THE ENERGETICS OF FOOD
by Daverick Leggett
Food is one of the eight strands of traditional medicine in the east alongside disciplines such as herbal medicine, acupuncture and bodywork. A knowledge of food energetics can deeply supplement a practitioner’s ability to help their clients and this article sets out to provide guidelines for giving dietary advice and working successfully with food.
“Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food” said Hippocrates. This idea is rarely encountered in the western doctor’s surgery but it would sit well in China where it is traditionally held that the most skilled doctor “should first understand the pathogenesis of the disease, and then treat it with diet, using medicines only when food fails”. This article looks at the role played by food in our well-being from the perspective of traditional Chinese medicine.
As infants we learn to adapt to whatever environment we are born into. As we adapt to our environment and get our needs met, we are developing the power of our Spleen. Provided that the sources of nourishment are adequate and available we can develop our Spleen successfully.
Initially we are dependent on our mother’s milk and parental protection and support. Gradually we develop the ability to digest more complex food and to look after ourselves. It is not until we are about seven years old that we can expect the Spleen to reach its full maturity so these early years are critical for the Spleen’s development.
The Spleen’s development may be seen as our growth from dependence towards independence, from being supported to supporting ourselves. The functions of the Spleen are adaptation, nourishment and support. As we shall see, these functions are expressed at a physiological, anatomical, mental, emotional and spiritual level. At the physiological level the Spleen is expressed as the digestive system, the means by which we meet our nutritional needs. Digestion is the process of converting food into usable substances within our bodies and sending them to where they are needed. The Spleen adapts food to nourish and support our system. This process is called ‘transformation and transportation’. The stronger our Spleen function is, the better we are able to extract nourishment from any food to support our body’s needs.
When we eat, the question is often not so much whether a particular food is good for us but rather how strong and skilled our Spleen is at extracting the nourishment from it. The first step towards eating well may not involve changing our diet at all but rather strengthening and maintaining our Spleen. We shall see how to do this later.
The Spleen’s physical manifestation as the digestive process is expressed at the mental level as the thinking process. The Spleen governs our ability to study and concentrate, to process information. Although it may not seem so at first glance, the thinking and digestive processes are very similar.
When we read an article (this one for example) we have to adapt words (food) into sense
(nutritional substances) and then store them or put them to use. We recognise this connection when we say “This book is hard to digest” or “I need time to chew this over” or “There’s food for thought”. The Spleen’s function is to adapt both food and information into something we can use. There are other ways we can observe the connection between eating and thinking. Overeating, for example, may make the mind sluggish; too much studying often produces cravings for sweet foods; too much worrying (a knotted form of thinking) can easily knot the digestive system. Our powers of concentration and digestion are related and each will influence the other.
At the emotional level the Spleen is expressed as our ability to meet our needs, to obtain and give emotional nourishment and support. When our needs are met we feel nourished and supported, comfortable and secure in our lives. Often we confuse emotional and nutritional needs, eating when in fact we need comfort or perhaps using foods to suppress feelings such as frustration or desire.
From the moment we first suck on our mother’s breast the link between food and comfort is established. So our ability to find and receive emotional nourishment is intimately linked with our digestive system. As we wean ourselves from mother and, later, from our parental home, we develop an internal mother and an internal home which we carry round inside ourselves as a constant source of nourishment and support. The internal mother and home is a good description of the role of the Spleen. It is easy to see how the quality of our early nurturing, both physical and emotional, deeply influences our ability to develop this internal sense of self support.
Our belief that we completely deserve nourishment and our trust that there will always be
enough nourishment available are thus key elements in developing a strong Spleen.
We have looked at the physio-logical expression of Spleen as the digestive process. Anatomically the Spleen is expressed as the fascia and soft tissue. The fascia are a continuous network of moist membranous wrappings that connect the whole body and hold everything comfortably in place.
Without the fascia our bodies would have no tone and we would collapse in a saggy heap. The fascia express the Spleen’s function of support and containment. When our fascia are relaxed and without constriction, all the subtle and larger movements of the body are smooth and easy. Our limbs have a full range of supple movement and our organs are supported in their functions. Today’s body workers are aware how our fascia contort and tense, or relax and spread, in direct response to our deepest held emotions.
When the fascia are free we feel toned and comfortable in our bodies, supported from inside. We are ‘at home’ in our bodies, comfortable with who we are in the flesh. Being at home in our bodies is an expression of strong Spleen energy.
A Spleen-supportive lifestyle
The stronger our Spleen is, the better we are able to absorb and put to use the food that we eat. So how can we strengthen and maintain our Spleen? This question can be answered at several levels.
Physically the Spleen likes to lead a sensual life, to touch and be touched, and to stretch. Stretching eases out constrictions in the soft tissue and brings relaxed tone to our limbs and organs. All exercise will help the Spleen provided it is balanced by stretching and relaxation. Massage will also help, releasing stagnation and obstruction from our muscles and encouraging us to soften deep inside ourselves. The Spleen likes nourishing physical contact and a ‘hug a day’ is definitely good Spleen medicine. So is bodywork: whatever our ‘treatment’ the impact of touch is to nourish the Spleen and ground us in our bodies.
Mentally it is helpful to train the mind just as it is to stretch and exercise our bodies. On the other hand, overuse of our mental powers (i.e. in prolonged periods of study, or in tasks that involve hours of sitting and processing information, or even habitual brooding on our problems) can weaken our Spleen. It is important to balance mental work with physical exercise and fresh air.
A structured life may also be seen as a Spleen-supportive life. Structure and routine can provide us with a sense of solid ground in the otherwise chaotic nature of daily life. Through routine we give ourselves a constant, safe and dependable place in our lives, an external support for our Spleen.
Emotionally we can explore and honour our needs. For some this may simply mean being kinder to ourselves, treating ourselves well; for some it may mean joining a supportive group; for some it may mean finding ways to deeper fulfilment in our relationships with others and self. Issues of safety and security, of trust and our beliefs around scarcity and abundance are also part of the Spleen’s emotional territory.
Finally, the Spleen belongs to the earth element, the earth being our provider of nourishment and support, our true mother. It is through our connectedness to the earth and to the divine mother that the Spleen finds its spiritual expression. We can do a great deal to support our Spleen by attending to our relationship with the earth. This may mean becoming more grounded, simply giving more attention to the ground beneath our feet both physically and metaphorically.
When done with awareness, all activity which connects us more deeply with the earth, whether it be gardening or working with clay, simply being outdoors with the soil, the plants, the seasons, or learning to fall and roll around on the ground; all these can help ground us in our bodies and in the natural environment. In these ways too we can support and strengthen our Spleen.
As practitioners there are two key approaches to supporting a Spleen strengthening treatment strategy. We can a) help the client to become grounded in the body and b) help the client come into a nourishing relationship with themselves.
These are the essential background conditions for strengthening the Spleen. It is important to keep this wide perspective on the Spleen when considering dietary issues. We can strengthen our Spleen by working at any of the above levels, and change that takes place at one level will resonate throughout the Spleen’s whole sphere of influence. With this wide perspective in mind, we can go on to look at the dietary approach to supporting our Spleen.
Supporting the Spleen through food
Now that we have set the Spleen in its broader context let us look more specifically at how to assist the Spleen in its digestive function. After many years of working with my own and my clients’ dietary needs, I have come to the conclusion that the following general guidelines are more valuable even than the more detailed understanding of specific foods and their effects.
Enjoying our food is part of opening up to being fully nourished by what we eat. If we are happy when we eat and in our relationship with food, then our bodies will literally accept the food more effectively into our system. Often it is more important for us to heal our relationship with food
than it is to change what we eat.
We often develop beliefs about ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Some foods are ‘good for us’ even if we don’t enjoy them. Other foods are ‘bad for us’ and we eat them guiltily or avoid them resentfully. Although common sense tells us that there is some truth in these labels, our attitude to the food we eat will instruct our Spleen what to do with it. So whatever we eat, once we have made a choice it is better to accept the food lovingly, to welcome the food as wholeheartedly as we can.
In this way we will get the most out of all foods.
The Chinese believe that it is better not to mix food and work. Our digestion works best when we are focused on our enjoyment of the meal, not distracted or troubled by other influences. So it is better to make mealtime a relaxed occasion when we are not trying to read, watch television,
do business etc. It is helpful to take a little time to relax our posture too, perhaps take a few quiet breaths before eating. Crossing our legs, or sitting twisted or hunched will compress
our digestive organs and hinder the passage of food through our body.
There is a saying that ‘The stomach has no teeth’. Well chewed food lessens the work our digestive organs have to do and increases the efficient extraction of nutrients. Chewing
also warms chilled food.
Stop just before you are full
In a culture of plenty this can sometimes be difficult. If we overeat at any one meal, we create stagnation, a temporary queue of food waiting to be processed. As a result we feel tired while our energy is occupied digesting the excess food. If overeating becomes a habit, our Spleen becomes over-strained and may produce phlegm or heat.
Don’t flood the Spleen
The Spleen does not like too much fluid with a meal. A little warm fluid is helpful, but too much dilutes the Spleen’s action and weakens digestion. A teacupful is generally sufficient.
Most of our fluid intake is best consumed between meals.
Don’t chill the Spleen
Too much raw or chilled food or fluid will also weaken the Spleen. The digestive process needs warmth. This is expressed in oriental medicine as the digestive fire. Prolonged or excessive use of chilled or raw food will eventually severely weaken the digestive fire, leading to collapse of the Spleen function.
Eat the main meal early
When we eat late at night our system is naturally slowing down and the food sits around for longer in the digestive system. This creates stagnation, and the body’s attempt to burn off the food generates heat which then damages the yin of the Stomach.
Choose foods with strong life-force
It is helpful to include as much locally grown and organic food in our diets as possible. In both cases the life force is more strongly preserved. For the same reason it is helpful to eat plenty of fresh food. The life force in food is also significantly damaged by microwave cooking, excessive processing and chemical preservation, and killed by irradiation.
Trust your body
Sometimes we crave that which is poisonous to us, but there is also in each of us a deeper level of knowing. As we bring awareness to our eating, we can begin to feel what our true needs are, what truly nourishes us. At first we may need to be guided by more analytical judgements, but with greater awareness we can begin to make choices from our bodies too. What makes us feel good at the deepest level is good for us. Over time we can cultivate this skill of separating our cravings and addictions from our deeper levels of guidance.
Finally It cannot be stressed enough how important general principles are over specific dietary ntervention. The first step in dietary therapy is usually to work on the overall relationship to food, before trying to change the specific components of diet.
The Language of Food Energetics
In the west, food is described as containing certain amounts of protein, fat, minerals, vitamins and so on. This information is obtained by laboratory analysis which separates food into its basic ingredients. The nutritional value of a food is a statement of the sum total of its chemical ingredients before they enter the body.
When we look at food in this way we are subscribing to the mechanistic world view. What this view says is that if we can break food down to its fundamental constituents then we can recreate food out of laboratory. In the east, food is described as possessing certain qualities such as a warming or cooling nature, possessing certain flavours such as pungent or sweet, or acting on our body in a specific way. This information is obtained by observing the behaviour of the body after a food has been consumed. The nutritional value of a food is stated as a set of energetic properties which describe the actions a food has on the human body.
Whereas our western view is based on chemistry, the eastern view of nutrition more resembles alchemy, concerned not so much with ingredients but with latent energetic properties that are released in the human body through digestion. The subtle essences of food have movements and actions that have been traced and mapped in the same way as the pathways of qi: through direct observation of experience.
The temperatures of food
The single most important category in oriental medicine is the energetic temperature of a food. According to oriental medicine a food may be either hot, warm, neutral, cool or cold. Oats, chicken and onions, for example, are warming; barley, rabbit and lettuce are cooling. This is not a measure of how hot or cold a food is to the taste. The temperature of a food is a measure of its effect on the body after digestion. Simply, does it warm us up or cool us down?
Cooling foods tend to direct energy inwards and downwards, cooling the upper and outer parts of the body first. Warming foods move energy upwards and outwards from the core, warming us from the inside out. Very hot foods such as chilli peppers heat us up intensely then cool us down through sweating. Warmer foods speed us up, cooler foods slow us down. A knowledge of the temperatures of foods is intrinsic to all traditional cooking. A warming curry is balanced by cooling cucumber and yoghurt; hot lamb is balanced by cooling mint sauce; root vegetable soups warm us in winter, salads cool us in summer. There are no absolute rules that govern whether a food will be warming or cooling. However, the following general guidelines are fairly reliable:
• Plants which take longer to grow (e.g. root vegetables, ginger) tend to be warmer than fast-growing foods(e.g. lettuce, courgette).
• Foods with a high water content tend to be more cooling (e.g. melon, cucumber, marrow).
• Dried foods tend to be more warming than their fresh counterparts
• Chemically fertilised foods which are forced to grow quickly tend to be cooler than their naturally grown counterparts.
• Some chemicals added to foods may produce heat reactions as may artificially ripened foods.
• The temperature of food will also be influenced by the cooking or preparation method. The effects of the various methods are as follows:
Stir-fried Mildly warming
Baked More warming
Barbecued More heating
Grilled More heating
Roasted Most heating
Longer and slower methods will also produce more warming effects than quicker methods i.e. a stew will be more warming if it is cooked slowly than if it is cooked quickly.
Microwaved food, incidentally, does not alter the energetic temperature of a food as no external heat is added. Recent research has also revealed that microwaved food suffers severe molecular damage and when eaten causes abnormal changes in human blood and immune systems. My own observation is that regular microwave users almost invariably show signs of blood deficiency.
Knowing the temperatures of foods helps us to balance the overall effect of a meal to suit our body’s needs. Those with cold constitutions or conditions need to eat more warming diets and vice-versa. The flavours of food The flavour describes an essential quality inherent in a food. It describes a potential which is liberated by the alchemy of cooking and digestion. Each flavour arises from one elemental power and is said to enter a particular organ. There are five main flavours:
• The salty flavour belongs to the water element and enters the Kidneys.
• The sour flavour belongs to the wood element and enters the Liver.
• The bitter flavour belongs to the fire element and enters the Heart.
• The sweet flavour belongs to the earth element and enters the Spleen.
• The pungent flavour belongs to the metal element and enters the Lung.
People often ask “If I crave a certain food does that mean it’s good for me?” The answer is both yes and no. When we are out of balance we develop a craving to correct that imbalance.
The sweet flavour helps strengthen the Spleen, so when the Spleen is in disharmony we crave sweetness. This craving is appropriate in the sense that it tells us that our Spleen is out of balance and the craving is a message that stimulates us to rebalance ourselves.
Whereas a moderate quantity of one flavour benefits its related organ however, too much of that flavour will overwhelm and damage it. A little salt, for example, benefits the Kidney but too much will inhibit its action. In following our cravings, we may quickly give ourselves such a huge dose of the remedial flavour that we overwhelm the organ and create the opposite effect. This is in part due to the availability within our culture of highly flavoured and saturated foods. The flavour also tells us something about a food’s action:
The salty flavour (e.g. fish, seaweed, leek)
The salty flavour moves inward and downward, drawing the action of a food towards the centre and root of the body. The salty flavour moistens, softens and detoxifies, counteracting the hardening of muscles and glands. It regulates the moisture balance in the body, stimulates digestive function and improves concentration.
The salty flavour helps drain excess moisture through its strengthening action on the Kidney as well as re-moistening the body in conditions of dehydration e.g. in the addition of salt to rehydration medicine. A little saltiness supplements the quality of the blood but in excess the salty flavour can congeal the blood and stress the Heart.
The sour flavour (e.g. lemon, raspberry, olive)
The sour flavour stimulates contraction and absorption. It has a gathering or astringent effect. It is therefore used for all leaking and sagging conditions involving loss of body fluids such as sweating, diarrhoea and haemorrhage. It counteracts the effects of fatty foods, prevents stagnation and benefits digestive absorption. The sour flavour specifically stimulates secretions from the gall-bladder and pancreas and despite the acid nature of most sour food the effect is actually to lower the acidity of the intestines. Sour foods are blood activators and stagnation eliminators but in excess may cause over-contraction and overretention of moisture. Sour foods support the Spleen function of containment by stimulating contraction and giving tone to the tissues.
The bitter flavour (e.g. rye, chicory, thyme)
The bitter flavour drains and dries as it travels downwards through the body. It will improve appetite, stimulate digestion and draw out dampness and heat. It is used to reduce excess conditions and is therefore to be restricted in conditions of cold and/or deficiency. The bitter flavour acts mostly on the Heart but also benefits the Lung. In excess the bitter flavour can deplete qi and moisture.
The sweet flavour (e.g. pumpkin, rice, beef)
The sweet flavour is by far the most common and all foods contain a measure of sweetness. The sweet flavour harmonises all other flavours and forms the centre of our diet, mildly stimulating the circulation of qi and blood. The sweet flavour includes most meat, legumes, nuts, dairy and starchy vegetables and is considered tonifying and strengthening. Sweet foods are used to treat deficiency. They are also considered moistening and will benefit dryness.In excess the sweet flavour leads to the formation of phlegm and heat. Refined sugar will weaken the blood and any excess of sweetness should be avoided in damp conditions.
The pungent flavour (e.g. ginger, garlic, peppermint)
The pungent flavour disperses stagnation and promotes the circulation of qi and blood. It stimulates digestion and helps break through phlegm. Care must be taken when choosing the temperature of pungent foods. Many hot pungents are so extreme that they eventually cool the body via sweating. Warm pungents produce longer lasting warming effects and will benefit cold conditions. Cool pungents can be used when heat is present. As damp and stagnant conditions frequently involve underlying deficiency, the use of pungents often needs to be supported by a tonifying diet. In excess the pungent flavour will over-stimulate and exhaust qi and blood.
A balanced diet includes the use of all flavours, with the sweet flavour occupying a central position. We can increase or decrease our intake of a particular flavour according to
The routes and actions of foods
A food is also said to enter particular channel pathways, directing its effect towards particular organs. Almonds, for example, enter the Lung channel and walnuts enter the Kidney channel.
Some foods also have a specific therapeutic action. A food may either tonify a particular bodily substance or function (yin, yang, qi, blood) or it may reduce the influence of a pathological condition (qi stagnation, blood stasis, dampness, heat or cold). Almonds, for example, counteract phlegm, walnuts tonify yang. When we combine the channel route with the therapeutic action of a food we get a specific description of its therapeutic effect. Using the above examples we find that almonds remove phlegm from the Lung and walnuts tonify the Kidney yang. This knowledge helps us choose foods to include in our diet which are tailor-made for our personal energetic needs.
Putting principles into practice
The treatment of deficiency
When we say that someone is deficient, we mean that they lack certain substances, functions or qualities. We can describe people as deficient in yin, yang, blood or qi. As practitioners we look for a way to guide them back to sufficiency and one part of this may be suggesting changes in diet.
The yang deficient person
Someone who is deficient in yang lacks the catalytic spark, the cellular chemistry of combustion. When our fire is weak, we become cold and slow, and physical processes become sluggish. Hypothyroidism, for example, is a generalised condition of yang deficiency where the metabolic rate slows down and stimulating drugs such as thyroxine are used to restore balance.
In daily life it is activity which generates yang, quickening the metabolic processes into action. Appropriate exercise is therefore always encouraged. We apply the same principle to food: to stimulate the yang we use foods which are activity generators. And just as yang deficiency is treated with heat, as in the use of moxa, yang strengthening foods are also warming in nature. To help the heat penetrate more deeply we also use slower cooking methods such as baking, roasting or casseroles. The advice to a yang deficient person therefore is: move more, keep warm, reduce cold foods and exposure to cold, increase warm foods and use some of the warmer pungent spices. Chestnut casserole, baked trout, roast lamb or warming chai (Indian spiced tea) are typical recommendations, and food can be flavoured with such spices as ginger, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg or cardamom or herbs such as basil, rosemary and thyme.
The yin deficient person
With yin deficiency, rest is the key to recovery and replenishment. The deep level of depletion present in yin deficiency is restored by practices which take us deeply into ourselves such as some meditation practices and good quality rest. In working with yin deficiency we reduce stimulation and encourage calm. In daily life this means giving ourselves quiet space and stillness, nourishing the subtle and reflective aspects of our being. This is supported by a diet which nourishes us deeply, especially the subtle mineral base of the body. Yin strengthening foods are generally cool, calming and moistening and they penetrate like water to the deepest level. Sweet, salty and sour flavours are most useful, whereas the drying bitter or stimulating pungent flavours are usually reduced. Yin tonics include many fruits, seeds, sea plants and dairy foods. A yin nourishing meal might be a fruit salad, scrambled eggs on toast or fish soup. Seaweeds, kelp and algae are useful complements to this diet and pork or rabbit are useful meats.
The advice to a yin deficient person therefore is: reduce stimulation and increase restful practices, reduce stimulating foods and increase calming foods, subtly nourishing foods and more lubricating foods.
The qi deficient person
Qi is derived from food and air, and from the subtle forces around us. In addressing qi deficiency we need to look at how our qi is being inhibited from fully expressing itself. The inhibition of our qi’s expression can have many causes: emotional, environmental (e.g. geopathic or industrially induced stress) or due to lack of oxygen from poor breathing. Food also plays a part: lifeless foods, especially microwaved, do not provide the vitality needed for vibrant living. The subtle qi present most strongly in fresh and organic produce is necessary to support the quality of qi in our bodies.
Dietarily, qi deficiency is addressed by the use of vibrantly alive food. At a more physical level qi deficiency may simply describe a lack of energy, and complex carbohydrates
are used to release energy slowly into the system. The principle of resonance is also used with foods of specific shapes or colours being used to strengthen the qi of particular organs. Pumpkins, for example, are used to strengthen the Spleen, Kidney beans the Kidneys. Animal organs are also considered to strengthen the related human organs. Fresh air and exercise are good recipes, and such foods as pumpkin, lentils or chicken soup are effective qi tonics. Oat porridge is a great strengthener too as are date and oat flapjacks, indeed oats, chicken and dates are some of the best known qi tonics, especially when supplemented by herbs such as ginseng or royal jelly.
Supplementation, however, is only recommended in the short term and the return to abundant energy needs to be supported by breathwork, exercise and exploration of why our qi is depleted.
The blood deficient person
The quality of our blood is a measure of the available nourishment circulating in our bodies and its manufacture is dependent on the strength of our Spleen. Blood is transported upward to the upper jiao where after being acted on by the Lung it is vitalised by the Heart. Blood deficiency is readily treated by diet, especially when supported by exercise to increase Lung function.
It takes about 120 days for us to fully renew our blood, so much can be achieved in a few months. A diet rich in fresh vegetables is essential, especially green leafy vegetables and chlorophyll-rich foods, whose benefits are increased by being combined with grains. Most meat, beans and high protein foods will also greatly strengthen the blood.
Beyond this we can simply advise a person to eat well and widely as all food is ultimately converted into blood or qi. Blood is particularly weakened by sugar and its quality lowered by heavily salted, de-natured or fatty foods. Poached egg on a dish of spinach, beetroot soup, braised liver, nettle tea are all simple recipes for a blood-nourishing diet.
Stagnant conditions need movement. This may be emotional, physical or creative. When it comes to food, the recommendation is to reduce conditions which encourage stagnation such as overeating, too much complex food or poorly combined food and to maintain simplicity and lightness in the diet. The pungent flavour is used to give a little extra movement.
Cold and heat
Cold and heat are treated by their opposites. Cold conditions are improved by warming foods and vice-versa. When a pathogenic factor is involved and the condition is acute, then the pungent flavour is used to drive the invader out of the body. For example, the cooling pungent elderflower is used for a hot pathogen and the warming pungent ginger for a cold one.
Dampness and phlegm
Dampness results from the failure to warm or transform moisture in the body. It is nearly always associated with a weak Spleen, often with weak Kidneys and sometimes with a weak Lung. Dampness can lodge in a specific part of the body or affect the whole body.
Some people are more prone to dampness than others. A tendency towards dampness can be aggravated by living in damp conditions or by a sedentary lifestyle. It needs the transformative power of the body’s yang to stop damp accumulating. Eating in ways which inhibit our Spleen function or which injure the yang will increase our tendency towards dampness. Dampness may also be caused by pathogens lodged in the body which have not been properly expelled, or by the use of suppressant drugs such as steroids or antibiotics.
Dampness is treated by strengthening the Spleen and may also need tonification of the Kidneys, the Lung and the yang. Dampness is often the result of overeating or overnutrition. It may also result from jamming the digestive system with poorly combined foods. We also need to avoid too much raw, cold, sweet or rich food and the overconsumption of fluid.
Some foods are particularly dampening. They include dairy products (sheep and goat products are less dampening), pork and rich meat, roasted peanuts, concentrated juices especially orange and tomato, wheat, bread, yeast, beer, bananas, sugar and sweeteners, and saturated fats.
Some foods, on the other hand, have properties which help to resolve dampness. Many of these are bitter flavoured ordiuretic and include aduki bean, barley, celery, seaweed, rye and garlic.
The presence of excess phlegm demands the reduction of phlegm-forming foods and the use of phlegm-resolving foods such as garlic, radish or barley. Retention of body fluid (e.g. oedema) is helped by water-removing (diuretic) foods such as aduki bean, celery and seaweed.
The transformation of chronic dampness takes some persistence, combining the use of damp-resolving food with avoidance of damp-forming foods. When the body is weak,
as in chronic fatigue syndrome, tonification may be a more important principle than the reduction of dampness, as until dampness can be transformed by the Spleen and the body’s yang, it will continue to accumulate easily. Barley and cabbage are used to reduce damp-heat in the Liver, dandelion root coffee is an excellent transformer of lower burner dampness and jasmine tea will help a cold and damp Spleen.
Finally, it is my view that all dietary change should be gradual and actively engage the client with their healing process. There is generally no need to look to exotic foods to generate healing: the diet appropriate for each of us is largely available here, where we live. It is more harmonious
with the spirit of energetic medicine to make use of our local resources and the creative resources of the human spirit. It is also an approach more in harmony with the needs of our planet.
Pumpkin and chestnut soup to dry dampness, tonify yang and strengthen the Spleen
One medium pumpkin
One mugful of dried chestnuts, pre-soaked
Two medium onions
Black pepper, bay leaf, rosemary to taste
Splash of cider vinegar
Fry the onions gently in olive oil, add the chopped pumpkin and garlic and cook a little until soft. Add the pre-soaked chestnuts, stock and flavourings. Simmer for forty minutes, remove bay leaf and liquidise. Garnish with parsley and paprika.