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.
Thousands of years ago, the ancient Taoist Herbalists witnessed 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 permeated all aspects of life, also illuminating 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 philosophically applied to all aspects of life, including the seasonal calendar.
༄ Spring 🌲 Wood
༄ Early Summer 🔥 Fire
༄ Late Summer ⛰ Earth
༄ Autumn ⚔️ Metal
༄ Winter 🌊 Water
Over the centuries, some philosophies have proven to be perennial, ringing as true today as they did thousands of years ago. The ancient Chinese 5 Season Elemental Calendar is one of these perennial philosophies that has stood the test of time. This ancient calendar can offer us a map to better relate to the elemental forces around us and within us, helping us navigate seasonal changes and modern challenges. By tuning into the elemental energies of natures's rhythms, we can adapt and respond with foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices for optimal wellness.
Late Summer ༄ Earth
In the 5 Seasons Calendar, Summer is split into "Early" and "Late" Summer. Early Summer is the time of greatest Yang. It is considered to be the hottest part of the year, and correlated to the Fire Element. As the heat of Summer dissipates, Yang descends. The shortening days and cooling weather signal many plants to produce their last and sweetest fruits of the year. This unique time is Late Summer, the time of the Harvest (known as Lughnasad or Lammas in the Celtic calendar). Depending on your latitude, Late Summer might begin around Summer Solstice, or the beginning of August and stretch to Autumnal Equinox, Sept. 22. Late Summer is characterized by falling Yang, rising Yin, and is ruled by the Earth element.
The archetype of Earth is often associated with the richness and abundance of the harvest, the feeling of plenty, and the security of hearth and home. In our lives, this abundance can extend into work obligations, as this season tends to be one of the busier times of year. We often find ourselves (and many animals) preoccupied with preservation and preparation tasks for the cooler months ahead. Even the Harvest Moon seems to support us to get our work done despite the ever-earlier sunsets. It's also a time when we are susceptible to over-commitment or over-work. This season challenges us to balance giving and receiving; becoming extra mindful of our own self-care, and more aware of our deepest held inner values and needs. This season is best spent naturally transitioning our attention inward, returning to center, and fortifying what supports us.
Late Summer ༄ Elemental Associations
Falling Yang, Rising Yin, Dampness
Home, Center, Ground
Spleen, Stomach, Pancreas
In 5 Element Theory, the Earth element is correlated with the Spleen, Pancreas, and Stomach ༄ the organs of digestion and assimilation. The Stomach Qi (energy) is Descending in nature, breaking down foods and fluids, and moving them downward through the digestive system. The Spleen is said to govern the Upright Qi of the whole body, which helps to regulate the blood pressure, circulation, and healthy posture of the musculoskeletal system and internal organs. A healthy balance between Downward Stomach Qi and Upward Spleen Qi creates smooth digestion and an efficient metabolism. The Spleen is also said to govern the Intellect, and when digestive Qi is in proper balance, it produces calm, clear thinking. We can especially see the impact of Digestive Qi on our Intellect when the balance is off ༄ it's difficult to think clearly when acid reflux, excessive gas, diarrhea, bloating, constipation, or any other digestive symptoms are clouding the awareness. And the balance flows both ways ༄ healthy Spleen Qi can also be dampened by excessive or obsessive thinking, overwork or burnout. So we must safeguard our precious Spleen Qi and be discerning with our attention, as our ability to consciously direct awareness is truly one of our greatest gifts.
The Spleen governs Upright Qi and the Intellect. When digestive Qi is in proper balance, it produces calm, clear thinking. And the balance flows both ways ⏤ healthy Spleen Qi can also be dampened by excessive thinking or overwork. We must safeguard our Qi and be discerning with our attention, as our ability to consciously direct awareness is truly one of our greatest gifts.
Tonic Wisdom for Late Summer
During Late Summer, it's especially important to support balanced Digestive Qi, keeping it steadily stoked while the temperatures drop around us. Eating during daylight hours is said to support Digestive Qi, giving the organs plenty of time to digest and rest before bedtime. Cooking with savory herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, epazote, basil, turmeric and cumin can also support healthy digestion. As it gets colder outside, it can be helpful to avoid cooling, dampening, or watering down the digestive fluids. This is the perfect season to transition away from iced tea to hot Tonic Teas that support the Upward Qi, fortify outer Protective Qi, and replenish Yin Jing. And if excess damp symptoms are experienced, warming tonics, foods, and activities may help to transform the dampness to steam, moderating metabolism. Turmeric, Ginger, White Atractylodes, and White Peony are all tonifying to the digestive system and known to clear dampness. Turmeric and Ginger tend to be more warming in nature, while White Peony & White Atractylodes are more neutral, making them suitable for all constitutions.
Left: Tremella fuciformis. Center: Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor). Right: Lion's Mane (Hericium erinaceus)
In many climates, Late Summer is also the peak season for mushroom fruits. In the wild, Fu Shen Poria, Reishi, Lion's Mane, Turkey Tail, Maitake, and Tremella f. produce mushroom fruits in Late Summer AND they all offer unique benefits to the digestive system and the intellect. Fu Shen Poria is a Spleen Tonic that is known for it's ability to clear dampness, plus it's a special Shen Tonic that calms the mind and spirit. Turkey Tail possesses powerful antioxidants that promote longevity & mental acuity, plus prebiotics that support healthy gut micro-flora. Tremella fuciformis produces a sweet and creamy Dual Extract that contains hyaluronic acid, a key component to healthy connective tissues, including the gut lining. And Lion's Mane is traditionally added to Chinese dishes to aid in digestion; plus it has neuron stimulating compounds (NGF) that support nerve growth and repair, making it a powerful brain tonic.
Late Summer Foods to Balance Digestive Qi
Moderate fresh foods with warm, cooked foods
Mineral-rich root vegetables, colorful carrots & yams
Limit refined sugar & enjoy sweet fruits in moderation
Warm breakfasts like oats or congee (slow cooked rice pudding with herbs)
Yellow and orange vegetables & fruits
Lightly steamed seasonal greens like collard greens, rainbow chard, bok choi, tat soi
Neutral or warming herbs like thyme, oregano, rosemary, epazote, ginger, turmeric
Probiotic-rich fermented foods like kimchee, sauerkraut, miso, jun, kefir, yogurt
Stressors to Avoid + Conscious Alternatives
Overwork or overthinking ༄ focus on what's urgent & important, let go of what isn't
Over-commitment to social or family obligations ༄ balance giving & receiving
Excess refined sugar ༄ choose savory treats or sweet fruits instead
Ice water before or during meals dampens digestive fire ༄ try warm ginger tea instead
Mentally consuming world events ༄ discern what is worth your attention
Excessive screen time at night ༄ dim brightness on screens or use "night shift" mode
Spleen Supporting Tonics for Daily Use
Left: White Peony flower. Center: White Peony botanical illustration. Right: White Peony roots skinned & dried.
Peony for Digestion and Metabolic Maintenance
White Peony (Paeonia lactiflora) is more than simply a beautiful ornamental flower, it's roots are used throughout Asia as a highly prized tonic for building blood, especially in menstruating women. In Traditional Chinese Herbalism, it is said to tonify the Spleen, like a fresh cool breeze. Peony clears excess inflammation and dries dampness throughout the digestive system and middle jao, supporting healthy metabolism. White Peony is believed to have neutral energetics ~ a balance of Yin and Yang properties, and is said to preserve Yin. Peonies bloom in late Spring and the roots are ready for harvest in late August. White Peony's namesake white roots are skinned of the outer bark and sun-dried before using. While the roots are harvested in Late Summer, this herb is a tonic with year-round benefits. One study found isolates of White Peony effective in reducing blood sugar levels in lab mice. While other studies have indicated that Paeoniflorin extracted from White Peony shows antiviral, anti-tumoral, fever reducing, and anti-inflammatory actions. It also has gently calming energetics that may help soothe the "end of summer blues" or resistance to changing seasons that some people feel as we approach Autumn.
Five Seasons of Tonic WIsdom
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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