I've just finished up this year's autumn cleanse program in my clinic, and I've definitely got food-as-medicine on the brain! Every spring and autumn I offer these seasonal healing programs as a way to help clients "supercharge" and focus on their health, with a strong emphasis on establishing nourishing eating and lifestyle habits. In addition to three restorative and balancing acupuncture/massage sessions, these two-week seasonal healing programs include a detailed nutritional outline for creating optimal health (if this sounds like it would be helpful for you, stay tuned for the spring cleanse that starts next March!). One of the primary guidelines I put forth in the guidelines, backed up with lots of recipes and meal plans, is to include a minimum of six cups of vegetables a day. This basically amounts to at least two cups of veggies with every meal.
The truth is that most of us just don't eat enough vegetables, even many of us who are generally healthy eaters. Why does it matter? One of the primary reasons is that vegetables are really the best source of fiber, and fiber is crucial to completing the body's natural detoxification process. While it's the liver's job to break down toxins, it is the job of the large intestine to make sure those toxins really get out of the body. And without enough fiber that's not going to happen. Not to be gloom and doom about it, but in our modern world we pretty much do live in a "toxic soup." If you think that's hyperbole, just consider for a moment the fact that in 2004 the Environmental Working Group did a study in which they found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants (such as pesticides, mercury, dioxins, etc.) in the umbilical cord blood of newborn infants. Sadly, we have such a toxic burden in this day and age that we are passing it on to our children in utero. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals are even being found in our drinking water. The presence of synthetic hormones in the environment is wiping out populations of fish. From purely a health perspective, these are indeed dire times (and most of us might agree that these are dire times in more ways than one, but we'll keep it to just health discussion here!)
Every day our livers are working hard to manage this constant input: pesticides, xeno-estrogens, chemicals leached from plastics, car exhaust, chemicals in body care products that are absorbed through the skin, over the counter and prescribed medications, alcohol, drugs, synthetic hormones (and even our body's natural hormones, which also need to be detoxified by the liver)... the list goes on and on. So aside from minimizing our exposure to these toxins as much as we can, we need to also support vibrantly healthy livers that can effectively manage the inevitable exposures, AND we need a diet rich in fiber (i.e. vegetables) to make sure the detoxification process is complete with our bowel elimination.
The fiber from certain vegetables also acts as a pre-biotic, which basically means it acts as food for the trillions of gut bacteria that inhabit our intestines. These benefical gut bacteria fulfill a myriad of important physiological functions, ranging from immune system modulation to brain neurotransmitter production to hormone balancing. A healthy micro biome is nourished by a diet rich in fiber and naturally probiotic foods, and a diet that contains virtually no processed or refined carbohydrates. Equally as important as the fiber component in veggies is the fact that vibrant, colorful vegetables are our best source for phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are natural plant compounds that have a protective effect on the the body. A couple of common examples include lycopene, found in tomatoes, which supports prostate health, and beta-carotene found in sweet potatoes and kale, which supports lung and eye health. To get a wide variety of these phytonutrients we should eat a wide variety of different vegetables even day; different colors in the plants often indicate the presence of different phytonutrients, hence the advice to "eat a rainbow".
So now that we've taken a moment to explore WHY we need vegetables, let's discuss HOW we go about getting at least two cups of veggies with every meal. A lot of people get stumped about how to make breakfast a veggie-rich meal. This is especially the case if they are accustomed to the standard American diet practice of eating empty carbs for breakfast (which happens to be the worst thing you can do in terms of disrupting blood sugar balance and energy levels). A wonderful way to get veggies into your breakfast, especially as we move into the colder months, is to make roasted roots. Unlike flour-based foods like cereal and bagels, root vegetables are a wonderful source of healthy, slow-burning carbohydrates. Combine these roasted roots with some pasture-raised eggs for protein (maybe scrambled with leafy greens for even more veggies), cooked in a healthy fat like ghee or coconut oil, and a scoop of probiotic-rich sauerkraut, and you really do have the breakfast of champions. Many of the clients doing my autumn cleanse were amazed at how incredible they felt by making this change in their breakfast routine.
This roasted roots recipe can be kept as leftovers and reheated for 2-3 days, which saves time in the kitchen. An added bonus is that roasting veggies in the oven can take off the morning chill while you get ready for your day (an added bonus if you live in an old country house without central heating like I do!). Another thing to know is that eating root vegetables in the fall aligns us with the energy of the season. In autumn, all the energy begins to descend back down towards the earth, so eating veggies that grow underground connects us with this seasonal energetic (in the same way that eating more sprouts and young leafy greens connects us with the energetic principle of springtime). The rosemary that seasons the roots in this recipe is a great antioxidant and circulatory tonic.
Rosemary Roasted Roots
*Note: be sure to use all organic ingredients!
2-3 sweet potatoes
2 beets, red or golden
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, ghee, or coconut oil
1 tsp. unrefined sea salt
2 tbsp. fresh chopped rosemary (or 1 Tbsp. dried if fresh is unavailable)
fresh cracked pepper to taste
It is spring, season of the wood element in the Chinese Medicine system of the Five Elements. On an energetic level, the wood element within each of us is the dimension of self that can bounce back and keep growing towards the sun, just like a tree or plant, in spite of life's obstacles. You know when you see little plants coming up through the sidewalk, or the roots of a tree breaking up the concrete? That is the wood element: determined to keep aspiring and growing, concrete be damned! A wonderful symbol of a healthy wood element that many of us can connect with is a redwood tree. Strongly rooted in the earth, they are able to sway with very strong winds without snapping or falling down. And always they aspire higher and higher towards the sun, while firmly rooted in the earth. This is the energetic of Wood.
When the wood element within us is healthy, we are able to sway with the external winds of life without either snapping or collapsing. When our wood element is not in balance it can look a few different ways, depending on what's out of balance. One is that we find ourselves "snapping" at everything! Irritability, frustration, and even rage are all signs of stagnant liver energy (the liver being the organ associated with wood).
Or, conversely, there can be a sense of just collapsing in the face of challenges, of just giving up. This can happen when our wood element is more deficient, and isn't receiving enough nourishment to feel strong and empowered like the mighty redwood trees. This can also manifest as feeling insecure, self-judging, or indecisive about what to do with one's life. Just as all trees and plants grow towards the sun, so too should we grow and aspire to what shines the brightest in our lives.
The wood element has a lot to do with resiliency. We can think about the liver, the organ associated with wood. The liver is a pretty resilient organ, if you think about it! It can really take a beating. It works to continually detoxify the body (not an easy task in our day and age of unprecedented toxic burdens), and yet it continues to regenerate and carry out so many vital-- essential-- physiological functions. On an energetic level, when we are resilient we are able to keep going on our path in life, even if we encounter obstacles. Healthy wood means being patient, calling on our creativity for problem-solving (another aspect of healthy wood), and staying resilient even when the winds of life get rough.
Interestingly, because the wood element is also associated with vision and eye health, it has a lot to do with perspective. When we come up against the inevitable frustrations in life, our ability to step back and get a broader perspective is a sign that our wood element is functioning well. One of my favorite acupuncture points that supports healthy wood has a spirit-level quality of allowing one to get a bigger perspective, as though climbing to the top of a mountain out of a thick, dark forest. Getting to a place where you can really get a panoramic view of your life, and see the big picture. The name of this point is Wilderness Mound.
Spring is the perfect time to focus on the health of our wood element and liver, both on the energetic and the physiological levels. Because wood is so much about growth, this is a good time of year to explore our own personal growth. Wood is that part of us that wants to grow towards the sun; it's about direction, goal setting, and aspiration. We can ask ourselves, how have I grown this past year? In what areas do I still need to grow? What do I aspire to? What are my goals for this next growing season? Wood is the part of us that can hold a goal or a vision for what we want to achieve in life (the yin aspect of wood), and then come up with a plan for how to achieve that goal or vision (the yang aspect of wood). Spring is the time to do this inner reflection and exploration.
With Valentine's Day coming up, I wanted to share one of my favorite chocolate recipes. I'm not talking about the super sugary Hershey's or See's Candies type chocolate, I'm talking a medicinal grade chocolate treat that is absolutely delicious as well as nourishing. Interestingly, in Chinese Medicine, the bitter flavor (a flavor that real cacao certainly embodies) corresponds to the heart and the fire element~ the element that governs connection and intimacy. It's no wonder that this naturally bitter food is associated with Valentine's Day! Cacao is also a great source of magnesium, a mineral in which most people are deficient, and contains antioxidants. The chia seeds are what makes the pudding consistency in this recipe. Chia seeds are an excellent fiber source, and contain omega-3 fatty acids. Put cacao and chia together, along with the super healthy fat from coconut milk, and you have a delicious and nourishing Valentine's Day Treat! This recipe is super simple to make:
Creamy Chocolate Chia Pudding
2 cups coconut milk
1/3 cup chia seeds
8-10 dates, pitted
¼ cup raw cacao powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt
Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth. Pour into medium bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least three hours, until a thick, pudding-like consistency is achieved. Serve in small dessert bowls, topped with fruit (raspberries are divine with this!). Serves four.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale Salad
This is one of my new favorite autumn/winter recipes; it is nourishing, grounding, and delightful to the tastebuds. The slight sweetness of the butternut squash and pecans is balanced by the pungency of the red onion and the slight bitterness of the kale. In addition to tasting delicious, this seasonal dish is quite nutrient-dense and high in fiber. The squash and kale are both excellent sources of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A, plays a key role in immune health-- making this a wonderful recipe for “cold and flu season”. The ghee, coconut oil, and/or olive oil are all super nourishing fats, and the pecans provide some protein and more good fat. Ideally all the ingredients should be organic, but especially the kale, as it is one of the veggies that is most heavily sprayed.
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch of kale, cut into thin ribbons (I use dinosaur kale, but any kind should work)
1 red onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsp. unrefined coconut oil or ghee
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
½ cup pecans, chopped (and lightly toasted to bring out flavor, if desired)
1 tbsp. real maple syrup
1 tbsp raw apple cider vinegar
unrefined salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
½ cup crumbled feta cheese, optional
1.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a large flat baking pan with the ghee or coconut oil. Add the diced squash pieces and toss with a sprinkling of salt and fresh cracked pepper. Bake the squash for about 30-40 minutes, until tender and slightly browned, but not burnt.
2.) While the squash is roasting, prepare the kale on the stovetop. In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil on medium-low heat. Once the oil is warm, add the sliced onion and saute about five minutes. Add half of the kale, and once that half has cooked down slightly, add the other half, along with 1 tsp. unrefined salt. Saute the whole mixture together for about 10 minutes on low heat, until the kale is tender.
3.) Once the squash is roasted, place it in a large bowl. Add the sauteed kale/onion mixture to the squash, along with the maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Mix everything together. Add the chopped pecans, and once cooled slightly the feta cheese, if you are using it. This salad can be served warm or cold, and will keep in fridge about three days.
It is late summer, a time of harvest and of basking in the abundant splendor of nature, as gardens and orchards brim with flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Down in my garden the "naked ladies" (a flower that's technically called Amaryllis Belladonna) are blooming with the smell of absolute pink-ness, and the peach trees are laden with ripening fruit. In the Chinese Medicine model of the Five Elements, late summer is a season unto itself, and it is the one associated with the Earth element. A very core and central theme for the Earth element is nourishment. In my newsletters throughout the year I like to share ways in which we can align our bodies and spirits with the energetic of the season. We all have these Five Elements within each of us, manifesting in many different ways. This month I'm offering suggestions relating to the Earth element, and how we can bring our own inner Earth element into greater health. Earth is also my personal constitutional element, so I have a lot of thoughts on this particular one!
Ways in which you can cultivate a healthy Earth element:
*Make a nourishment list. This is a "homework assignment" that I give to many of my clients, when they are depleted and drained. Write down everything you can think of that makes you feel deeply and truly nourished. I define something as nourishing if it leaves me feeling like the best possible version of myself. Let this list be long, and keep adding to it as new ideas come to you about what feels nourishing. Write down every food that feels deeply nourishing, every self-care practice and healthy habit, every book, every song or musical artist, every healing modality or healer, every friendship, every place you like to visit. It can help to post this list where you see it on a regular basis, and when you are feeling like your cup is running empty, refill it with something from your nourishment list.
*Look at the "ecology of needs" in your life. This is a term that my teacher Thea Elijah shares when discussing the Earth element, and it is a very central theme with this element. The ecology of needs is the balance (or lack thereof) in our lives in relationship to needs: our own needs and the needs of others. As with any ecosystem, this balance can easily get disrupted. To see how your own ecology of needs is doing, it is helpful to ask ourselves these questions (journaling can be especially insightful):
Do I consistently ignore my own needs? Do I give too much? Habitually doing this can lead to chronic energetic depletion and/or resentment. "To be generous, one must be rich" is an expression that is an important one for the Earth element. Our cup must be full before we can really give in an authentic way. A lot of health problems stem from continually giving and giving without refilling one's own cup and honoring one's needs.
Am I able to voice what my needs are, to myself and to the people in my life (the greater community)? Am I comfortable with asking for help when I need it, without feeling guilty? Earth is about community, and an essential piece of community is reaching out for help when needed (and in turn reaching out to help others when they are in need). A key sentiment for the Earth element is "We are all in this together." There are times when we simply need support or resources outside of ourselves. If we really struggle with the act of asking for help, we should delve into why that might be, and work to build the inner muscle of asking for help.
Are there ways in which I'm too needy? Are there ways in which I can and should be more self-sufficient and resourceful? Just as it is healthy to be able to ask for help, it can also get out of balance the other way if we are always depending on others to take care of our needs. It is a good idea to try to assess and discern what needs we can and should take care of on our own, and when it is time to reach out to the greater community for help.
*Spend quality time in nature. One of the best ways we nourish our Earth element is by spending time with our feet actually on the earth! Take yourself on a date with nature: no concrete, no technological devices (cell phones off!), even no talking or reading. Go to a natural place that feels particularly healing to you. Take a slow and mindful walk in this place, opening your senses to the sounds, sights, and smells that surround you. As you walk, pay attention to your feet connecting with the earth with each step. See if you can feel fully supported and nourished by this planet that is holding you in its gravitational embrace. Allow yourself to move really slowly, so that you can fully soak in the essence of this natural place.
Sitting or even lying down on the ground in a natural place can be one of the most replenishing and grounding things you can do for yourself. The Earth Element governs our relationship to Home-- be it our our actual living spaces, our bodies, or our planet. A healing theme for the Earth Element is to learn how to fully come home, to ourselves and to this planet. As you sit, stand or walk in the natural healing place you've chosen, try to see just how at home you can feel there. Try to cultivate a sense of really belonging, remembering that you are in fact a part of this natural ecosystem. It may even help to say to yourself, "I am home" as you spend your quality time in this place.
*Examine and heal your relationship with food. Food is one of the most primal ways to nourish oneself, and it is also a powerful way of connecting with the Earth and all of its abundance. Many people who struggle with Earth imbalances struggle in their relationship to food (and also with appetite and digestive issues). It is important to think about not just what you eat, but also how you eat. Eating should be a loving and enjoyable act of self- care, not a source of stress and guilt. It's true that if we are addicted to processed foods and refined carbs it might take a little while for the cravings for those foods to end, as they are addictive foods. But once we kick the habit of eating that way we can begin to relish food that is truly nourishing to our bodies. As equal parts foodie and health nut, I'm pretty adamant that we don't have to choose between delicious food OR healthy food. The two can and should overlap!
I'm also a big proponent of mindful eating. When you sit down to eat, take a moment to prepare your mind and body for this act of nourishment. You might even silently say to yourself before every meal, "May I be nourished by this food." Be sure to chew your food thoroughly, even setting your fork down between bites to slow down the process. This will also greatly help your digestion as many digestive problems stem from eating too quickly or not chewing thoroughly enough. Try to eat without distraction (again, no cell phones!) and when you are done eating take a moment to just sit and observe how you feel. Pausing to notice how you feel after eating can also give you information about which foods are really good for you, because you should feel good after eating!
*Get regular acupuncture treatments, to establish and maintain balance in your Earth Element, as well as all the other elements. Acupuncture can support the health of these Five Elements within us on a deep energetic level, as well as on the physiological/symptomatic level. If you are struggling with a physical and/or emotional imbalance in your life, I would love to help you move through it towards a place of vibrancy, by using my synthesis of acupuncture, heart-centered lifestyle counseling, nutritional guidance, and herbal support. Call or email me today to see how I can help you on your healing journey...
Wishing everyone an abundant and nourishing late summer season!
P.S. Be sure to check out my Facebook and Instagram pages for articles, recipes, health tips, testimonials and more!
In the Five Element philosophy of Chinese Medicine, summer is associated with the Fire Element. As such, summer is the time to nourish and tend to our own inner Fire element (remembering that we have each of the five elements' energy systems within our being, and to have health they all need to be in balance). Fire is the element of joy and connection, and its season, summer, is when the yang energy is at its peak-- the days are the longest and hottest, and the energy is one of openness and expansion, like a flower in full bloom. Each season I like to share a little about how we can align ourselves with the particular element of that season, so this month I'm sharing how we can tend to and balance our inner Fire element.
Here are some ways we can align ourselves with the seasonal energy of summer and the Fire element:
*To stay replenished in this season of utmost yang, and not "burn out", we must always balance the Fire element with the Water element. Water is the utmost yin energy, and to stay healthy we need to nourish our yin, especially as the expansive and fiery yang energy is at its peak. This means, in essence, balancing outward activity with inward replenishment. In the summer many of us do a lot of traveling, going to festivals, amusement parks, etc. These are all very Fire Element activities, and it's good to do them, but we need to be sure we aren't just going-going-going until we burn out with exhaustion. If you have a very exciting trip or outing planned, try to schedule some down time of doing nothing soon afterwards to integrate and replenish. This is how we balance Fire with Water.
I also encourage people to schedule "yin time" in their daily lives. Yin time is doing something meditative and restorative, such as sitting or walking meditation, yin yoga, Tai Chi, or qigong. It's ideal to have 10-30 minutes of yin time practices in the morning and the evening (as book ends to your day), and even in the late afternoon ("siesta time") if you can. Just mindfully drinking a cup of tea or taking a short cat nap can be deeply replenishing yin time.
*The emotion associated with the Fire element is joy, so this is a good time to reflect on what brings us joy in life. You may even want to make a list of all the people and things in your life that genuinely bring you joy. What makes you glow, what fills you with warmth? Are there things that used to bring you joy but have fallen by the wayside in the hustle and bustle of life? Consider how you could re-incorporate these things or relationships back into your life. Or perhaps be a pioneer, and explore new interests or friendships.
*The Fire element is all about connection. Our connection to each other, to ourselves/our hearts, and connection to the greater universe/greater spirit of life. Summer is a good time to contemplate and nourish these different connections...
*Connection with others: Are there people in your life you've been meaning to connect with and reach out to, but for whatever reason haven't? Pick up the phone, send an email, schedule some quality time with them. If you have a spouse or partner, plan a special date or getaway, as a time for reconnecting.
*Connection with your self: Sometimes we forget that we also have a relationship with our own self, our own heart, and it's an important one! Spend some quality time alone at least once a week, having a date with yourself! Take a solo walk in nature, spend some time journalling in a beautiful place, do something that brings you into a greater connection with yourself.
A great way to connect with yourself is to place your hands over your heart center, close your eyes and spend several minutes as you continue to breathe into your heart ask yourself with deep sincerity, as you would ask a dear friend, "how are you doing in there?" See what thoughts or feelings come up as you ask this simple question. You may become aware of a feeling a tightness or tension, and you can gently breathe into that tension, inviting it to release with the breath. This is a beautiful way to listen to your heart and connect with yourself.
*Connection to the universe: Regardless of our specific spiritual beliefs, we can probably all agree that we are living in a pretty vast, and even limitless, universe. Connecting to that vastness and limitlessness can put our own lives into a greater perspective. Some of us might be open to inviting that big energy connection into our own hearts, and there are a number of ways we can do this. One of my primary teachers, Thea Elijah, teaches a series of practices called Whole Heart Connection, which I have incorporate into my own self care.
One of my favorite of these practices, which I share with many of my clients, is the practice of "basking and asking." In this practice we bow our heads and energetically breathe into and open up the area between our shoulder blades, the back of our heart. We often don't pay much attention to the back of our heart, but with breath and intention we can create a little portal there. We can ask this big universal energy to enter us through this portal and fill our hearts with all the love, light, and strength we need. Doing this, we allow ourselves to be filled until we are like a cup that runs over. Some people call this praying; you can also call it connecting to the greater universe, the universal love, the Tao, whatever. However you choose to frame it, it is a way of connecting, and it can be a very powerful practice.
*Nourish your heart with diet and supplements. Each of the Five elements is associated with organs in the body, and the heart is the main organ of the Fire element. There are certain foods and tonics that are especially beneficial for the heart and for the fire element within us. Fish oil (specifically the EPA fatty acid in fish oil) is an important supplement for heart health, as is magnesium. A safe and gentle herbal tonic that supports cardiovascular health is the leaf, flower and fruit of the Hawthorne tree; you can get this as a tincture, capsule or make a tea.
As for diet, eating seasonally means that summer is a time to "eat the rainbow" of fruits and veggies that are brimming in the gardens and farmers markets. The bright colors are indicative of antioxidants, which prevent cellular damage (the red colored ones especially have an affinity for the heart and the fire element). From a Chinese Medical dietary standpoint, the bitter flavor is associated with Fire, clearing excess heat. Dark green leafy veggies all have this bitter flavor, especially ones like arugula and dandelion greens (small amounts of very dark chocolate can also be used as a bitter!). When there is more cold and deficiency in the fire element, with symptoms of poor circulation, spices like ginger and cayenne can be used.
Energetically summer is the time of full flowering, so teas and tinctures of flowers like lavender, rose, borage, albizzia, and Hawthorne are a good way to match the energy of this season (and these flowers also gently work to calm anxiety and soothe the heart).
*Every element is associated with a sound, and the sound of Fire is laughter. Laughter is good medicine! It's also contagious so spending time with a funny friend can be very therapeutic. So can playing with little kids, watching a funny movie, reading a hilarious book, or conjuring up a ridiculous memory from your past. These are all good ways to get yourself laughing.
*Contemplate if there are any areas in your life in which you need to "lighten up." The Fire element is the most carefree and lighthearted of all the elements. One way to support our own fire element is to contemplate the ways in which we are just too heavy, or might be taking some things (or ourselves) way too seriously. This doesn't mean turning into a flake or being irresponsible! But many of us could probably greatly benefit from loosening up a little. Where in your life do you get a little too tightly wound? I know for myself lately it's been with my three year old son, who has been really testing boundaries and pushing buttons. I've found if I can lighten up a little, consciously loosen my inner tension, and even bring some humor into the situation it makes things a lot better.
*Spend some time near Fire. Spend some time this summer sitting by an actual fire--whether it is a campfire, a bonfire or even just gazing into a candle. This is not only a good way to experientially connect with this dynamic element, but this is often something we do with friends and family, so it also nourishes the need for connection that the Fire Element is so much about.
Another way to connect with the actual element of Fire is to sunbathe. Obviously we should use common sense by not overdoing it or burning our skin, but a little time basking in the sun's warm glow is deeply nourishing (and gives us a dose of that incredibly important Vitamin D!). We are a sun-phobic society, but sunlight is very therapeutic for the body as well as the spirit, as long as we don't overdo it.
* Spend time in and near the water. Water and Fire have a very intimate relationship with each other in the healing philosophy of Chinese Medicine. Water represent our depth, our roots, our kidney energy; Fire represents our height, our flowering, our heart energy. These two elements are clear representations of yin and yang, and they are always in dynamic relationship to each other. In winter, which is the season of water, we cozy up around the fire; this is nourishing the yang within yin. In summer, which is the season of Fire, we splash in the water; this is nourishing the yin within yang.
Immersing ourselves in actual water, or spending time next to it, is very balancing to the fire within us. It can also be a deeply replenishing meditation to simply listen to the water, whether it's sitting by a babbling brook, a rushing wild river, or the crashing waves of the ocean. Sit in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and bring your full attention just on the sound of the water. This is a powerful meditation in its own right.
Boxed cereals, even the ones labeled organic and natural, are not a very healthy breakfast option. This is because making the cereal into those cute little shapes involves a process called extrusion—a high heat industrial processing technique that denatures the grain, rendering it into an inflammatory food. A much healthier option is to cook your own whole grain porridge. Also known as Congee in traditional Asian diets, this way of preparing whole grains is very digestible and nourishing to the body. You can use most whole grains to make congee, though rice is the one that is traditionally used in Asian congees. I also like to make my congee using millet or quinoa. Adding a slice of dried Astragalus root adds immune-strengthening properties. I cook my congee in a crockpot overnight, so it’s all ready to go on the morning. Leftover congee is good for about two days.
Crockpot Congee Recipe
Soak ½ cup of the whole grain (such as rice, millet, or quinoa) in warm water for 8-12 hours (soaking grains makes them more digestible and makes their nutrients more available to the body). Strain off the soaking water in a fine mesh colander and rinse the grain well. Put the soaked grain into a crockpot and add 4 cups of water. Cook on low setting for about six to eight hours. NOTE: You may add more or less water if you prefer a thinner or thicker consistency.
Serve the congee with any nourishing seasonings of your choice. You can do a savory mix of fresh chopped green onions, fresh cilantro, toasted sesame oil, and a spoonful of fresh miso paste. You may also try a sweeter blend of dried fruits such as goji berries or raisins; chopped nuts or nut butter; butter or ghee; honey, maple syrup, or molasses; and spices such as cinnamon or cardamom. As long as your ingredients are nourishing and pure, feel free to experiment!
I'm a firm believer that what we eat every day should be our primary source of medicine. In my acupuncture practice I teach my clients how to put this principle into practice. The growing movement towards embracing traditional, pre-industrial foods preparation has so much to offer in terms of preventing and healing chronic disease. This movement emphasizes eating foods that are nutrient-dense and free from the modern industrial processing techniques that denature and devitalize our food. Within the Traditional Food movement, bone broth holds a special place of honor. Our ancestors, from all different cultures, have used this traditional healing food for generations, not only for its potent health properties, but also for its ability to enhance the flavor of soups and sauces. By using the bones as well as the meat from the animals we eat, it is also an economic and resourceful practice to make homemade broth.
As a health practitioner, I am especially interested in the therapeutic health properties that traditionally made broth has to offer. Bone broth is a wonderful source of easily absorbed minerals. It also contains naturally occurring gelatin, which is phenomenal for digestion and healing digestive disorders. A natural source of collagen, broth is also a great staple for people with joint disorders such as arthritis. And the "old wives tale" about homemade chicken soup being good for colds and flus? As is often the case, those old wives are now being backed by scientific research, which reveals that there actually are antiviral and immune-enhancing components in homemade chicken broth!
I love the taste, versatility, and healing properties of homemade chicken broth in particular, so I'm going to share how I personally like to make it. You basically make a roast chicken or half-chicken for dinner one night. Then make the broth with the leftover chicken bones, and use this broth along with the leftover chicken to make the soup the next night. You can freeze some of your leftovers if it is more soup than you or your family plan to eat within a few days. This is a very healthy and delicious meal option for wintery nights. Enjoy!
Part One: Crockpot Roast Chicken
1.)Rinse one organic and free range chicken with cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Sprinkle with unrefined sea salt.
2.)Stuff the chicken with whatever of the following seasonings you desire: shallots, onion halves, lemon halves, whole cloves of garlic, sprigs of thyme or rosemary, etc.
3.) Chop two onions in half, and place the four onion halves on the bottom of a crockpot. This is both to flavor the chicken and also to elevate the chicken in the crockpot a bit, as it will produce a lot of juices. Place the chicken on top of the bed of onion halves and turn the setting to "high."
4.) Cover and cook on high setting for about an hour, then turn setting to low, and cook on low for about six to eight hours.
5.) Test for doneness with a thermometer. or you can just tell by how easily it falls off the bone! Carefully lift chicken out of crockpot and place into an oven-proof baking dish.
6.) At this point you may choose to broil the chicken in the oven for five minutes if you want a very crispy skin. If not, just let it sit for about ten minutes before carving and serving.
7.) There will be a lot of juice left at the bottom of the crockpot. You may choose to make gravy from this, or leave it in the crockpot for your stock. After your chicken dinner, put any leftover chicken meat into a covered container in the fridge for tomorrow night's soup.
Part Two: Making the Broth
1.) That same night, after your roast chicken dinner, place all the bones back into the crockpot with one roughly chopped onion, a couple celery ribs, and 1 tablespoon of Apple Cider Vinegar (this helps pull more minerals out of the bones). Cover with 3-4 quarts of fresh water, turn the crockpot to low, and let simmer overnight.
Part Three: Making the Super-Duper Delicious and Healing Chicken Soup
1.) The next day, strain your broth with a fine mesh metal strainer into a large bowl or pot. Discard the bones. You now have your homemade, nutrient-dense broth. It may be a bit gelatinous in texture-- this is a good thing! It actually means you're getting lots of good healing gelatin in your broth in addition to all the minerals from the bones.
2.) To make the soup: In a large soup pot, sautee 1 finely chopped onion in 2 Tb. ghee or extra virgin olive oil on low heat until onions are soft.
3.) Add 3 chopped carrots, 3 chopped celery ribs, 1 peeled and chopped potato, 3-4 cloves minced garlic, 6-8 pieces of peeled fresh ginger slices, and 2 tsp. unrefined sea salt. Sautee for a few more minutes.
4.) Stir in 1/2 cup brown or wild rice in to the veggies, along with chopped leftover chicken. Sautee a few more minutes.
5.) Add your homemade broth to the soup pot and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then turn heat down to low and simmer, covered for another 45 minutes or so, until the rice and veggies are soft. Taste for salt and add fresh cracked pepper to taste.
Part Five: Adding the healing condiments
Aside from the homemade chicken broth, one of the keys to the healing power of this soup is all the condiments you add after it's cooked. Here is a list of the condiments you can add fresh to your individual bowls of soup:
* 1 Tablespoon of fresh miso paste
* 1 handful of fresh chopped cilantro leaves
* 1-2 tsp. of chopped fresh scallions
* 1/2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
* a crushed clove of fresh garlic (I suggest this if you are battling a cold)
Hope you enjoy this delicious and healing soup as much as I do! If you are interested in learning more about the Traditional Foods movement, here are some great resources:
Greetings to everyone this vibrant green spring! This is the season of growth and the Wood element. This means it is a good time to commit (or recommit) to the practices in our lives that keep us growing and blossoming into the fullest expression of who we really are. I am in the process of a lot of personal growth myself this spring, as I am integrating an incredibly valuable workshop I attended a few weeks ago. The work was on the practices of "Whole Heart Connection" which are taught by my teacher, mentor, and healer Thea Elijah. Whole Heart Connection is a series of inner practices Thea has created that can help one access a deep connection to the heart, which in Chinese Medicine is understood as the supreme emperor of one's being, and the seat of all consciousness. I am integrating these Whole Heart Connection practices into my own life and personal healing journey, and I am also beginning to offer them to some of my acupuncture clients when I sense they would be of benefit. (for more information on Thea Elijah and her work, visit http://www.perennialmedicine.com).
Those of you who are already my clients know that I often will give out "homework" after an acupuncture session, and it is often an inner practice or exercise that I feel will further facilitate the client's healing and growth. Of course the acupuncture itself, as well as the herbs, are vitally important for shifting the whole self into a greater state of balance. But I also consider it to be vitally important to continually nourish that state of balance with regular practices that quiet the "monkey mind" and that bring us more fully into our bodies and the wisdom of our hearts. Inner cultivation practices such as sitting meditation, qigong, yoga, and many others are as essential for our health as is nourishing food and physical exercise.
Having a practice of this kind teaches us how to shift into a more grounded, calm, and clear state of consciousness (much like how you often feel after an acupuncture session). Having a practice helps us continue to grow and evolve, and to see with more clarity the areas in which we still need to grow. These practices also help bring our awareness more deeply into the body and less tangled up in the busy thinking mind. This is really important because healing happens in the body, and it happens when we are living a fully embodied life. While our thinking minds can be very useful for a number of things in life, what most healing traditions teach (and I share this belief) is that true healing happens through the body, not through our cognitive processes, clever as they may be.
Having a practice that brings us more fully into the present moment has a profound impact physiologically as well as psychologically. When we really come home to our bodies, we can come home to who we really are, and we can more clearly listen to the wisdom the heart has to share. Embodied consciousness practices also help us to shift from the sympathetic nervous system state of "fight or flight" (a state of chronic stress with which many people are all too familiar) into a parasympathetic mode of "rest, digest, and relax". True healing only happens when we are in a parasympathetic, relaxed state of consciousness, and these practices help teach us how to get there.
Most of us spend a large portion of our time every day "taking care of business"-- working to make money, caring for children or other people that depend on us, paying bills, running errands, keeping house. Having a daily practice of some kind is having a daily reminder and a daily commitment to go deeper than just surviving. It is a commitment to our selves and our wellbeing. A daily practice is a time for renewal, kind of like an island of refuge we can spend a little time on each day. Over time, that island of calm begins to permeate into more and more areas of our daily life.
Meditation, yoga, qigong, etc. are called practices for a reason-- they do require practice. I have been meditating for almost twenty years, and I definitely don't feel like I'm an expert at it! The practice is never mastered; we are always growing more, learning more, evolving more fully into who we really are. We embark upon a road with no end when we commit to a inner self-cultivation practice. The work is never finished and packaged up neatly with a "done" stamp on it. In a very goal and final product oriented society, the value of having a practice where you never "get there" is often dismissed. It certainly doesn't look like you are getting anywhere when you are just sitting on a meditation cushion with your eyes closed or doing such seemingly simple qigong exercises. It might "look like" a waste of valuable time. But there actually is a very clear and huge benefit to committing to such a cultivation practice. In essence, the benefit is called "health." But it does require effort, discipline, and patience.
When we do an inner cultivation practice on a regular basis, it gradually starts to become easier for us to shift into that parasympathetic mode even when we are experiencing a enormous external demands and stressors. Over time, doing such a practice gives us a fuller well of inner calm from which to draw, and we are much less likely to snap, collapse, or resort to escapism in order to cope with the inevitable pressures of life. This is the value of a practice. It gives us internal resources to cope, so we don't have to rely on faulty crutches like addictions or unhealthy self-destructive habits.
Many of us know that having a daily meditation, yoga, or qigong practice would be good for us, but feel like we just don't have the time. With a growing toddler and acupuncture practice, I can relate! But if we can make time to shower every day, we can make time to have a practice. Even ten or fifteen minutes a day of mindful breathing or qigong can make an enormous difference in our overall mental, emotional and physical health.
In parting I've included below a ten minute guided mindfulness meditation video. If you are new to meditation, this can be a helpful and non-intimidating introduction. There are literally thousands more practices, teachers, books and resources out there. But at the end of the day, all of these different roads lead us back to the same destination-- they lead us home to who we really are. They bring us back to our true nature, in health and wholeness.
Wishing all of you a clear mind, a healthy body, and an open heart as you continue on your healing road!
Guided Ten-Minute Mindfulness Meditation video:
I always know we are moving into late summer when the peaches start dropping from the tree in our garden, and the birds seem drunk on the sweet blackberries that grow down by the creek. Now begins the season of the harvest, the season of great abundance and nourishment. In Chinese medicine, Late Summer is actually considered a season unto itself, and in the Five elements framework this season corresponds to the Earth element. As with all of the elements, there are so many potent healing themes contained within Earth. I like to take some time to unpack some of these healing themes in my monthly newsletters, as when we explore and integrate these different facets of ourselves, we can move towards greater health in all areas of our lives.
Health is really so much more than the absence of disease or pain. Health is so much more than eating right and exercising, though these things are indeed very important! But the highest level of health is fully stepping into and embodying the truest core essence of our being. It is being in rhythm with who we came into this world to be. It is living in a state where we can shine the radiant light of our true heart, and we generously share that light in all aspects of our lives. The beauty of the inner tradition of Chinese Medicine is that it is a path of coming home to who we really are. It is the path to health at the deepest, constitutional level.
Sometimes we may lose touch with this core essence of our being, or we may not even realize it exists, because the pain and suffering in our lives has caused us to shut down our growth/healing in some fundamental way. Many of us fall into patterns in an effort to cope with the pain--patterns of undermining or sabotaging our growth, patterns of self destructive habits or thoughts, patterns of identifying with our sickness, and not with our true nature. The Five Element acupuncture approach is to help clear those patterns, and to reopen that path that leads us back to who we really are at our deepest, most radiant core.
We each have one element that is our main constitution. This means that the core themes of that particular element make up the core themes of our life; this element holds both are greatest strengths and our greatest weaknesses. And although one element is our primary constitution, all of the five elements live within each of us. We need them all to be working together harmoniously, like a family of energies inside of us. Just like in a family, when one element is brought into greater health, it brings the other elements into greater health as well. Focusing on the healing themes of a particular element during its corresponding season is a great way to work on our self-healing throughout the year. So now that we are entering the season of late summer, let's focus our healing energy on our Earth element, and the teachings it holds.
Earth is the element of the harvest, and of deep sustaining nourishment. It is the part of ourselves that, when healthy, knows when to give and when to receive. It is the part of ourselves that knows how to balance our own needs with the needs of others. This is the "ecology of needs". Earth is the element of ecology, and ecology is all about balance. One of the key themes I've been contemplating in regards to Earth lately is the role that self care plays in this ecology of needs. This has taken on an even deeper meaning for me personally, as being a mom to a toddler is teaching me how essential it is to make time and space for self care. If I don't learn how give myself what I really need, then I don't really have much left to give to my child. There needs to be a balance for there to be a healthy ecology. This applies to other areas of our lives as well. Do we have enough inner abundance to give all that is needed in our relationships and friendships, in our work, in every area of our lives? Or are we running on empty?
We can think of ourselves as the soil from which our life grows. When we tend to our own self-- our soil-- with the right amount and the right kind of nutrients, then there can be an abundant and nourishing harvest in our lives. Abundance means that not only do we have enough for our self, but we have enough to share. Our soil's health is dependent on healthy self-care, and the fruits that grow from this soil are what we in turn harvest in our lives. Our relationships, our families, our careers, our passions, our spiritual paths-all of these are the fruits that want to grow and offer themselves in our lives. Will they be abundant and teeming with delicious nourishment? Or will they be withered and scanty, leaving us with a constant aching hunger? The answer lies in the extent to which we tend to our own soil-- our practices of self care!
A misconception that some people may have is that self care is selfish. But self care is not the same thing as unchecked hedonism or indulgence. There is a big difference. True self care is the basic foundation for health. When we are the healthiest, we have the most to give. Again and again I have seen so many people sacrifice their own self care thinking that doing so, and being "selfless" is somehow a gift to others. But the opposite is true. There is a wonderful expression: "To be generous, one must first be rich." Being "rich" means being deeply nourished. Being deeply nourished depends upon us creating time and space for our own self care. This means we need to do the things that are truly nourishing, not just pleasurable or distracting. There are many things that are temporarily pleasurable but that actually deplete us, or numb us out. So we need to discover for ourselves the ways in which we can truly nourish ourselves, and thus become stronger. We also need to know how we can fit these self care practice into our daily lives, so that we may be continually feeding a rich and healthy soil. This healthy soil is what will in turn yield a nourishing and delicious harvest of fruit--the harvest of our lives.
But it is not always so easy to figure out how to truly nourish ourselves! We all have unique nourishment needs. This is why my next women's healing circle will be devoted entirely to going deeper into this theme of self care and nourishment, and into exploring how the Earth element manifests uniquely within each of us. Details are below. I hope you will join us!
Come join our women's healing circle and learn more about the Earth Element in you!!
Daughters of Demeter is a series of healing circles for women. Each circle has a different seasonal theme, based on the teachings of the Five Elements fused with archetypes of the sacred feminine. Following the flow of the seasons, these groups invite us to dive deeply into all of these different facets of ourselves, so that we may come to understand ourselves at a more meaningful level, and so that we may also learn how to move past any obstacles keeping us from flourishing and blossoming fully in our lives. Together we will be learning and sharing in an intimate, safe, and sacred circle of sisterhood. We will be doing this work primarily through guided writing prompts and personal sharing. We may also incorporate qigong exercises, elements of ritual, and sacred song based on the season and element we are exploring.
Our next circle gathers to explore the Earth Element, and the archetype of the Mother. We will explore several rich and potent themes in this session, including our relationship to nourishment, the sacred art and practice of self care, balancing the "ecology of needs" in our lives, and learning to mother ourselves. With the intention of healing, we will go beyond exploration and dive into discovering practical ways to make healthy and needed change in our lives.
We will be doing this healing work at my clinic here in beautiful Happy Valley on Sunday August 30th, from 10:00 to 12:00. The cost for the Earth session is $30, but participants that register by August 15th will receive an early bird discount of $25. Pre-registration is required. For now I am only offering one of these healing circles for each season and element, so if you're interested be sure to sign up soon, as space is limited!
I am a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist with a Heart-centered practice in the Santa Cruz mountains. See my About page for more about me and the work I do.