenly to about 1/4 of an inch thick. The secret of spreading the thick mixture is to use a wooden spatula that you keep dipping in water.  Dry thoroughly, 110 degrees or less, to preserve the lactobacillus. When done it will still be flexible, so it is easy to bend and break into crackers.  Enjoy.

 

 

Beet Kvass-A Russian Beverage Probiotic Tonic

beetsBeet kvass is extremely easy make and is a great “first” for those who have never fermented anything before.  Not only is it  delicious, but beets provide a unique source of phytonutrients called betalains. Betanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support.

We have all heard that fermented foods are important for our digestion. The reason why is that the fermentation process fosters the growth of beneficial  microorganisms. These microorganisms create compounds such as lactic acid bacteria that “predigest” the food, making them easier for our gut to absorb nutrients. beet probiotics-chart

Because the gut is the largest component of your immune system, introducing friendly bacteria into your digestive system, may also help keep illness away. Evidence suggests that the status of our gut health can affect inflammation, allergies and autoimmune disorders in the body.  The healthy bacteria that is produced through the fermentation process are currently being researched and point to a whole host of benefits, including a direct link to reduced bouts of digestive complaints. One of the organisms, lactobacillus plantarum has been linked to reduced inflammatory bowel, small bowel bacterial overgrowth in children, and reduced problems for sufferers of irritable bowel syndrome. Another product of fermentation is the friendly bacteria, Lactobacillus acidophilus, which has shown, in animal studies, to prevent polyps, adenomas, and colon cancer.  Needless to say – all of us could benefit from a daily intake of probiotics.

That is where beet kvass comes in.  I recently made my first batch of beets 2beet kvass and was instantly hooked.  It is delicious and so simple to make that anyone, anywhere can make this beverage, without the intimidation that often accompanies making sauerkraut,  and other fermented foods.  Some sites suggested the addition of a starter culture, but mine was fine, just using salt.  My motto is keep it simple.

So here it goes:  Take a few organic beets (3 large beets), cubing them into small pieces, placing them in a mason jar, adding 1 tablespoon salt, filling the jar (I used a half-gallon mason jar) with filtered water and screwing on a lid. Presto it is done.  You then just put it somewhere warm to ferment for 2-7 days.  Even better, you can make a second batch using the same beets.  Just drain off the juice from the first batch beet kvassleaving just a bit of the liquid in the jar along with the same beets and fill it back up with filtered water.  Set it aside to ferment again.  The first batch I let ferment for 1 week and the second batch I let ferment for 2 weeks.  Note:  I checked the jars every other day and would  unscrew the top and put it back on to release the gas.  I follow the same procedure with my other fermented foods.  If there isn’t any gas build up, then either move into a warmer place or let it sit longer.

You can get creative with your beet kvass by adding other items to your  including spices like ginger, caraway seeds, and other items like dried fruits, berries, let your imagination run wild.  As an herbalist I am going to start including medicinal herbs into the process starting with Hawthorne berries and other digestive enhancing herbs.  The sky is the limit.