Updated: Aug 23
By exploring the ancient Chinese calendar and its elemental correlations, we can gain insights into how to best adapt to seasonal changes in our modern environment.
The ancient Taoist Herbalists looked at nature's cycles and distilled them down to the interplay of Yin and Yang ~ the interdependent and counter-balancing forces of light & darkness, cold & heat, dry & wet. This philosophical orientation to life also illuminated their perspectives on health and wellness.
Even before the rise of Taoism, (circa 4000 BCE) ancient Shamanic traditions of China studied nature, and perceived the balancing act of Yin and Yang, identifying how it affects the body, energy levels; and the overall mental, emotional, spiritual experience. Over time, these concepts were refined into the Classical Chinese Herbal theory of Jing, Qi, and Shen, commonly known as the Three Treasures. As understanding of internal medicine progressed over time, Taoist herbalists and Chinese Medicine specialists expanded their theories into an even more nuanced level of elemental interrelatedness that exits throughout all of nature, and summarized it in 5 elemental forces or phases: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, & Water. Starting in 770 BCE, the 5 Element Theory was applied to all aspects of life, including the seasonal calendar.
༄ Spring 🌲 Wood
༄ Early Summer 🔥 Fire
༄ Late Summer ⛰ Earth
༄ Autumn ⚔️ Metal
༄ Winter 🌊 Water
The ancient Chinese 5 Season Calendar gives us a map to better relate to the elemental forces around us and within us. By tuning into the elemental rhythms of natures's changes, we can adapt and respond with foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices for optimal wellness.
Early Summer ༄ Yang
The beginning of Early Summer or "true summer" is a bit amorphous depending on the climate you live in. Some consider Beltane (May 1) as the start of Summer, since it's midway between Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. Others begin counting on Summer Solstice (June 21) and extend the season into mid August. True Summer is usually the hottest part of the year, so it's no surprise that the ancient Chinese Herbalists correlated it to the Fire Element. It is a time of fullest Yang, and we see growth all around us, including the expansion of joy, celebrations, community connectivity and sharing. It is a time when we find ourselves feeling more outgoing and energetic, looking to hike fresh vistas & plant new seeds. It's also a time when we need to safeguard ourselves against burn-out and summer heat excess, possibly by wading in a cool creek, or napping in a hammock.
Early Summer ༄ Elemental Associations
Heart, Mind, Spirit
Summer Yang heat excess can be expressed by excessive sweating, heat-headaches, dry mouth, constipation, dehydration, nervousness, heartburn, overactivity, insomnia, and even heart palpitations. At this time of the year, nature offers a plethora of natural remedies for heat excess to help us respond to the heat in our environment. Summer gives us cooling, refreshing fruits and fresh vegetables like cucumbers, watermelon, berries, fresh salad greens & sprouts, grapes, pineapples and so many more tropical fruits. Elementally, Summer Fire is associated with upward flowing Yang energy, as well as the energy that ignites the heart and stirs the pulse. This upward Yang energy naturally wants to be expressed as joy, love, and relaxed mental stability, since the heart is seen as the "seat of the mind." At this time of year, it's especially important to support and soothe the heart, pericardium, and small intestines which are all associated with the fire element.
When the fire element is in balance with all the other elements, the heart regulates the circulation of the blood and the assimilation of nutrients in the small intestines, maintaining the effective movement and distribution of energy throughout the whole body.
Tonic Wisdom for Summer
The Summer season invites us to balance and tend our inner fire with moderation. At this time, tonic formulas that tonify the Jing, nourish the Qi and support the heart are appropriate. And if heat excess symptoms are experienced, nourishing Yin Jing tonics and cooling herbs & foods may help reduce inflammation. For the Plant Kingdom, Summer is the peak time of photosynthesis. This is a great time to harvest leafy greens, fresh aromatic herbs, fruits and flowers for drying or tincturing, as they will be at their ripest, and most nutritious phase.
Summer Foods to soothe Heat excess
Electrolytes (ionically charged elements such as potassium, sodium, phosphorous and chloride. Shilajit is a great source of natural ionic minerals)
Nutrient dense greens & bitter greens like Dandelion, Mustard, Watercress, Chard
Cooling herbs like Cilantro, Mint, Spearmint, Lemon Balm, and Tulsi (Holy Basil)
Less grease and fewer cooked foods, more fresh and fresh-fermented foods
Stressors to Avoid
Inflammatory foods like refined sugars, Uric acid rich foods, ultra-processed foods
Excess fried/greasy foods
Heart-burn/ Indigestion-causing food combinations
Overcommitment / Burn-out
Heart Supporting Tonics for Daily Use
Wild at Heart
Albizia (Mimosa blossom), also known as the "happiness herb" is one of our favorite wild tonics that we seen in full bloom in Alabama each summer. This delicate and delicious pink pom-pom flower makes me smile just looking at it. 😁 Plus its herbal applications include supporting the heart & circulation, invigorating the blood, and calming the mind & spirit. Albizia's young leaves are also edible, best cooked. Mimosa is considered an "invasive non-native" tree introduced into North Carolina in the late 1700's. So we feel great about harvesting as many flowers as we can during their short window of blooming each summer. The fluffy pink Mimosa blossoms make beautiful additions to sun teas, salads, and soups. They can also be dried & powdered for later use.
Left: Albizzia julibrissin, aka "happiness herb" is the beautiful pink blossom of the mimosa tree. Center: Ganoderma curtisii, a varnished red Reishi mushroom commonly found in the east, central, and southeastern United States. Right: Jen makes a "spore print" of sorts with a leaf covered in Reishi spores.
Another local heart tonic we see fruiting at this time of year is Ganoderma curtisii, the native North American cousin of Ganoderma lucidum, also known as Reishi, or Lingzhi. Reishi is profoundly supportive of the heart and circulatory system. Its cardio-protective actions and high anti-oxidant content (polysaccharides and flavonoids) help prevent oxidative stress & free radical damage throughout the body. Some Reishi polysaccharides are also hypo-lipidemic, meaning they prevent the accumulation of lipids and cholesterol in the cardiovascular system, helping to keep the arteries and veins flowing smoothly and unobstructed. Its hypo-lipidemic actions also support healthy body weight, poetically coinciding with the ancient Taoist perspective that Reishi imparted a sense of "lightness" to the body, mind & spirit. Reishi triterpenes (alcohol soluble constituents) have also been shown to be neuro-protective, supporting brain health, and giving credence to the ancient Three Treasures view that Reishi is the Supreme Shen Tonic. Other recent studies have found that Reishi spore oil is effective at protecting the heart against radiation-induced diseases. It's no wonder that Reishi has been revered for thousands of years throughout China as the "Herb of Immortality." Learn more about Reishi / Lingzhi, here.
If you'd like to learn more about Ancient Chinese Herbalism, 5 Elements theory, and seasonal wellness, view our entire 5 Seasons of Tonic Wisdom blog series.
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