Earth’s sweet gifts

Here we are at the tail end of August, entering the Earth phase of the Chinese Five Element cycle, beginning around the third or fourth week of this month until shortly after the autumn equinox.

It’s that still point between the busyness of Summer/Fire, which is outward, active Yang energy, and the coming Autum/Metal, which is cooler, inward Yin energy. Late Summer/Earth season serves as a bridge and a place of balance, a short “extra” season that rests at the center of nature’s cycles.

Late summer is all about nourishment, both physical and emotional, but it’s also a time of transition when many changes occur both in nature and within ourselves. We may find ourselves feeling fatigued at this time, which can be the result of continuing the over-exertion of Summer/Fire activities when our bodies may want to simply rest. This is a time of starting to slow down, a time to enjoy Earth’s abundant offerings of vegetables and fruits. This is a season to relax, eat fresh food, and enjoy family and friends.

In Chinese medicine the Earth phase is associated with the Stomach, Spleen/Pancreas, muscles, and the mouth. The organ systems of the Stomach and Spleen together build and maintain the whole body by preparing food for absorption, digesting food, and feeding muscles and blood with nutrients. The Spleen system stores blood, forms antibodies, and produces white blood cells to fight off harmful invaders. It is responsible for absorbing, transforming, and transporting food, water, and Qi (energy).

When the Spleen-Stomach system is healthy and balanced, we feel nourished, stable, secure, grounded, and clear-headed. We are able to fully enjoy the sweetness of life, connectedness with others, and a sense of being “home.” Digestion and elimination run smoothly, we feel energetic, and sleep is deep and restful.

The Spleen is also said to house thought processes, and if there is worry and over-thinking, this system can suffer. If we don’t nourish ourselves well with whole foods, this system will falter. When the Spleen-Stomach system is imbalanced, we find life to be not so sweet, and this often leads us to substitute large amounts of sugar and processed carbs to compensate for what we are not getting in the way of real nourishment, either physical or emotional, or both.

A Spleen-Stomach system imbalance can manifest physically as fatigue/exhaustion, loose stools, constipation, pain or swelling in the stomach or abdomen, heartburn, uncomfortable feelings after eating, edema in the ankles or legs, poor lymphatic drainage, fatty tumors, weight gain, excessive appetite or loss of appetite, stiffness in the arms and shoulders, easy bruising, excess menstrual flow, spotting between periods, sluggishness, gingivitis, bleeding gums, and tooth decay. Western medical disorders associated with a Chinese medical diagnosis of a Spleen-Stomach pattern could include gastritis, duodenal ulcers, enteritis, chronic diarrhea, bleeding disorders, anemia, chronic hepatitis, diabetes mellitus, and cholecystitis.

Emotionally, a Spleen-Stomach disharmony can show up as worry, insomnia, ruminating, obsessive thinking, mental agitation, lack of concentration, memory loss, brooding, neediness, depression, being “up in the head” a lot, having looping thoughts. We may find ourselves feeling isolated and disconnected from others.

This is a time of year to make sure to get enough rest, exercise, stress reduction, great nutrition, and time with friends and other loved ones in order to boost Earth energy. Now is when we harvest and store foods to nourish ourselves through the winter ahead, and emotionally and spiritually it’s a time to contemplate, reflect, and consolidate memories and experiences that will feed our spirits in the months to come.

Paul Pitchford, in Healing With Whole Foods, says that “to attune with late summer, one may listen to its subtle currents, as if living at the instant where the pendulum reverses its swing. Find the rhythms and cycles that make life simple and harmonious.”

Pitchford advises choosing foods for each meal that represent the center, the Earth—that is, mildly (and naturally) sweet foods, yellow or golden foods, round foods, and/or foods that are known to support the Spleen-Stomach system. Fortunately, we have an abundance of many of these foods being harvested now on the small farms in this area—we can load up! Here are some of those Spleen-Stomach nourishing foods:

Corn, carrots, cabbage, squash, potatoes, string beans, yams, sweet potatoes, peas, apricots, cantaloupes, yellow peppers, pumpkins, pears, apples, onions, garlic, watermelons, tomatoes, turnips, fennel, horseradish, rice, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, parsley, and millet.

In this transition season of late summer, when plants and fruit trees and berry bushes are offering up so much lush, yummy nourishment for our bodies and the weather continues to be simply glorious and encourages relaxing outside with food and fellowship, I want to thank the Earth, our Mother, our center, for her many gifts to us.

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