If you live in a place with all four seasons, you likely witness the push and pull of seasonal changes in the environment around you. The ancient Taoist Herbalists did too, and they called it Yin and Yang ~ the interdependent and counter-balancing forces of light and darkness, cold and heat, dry and wet. 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 mental/ emotional/ spiritual experience. Over time, these concepts were refined into the 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 discovered 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. Between 770 - 440 BCE, the 5 Element Theory was applied to all aspects of life, including the seasonal calendar.
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 natural rhythms of natures's changes, we can adapt and respond with foods, herbs, and lifestyle practices that best support our bodies throughout the year.
5 Seasons and 24 Solar Terms
In the ancient Chinese calendar, each of the seasons is ruled by an element that corresponds to an aspect of Yin or Yang. For example, Winter is ruled by Water, and considered to be the most Yin time of year. The ancient Chinese further divided each of the four seasons into six smaller two-week phases, denoting 24 solar terms or seasonal phases that each express a unique period of growth as we progress through the 5 elemental phases annually. Looking at the seasons this way, the Chinese developed a very sophisticated agricultural calendar to plant and reap by. Each of the 4 season is separated from one another by equinoxes and solstices, and these times of transition between seasons can be seen as a 5th season altogether, ruled by the Earth element. Furthermore, these 24 mini seasons exhibit such unique elemental energies, it’s also common for the summer season to be divided in two distinct seasons - Early Summer, ruled by Fire, and Late Summer, ruled by Earth. So the Earth element is said to rule the Equinoxes and Solstices, as well as the season of Late Summer.
Image Credits: (Left) A Chinese Stamp Book depicting the traditional agricultural calendar displaying 24 solar terms en.people.cn, 2018.
(Right) 5 Element Theory seasons and body correlations, Carrie Li http://design2fengshui.com.au/traditional-chinese-medicine-the-5-elements/
༄ Spring 🌲 Wood
༄ Early Summer 🔥 Fire
༄ Late Summer ⛰ Earth
༄ Autumn 🏅 Metal
༄ Winter 🌊 Water
Spring ༄ Increasing Yang
Yin and Yang, the universal energetics of give and take, flow through the seasons slowly and steadily like tides. Springtime is considered the time of increasing Yang, and it corresponds to the element of Wood. It’s also a time of decreasing Yin. In nature, we see trees root down into the nourishing soil, stretch limbs towards the warming sun, and remain flexible in the wind and rains. We can also look for the new growth on an abstract level, as we feel inspired stirrings for a fresh start, a desire to spend more time outside, or spring clean the old and outdated dross from our lives.
Spring is associated with the Liver and Gallbladder organs, and if we tune in, we can feel a natural cleansing process taking place in these organs at this time of year. The Liver and Gallbladder work hard to detoxify the blood and make bile to metabolize fats and proteins. Spring offers a special opportunity to tonify the Liver, feeding it fresh greens and sour herbs that help slough off Winter wastes. Fresh spring salads made with watercress and arugula as well as occasional sour foods like lemons and fermented veggies from last fall help to move bile, support digestive health, and prepare the gut for all the other wonderful produce that will arrive in Summer.
Emotionally, the liver and gallbladder are seen as the architect and the executive that give us direction and will to act. When Liver Qi is out of balance, we tend to feel stress, anger, restlessness or resentment. The Gallbladder is associated with feelings of inspiration, personal will, planning, and discernment. If we were unable to release the old in the fall time, it may show up in spring as liver congestion, anger, outbursts, and irritability. Or if we feel listless, without direction or knowing where we want to grow, the gallbladder may be signaling that it needs extra support.
Spring ༄ Elemental Associations
Springtime is a perfect time for cleansing, as many of the fresh, raw seasonal foods available at this time of year support natural detoxification. We can further enhance our body’s spring cleaning by supporting the excretory systems including the colon, kidneys, bladder, and skin. We start by eliminating unnecessary toxins from our lives, and enhancing the natural detox process by drinking plenty of pure water (specifically spring water or purified water). The Water element feeds and nourishes the Wood element, and Water is an essential element for cleansing. It’s also important to get enough regular exercise to work up a sweat, so the skin can use excess water to cleanse and excrete toxins. Also, getting plenty of antioxidants in the diet can further promote detoxification. Natural sources of vitamin C like citrus and berries can support the liver to more efficiently process hormones and cellular wastes. Fulvic acid found in Shilajit is one of the most powerful antioxidants available and can further support cleansing and elimination by binding excess wastes and toxins, and escorting them out of our bodies.
Spring Foods to support Liver & Gallbladder Health
Fresh greens & sprouts: parsley, watercress, arugula, mustard greens, sorrel, basil, shisho, dandelion greens, radish sprouts, etc
Sour foods: lemon, lime, apple cider vinegar, fermented foods such as pickles, sour kraut or kimchi.
Foods & Toxins to Avoid
Synthetic Chemicals in food, body products, water, and environment
Excess alcohol and drugs
Processed, nutrient-deficient foods
Excess fried/greasy foods
Unfiltered tap water
Stress (distress, not eustress)
Liver Supporting Tonics for Daily Use
Dandelion Leaves and Root
Turkey Tail Mushroom
Tulsi Holy Basil
Tremella f. Mushroom
Liver Supporting Herbs for Moderate Use
Our favorite springtime cleansing bevie ~ refreshing lemonade with a splash of Wild American Shilajit for liver and gallbladder support:
16 oz purified water
1/2 - 1 lemon squeezed (or 1 - 2 limes)
1-2 tbsp raw honey or maple syrup
15 drops Wild American Shilajit Solution (or 1 small dab resin)
Stir well, add a lemon rind or fresh berries and enjoy!