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 spring cleaning job.
Spring greens and sprouts are alkalizing and detoxifying. They are low in fat and full of revitalizing, rejuvenating (RNA, DNA) life force energy. They are also packed with vitamins, minerals, cleansing chlorophyll, fiber, antioxidants and other phytonutrients. They break up excesses accumulated over the winter season by reducing mucus and expelling toxins as the body does its natural spring 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), 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 is good with hot dogs/meats. Fruits and berries that are sour and cooling—grapefruit, lemons, apples, 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 like 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 more 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.
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