Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Earth’s Harvest of Health

We can feel the transition approaching. The days are getting shorter and the crisp scent of fall is in the air. Nights are finally cooler and more comfortable for sleeping. The sound of wood being split punctuates the still air that is sweet with the smell of apples and sawdust.
We’re overwhelmed with the choices available from the garden and the farm stands and frantic to find yet another recipe featuring zucchini, eggplant, squash and tomatoes. Autumn is approaching. For many this time of year continues to be a favorite for the vast array of culinary choices it offers. It is a time of stocking up our larders and our bodies in order to survive the cycle of death and transition in our natural world.

Ancestrally it was a busy time to finish repairs, chop and stack wood, return from distant travels, preserve the harvest and enjoy the last of the warmer weather before the forced confinement of winter. There was much to be done. Grains needed to be cut, gathered, and dried, winnowed and stored. Whole families would gather in the kitchens of their grandmothers to preserve fruits, pickle a variety of fresh vegetables, dry herbs, and prepare baked goods.

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is the time of year corresponding to the Earth element (or more accurately, phase), the time of transition and harvest: late summer. The Earth element encompasses the organs Spleen and Stomach; the sweet foods naturally available to us during this time assist in the optimum functioning of this organ system. The key word would be nourishment, as Earth relates to Mother energy, our center. Stocking up on fruits, nuts, grains, root vegetables, squash, beans and all the rest of the incredible array of seasonal foods provides a layer of protective fat that will help keep us warm and begin the process of moving our energies inward for the long hibernation ahead. Even the animals know this as evidenced by deer raiding our gardens with a passion. The waxing of our girth during this time of year is a tribute to the season’s bounty; it is only natural that we begin to put on a little weight.

We, as a product of Mother Earth, are designed to live in harmony with her seasons. It is no surprise that this time of year offers such a cornucopia of produce. Our grandmothers knew that all of it could and should be preserved to keep us nourished and healthy during the leaner months ahead. Canning, preserving, pickling, and drying, freezing and salt curing all had a place and offered an aspect of necessary nutrition for the winter hibernation. Since refrigeration was not readily available, freezing was done by digging deep caches down to the layer of permafrost. Root cellars were used to keep potatoes, root vegetables, squashes and hearty fruits, such as apples fresh for as long as possible. Even still, canning made more sense once pottery, and eventually glass were commonly available.

Canning often used salt and/or lacto-fermentation to keep the hard-won harvest from spoilage and to increase its nutritional value. The beneficial bacteria available through fermenting foods provide robust health to the individual that consumes it; lactobacilli wards off disease and greatly enhances the immune system by crowding out harmful bacteria. It should be noted that modern and commercial methods of preserving use not whey -a nearly clear liquid obtained by separating soured curds from whole, raw milk- but vinegar, which does not readily provide us with beneficial bacteria and can make our systems more acidic. Simply using salt for canning vegetables is sufficient, the lactic acid will form on its own after sitting for a few days at room temperature and proliferate as the product is stored. A modern consumer can easily strain plain yogurt through cheesecloth to get two products: whey for canning and preserving and delicious yogurt cream cheese.
 Every ancient culture in the world offered a variety of fermented foods including cheese, sausage, preserved meats, sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, chutney, relish, wine, beer and more. Most of these were eaten sparingly as condiments to help ensure the best digestion of heavier foods. Even ketchup and mustard were fermented condiments once upon a time. The beneficial and symbiotic bacteria that were once a regular part of our diet increased resistance to disease and warded off pathogenic yeasts; reintroducing lacto-fermented foods to our regular diets will provide a cascade of health benefits, particularly if the produce preserved is fresh, organic and local.

The Earth phase is an excellent time to shake off lethargy and stagnation, use centering practices such as yoga, meditation, Tai Chi and Ayurvedic breathing exercises to align with the ‘middle path’ often described in Zen or Buddhist teachings. When we become deficient in Earth energy -often described as Qi (vital energy) deficiency or Spleen Qi deficiency in TCM- we lose vitality, our muscles become sore and weak, we may experience shortness of breath, or sweat more easily. Our digestion may become impaired, marked by bloating, flatulence, weight issues, and lack of appetite, nausea or loose stools. A diet of highly refined fats, sugars and flour, processed meats and dairy, especially when coupled with a sedentary lifestyle is a recipe for disaster when it comes to the health and well-being of an individual, in particular their Spleen and Stomach Qi; the Earth element.

Returning to the old ways of storing and preserving the season’s harvest reduces our dependence on the fossil fuels used for refrigeration and the shipping of produce from other climates which ultimately puts us out of balance with out natural circadian rhythms. Being prepared with a stock of nutritious foods would be invaluable during the inevitable power-outages of tempestuous weather. We can reclaim our autonomy and healthy vigor through this sort of self-reliance and the economic advantages will quickly become evident: less trips to the grocery stores that burn expensive fuel, the price of out-of –season factory farmed fruits and vegetables, and the less obvious, but incredible cost to our health. Time spent in unfulfilling leisure activities become time spent with family or friends preserving the harvest and gaining the confidence of self-sufficiency. As a result, we not only enhance and strengthen our own personal Earth element, but we also ensure the vitality of our Mother Earth.

Lisl Meredith Huebner is a Chinese Herbalist nationally board certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), an Auriculotherapist, a certified medicinal Aromatherapist, and is a Registered Herbalist with the American Herbalists Guild. In addition, she is also skilled in a wide variety of energy-healing techniques, has published volumes of articles and photographs espousing the magic of nature and teaches certification classes and workshops on a plethora of modalities and spiritual subjects.
She is available by appointment at her private practice.  
Please call 8 6 0 - 4 8 0 - 0 1 1 5 or email HerbaLisl@hotmail.com if you have any questions or would like to schedule a consultation.

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