Living in Harmony with Spring According to Chinese Medicine

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

Chinese Medicine Theory

Chinese Medicine has such a beautiful way of looking at us - human beings, our place in nature and in the universe. We are part of a greater whole and are inseparable from it. In Chinese Medicine, we are healthy when we are in harmony with our surroundings, and for much of human history, we have honed the skills needed to be able to feel slight changes in our environments, so that we could change behaviours, to remain in balance. In our modern world, we seem to be losing this connectedness to both our natural environments and ultimately, ourselves. Chinese Medicine can teach us how to regain this connection by giving us some simple guidelines on how to live in harmony with the seasons.

Spring - The Season of the Liver

Spring is the season associated with the Liver and the emotion of Anger. Its energies are expansive - moving upward and outward like newly budding plants, flowers and trees. It is a time for growth and renewal. Spring is the best time to strengthen the Liver, and to deal with any unresolved feelings of Anger or frustration as they can build up and cause stagnant Qi or energy in the Liver and elsewhere. The colour associated with Spring and the Liver is green. Eating green foods in the Spring strengthens the Liver. To keep your Liver healthy, be sure to be in bed and asleep before 11pm.

The Liver is the organ associated with Spring. In Chinese Medicine the Liver has the following responsibilities:

  • Opens Into the Eyes
  • Controls Planning
  • The Flavour that Supports the Liver is Sour
  • Houses the Hun (Spirit) The Liver is the organ associated with Spring.
  • Stores Blood
  • Responsible for the Smooth Flow of Qi & Blood
  • Controls the Sinews / Tendons
  • Manifests in the Nails

Behaviours in Spring

  • Engaging in uplifting and creative activities that expand our energies and consciousness (journaling, meditation)
  • Seek personal development and growth
  • Cooking should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures
  • Sautéing with high-quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is best in Spring
  • Manage Anger (and frustration) - excess, intense and unexpressed anger congests Qi in the Liver
  • Liver time is between 1am-3am - this is the best time to strengthen the Liver
  • For optimum Liver health, go to bed before 11pm (the Gallbladder time - it is the Liver’s Yin/Yang partner organ)
  • Eat green foods to strengthen Liver

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

Activities in Spring

  • Engage in activities that feed your creativity - drawing/painting/writing/photography/making music/dancing
  • Making plans for the future
  • Spring cleaning of your internal environment - physical, emotional, spiritual
  • Acknowledging, processing and releasing any unresolved emotions, especially Anger & frustration
  • Any activities that push our self-imposed boundaries
  • Gentle exercises on a daily basis, especially stretching as the Liver controls the smooth flow of Qi as well as the tendons
  • Walking meditation in nature (gentle exercise, feeding the spirit and taking in the green of new Spring plants through the eyes)
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, tobacco, recreational drugs

Beneficial Foods in Spring

  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Grapefruit
  • Sprouted Grains, Beans, Seeds
  • Many Green Foods Nourish the Liver
  • Radish
  • Daikon Radish
  • Tofu
  • Fermented Food
  • Legumes
  • Seeds
  • Dandelion Root
  • Milk Thistle
  • Mung Bean
  • Lettuce
  • Quinoa
  • Cucumber
  • Watercress
  • Celery
  • Millet
  • Seaweed
  • Mushroom
  • Beet
  • Carrot
  • Onion
  • Mustard Green
  • Rye
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Asparagus
  • Alfalfa
  • Amaranth

Photo by Scott Eckersley on Unsplash

The Liver and Anger

Photo by Alex Iby on Unsplash

We've all seen that impressive display of anger. Someone losing it in the lineup at the bank, an exasperated parent yelling at a child having a tantrum, or someone, after being on a plane for a bazillion hours being told that they have missed their connecting flight and that the airline has lost their luggage. Yeah, we've all seen that. And it is most of our instincts' to back away a few steps because of how powerful that anger can be. That, my friends, is your Liver talking.

Now in the West, this doesn't make much sense. The liver, we are taught, is the body's filter, making sure that we stay clean and toxin-free. But in Chinese Medicine, each of the organs has an emotional component, which is just as important as its physical functions in the body - and the emotion of the liver is anger.

When the liver is balanced and healthy we are able to move freely because of the liver's responsibilities of governing the smooth flow of Qi in the appropriate directions. You may wonder what happens when Qi flows in the wrong direction? Well, each of the organs has a natural direction in which its Qi flows. For example, the Qi of the stomach flows downward, helping to move food and drink through the digestive system, but when the flow of that Qi is reversed due to pathogenic factors it causes belching, hiccups, nausea and vomiting. A healthy liver means a strong immune system because the liver is responsible for the body's resistance to exterior pathogens. Because the liver opens into the eyes, if you have a healthy liver your vision will be clear and your eyes moist. If your liver is in a state of balance you will have strong nails, recover quickly from physical activities, your movements will be smooth and your body flexible. Those with a healthy liver will also have great courage and resoluteness, and will easily be able to plan their lives wisely and effectively with a clear sense of direction.

Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

Some Symptoms of Liver Stagnation & Imbalance

  • Frustration, depression or repressed anger
  • Hypochondriac pain
  • A sensation of oppression in the chest
  • A feeling of a "lump" in the throat
  • Abdominal distension
  • Women - pre-menstrual tension, depression, irritability, distension of the breasts
  • Belching, sour regurgitation, nausea, vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Bitter taste in the mouth, belching, jaundice
  • Contraction and/or spasms in the muscles and sinews, impaired extension/flexion, numbness of the limbs, muscle cramps, tremors
  • Dark, dry or cracked nails
  • Blurred vision, myopia, floaters, colour blindness, a feeling of dryness or grit in the eyes
  • Bloodshot, painful or burning sensation in the eyes
  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, red face, dizziness, tinnitus, headaches
  • Lack of direction in life, feeling of being stuck

Chinese Medicine gives us many ways that we can help our bodies, mind and spirits stay balanced and healthy - in every season. Eating green foods, spending more time turning inward, processing our emotions and being in bed by 11pm are only some of the ways we can live in harmony with the spring season, and keep our energies flowing freely so we can be happy, healthy beings all year long.


Beautiful featured image photo by Sylwia Pietruszka on Unsplash


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Spring Recipe - Stir Fried Chicken and Goji Berries

By Vicky Chan of NourishU

Spring Recipes

Spring is the season of new growth, the season of wood and the season of the liver. It is the season of wind and rain and very unstable weather. It marks the beginning of a new growing season including bacteria and viruses. People can easily catch cold/flu and infectious diseases in spring. Wind-injuries can be characterized by rapidly changing and moving symptoms such as a stuffy and runny nose, coughs, fever, body pain, sneezing, and dizziness.

Our livers are most vulnerable to wind-injury in spring. It is important to invigorate the liver by eating warming and pungent food to defend and expel wind evil. Foods that are sweet in nature such as dates, goji-berries, animal's liver and leek can benefit liver health and help to promote liver qi. Sour can nourish liver and promote blood. Salty taste can promote sour.

Spring tonics emphasize on light and healthful foods such as spinach, celery, onion, lettuce, leaf mustard, Chinese yam, wheat, dates, peanuts, onions, cilantro, bamboo shoot and mushrooms. Soybean, bean sprout, egg, and tofu are rich in protein and can promote liver health and healthy growth of tendons.

Chrysanthemum Flower

Chrysanthemum flowers are very effective in lowering liver heat and calming the liver. They can be used as a tea or cook with other ingredients to make soup or entree dishes.

Dandelion

Dandelion is everywhere in spring. It is bitter and sweet in taste, cold in nature, and attributive to liver and stomach channels.

Pick dandelion leaves from your garden or from a wild field where there is no chemical pollution to make a detoxification tea for yourself and your family in spring. It is diuretic, clears damp-heat and toxic material, and benefits liver health. You can repeat this once again in late summer when you see them bloom again. It is the most inexpensive and effect detoxification tea that you can give to your body.

Stir Fried Chicken & Goji Berries

THERAPEUTIC EFFECTS

Benefits the liver and eyes.

INGREDIENTS

  • Astragalus (huang qi) 黃耆 - 30 gm
  • Goji-berry / Chinese Wolfberry (gou ji zi) 枸杞子 - 15 gm
  • Chicken breast - one piece
  • Cucumber - one
  • Cooking wine - 2 spoonfuls
  1. Rinse astragalus and put with 2 cups of water in a pot and let it sit for 30 minutes. Then bring water to a boil and lower heat to medium-low to cook down to 1/2 cup of water left. Strain and keep aside.
  2. Wash and shred chicken and cucumber.
  3. Season chicken with salt, pepper, cornstarch and 2 to 3 spoons of astragalus water.
  4. Soak goji-berries for 20 minutes and rinse. Season goji-berries with some astragalus water.
  5. Warm one spoonful of oil in a wok and stir-fry chicken for a few minutes. Then sprinkle in cooking wine and the rest of the astragalus water, and stir.
  6. Add cucumber and stir for a few more minutes, then add wolfberry and stir for a couple of minutes more and is done.

USAGE

No restrictions.

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Photo by Tim Chow on Unsplash


foods for the gallbladder

Loving Your Liver With Nutrition - Part 2

By Emma Suttie, D.Ac, AP

He that takes medicine and neglects diet wastes the time of his doctor.

~ Ancient Chinese Proverb

In this second instalment of the Liver series, we will cover how the foods we eat can heal and support the liver. The spring is the time when liver energies are at the fullest, so this is the perfect time to eat foods that support the liver as well as detoxify, letting go of things we don't need to make room for the new things that will nourish and heal us.

Spring and the liver in TCM

In spring we begin eating less than we did in winter, consuming lighter foods and cleansing the body of the excess fats and heavier foods eaten in winter. Spring is a time of renewal and growth, a time of expansion and expression. Spring is when we introduce newly grown greens and sprouts, salty foods and pungent herbs which support the liver and help to cleanse the body.

Cleansing the body is especially beneficial in spring not only because of the liver's function of filtering toxins, but emotionally as well - emotions like frustration, impatience and anger are associated with the liver and a cleansing of the body and emotions allows us to clear out old residues and enables us to see more clearly and move forward in life with renewed passion and purpose.

Here is a list of things associated with the liver and spring in Chinese medicine.

Yin Organ - Liver
Yang Organ - Gallbladder
Season - Spring
Colour - Green
Direction - East
Flavour - Sour
Sense Organ - Eyes
Emotion - Anger
Weather - Wind

Cooking in Spring

Cooking in spring should be of shorter duration and at higher temperatures. In Chinese medicine raw foods are mostly seen to be cold in nature so some cooking is always recommended, but of all the seasons, the spring is the time food is cooked the least for its cooling and cleansing capabilities. Sautéing with a bit of high quality oil over high heat, or light steaming with water is the perfect was to cook food in spring and the way your liver will receive the most benefit.

greens for a healthy liver

Liver Disharmony

Of all the organs, the liver tends to be the most congested, and ironically, is responsible for the free flow of qi throughout the body. A diet high in fatty, deep fried foods as well as eating highly processed and denatured foods congest the liver and lead to disharmony, physically, mentally and emotionally. A person with a healthy liver in Chinese medicine is supremely calm, has no feelings of stress or tension, easily makes decisions and has excellent judgement.

Physical symptoms of liver imbalance include many symptoms. The liver opens into the eyes so many eye symptoms point to a liver disharmony (bloodshot eyes, floaters, vision problems like cataracts and glaucoma), tendon issues (contraction, weakness, rigidity and inflexibility), pain and distension in the sides and rib areas, vertex headaches and outbursts of anger or frustration are all symptoms of a liver disharmony.

Avocado Salad for Liver Health

Beneficial Liver Foods

  • Honey/mint tea
  • Herbs - basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, caraway, dill, bay leaf, turmeric, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, mint, lemon balm, angelica root, prickly ash bark
  • Complex Carbohydrates - grains, legumes, seeds
  • Vegetables - beets, carrots, watercress, onions, mustard greens, taro root
  • Raw foods - sprouted grains, beans, seeds, fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Fruits - lemon, lime, grapefruit
  • Bitter Foods - rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, , quinoa, alfalfa, radish leaves, citrus peel
  • Liver cleansing herbs - dandelion root, bupleurum, mandarin, milk thistle seeds, Oregon grape root, chamomile flowers
  • Liver detoxifying foods - mung beans and their sprouts, lettuce, cucumber, watercress, seaweeds, celery, millet, tofu, plum, chlorophyll rich foods, mushrooms, rhubarb root, radish, daikon radish

dandelion for the liver

If you are feeling like your liver might need a little extra love, then try eating some of the foods listed above, drinking some green juices (dandelion and milk thistle are particularly good) and go outside, take in the new green of the growing plants through your eyes, move your body to circulate the qi and stretch to keep those tendons limber. Your liver will love you for it. :)

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If you would like a downloadable information sheet that will tell you all about how to live in harmony with the Spring Season in Chinese Medicine, you can find it here - The Spring Season in Chinese Medicine.