Early spring is known for remarkable shifts in weather. One minute it could be a brilliant, mild sunny day, and a moment later winds drive in a hail storm that last for only 20 minutes. Some spring days will take you on an adventure through all four seasons in a 24 hour cycle. This is the energy of early spring, and our emotions may follow a similarly pattern of extraordinary mood swings during early spring.
The effort it takes for our body to move from the inward energies of autumn and winter into the more expansive, outward energies of spring and summer, take our body for a little bit of a jerky ride. You can observe this in the early springtime bulbs and plants this time of year. You may even see it in the people around you. You might see more road rage, more impatience in check out lines and at coffee shops, and on the phone.
For us, we mostly see the obvious signs in our emotions, but we can also see changes in digestion, wandering joint pain, tendons and ligament injuries sometimes get temporarily worse in early spring, and seasonal allergies return.
This post will focus on the emotions and how to use Chinese medical nutrition to make the process of early spring a little more manageable.
Springtime Nutrition According to East Asian Medicine:
Our emotions can run the gamut quite quickly from the more expansive and rising emotions of anger, irritation, being easily frustrated, and feeling anxious, to the sinking emotions of feeling melancholy, or even depressed.
In spring, these emotions usually seem out of place. Often the rising emotions of anger, irritation, and anxiety, seem like an overreaction, while the sinking emotions seem to come on without rhyme or reason. If this is the case, then you are partially feeling the natural energies of early spring. If the mood swings have tall peaks and valleys, this is often an indicator that your liver and gallbladder channels need a little extra help from your acupuncturist.
Food to help reduce mood swings in early spring:
When emotions are of the rising, expansive nature, it is important to try to use food to anchor the energy of the body and specifically the liver. Foods that soothe the liver and consolidate its energy are equally helpful.
The flavor that soothes the liver is sweet– not the sweetness of refined sugar, pastries, and candy, but the sweetness found in root vegetables, and whole grains. If you chew whole grains long enough, you’ll notice a natural sweetness that is released from them.
The root vegetables also help to anchor the energy of the liver due to the simple fact that they grew deeply in the ground. Part of looking at Chinese nutrition is learning to see the metaphor in how the plant grew, to more accurately see how it influences the energy of the body.
The sour flavor can also aid in consolidating the energy of the liver back into the organ itself.
To put all of this together: on days or weeks subject to an increase in irritability, frustration, anxiety, etc, look at combining roasted or steamed root vegetables with a sour flavor. Squeeze a lime over roasted sweet potatoes. Toss steamed beets with oil and your favorite vinegar. Check out our borscht recipe to combine sweet, and sour flavors. Consider including drinking vinegars, or hibiscus tea into your daily routine to utilize more of the sour flavor.
When our emotions are sinking in nature, we need to do the opposite. To counteract the emotions of feeling melancholy, weighed down and minor depressive feelings, look at eating baby greens, sprouts, and the tiny carrots or beets that you thin out of the garden. These fresh, baby greens are full of energy and vitality of the young plants reaching upwards towards the sun. The energy in these greens are naturally lifting.
It is also important to use aromatic culinary herbs that help to move qi through the body, as well as citrus.
Think about how to use spices like rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, lemon, orange and lime zest, etc.
Simply making a salad with baby greens and roasted or pan fried veggies, plus a homemade dressing with olive oil, tarragon, pepper, and lemon zest will blend the rising nature of the baby greens, with the aromatics of the herbs in the dressing. You’ll further protect your digestion by adding some cooked vegetables to the salad, and voila, you have a meal or side dish that helps to lift you up.
If you eat meat, consider rubbing chicken breasts or other meat with a mixture of aromatic spices before pan frying, roasting, or baking it.
For more nutritional tidbits of how to protect and support your springtime health, check out our nutrition video series, Ancient Roots: What Chinese Medicine Can Teach Us About Our Diets, that teaches you how to work with the energy of each season, how to eat accordingly, and how to use lifestyle to get the most out of your experiences with Chinese medicine. The link is in the sidebar.
Lindsey Thompson is an East Asian Medicine Practitioner at the Thompson Family Acupuncture Clinic in Walla Walla, WA. She loves growing vegetables, raising chickens, and striving to get the most out of life. Practicing medicine and help people find ways to improve their health at home is one of the most fulfilling aspects of her career.