Spring has sprung: eating for the vernal season

We made it! We've  survived the most brutal winter of all time! Last weekend, my husband and I spent a Sunday afternoon taking a gentle hike through some forest trails - I was so happy I could have cried. The birds were back, the sun was shining, and I wasn't even wearing a jacket. This weekend was equally glorious - the trees are budding, the grass is greener and the crocus flowers in our neighborhood are beginning to bloom. Spring is here!

With this change of seasons, it's important for us to slowly shift away from the heavier foods and more reclusive lifestyles of winter. The Inner Classic, the most important text of traditional Chinese medicine, tells us that this is the time of year to "rise early with the sun," to take  "brisk walks" and to take part in the activity and rebirth occurring around us in nature.

Reflecting on this text and thinking about my record over the past few years, I realize I have not had the most graceful of transitions between seasons. And so, in an effort to keep myself on track, I have put together a seasonal transition regimen of sorts and thought it might be helpful to share:

Spring is a time for cleansing

Spring cleaning is not just for our homes and closets: in traditional Chinese medicine, this season is linked to the liver and gall bladder, and special care should be taken to avoid overburdening these organs. One should generally eat less, and the heavier foods of winter should slowly be substituted for lighter fare with ascending and expansive qualities (just like spring!) Think sprouts, greens and seasonal vegetables.

Heavy, overly-fatty foods can make the liver sluggish and should be avoided. Dandelion root is an especially cleansing, liver-supporting herb that you can enjoy as a tea.

Decrease salt consumption

Salt and salty foods (miso, soy, heavily-salted broths, processed meats, etc.) should be minimized during the spring season due what Chinese medicine refers to as their "sinking energy". If you find yourself with salt cravings, increase your intake of complex carbs, which can reduce this desire (source: Pitchford, 2002).

Reduce your intake of animal products

The regular consumption of animal products should be avoided as they are heavy and taxing on the liver;  instead, enjoy whole grains, legumes and seeds.

Use pungent herbs for cooking

Pungent  herbs have an expansive effect on the body - basil, fennel, marjoram, rosemary, dill, caraway and bay leaves are wonderfully supportive (and delicious!). (source: Pitchford, 2002).

Enjoy some raw food...

Spring is the time to increase one's consumption of raw foods (especially later in the season as we transition into summer). Just be careful and make sure to listen to your body: if you have any signs of digestive difficulties, then raw foods should be avoided or minimized, as they are more difficult to digest and are traditionally thought to dampen one's "digestive fire."

...however, most of your food should still be lightly cooked

Even though some raw food is good for many of us at this time of year, the majority of our food should  be lightly cooked (a diet composed primarily of raw foods, as mentioned above, is taxing on our digestive system and is usually not a good idea).

Spring cooking methods should differ from the slow-cooked stews and soups of winter: vegetables should be cooked for a short period of time, but at higher temperatures (it is best if they maintain some of their "crunch").

Go outside!

Get reacquainted with nature (and, in my case, the sun!). Spring is  the season of youth, activity and rebirth, and nothing is more refreshing for the body and soul than some quality outdoor-time.