Spring is the perfect time to have a gentle detox, a “Spring Cleaning” within!
Follow these Chinese-medicine guidelines to protect and nurture your inner resources while you gently let go of the heaviness of Winter.
The meaning of Spring
There is a natural lightening that happens in Spring – there is literally more light as the days lengthen and the quality of the sunlight brightens. Flowers, with their colours and perfumes, lighten the spirit. Longer and brighter days lighten our mood, especially for those who struggle with the short days of Winter.
If you’re a gardener, even if that means caring for a pot on the windowsill, you will notice the emergence of tender new growth on Winter-dormant plants, and the light tendrils of seedlings emerging from the soil.
Those seeds hold the potential energy of a complete plant within them – possibly a huge tree, metres tall. The delicate new seedling stretching up towards the sun is fragile new life with massive potential energy.
The ancient Chinese sages looked to harmonise humans with nature, always aiming for effortless flow. They noticed that these energies of Spring needed to be mirrored within the body, so that the inner and the outer were in balance.
This means that the natural dormancy, resting and contemplation during Winter, with hearty foods and plenty of sleep, now becomes transformed in Spring to encourage that Yang-energy of potential growth to move upwards and outwards towards the sun.
Food in Spring
The basis of well-cooked whole-foods in Winter is equivalent to well-composted soil that has been resting fallow in the cold, dark months. It has provided the foundation for the new life in Spring to rise up effortlessly, nourished and supported.
So food in Spring is light and fresh, with none of the weight of Winter food. However, because Spring weather is changeable, you need to bring in denser foods when the weather turns cool and have lighter foods when it warms up. Spring is also often very windy, so pungent foods help to move energy to the surface and create a force-field against chills.
Introducing some raw food is a good way to rejuvenate the Wood-element organs in Spring (Liver and Gallbladder).
It’s also helpful to decrease your quantity of food, especially in the evenings.
“Full-sweet” whole foods serve to nourish and protect your inner furnace, so that you don’t lose vitality too quickly to the outside surface of the body:
- Brown rice, millet, oats
- Sweet rice, mochi (Japanese pounded rice)
- Sweet corn
- Sunflower seeds, pine nuts, walnuts
- Legumes (lentils, chickpeas, dried beans)
“Pungent” flavour foods help to release and spread energy from the centre outwards. When Spring is just starting, they need to be balanced with the “Energy anchors” above to protect your vital core:
- Ginger (fresh or dried)
- Garlic, shallots, onions, leeks
- Turmeric, cumin, anise, cinnamon, coriander, mustard seeds, cloves
- Fennel, dill, mustard greens, radish, radish leaves
- White and black pepper
- Rosemary, marjoram
- Spearmint, peppermint
- Taro, turnip, kohlrabi
Special Spring medicine foods
Spring relates to the Liver and Gallbladder and the sour flavour. A little of the sour flavour helps to tone and cleanse these organ systems. The sour flavour holds things in, and the pungent flavour spreads energy out. Balance these together to suit your needs day by day as the weather changes.
- Pickles, ferments eg raw sauerkraut, gherkins
- Lemon, lime
- Apple cider vinegar
- Umeboshi plums (from Japanese supermarkets)
Some foods have up upwards-moving energy that helps us to adjust to Spring:
- shiitake mushroom
Harmonising with nature
When it’s windy, ensure you’re having pungent flavours to create a force-field.
When it’s colder, have more “full-sweet” foods and less raw foods – just about everything should be cooked.
When it’s warmer, lighten up the cooking methods eg steaming, stir fries and start to bring in raw foods eg salads.
General detox tips for Liver and Gallbladder refreshment
Cut down on: stimulants, intoxicants and unbalancing foods such as:
- white flour and related products (bread, pasta)
- greasy food
- heavy spices (chilli, cinnamon, aniseed)
This helps your Liver to cleanse and renew itself, sort of like replacing the oil and fuel filters in a car service!
Liver and Gallbladder cleansing
When the Liver and Gallbladder are refreshed and unburdened, your blood can be purified and your mental and emotional state is light, flexible, balanced and decisive. If you are in a leadership role, you will find it more natural and effortless when your Liver and Gallbladder are supple and vibrant (they are involved in vision, planning and decision-making in Chinese medicine).
When Liver and Gallbladder are overburdened with the excesses of modern living, whether from food, intoxicants, pollutants or stress, then the whole system becomes sluggish and stuck, with symptoms such as:
- irritability, frustration, resentment, anger or rage
- indecision, procrastination or lack of courage
- stiff neck, tight shoulders and between shoulder blades, “crunchy neck” (sounds and feels gritty when you roll your head), “Frankenstein neck” (tight knots in the neck)
- discomfort, burning, full feeling or pangs beneath the ribs, especially on the right
- digestion issues – including indigestion, bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhoea or irritable bowel syndrome
In these cases, you can do a gentle “kitchen-cupboard” cleanse or you could try a stronger version with support from your health care professional. Chinese medicine herbalists can support this cleansing process with appropriate herbal preparations. Try it – you won’t believe how much better you can feel!
This can take place over a month or two. In addition to cutting out stimulants, as mentioned above, also cut out heavy meats, dairy, eggs, peanuts and have only small amounts of other nuts and seeds. The diet is based around whole, unrefined grains (like brown rice, quinoa, millet, barley, oats), legumes (lentils, chick peas, kidney beans etc), vegetables and fruits. This diet will gradually cleanse the Liver and Gallbladder.
If you have gallstones or sediment or have strong symptoms, you can add specific cleansing foods such as:
Radish is a specific cleansing food; daily you can have one or two radishes between meals for 3 weeks, plus five cups of chamomile tea throughout the day.
You can also use about a tablespoon per day of cold-pressed organic flax-seed oil poured over meals (can split between two meals), six days a week for about two months.
For five consecutive days, have a salad of organic greens as the evening meal, with two tablespoons each of olive oil and lemon juice as the dressing (be sure to consume all the dressing).
Source: Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford