Spring at a Glance
In the tradition of the ancient Taoist 5 Element System
* Spring energetically emerges around the Spring Equinox, March 21st.
* Spring is ruled by the element of wood. The element of water from the previous season feeds the wood and helps it grow.
* The organ system of the liver/yin and gallbladder/yang are related to the wood element. Other body parts related to wood are nails, tendons, ligaments and our vision. The health of these organs and body parts are affected by our relationship to this season.
* Spring is about bursting forward, taking birth, unfolding. Supporting this growth is a healthy relationship with anger, boundaries, ability to grow. It is the ability to move through the obstacles to grow into our destiny.
* An unhealthy relationship with this element can result in inappropriate anger, frustration, even depression and resignation with an inability to focus and move toward something that brings joy, wandering aimlessly.
* The flavor of food that nourishes the wood element, liver and gallbladder is sour.
* The color that relates to the wood element is green.
The Importance of Spring
Some call it spring fever. Others call it hormones out of control. Call it whatever you want, there is no denying that after the inward time of winter, we start itching to spring forward.
Winter has given us stillness to dive into the depths, build our life force by nourishing our kidneys. Winter has prepared us for the surge of energy that will rise in us, as the shoots of new growth appear in the landscape. Without this time of rebuilding we couldn't burst through the obstacles and give birth to the seeds of our new cycle.
It is important to eat foods that support the cleansing of the liver in the spring. A congested liver and gallbladder can result in severe anger, frustration and even resignation, resulting in deep depression.
Growth is a process of overcoming obstacles, and we need the power that springtime provides us. The power of birth and growth come to their strongest point in spring, but it goes on at all times of the year and throughout our lives.
It is a great time to eat all those young dandelion plants in your lawn. Don't kill them, eat them. Dandelion is one of the most beneficial foods for nourishing and cleansing the liver.
Think green. Greens that are young and new, sprouts, radishes, watercress, young mustard greens, pungent herbs such as ginger, mint, cilantro, basil, are all good for reducing liver stagnancy in the spring. Toss these greens and herbs with fresh lemon juice and a little olive oil for not only a wonderful fresh taste, but savor the sour flavor of the lemon as your liver's best friend.
Even though we are moving into spring and our focus is on cleansing with spring foods and tonics, don't forget that we still need to balance our diets with nourishing foods for our entire system. Include seasonal foods that have bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty flavors along with our sour spring foods. Spring is the optimum time to do a gentle liver cleanse, supporting the opening of the channel for your energy to flow into your heart.
Foods for the Liver
Eat these foods year around as they are in season.
Relieve, stagnant, swollen liver
Unless malnourished eat less food. Reduce foods high in saturated fats, mammal meats, cream, cheese, eggs, shortening, margarine, refined, rancid oils, excess nuts and seeds, processed foods, intoxicants. Some people who are depleted need extra animal protein to rebuild. Consult a practitioner to best assess your needs.
Foods which stimulate the liver out of stagnancy
Moderately pungent foods, spices and herbs: watercress, all members of the onion family, mustard greens, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, cumin, fennel, dill, ginger, black pepper, horseradish, rosemary, mint, cilantro. Avoid fiery foods, they can damage stagnant liver.
Other anti-stagnancy foods that are not pungent, or mildly so, are beets, taro root, sweet rice, amasake, strawberry, peach, cherry, cabbage, turnip root, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts. Raw foods, sprouted grains, beans, seeds, fresh vegetables and fruits stimulate liver energy flow.
Foods for detoxifying and cooling liver
Mung beans and sprouts, seaweeds (kelp, excellent), lettuce, cucumber, watercress, tofu, millet, plum, chlorophyll rich foods, mushrooms, radish, daikon, kale, dandelion, collard greens, romaine lettuce.
Foods which accelerate liver rejuvenation
Cereal grasses such as wheat grass, spirulina, chlorella, other green foods such as parsley, kale, watercress, alfalfa, collard greens, nettles, dandelion.
Bitter & sour foods and herbs that reduce excesses of liver
Alfalfa, amaranth, asparagus, bupleurum, chamomile, citrus peel, dandelion, lemon, lime or grapefruit, licorice root, milk-thistle seeds, quinoa, radish leaves, rice or apple cider vinegar with honey, romaine, rye.
Blood Building Foods
Whenever we cleanse the liver, we want to simultaneously build and rejuvenate it along with our blood. Following is a list of foods that are particularly good for building the blood:
Adzuki beans, alfalfa sprouts, algae, apricot, artichokes, avocado, barley, beet root, black beans, black sesame seeds, burdock root, chicken eggs, collard greens, dandelion leaves, date, fig, kelp, kidney beans, longan, molasses, mulberry, nettle, oats, organic beef, oyster, pollen, rice, spinach, tang quei, watercress, wheat bran, boiled yellow dock leaves.
Optimum Cooking Methods for Spring
In the early part of spring you might notice that not much is in season. In many areas the weather is still cold in early spring. We need to do some slow cooking with the winter root vegetables to keep our bodies warm.
When you notice the weather is warm enough for nature to start sprouting her young green shoots of new life, it is most likely time for you to start transitioning into eating more high-energy cleansing foods that take little or no cooking. Unless, of course, she has gotten too confused what to do when as a result of global warming.
Because there is so much emphasis on young greens, with new life-energy moving up from the depths, the optimum cooking method is quicker than winter. Use common sense. As spring unfolds slowly, the weather may be warm one day and cold the next. You might want to consider eating lighter soups full of greens so you can simultaneously keep the body warm while moving into cleansing mode.
Steaming is a great cooking method for spring; it is slightly warming to the body yet has a cleansing effect. As the weather gets even warmer, quick-stir frying can be incorporated. This is nourishing after your energy has risen and is residing closer to the surface.
Sample Spring Refrigerator Shopping List
Use your refrigerator list from winter in early spring. Slowly transition these foods into warmer, spring-weather foods.
Sour. The most beneficial way to bring sour flavor into your diet is to eat lots of young greens tossed in lemon juice or apple cider vinegar and olive oil. Young sorrel is also good to eat for the sour flavor.
Bitter. alfalfa and other sprouts, amaranth, asparagus, basil, chickweed, chicory, dandelion, dandelion root, lettuces, nettle, oregano, parsley, quinoa, scallion, thyme. watercress, young kale, any other green, leafy plant you find.
Sweet. amasake, asparagus, basil, beets, chamomile tea, chrysanthemum tea, cow and goat milk, dandelion, dried or fresh fruit in season, eggs, fennel seed, ghee, grains, honey, jasmine tea, lime flower, mungbean sprouts, nettles, olive oil, parsnip, pea sprouts, potato, soya milk, spinach, winter squash.
Pungent. anise seed, arugula, basil, black & white pepper, cardamom, chickweed, cilantro, cinnamon, dandelion, fennel seed, garlic, especially wild spring garlic, ginger, jasmine, lemon balm, minor's lettuce, mint, onion, parsley, peppermint, radishes, scallions, spring onion, ramps. star anise, watercress.
Salty. alfalfa sprouts, bee pollen, dandelion leaf, dandelion root, fish, kelp, mineral salt, miso, nettle, nori, seaweed, tamari.
Start organizing your food lists. The lists you have received will serve you in the coming seasonal lessons. Start with your original food list of foods you like and add foods that nourish your kidneys, blood and liver. Highlight those foods and start preparing seasonal lists that integrate foods you like along with the potent medicinal foods for each season. Refine your lists, so you end up with a refrigerator list that you will put up each season. Each list will combine what you like with the five flavored foods for balance, and the additional foods for each season that are particularly nourishing to the organ systems relating to the current season. You can use these lists as a guide when you shop for seasonal ingredients.
Spring - Liver & Gall Bladder
Spring is a time to cleanse and support the Liver (yin) and Gall Bladder (yang) since it is these organs and meridians that are highlighted during this time. The Liver/Gall Bladder meridians correspond to the Wood element, and relate to the eastern direction, to windy climates and to the color green. They control the sinews (muscles and joints), and their health is reflected in the fingernails and toenails. The liver energy opens to the eyes. It is said people who have a strong wood element have a clear vision in setting their goals, that they plan and execute decisions skillfully and that they can strongly argue a point with clarity and decisiveness. But beware; liver people can also be fiery and angry when the wood element is imbalanced.
The liver, as an organ, is central to blood regulation and storage. It also breaks down fats; converts glucose to glycogen; removes amino acids from the blood, converting them to urea, which is excreted by the kidneys; stores vitamins and is associated with hormones production. The liver is one of the few organs that allows for complete regeneration of its tissue (so that even if 75% of the liver is cut away, the liver can regrow to wholeness again). The gall bladder is a small organ connected to the liver (by the hepatic duct), which stores bile for the liver. Bile emulsifies fat and neutralizes acids in partially digested food, aiding in digestion.
Because the liver is the powerhouse of the body, with its wide reaching functions, it is especially important to keep it balanced and working well. The liver is responsible for the distribution and regulation of Qi throughout the entire body, and if weakened or toxic, general health and vitality are diminished. When the wood element is weak, people can feel indecisive and stuck. They may have anger, expressed or unexpressed, and may be controlling, arrogant and short-tempered. Imbalanced liver people can be workaholics, or indeed, because of their addictive natures be alcoholics or drug addicts. They may also have digestive problems and experience bloating, gas and heat. With gall bladder imbalance, there is a tendency to be emotionally frustrated, resentful and irritable.