Eating in Autumn

Autumn corresponds to the Metal element in the 5 Element theory of Asian (Chinese) medicine and rules the Lungs and Colon.    To embrace Autumn choose foods that are ripen during the season, and Autumn is bountiful.  The foods that are ready for harvest are hardy and can be dried or stored for the long months ahead.  If you are eating seasonally, it’s the time to fill your pantry and root cellar with dried foods, heavy grains, seeds, roots, and squashes that help move the body’s energy inward for the Winter.  It’s time to slow down a bit, to spend a little more time indoors resting, we increase our cooking time and enjoy good food and company.

Eating seasonal foods often increases the variety in a person’s diet which often means more nutritional benefit and diversity. The return to eating regional and seasonal foods is also a vital step in helping insure food security for the future of our lives on this planet.

Roots vegetables

Onions, carrots, turnips, parsnips, radishes, beets, potatoes, yams, sweet potatoes – if it grows underground, it is an Autumn food.  This is a very broad category and much of it overlaps with the Later Summer foods so I can’t list all their vitamins or specific healing properties – but all roots create strength, tonify the center and the digestion.  Sweet roots, like sweet potatoes, specifically benefit the Spleen and Stomach and the Earth element.  Pungent roots, like onions and turnips, drain dampness and benefit the Lungs & Colon.  Eat a wide variety.

Nuts and seeds

Tight little bundles of nutrition and energy. Nuts and seeds build and strengthen the body.  They add on weight and fight deficiencies.  Yin building (fluids and fats) and warming nuts are good for thin, weak and frail types.  Limit your intake to about a handful a day and use a wide variety.  Use fresh nuts, keeping them in the shell until ready to use or freeze hulled nuts to avoid rancid oils that will aggravate allergies and  weaken the immune system. Nuts should be avoided if there is excess dampness, phlegm or yeast. Read more about nuts.

Winter squash

Hubbards, pumpkins, delacota, spaghetti, acorn, red kuri, turban….you get the idea. Winter squash have the hard skin and keep well through the Autumn, Winter, Spring and even into early Summer if stored right.  Squashes correlate to the season of Late Summer and help us bringing balance and core stability during times of transition. Squashes should be a part of everyone’s diet. They are high in vitamins C, B1 and B6, niacin, fiber, potassium, folic acid and carotenes – which protect against cancers. They warm the core, drain damp and tonify Qi and their neutral, sweet flavor lends to either sweet or savory dishes.

Autumn fruits

Grapes, apples, pears and peaches – oh my.  Most of the delicate berries are done – hopefully, you’ve frozen or stored some for later use–but now it’s time to reach for Autumn’s fruits.  Here in Idaho, that means the peaches, pears, nectarines, grapes and apples.   Pears in particular benefit the Lungs. Apples are beautiful for nourishing yin. Poached pears?

Lentils & legumes

High in fiber, protein, and vitamins lentils and legumes are complex meaning they regulate blood sugar–great for diabetes. They contain properties that counter cancer causing compounds in the intestines, they help relieve depression and fortify the body overall.  In Chinese energetic terms, they recharge Kidneys and adrenal glands while calming the nervous system. They encourage growth and stimulate the brain, spine and bone marrow.  They also drain damp excess conditions like edema and obesity.  Add them to soups, eat hummus or black bean dips, make up a lentil soup.  If you don’t regularly consume lentils and legumes, start slowly maybe one type at a time and use a digestive enzyme until your system starts to increase the creation of the its own enzymes.

Pungent foods, spices and herbs

The pungent (spicy) category corresponds to the Metal element, the Autumn season and the Lungs and Colon.  A very broad category, the pungent flavor ranges from hot and warm like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, anise and ginger, onions and radish to the cooling mints and lemon balms.   Their fragrance helps to stimulate the appetite, increase digestion and create warmth and circulation–and they bust up phlegm and mucus.  Add warming spices to mulled ciders, warm applesauce, baked fruits and desserts or simply sip on a warming cup of tea.  Aromatic herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme similarly circulate Qi, warm and stimulate the digestion and lend themselves to savory dishes.  Mints will help drain sinus congestion.

Mushrooms and fungus

Fabulous for the immune system, the Lungs and Kidneys, mushrooms start coming available again in the Autumn.  They dry well and store well and can make simple hearty meals.  Mushroom hot pot?

Animal proteins and broths

Animal flesh is warming and grounding by nature, and for those who choose to eat it, a little more during the cooler months is appropriate.  Ideally, roast, bake or stew the meat and make up broths.  The longer cooking time, again, helps move the energy in the body inward, warming and deeply nourishing.

Autumn cooking

How you cook a food will affect your body and shift the food’s energetics a little.  In Autumn, include more foods that are cooked slowly for a longer period of time like soups, stews, slower cooker foods, roasting and baked dishes. These methods create a deeper warmth and supply greater energy. If you suffer excessive dry conditions, use more stewing or poaching – which add in moisture. If you suffer excess dampness use dryer methods, like baking and roasting.  Time to dust off the crock pot.

Here’s to a warm, memorable autumn!