By Michael Dell’Orfano, Lic.Ac., RA
Autumn is the season of dryness according to Chinese medicine theory. It is said that our internal environment is effected by the external environment we live in, so it makes sense that as soon as the weather patterns start to shift from summer to fall that our bodies will show signs and symptoms of the shifts going on around us. As the dryness takes over the earth, plants are triggered to finish producing fruits to get ready for harvest season by sending the rest of the energy stored in the plant to the “tips” so that a beautiful bounty can be gathered and stored as food for the long fall and winter seasons.
The season of autumn is considered to be the Metal time of year in Chinese medicine. The Metal element rules the Lung and Large Intestine organ systems of the body according to the Five Phase theory. The nose is considered the opening of the Lung connecting it to the external environment. The skin is governed by the Metal Phase and is literally a protective barrier to prevent unwanted elements and pathogens from entering our body and making us diseased. Just as plants in nature are starting to dry out and wither, so does the skin this time of year. It is not uncommon for people to use moisturizer starting in September, as the body is already feeling the shift take place and the delicate balance of moisture is impeded leaving the sign of dry and itchy skin to let us know the shift is once again happening in the environment.
So, if the natural tendency of the season is dryness, generally speaking, we should be balancing this by putting “moisturizing” foods and herbs inside our body in addition to applying moisturizer to the skin. The dryness is happening not just on the skin, but also inside the body where visible signs of detection are not always present. In terms of Chinese herbs and dietetics, “moisturizing” translates to what we call Yin tonics. Increasing yin in the body through food and diet can lead to more and/or better quality blood and water in the body, as these are considered yin substances. Pungent foods and herbs are also beneficial this time of year, as the pungent flavor is said to create moisture and have the ability to help move the qi around the body. Pungent can be especially useful in the fall when the body has become susceptible to cold or allergy symptoms, which are very common in this season.
Of course, every individual has a unique constitutions and different disease patterns, so it is best to first discuss with your holistic practitioner about your individual needs before assuming too much about what your body needs to run optimally, but here are some basic dietary and herbal guidelines for the fall season.
Yin tonic foods tend to be sweet in flavor and cool in temperature, for the most part. Some foods that are considered yin tonics include apple, avocado, asparagus, banana, cheese, clam, crab, egg, honey, kidney beans, lemon, mango, milk, pea, pear, pineapple, pork, sesame, spinach, sweet potato, tomato and watermelon.
Pungent foods tend to be spicy in flavor and warm or hot in temperature. Some good examples of pungent foods that circulate the blood and qi and create moisture in the body include basil, cardamom, carrot, cayenne, chive, cloves, coriander, fennel, garlic, kohlrabi, mustard, peppermint, turmeric, turnip, vinegar and watercress.
In addition to eating pungent flavors and yin tonics, eating what is harvested fresh locally this time of year should be considered in your diet. Right now we have tomatoes and other summer vegetables finishing up, while some leafy greens are good in the fall, and root vegetables will be abundant in another month or two as we move further along into fall.
Chinese herbal medicine uses formulas from a few different categories to treat patients this time of year. One could be prescribed formulas to treat Dryness. Some of the symptoms of Dryness entering the body from environmental dryness include cough, fever, headache, dry nasal passages, absence of sweating. These kinds of symptoms might warrant formulas to treat them in addition to eating the right foods. Such formulas as Sang Xing Tang or Xing Su San might be indicated with such symptoms. More severe dryness effecting the Lungs could call for formulas such as Sha Shen Mai Men Dong Tang or Bai He Gu Jin Tang, which deal with more extreme dryness symptoms such as a red, dry tongue, blood streaked sputum, constipation, dry mouth and throat, wheezing and severe dry cough.
Lastly, we have formula categories to treat the various symptoms of cold and flu invasions of the body, so these are considered herbal formulas to Release the Exterior. The exterior refers to the skin layer of the body. In Chinese medicine theory, these pathogens and/or elements (such as dryness and wind) get lodged in the protective layer of the body and symptoms manifest as our bodies try and battle to rid the unwelcome invader at the skin layer so that they cannot penetrate deeper into the body creating new symptoms that are more difficult to resolve. Depending on the patient’s presentation, formulas such as Ma Huang Tang, Gui Zhi Tang, and Yin Qiao San are used to treat the disease pattern.
Don’t forget to ask your acupuncturist which specific foods and herbal formulas are best for you this fall as your body starts to respond to the shift of seasons!