Seeds are sprouting, flowers are blooming, and the sun is warming. There is a sense of renewal and new life all around.
While winter was a time to conserve energy and reduce activity, spring is a time of regeneration, new beginnings, and a renewal of spirit. It is the ideal time for cleansing and rejuvenation for overall health and well-being. As spring is represented by the wood element and includes the liver and its complementary organ, the gallbladder, these two organs are usually the primary targets for springtime cleansing and health regimens. These organs are in charge of regulating a smooth and soothing flow of energy throughout the whole person (body and mind). Unfortunately, they’re prone to congestion (aka “stagnation”) because most people take in too many poor quality fats and denatured foods, chemicals, medications, and intoxicants.
What happens when liver or gallbladder energy isn’t flowing properly? We can experience anger and irritability (and for women: PMS), depression, insomnia, and an inability to lead or make decisions. We are also more susceptible to problems like muscle pulls and strains, joint pains, and headaches when the liver and gallbladder are out of balance. The good news is there are many ways to alter your dietary and food preparation habits in order to prevent a major liver and gallbladder meltdown.
The principle of harmony between what we eat and the season is based on hundreds of years of practical experience. Chinese nutritional therapy is an important component of Chinese medicine and truly believes that you are what you eat. The food that we consume has a profound effect on the body, affecting our health and wellbeing. Foods become part of the body after being consumed (internal) and the weather and environment have an effect on us externally. Chinese dietary philosophy suggests that you embrace native foods along with eating locally grown, organic and chemical free foods that grow in season. According to TCM the thing about the modern diet which is the most unhealthy is that we are able to eat foods all year round that may be grown unnaturally with the use of pesticides rather than ones grown naturally for only part of the year. This is the way nature intended us to eat. Eating natural foods that grow in season is what our bodies are designed for and prefer. This is one of the main ways that Chinese Medicine guides us on how to remain healthy all year long.
The first bit of advice to relieve the liver is to eat less. Limit your intake of highly processed foods and increase your intake of lightly steamed vegetables and whole grains. The taste of spring is sweet so emphasise those grains, vegetables and legumes that have a sweet flavour. Honey is an excellent detoxifier if used sparingly. Honey mixed with apple cider vinegar has a particularly beneficial effect on the liver. Mix one teaspoon of each in a cup a water to detoxify and activate the liver. The reason vinegar is beneficial is that it has a bitter and sour taste which has a detoxifying effect on the liver. If heat signs are prevalent such as having a red face, thirst, and constipation, then substitute lemon, lime or grapefruit juice for the vinegar. Other bitter foods that can be used for detoxification purposes include rye, lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, and quinoa.
Springtime is the best time to start integrating the following changes, especially if you are a seasonal allergy sufferer:
1. Like the green shoots and buds of the plants and trees, spring is associated with the color green. Consume foods that are rich in chlorophyll (including cereal grasses like wheat or barley grass juice, micro algae like spirulina, parsley, kale, and collard greens) in order to accelerate liver rejuvenation.
2. Cook vegetables for a shorter time but at a higher temperature. This way, the food (especially the interior) is cooked slightly ‘al dente’. Think lightly steaming or minimal simmering. A quick, high-temp saute method is also recommended.
3. Upon awakening, before that first cup of tea or coffee, drink warm water with a slice of lemon to detoxify the liver and gallbladder. Or try 1 teaspoon each of apple cider vinegar and raw honey in one cup of water. Mint tea throughout the day is another excellent remedy for soothing liver qi (energy). I recommend this, especially if you are experiencing irritability, frustration, or notice frequent sighing.
4. Avoid heavy foods which can exacerbate sluggishness in the liver. These include dairy, fried foods, poorly sourced meats and large quantities of nuts (including nut butters).
5. Make sure to increase moderately pungent foods like green onions, garlic, ginger, watercress, mustard greens, turmeric, basil, cardamom, marjoram, cumin, and fennel in your diet. These help to ease the transition into spring when erratic changes in weather make us susceptible to colds, flus, allergies and acute illness. These foods also have a powerful immune boosting qualities.
6. Eat more raw foods, sprouted grains and seeds. According to TCM, we should also be consuming root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, beets, and turnips.
7. Increase foods with a slightly bitter quality as these can help your deal with problematic heat and inflammation in the liver. Rye, romaine lettuce, asparagus, amaranth, quinoa, radish leaves, citrus peel, dandelion and chamomile all have liver cleansing capabilities. Include these in your diet on a regular basis if you are prone to springtime allergies characterized by itchy, red eyes, post nasal drip and/or sneezing. These foods will also benefit red, swollen joints.
LAMB SHANK & BARLEY SOUP
This soup is a perfect light dinner or a hearty lunch - particularly for those occasional surprisingly chilly spring days.
- 4 lamb shanks
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- olive oil
- 1 large spanish onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 stalks celery, sliced thinly
- 2 carrots, finely chopped
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 2 bay leaves
- fresh lemon thyme
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 2 1/2 litres vegetable stock
- 1 swede, diced
- 1 small sweet potato, diced
- 1 x 400g tin tomatoes
- 200g pearl barley
Cut through tendons on shanks (crosswise) and rub allspice into the cuts. Brown the shanks in a little olive oil and set aside. Reduce heat and sweat the onion, garlic, celery and carrot until the onion is clear. Add remaining herbs and spices and allow to expand. When the room smells delicious, add hot stock slowly, ensuring to scrape all of the goodies from the base of the pot. Add remaining ingredients, and return the meat to the pot. Remove the cinnamon stick after about half an hour. Cook slowly over gentle heat until the meat is cooked (about 2 hours). Remove from heat, and gently remove the shanks. Take the meat from the bones and return the meat to the soup. Discard the bones. Serve with crusty bread and a good appetite!