Five Element Cuisine
Diet is one of the first areas of ours life that we must understand and cultivate in order to create, improve, and maintain healthy habits. Traditional Chinese Medicine acknowledges this fact within it own practice by using food as a means to preemptive disease and complement rehabilitation. To be sure the herbal medicine that TCM is known for is in one way an enhanced and deeper comprehension and application of food therapy. Knowing what foods are helpful and which are contraindicated is an extremely important fundamental towards continuing a healthy existence. Luckily, Chinese medicine has some simple to follow guidelines for doing just so on a general scale.
What Is Natural Is Good
All Traditional Chinese practices follow this general rule. Daoist understanding states such as well. If we can coordinate our habits with nature and what is abundant in a particular season, this is one of the easiest ways to improve our well being. It is also a natural path for us to experience a wide variety of nutrition and food. Too often in the western society we get accustomed to a few things we like and then seek to build a reinforced habit around these. However, too much of a good thing can easily revert into a negative result. We should remember that what is natural does not necessarily mean what is convenient. Convenience brings about too many habits that are ill fitted to benefiting our diet. More often they accomplish exactly the opposite.
We should adopt the definition of natural as organic and free of preservatives. Although, we should add to the list a key attribute that Chinese medicine follows, season. In Five Phase (or Element) Theory, each time of the year correlates to a specific part of the natural cycle of life. Wood is Spring which is attributed to Birth. Fire is Summer which is attributed to Growth. Earth is Late Summer which is attributed to Transformation. Metal is Autumn which is attributed to Harvest. Water is Winter which is attributed to Decay. These relationships set the table for an easy way to seek out foods that are in their natural cycle and are full of energy best to consume at the proper time.
First is Wood and Spring. This is the time of initial growth, of fresh sprouts coming forth from the earth and reaching for the sun. This is the season to eat such sprouts. Foods that are considered "stems" or "sprouts" are the best during this time. Celery, cilantro, spinach, leeks, and garlic sprouts are good during this time.
Second is Fire and Summer. This is the season of bursting energy and growth. Think flowers. What "flowers" or "bursts" is best during this time. Foods like cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, watermelon, strawberries, raspberries, and tomatoes are best during the summer. These foods are all either "flowering" or are "bursting" with water and juices. A great way to keep your water intake up and keep from dehydrating in summer is to keep a healthy amount of these on your plate.
Next is Earth and Late Summer. Earth is always categorized as a time of abundance and ripening. A time of transformation. This is during the dry heat at the end of summer where many things begin to ripen. Melons, apples, peaches, plums, pears, peppers, and oranges are good to keep the dryness at bay during late summer.
After Earth comes Metal and Autumn. Autumn is the season of harvest. As we prepare for winter we head out to the fields and retrieve all of the produce that is ready to harvest. Large scale crops like corn, beans, potatoes, carrots, radish, pumpkin, and beets are the best this time of year.
Last is Water with Winter. Winter is the time of decay and receding energy. This should be envisioned with the idea of sinking, underground, and concentrated, reduced energy. This that are buried or do their best work underground are good in this time. Winter is the time to add seeds, squash, mushrooms, tubers, and nuts to your everyday meals. Hot soups, water replenishing, is the best way to consume these highly dense and nutritious meals.
Five Phases to Five Tastes
Another realm of cooking in a TCM perspective is to look at the taste. Each organ is related to a different taste. Each flavor influencing a network of relationships with its origin in a specific organ. Sour food influences the Liver, Bitter food influences the Heart, Sweet food influences the Spleen, Pungent food influences the Lungs, and Salty food influences the Kidneys.
You can create a balance between these five tastes to create a neutral dish that can be enjoyed at any time. Alternatively you can seek to stimulate or regulate the five tastes in order to influence a particular symptom. For example, if you are over joyed or have a heart condition, bitter foods and drinks may exacerbate the symptoms. Or if you have a lack of this stimulant, bitter food and drink may help to rectify it. Salty helps to regulate the water intake and absorption levels in your body. If you are dry, it may be time to stimulate the kidneys with a higher level of salty food. If you have a sweet tooth and are gaining weight, the spleen may be over worked with amounts of sweet food that it is unable to utilize.
This is another facet of Chinese Medicine that is worth a look into. The experience must be taken into the kitchen and through a little of trial and eureka you may find some dishes and dish combinations that bring a whole new flavor to your diet. Variety is the spice of life and it is up to us to maintain a higher quality of food in our diet so that we may continue to live a higher quality of life.