Summer is a time filled with joy and laughter, warmth, and an upward moving energy. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this season is associated with the Heart, Small Intestine, Pericardium and Triple Burner organ systems and they are represented by the fire element. Much like Spring, Summer is considered to be yang in nature as is reflected in hotter temperatures and increased daylight. Yang Qi is on the surface of the body and is associated with increased energy and productivity. States such as Texas have longer summers, which changes the ways we eat, exercise and live in our environment.
The Heart controls blood circulation, blood vessels, nourishment of the five sense organs and sweat. An unbalanced Heart may result in Heart fire manifesting as irritability, insomnia, excessive dreams and sometimes even inappropriate laughter.
The Small Intestine “separates the turbid from the clear”. This means it pulls nutrients from the food we eat and refers to differentiation in clarity of mind and thoughts. An imbalance in the Small Intestine may present as digestive difficulties or a foggy mind.
Cold in or around the body can cause many pathological conditions for which heat brings relief. External heat, however, may cause its own slew of problems for a person who already has internal heat. It may aggravate moods in the form of irritability, hot flashes for some, excess sweating for others or combinations of symptoms. Poor digestion, feelings of heaviness and fatigue, and headaches are common.
Chinese medicine practitioners historically categorized foods according to their temperature and tastes. The temperature does not refer to the cooking temperature, but to the food’s effect on body temperature.
Suitable summer foods should clear heat (bitter, cool) and generate jin ye/body fluids (sour, sweet sparingly, cool) to prevent summer-heat conditions in the body. Summer time foods that alleviate heat include xi gua/watermelon, lu dou/mung beans or mung bean juice, ku gua/bitter gourd, bo he/mint, bo cai/spinach, fish; steamed veggies such as bok choy, bamboo, Chinese cabbage, seaweed, broccoli, corn, cucumber, snow peas, summer squash, cilantro, dill, cantaloupe, asparagus; fruits like lemon, peach, orange, egg plant; and sprouts.
Here is an expansion on some of the foods just mentioned:
Lu dou (Mung Bean) is sweet, cool, and assists the heart and stomach. Mung beans clear heat and summer-heat from the body via diuresis and assist in detoxification. They can be eaten as soup or congee. Mung beans are not suitable for people with simultaneous poor digestion, fatigue and diarrhea.
Ku Gua (Bitter Melon) is very good in the summertime. It is bitter, cold and assists the Heart, Spleen and Stomach. It clears summer-heat, brightens the eyes, clears toxins, can reduce blood sugar and help with weight reduction. Bitter melon can be prepared with food or as a preventative for sunstroke when dried and prepared as a tea.
Avoid excessive amounts of greasy, hot, spicy foods, especially if a person has characteristic signs of yin xu/yin deficiency (night sweats, hot palms/feet, inappropriate sweating, or excessive dryness in the body). Do not eat ice cream or consume alcohol (typical imbibers will have a thick yellow coat on their tongues).
Some tasty and easy to prepare recipes are as follows:
Watermelon Tomato Juice
- Ingredients: Watermelon 500g (1.10 lbs.), Tomato 300g (0.6 lbs.), sweeten to taste
- Prep: Squeeze watermelon and tomato to get juice.
- Actions: Clears summer-heat, promotes urination, and induces body fluid. Used for summer time heat with thirst and sweating. Also good for overindulgence in alcohol.
Lian Zi Lu Dou Zhou (Lotus Seed & Mung Bean Congee)
- Ingredients: lotus seeds 20g (.04 lbs.), mung beans 50g (~1/4 cup), jing mi/long grain rice 100g (~1/2 cup)
- Prep: Cook as congee.
- Actions: Reduces summer-heat and strengthens digestion.
Exercise in the summer should be done late morning and emphasize the heart and cardiovascular system. Of course your region should also determine the best time, as some mornings may be stifling.
As always recovery is key to enjoying your season and promoting longevity. Sleep should revolve around waking up earlier and staying up later to help fit into the season, with naps or meditations during the hottest part of the day. Don’t forget the importance of hydration.
Regular TCM treatments such as Acupuncture, Tui Na, herbal formulas, cupping and gua sha are all methods that restore vital functions to our health. In summer they can cool the body off and relieve stress.
“In the spring and summer when food is plentiful and humans tend to become lazy and slothful, finger pressure is used to increase digestion, fire and restore vigor.” Qi Bo – Yellow Emperor’s Classic
For more information on summer, see TCM Summer: Keeping Cool in Hot Times.