Gardens grow, die, regenerate and bloom all in the course of the year. For those of us with a green thumb, this is a concept well understood and a cycle that even determines our daily life. In summer, constantly tending the veggie patch and mustering the herbs, autumn, digging deeper into the soil and looking to the fruits and trees for produce, winter is time to tend the beds and nourish the soil and spring is the time to plant sow and care for young seedlings.
But for many of us who live in a more urban environment, this cycle can be somewhat lost on us. With our reliance on freighted produce and a 'year long' access to foods in our supermarkets, are we out of touch with our seasonal ingestion? Are we giving ourselves the right types of foods that will promote the right sort of resilience for what the seasons are actually throwing at us?
In traditional medicine, seasons determined what was available to us for a reason. Our bodies needs change inherently with the environment around us. For example, in autumn our bodies require moisture as the days cool and the browning of the foliage starts to set in. We need foods to combat this lack of hydration. We also need to start to prepare our bodies for the ensuing winter months, reinforcing our blood which means our resilience for immune function is at a premium as well as preparing our lungs for the ensuing bacterias and onslaught of coughs, colds and flus during the winter months.
We can learn a lot from our gardens as to what to eat and when to eat it. If we look at the seasonal availability of food, its letting us know which vitamins and nutrients are needed at what time. There is even a guide to the types of 'tastes' that we should be looking for to correspond with certain seasons.
Foods should have a cooling effect for obvious reasons. In this season RAW foods are better as they help to alleviate heat in the body. When you think of summer think of the vibrant colours in the garden. Cooling foods are good so think of light seafood dishes and easily digested meats such as chicken and turkey. Fruits, berries, salad greens, asparagus, cucumbers, peas, green beans, summer squash, corn, tomatoes. These all have that ability to eaten raw or just cooked lightly and are packed with nutrients. An example, summer is the time for tomatoes - they contain lycopene that helps combat sunburn. Bitter and sweet comes into the flavour palate for summer, that doesn't mean refined sugar and soft drinks. Naturally sweet foods such as coconut nectar, rice syrup, maple syrup.
To prevent or reduce loss of moisture from the drop in temperatures, eat foods such as nuts and seeds and their oils (tahini, olive, almond and flax oil), wholegrains like barley and millet, and apples, pears and avocado to keep moisture in the body. Foods that build up our blood in preparation for winter are figs, pears, pumpkin, and beetroot. The flavour associated with autumn is pungent so ginger and wasabi are especially helpful during this season.
Contrary to summer, now is the time FATTEN UP. You need more calories in winter to make sure you keep the warmth and heat inside your body. Warming foods are usually those that take longer to grow such as root vegetables and usually foods that grow 'low to the ground'. Even spices make a difference, like cayenne, chili and even just run of the mill pepper! Now is also the time for those hefty stews and laden beef and lamb shank dishes. Garlic and mushrooms are good at this time to ward off infections and boost our blood immunity. Salty is the flavour for winter - preserving and lasting foods if you like.
The Spring Clean is here. Yes our body needs to clean itself from the winter months as well. Tender young greens begin to appear in spring and those foods that are easily steamed, poached, and don't need too much actual cooking are great for Spring. Increasing foods for the liver and gall bladder is ideal in this season. Light wok cooked dishes are best in this time, to retain the young fresh nature of the nutrients that nourish our organs and system. Going back to those lighter flesh meals as well is important in this time. Like the green drinks you think are cleansing you, well they got the green right - its time to flush everything and prepare for the reds and yellows of summer. Sour and bitter are the flavours of spring, flushing the system and activating the liver and gall bladder.
So there's a reason why the seasons determine what grows in our climate. It's feeding us the information that we need for resilience to elements and giving our systems little boosts for what the climate is actually going to throw at us. Even by thinking about the location of foods and their inherent 'nature' of heavy or light can be a good inidcator as to what is best for us.
So as we start to head into the new season with cooler weather and less time being spent in the sun, have a think about what your diet should be shifting to and what 'qualities' of cooking you may be employing to really target what the body needs and desires.