A Guide to Autumn Foods to Improve Health- an East Asian Medicine Perspective

1450855_646328755312_420603004_nTo my dear readers, I apologize for my blogging hiatus. I am happy to announce that my husband and I bought a house, moved, and have had a handful of other positive stressors during the month of October. I needed a bit more balance in my life, hence the blogging break.

But now I am back to share a topic that I am very passionate about. In East Asian medicine, food is itself medicine. It is important to eat certain foods at specific times of the year to strengthen your body for the following season. You can also use various foods to help with the common cold in autumn, versus the common cold in the spring. Food is used as the first line of defense in East Asian healthcare– i.e. home care.

We are well into autumn. The first chill is in the air. Here in Walla Walla the dry air is starting to dry out our skin, our nostrils, and maybe even our lungs. If your lungs are ‘drying’ out, then you’ll notice that slight ache when breathing chilled air, or you may have a dry cough in the mornings and late afternoon without being sick.

See Your Breath [59/365]

In East Asian medicine each season is related to an organ system. That organ system is in charge of a tissue type, certain emotions, certain flavors, and various actions in the body and mind. It is not the same as the Western idea of an organ system. Autumn is the season of the Lungs. The lungs are in charge of our skin, our nostrils, and our immune system. The color of the lung system in Chinese medicine is white and their flavor is pungent. Pungent includes aromatic and spicy culinary flavors, such as perilla leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, curry, pepper, and chili peppers.

English: Black and green cardamom seed pods Fr...

English: Black and green cardamom seed pods Français : Les péricarpes de cardamome verte et noir. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

perilla leaf

perilla leaf (Photo credit: postbear)

The pungent flavor helps lung function, but just like anything in life, moderation is key. Too much spicy flavor in food, can actually begin to damage the lungs and digestion. Another important factor to consider is  the broad range of culinary herbs and spices that make up the ‘pungent’ flavor. These range from gentle, aromatic herbs such as perilla leaf (excellent to wrap around a chicken breast and then bake it) to the full-fledged burn of a habanero or a ghost pepper. To help strengthen the lungs it is often  preferable to stick to the gentler, aromatic herbs — the ones that when you smell them cooking or boiling, gently clear your sinuses.

Another way to strengthen your immune system and support your lungs is to eat naturally white foods, such as pears, onions, leeks, capsicum, and cauliflower, as well as rice.  Rice is considered the specific grain of the lungs. Pears are especially fantastic for people who live in a climate that gets dry in the autumn.  If you get a dry, persistent cough, adding a baked pear with a little cinnamon can help immensely. In fact, if you are prone to dry, wheezing induced by cold air in the autumn and winter, eating pears daily while in season is indicated in Chinese medicine.  Another pear recipe for dry cough/wheezing, is to make a porridge with the grain called Job’s Tears (same basic cooking instructions as oatmeal), add slices of a baked pear, a dash of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey. Mum's Baked Pears in Red Wine

The final way to strengthen nutritional strengthen your lungs is by eating vegetables that nourish and strengthen the organ system that is considered the mother of the lungs, the spleen/pancreas and Stomach organs. This works on the philosophy that the child stays healthy and strong, when the mom stays healthy and strong. Orange and yellow vegetables with a hint of sweetness nourish the spleen/s\pancreas and stomach.  So eating a healthy dose of orange fleshed squash such as butternut, banana, delicata, acorn, pumpkin, kabocha, and hubbard squash is what the doctor ordered. Also remember to add in carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams. I like to substitute mashed sweet potatoes and yams for regular russet potatoes, or just bake them.

P1040971 P1040950 563886_600199029652_346167351_nI also like to note that the foods East Asian medicine suggests we eat for lung health and immune system support are the foods that grow seasonally during the autumn.  Chinese and East Asian medicine also suggests that if we eat the right foods to strengthen our bodies during the autumn, it will prepare us for better health in the winter months.

Stay tuned for more recipes involving seasonal ingredients.

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