March/April 2012: Welcoming Spring, Attuning to Spring


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A part of good health means attuning to the energy of the seasons.   Energy and health go hand in hand because the essence of life itself really boils down to energy:  The conglomerate of minerals that make up the human body comes to life through energy in the form of electrical impulses that help us think, move, and craft ourselves into who we uniquely become as individuals.

 

City living and modern conveniences tend to desensitize us from the natural change in seasonal foods, lifestyle, and energies, but in the past, cultures sustained themselves locally and lived by the seasons.   Harsh winters forced families to hunker down and live within a small radius, huddled by the wood stove or the keeping room fire.  Surviving the dormant winter season required strategies for rationing scarce resources.   Winter survival also demanded planning during the prior planting and harvest seasons; a cooperative family effort; and favorable weather conditions.

 

In the past, winter’s few possibilities and limited stimulation imposed itself as a time of rest.   Long weeks of bone-chilling cold, close quarters, and isolation from the outside world also required ingenuity, as family members had to rely for amusement on simple pleasures and their own inner creativity.  These conditions left plenty of time to develop strength of character and a firm sense of self.

 

In these modern times, I get to taste the best of this seasonal life by spending dark winter evenings in our 1803 Cape house located deep in the Massachusetts woods.  With its original modest windows and multiple fireplaces, now supplemented with a state-of-the-art heating system, I enjoy the comforts of modern life, but with the romance associated with the lifestyle of New England some 200 years ago.  Living in this way makes it easy to imagine, as winter drew on for our forebears, their almost desperate desire for spring, as well as their sense of gratitude when February, March, and April days lengthened exponentially.  As my 94-year-old father, who grew up on a small rural Missouri farm, tells it, spring brought many joys, not the least of which was liberation from the bedraggled suit of long underwear that was sewn on in the fall and “shorn away” each spring.

 

In the past, people observed animals in the wild to guide them to seasonal foods that were safe to eat.  In the spring, animals came out of their winter isolation/hibernation to munch on surface roots (rhizomes), as well as shoots, sprouts, and cleansing bitter greens.  Seeds that lay fallow in the frozen ground all winter, sprouted into first-growth alkalizing foods packed with nutrition—vitamins; minerals; enzymes; chlorophyll; antioxidants; fiber; and other phytonutrients—the perfect liver cleansing, energetic, and nutrient boost/ antidotes to the heavy, acid-forming, monotonous staples of the winter pantry.

 

 

Relishing Winter’s Darkness in A Modern World

Finding Darkness, Winter.  Today, the expansive energy and stimulation of television, computers, and electronics of all kinds present not only opportunities but also a special set of challenges to the individual.    We can best welcome the expansive energy of spring, when we are able to retreat in order to relish and restore ourselves during the contractive phase of winter.  But how do we do this?  How do we connect with our inner selves amid the sea of electronic stimulation?   How do we develop our individual self against the “inner breeding” of four-five hours of daily television?  How, when we tune into the same nightly news programs and read from the small remaining cluster of national newspapers?  Mobility and stimulation ask little of us ; rarely are we called upon to lean on our own inner resources.  Yet the strength of our democratic culture to sustain itself is built upon education, diversity, and a broad spectrum of points of view.

 

Eating Locally, Seasonally.  Regional climates and foods affect local attitudes, customs, and behaviors, so foods grown and eaten locally and seasonally also support individuality and cultural diversity.  This is because plants, as rather simple forms of life, are adaptogens.  They stand on the forefront of environmental and climate change to supply seasonal energy and nutrients for our survival.  For example, plants that grow in cold, harsh climates are generally more tonifying , strengthening, and warming compared to plants that grow in warmer climates, which tend to be cooling and moistening.   Because plants adapt quickly to environmental change, they supply seasonal energy and nutrients for our survival.

 

Today, our massive supermarkets with food flown in from around the globe can be a blessing, particularly to the wise shopper, but mega-stores make it easy to lose sight of and attunement to foods that are local and seasonal.   Yes, we can buy cooling foods like cucumbers, zucchini, and melons in winter, but the variety of supermarket choices, no matter the season, can lead to confusion about what and how much to eat, as well as to a loss of connection to our body’s seasonal and nutritional needs.

 

Fast food and packaged foods take this one step further.  Fast food chains’ standardized décor and menu guarantee an expected dining experience and the brand assurance that a Big Mac or Papa Pizza will taste the same, whether purchased in Kennebunkport, Louisville, or Seattle.  Likewise, a child downing a Twinkie or a bowl of Cheerios will eat the same meal, whether in Alaska or Florida.  Within our media-driven culture, the homogenization of food tastes and preferences devalues individuality.  The vast array of food choices and uniformity of prepared foods nationwide have quashed much of the former American pride in ethnic and regional cuisines—coloration sadly lost to time.

 

Choosing the North Face.  Wild crafters, recognizing plants as adaptogens, traditionally seek herbs that grow in the harsh, windy conditions of the north face of the mountain because these are the herbs that have the greatest strength, stamina, and healing power.   Our forebears lived on the north face.  They had few tools for escape.

 

Today, in a world that we can far more readily manipulate to assure comforts and ease, we can benefit from choosing the north face in some daily lifestyle choices—to walk when we could ride; to cook from scratch when we could purchase prepared foods; to read or do handicrafts when we could watch TV.  Through science and technology, we have constructed an ever larger south face of our mountain, promising warmth, artificial light, comforts, conveniences, and gratification.  But what happens to our own individuality and to our civilization if as a people we continually take the easy step, the south-face choice?

 

In a world of artificial light, we need darkness all the more—darkness where we can find peace to restore our souls, uniqueness, and creativity.  Darkness leads to light, to enlightenment.  When we relish winter, we are ready for fresh life, energy, and possibility—all that Spring has to offer.

 

 

Spring Foods

Foods that attune us to the dry, cold weather—hearty soups and stews; sweet, “sticky” root vegetables and dried fruits; nuts and seeds; warming/moistening grains (e.g., oats); red meats and roasted marrow bones— are warming, sustaining and perfect for winter.  But these are also acid-/mucus-forming foods that require a little spring cleaning once winter bids farewell.  Spring invites us through the foods that burst forth from the first thawed ground—sprouts, shoots, and all kinds of leafy bitter greens and pungent roots and rhizomes—to lighten up and allow our body to do a thorough seasonal cleaning job.

 

Spring greens and sprouts are alkalizing and detoxifying.  They are low in fat and full of revitalizing, rejuvenating (DNA/RNA) life force energy.  They are also packed with vitamins, minerals, cleansing chlorophyll, fiber, antioxidants and other phytonutrients.  They break up excesses accumulated over the long winter season by reducing mucus and expelling toxins as the body seeks to do its natural spring cleaning chores.

 

Spring greens, sprouts, and pungent roots and rhizomes also help detoxify the liver, the major organ associated with spring.  The liver serves many functions in the body; one of its most important is to filter and breakdown toxins that can result from general overeating, as well as from alcohol, drugs, oily and fried foods, heavy meats, pesticides, and chemicals.  A liver overwhelmed by winter eating and drinking habits can be revitalized by the alive, biogenic (“transferring life”) sprouts and by other chlorophyll-rich foods offered by spring.

 

To assist the liver and the body as a whole in the spring, we need lighter, cooling foods that are generally bitter and pungent (to dispel mucus); pungent (to move energy); and sour (to assist the liver, break up heavy fats, and relieve indigestion and stagnation).

 

Sour.  Sour, the color green, the liver/gall bladder, and the emotion anger are all associated with spring according to Chinese Five Phase Theory.  A liver overwhelmed by heavy foods and toxins can stagnate energy (“Qi”), leading to anger, depression and mood swings, and the inability to plan and make decisions.  The sour flavor is cooling; has a drying, astringent effect; and acts on the liver to relieve congestion.  Lemon tea, simply lemon and hot water, is a good example of a fitting antidote to a heavy meal.   So is sauerkraut, which goes with hot dogs/meats.   Fruits and berries that are sour and cooling—grapefruit, lemons, apples, mango, pears, and strawberries— also assist the liver and fit a spring diet.

 

Bitter.  Bitter foods are cooling and downward draining.  They help rid the body of excess fluid and damp conditions that can lead to spring colds, asthma, allergies and congestion.  Spring gives us plenty of these light, bitter foods through the plethora of leafy spring greens and vegetables like asparagus.  Also good are vegetables in the cabbage family such as bitter Brussels sprouts, kale, and broccoli rabe.

 

Pungent.  Pungent foods, such as onions, garlic, ginger, watercress, radishes, and turnips are also fitting for spring.  Pungent foods help clear the lungs and large intestine, stimulate digestion, and move Qi to relieve stagnation.  Pungent foods also move energy upward and outward and help the body breakup and dispel mucus, particularly from mucus-forming foods like dairy.   [Dairy is cooling.  No matter the season, dairy products, if tolerated, are best consumed in moderation; at room temperature; and away from the cold and flu season since dairy is a favorite food of bacteria.  Scientists use dairy in the lab to grow bacteria, but we need not do the same.]

 

Spring foods to emphasize.  In Spring, people who are generally balanced will want to eat foods from all five flavors—sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty—but with less emphasis on the sweet, salty sustaining foods of winter and more upon the bitter, pungent, and sour detoxifying foods of spring.  At this time of year, it is best to try to limit red meat and dairy which are mucus-forming.  Also try to rotate from wheat and oats to the more drying bitter/sour grains such as rye and amaranth, as well as buckwheat, corn, millet, and quinoa, all of which are drying and cleansing compared to oats and wheat.  Because wheat allergies can result from heavy reliance on wheat throughout the year and from poor food combining when proteins are eaten with wheat (e.g., sandwiches, pizza),  consider rotating in spring to more seasonally-appropriate, non-gluten grains–quinoa, millet, and buckwheat.

 

Below are listed foods by category that are neutral to cooling, and either bitter, pungent, or sour.  If listed more than once, foods embody more than one taste.  Foods that are not listed are either warming or exclusively sweet or salty or a combination and therefore more fitting for seasons other than spring.

 

Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are bitter:  Vegetables—lettuce, broccoli rabe, celery, chicory, dandelion greens, escarole, endive, mustard greens, rutabaga, turnips, olives; Fruits—none; Grains—amaranth, rye [both grains are also drying, in keeping with spring.]

 

Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are pungent:  Vegetables—bokchoy, broccoli rabe, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, radish, rutabaga, turnip, watercress;  Fruits—none; Grains—none.

 

Cooling-to-neutral temperature foods that are sour:  Vegetables—none; Fruits—apples, grapefruit, lemon, grapes, mango, pears, pineapple, plum, strawberries [most of these are both sweet and sour]; Grains—barley, millet [millet is also drying].

 

Note:  A devoted rotation to spring bitter and raw foods will not generally work well for people who are deficient, have cold conditions, and/or weak digestion.   Cooked foods and foods that are sweet in flavor are more strengthening and tonifying and may be appropriate throughout the year for some individuals with cold and/or deficient conditions.  In the same spirit, it may make sense for someone with heavy congestion and excess heat conditions to eat cooling, cleansing raw foods and bitter greens throughout the year.  A person’s physical profile should take precedence over seasonal food considerations.

 

 

Growing Sprouts

Spring brings to mind many foods—asparagus, peas, a rich variety of spring bitter greens, and early strawberries ripening under the bright May sun.  But, for me, nothing quite captures the revitalizing transition from dark, dormant winter to the bright, enlivening energy of spring like sprouts.  Sprouts vividly reveal the life force of a seed miraculously coming to life.  They are one of the most nutrient-dense foods imaginable; they detoxify the liver; support the immune system (T-cells); and, they are full of life force energy.   Sprouts are biogenic, alive foods that appear to pass their essence (RNA, DNA) as a live force when eaten (see below).1   Sprouts contain all the nutrients and energy to support a mature plant; when we eat sprouts, we acquire the essence of the mature plants but without the bulk.  Growing sprouts in your home is easy to do in any season, but to do so now can be both emotionally satisfying and nutritionally sound.

 

Germination.  Once any vibrant seed—a whole grain, legume, bean, nut, or seed—is soaked in enough water for long enough to breakdown its protective phytic acid, germination is started and soon a young plant is born.  In its earliest few days, the plant first unfolds as a tender stem whose job it is to burrow through the soil to the sunlight before leaves begin to unfurl.

 

Sprouts and health.  Shoots and sprouts are tender and loaded with nutrition to help support the plant on its journey to maturity:  When a seed sprouts, it starts quickly to develop a rich array of nutrients to support the mature plant that it is to become.  According to Steve Meyerowitz, who has devoted much of his life to the science of sprouting, in the first 5-10 days, young seedlings attain their greatest nutrient density; vitamins increase many-fold; and complex starches are broken down to make beans and grains more digestible.  (As a related point, sprouting can prevent allergies to wheat or other offending grains.)   According to Steve Meyerowitz, with the germination of a seed:

 

  1. “Nutrients are broken down—protein into amino acids, fats into essential fatty acids, starches to sugars, and minerals chelate or combine with protein in a way that increases their utilization.  This…increases nutrition and improves digestion and assimilation…the reason sprouts are considered predigested food.
  2. “Proteins, vitamins, enzymes, minerals and trace minerals multiply from 300 to 1200 percent.  Chlorophyll develops in seeds that become green plants.  Certain acids and toxins that can interfere with digestion are reduced or eliminated.  Size and water content increase dramatically.”2.

 

 

Viktoras Kulvinskas, an early pioneer in the science of sprouted food, sprouts provide nucleic acids (think DNA, RNA), which are key elements of cell growth and regeneration.  These increase by as much as 30-fold through sprouting.   Ann Wigmore calls sprouts biogenic (alive) foods, to distinguish them from bioactive raw fruits and vegetables.  Biogenic foods—sprouted grains, beans, nuts and seeds—are able to transfer their life energy to us when we eat them.  This may shed light on why David Wetzel  of Green Pasture.org believes that first-growth spring grasses provide a stem-cell component that underlies the mysterious health benefits of X-factor butter oil.  (See January/February 2012 newsletter on vitamin D).

 

Counter-top sprouting.  Growing sprouts can be as simple or complex as you wish it to be.  You can purchase professional sprouting equipment such as vertical sprouters and sprout bags, or you can simply have fun with good seeds and a large jar fitted with a mesh top.

 

Counter-top sprouting can be done in any home and during any season. It requires no long-term commitment and makes no mess.  You need neither yard nor soil,  hoe nor gardening gloves.  All that is required is a large jar; a screened lid; good, organic sprouting seeds; water; and a few consecutive days when you can rinse, shake, and drain the sprouting seeds each morning and evening. This step keeps the seeds cool and moist.

 

Sprouting seeds takes a week or less. You may want to grow sprouts regularly; or you might prefer to dabble now and then, washing the jar and setting sprouting aside until you are once again in the mood. For children, growing sprouts in a jar on the countertop is a perfect first-growing adventure, one that can encourage eating greens, the major food missing from their diets.
The simple steps for sprouting are:

  • Put about 2 tablespoons of sorted, organic seeds, or ¼-1/2  cup grains, beans, or legumes in a clean two-quart jar fitted with a screen top (or a square of cheese cloth, nylon, or mosquito netting)  held in place by a canning jar ring, string, or strong rubber band.  This screened opening permits easy rinsing, draining, and air ventilation.  Use a one-gallon jar if you choose to sprout more seeds, though keep in mind that while 2 tablespoons looks like a small quantity of seeds, sprouts need plenty of space to grow and to prevent overcrowding.
  • Cover the seeds with plenty of filtered water that is free of chlorine, and let it sit overnight, or about 8 hours.  Some seeds require only 6 hours of soaking, while beans and grains with tough exteriors may benefit from a soak as long as 24-36 hours. There are also mucilaginous seeds that require no soaking at all, although this may not be the best approach for sprouting seeds like this. For more information on seeds and soaking times, you can refer to www.sproutpeople.org.
  • At the end of the soaking period, and with the screened lid firmly in place, pour off and discard the water.
  • Cover the seeds with plenty of fresh water, swish them around inside the jar, and drain once again. Then turn the jar upside down and set it at an angle; a dish drainer works well for support. Keep the seeds out of direct sunlight, though ordinary room light and indirect sunlight are both fine.  A room temperature of 60-70 degrees is ideal because growing sprouts produce heat. Rinsing the sprouts morning and evening prevents them from overheating in a jar that traps heat; it also keeps the sprouts moist.   [If you grow sprouts in warmer temperatures, you may want to give them cooling baths more frequently than twice a day.]
  • Repeat the above step twice a day, morning and evening, for several days, until the seeds are well-sprouted and, if applicable, starting to turn green (not all sprouts are green in maturity).
  • When you are ready to harvest your sprouts (grains are sweetest and beans/legumes have the highest protein levels after just 2-3 days; greens need longer in order to develop chlorophyll), rinse them and then pour them onto a towel to air dry. Place dry sprouts in a covered container, lined with a paper towel, and refrigerate.  They should keep for a week or more and can be used in salads and sandwiches, or for juicing.

 

Note:   Because sprouts are cleansing and detoxifying, they may work less well for older people in the “winter, drying-out” phase of life.  At age 64, I find I need a good complement of sweet round and root vegetables plus good fats and oils in all seasons of the year, and I must consume sprouts rather sparingly.

 

 

Reading Resources

 

Chinese Medicine and Five Phase Theory:

Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac and Efrem Korngold, L.Acl O.M.D., Between Heaven and Earth

John W. Garvy, Jr., N.D., D. Ac., The Five Phases of Food:  How to Begin

Ted Kaptchuk, O.M.D., The Web that Has No Weaver

Giovanni Maciocia, The Foundations of Chinese Medicine

http://pathways4health.org/2010/03/01/chinese-5-phase-theory/

 

Food Energies and “Kitchen Medicine”:

Steve Gagne, The Energetics of Foods

Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac and Efrem Korngold, L.Acl O.M.D., Between Heaven and Earth, 323-379.

Annemarie Colbin, Ph.D., The Natural Gourmet

Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods

http://pathways4health.org/2010/08/30/sept10-seasonal-harmony/

http://pathways4health.org/2010/09/16/oct10-signatures-2/

 

Sprouting:

Viktoras Kulvinskas, Sprouts for the Love of Every Body

Steve Meyerwitz, Sprouts, The Complete Guide to Sprouting; www.sproutman.com

Ann Wigmore, The Sprouting Book; The Wheatgrass Book

 

 

 

Spring Recipe:  Pathways4Health Non-gluten, Moist Cornbread with Drying Grains of Spring/Summer

 

1 cup cornmeal                                                                 1-2 eggs, beaten, depending on size

1 cup millet flour                                                              1 cup cooked pureed squash or sweet potato

2 t. baking powder                                                          1 cup organic milk, or soy, rice, almond milk

2 T. sugar; 1 t. salt (optional)                                       1 t. vanilla (optional)

¼ cup softened butter or coconut oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees and oil a 9” square pan.  In a bowl, mix dry ingredients, including sugar if you want a slightly sweet cornbread to eat like you would a muffin.  Cut in shortening.  In a separate bowl, beat egg(s); add squash, milk, and vanilla.  Gently fold dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, pour into the well-greased pan.  Bake at 425 degrees for about 25 minutes.

Pureed squash makes this a moist cornbread that is light, gluten free, and attuned to spring/summer because corn and millet are both drying grains.

 

 

Appendix:  Eating by the Seasons, the Sun’s Seasons in Contrast to the Calendar Seasons

 

Our calendar seasons do not correspond with the sun’s energy footprint.  We actually gain about one hour more sun time (roughly 3 ½ hours in total) in the winter quarter, December 21-March 21, than we do in “official” spring season, from the spring equinox to the summer solstice, March 21-June 21.  To synchronize to the sun, we may feel like eating spring foods in late February and early March if the weather is warm enough and we feel the need to shift to lighter fare after weeks of heavy winter eating.

 

Monthly Footprint of Changes in Sunlight

(Based on New York City; Derived from Date and Time)

 

Date Sunrise, a.m. Sunset, p.m. Sunlight Hours

Change

December 31

7:20

4:39

9h 18m

January 31

7:07

5:12

10h 5m

+ 47m

February 28

6:32

5:46

11h 15m

+ 1h 10m

March 31

6:42

7:19

12h 39m

+ 1h 24m

April 30

5:56

7:51

13h 55m

+ 1h 16m

May 31

5:28

8:20

14h 52m

+ 57m

June 30

5:28

8:31

15h 2m

+ 10m

July 31

5:52

8:12

14h 20m

– 42m

August 31

6:22

7:30

13h 7m

– 1h 13m

September 30

6:52

8:12

11h 47m

– 1h 20m

October 31

7:25

5:53

10h 27m

– 1h 20m

November 30

7:00

4:30

9h 29m

– 58m

December 31

7:20

4:39

9h 18m

– 18m

 

Copyright 2012, Pathways4Health.org

 

 

  1. Ann Wigmore, The Sprouting Book, v, 6, 15, 16. []
  2. Steve Meyerowitz, Sprouts, The Complete Guide to Sprouting, 93 []