Autumn is a time that provides a cool, crisp breeze in the morning that hits my face and helps me wake up. It represents a time to pick apples so long that my knuckles become scratched and chilled, but it is all worth it when I bite into the perfect, juicy, teeth-aching apple. It means growing a fuller beard for extra warmth. Early autumn stirs thoughts of family and gatherings that will take place in late autumn and early winter. It reminds me that I have to make Bon Appétit’s parsnip, carrot, and potato soup which are tasty autumn foods and remember to puree the whole thing, add more sherry, and let it sit for 1 full day (it just tastes so much better). Autumn is a wonderful time, but it takes some preparation and care to survive this seasonal change.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Theory about Appropriate Living
The Huang Di Nei Jing (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon) is one of the chief medical books of TCM written thousands of years ago. The style of the book is set up as a question & answer with the Yellow Emperor of China asking a Daoist master Qi Bo questions about many things to do with past and current life in relation to health and disease. The first call and response between the two is as follows:
In Chapter 1, the Yellow Emperor asks:
- “I am told the people in ancient times could all survive to more than 100 years old, and they appeared to be quite healthy and strong in actions, but the people at present time are different, they are not so nimble in action when they are only 50, and what is the reason?”
Qi Bo answers:
- “Those who knew the way of keeping good health in ancient times always kept their behavior in daily life in accordance with nature. Their behaviors in daily life were all kept in regular patterns such as their food and drink were of fixed quantity; their daily activities were all in regular times. They never overworked. In this way, they could maintain both in the body and in the spirit substantiality, and were able to live to the old age of more than 100 years.”1
The important part about the answer is to live one’s “daily life in accordance with nature.” This is important to remember as we enter the fall season or any change of season for that matter. There is a big change occurring with the earth, and one’s body needs to be in tune with those changes and one should make the appropriate choices or disease will occur.
Autumn is a time where the yang/warmth of the sun begins to lessen and give way to the yin/cooler seasons of fall and winter. In autumn one must begin to store vital energy in order to make it through the winter in a healthy state. One must slow down from the sometimes frenetic activity of the summer. The movement of autumn in Chinese medicine is downward, and this is evident in the root-based vegetables that are available during that time2. These veggies reach down into the ground to acquire their energy which we consume to acquire that energy.
The importance of the seasons comes up specifically in chapter 2 of the Huang Di Nei Jing which is a classic text on Chinese medicine:
“In the 3 months of autumn, the shapes of all living things on earth become mature naturally and are ready to be harvested. In autumn, the wind is vigorous and rapid, the environment on earth is clear and bright, so during this period, one should go to bed early to stay away from the chilliness, get up early to appreciate the crisp air of autumn, keep the spirit tranquil and stable to separate oneself from the sough of autumn by means of restraining the spirit and energy internally and guard the mind against anxiety and impetuosity. In this way, one’s tranquility can still be maintained even in the sough of autumn atmosphere, and the breath of the lung can be kept even as well.”3
What foods should you eat during autumn?
One of the easiest ways to stay healthy is to get in touch with the energy of the harvest through fresh foods. It is important to transition into eating warmer, cooked foods during this time and keeping the salads and raw foods at bay until next summer.
Food in Season during Autumn:4
- Brussels Sprouts
- Collard Greens
- Italian Parsley
- Jerusalem artichokes (a/k/a sunchokes)
- Shelling Beans
- Winter Squash
- Concord grapes
- Niagara grapes
- Wild Turkey
- Atlantic Mackerel
- Native Oysters
- Pacific Salmon
- Red Snapper
- Scallops (bay and sea)
A good guideline about what to eat during the autumn is to locate what is available at your local farmer’s market and use that as a template for building a meal that is appropriate to the season. This goes for autumn and any other season as well. Check out the NYC Harvest Calendar to figure out what is available each season.
Kale is a great ingredient for seasonal eaters as it is one of the few green vegetables that are more abundant and flavorful during autumn and winter. It can be substituted for cabbage or spinach and makes a fine side dish when blanched. Kale is a nutritionally rich food containing:
- vitamins A, C and E
- a substantial mineral content including manganese, iron, calcium and potassium
- phytochemicals such as sulphoraphane (linked to cancer prevention)5
One of my most favorite fall recipes uses kale and is as follows:
Eggs in a Nest6
(This recipe makes dinner for a family of four, but can easily be cut in half.)
2 cups uncooked brown rice
Cook rice with 4 cups water in a covered pot for 50 minutes or in a rice cooker while other ingredients are being prepared.
Olive oil – a few tbsp
1 medium onion, chopped, and minced garlic to taste
Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil in a wide skillet until lightly golden.
1 cup dried tomatoes
Add and sauté for a few more minutes, adding just enough water to rehydrate the tomatoes.
1 really large bunch of kale, coarsely chopped
Mix with other vegetables and cover pan for a few minutes. Uncover, stir well, then use the back of a spoon to make depressions in the cooked leaves, circling the pan like numbers on a clock.
Break an egg into each depression, being careful to keep yolks whole. Cover pan again and allow eggs to poach for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over rice.
I like to doctor this recipe up with some hot sauce and tamari sauce.
Other Autumn Tips
- Carry around a sweater/sweatshirt/scarf – even if it feels warm because during autumn it is cold in the shade and warm in the sun. This is typically the season where people are still dressing like it is still summer because the sun still has warmth during the high point of the day. This drastic change in temperature without the proper protection from the environment can put your body at risk.
- Eat soup – this is the time of season to begin thinking about making more nourishing wholesome, all-encompassing foods like soups. Soups usually contain meats, veggies, and carbohydrates. They are a great meal in one! The temperature is also warming to the yang to prepare oneself for winter.
- Keep hydrated – autumn is the time of dryness. The moisture of the humid summer gives way to autumn dryness. It is important to remember this and drink tea or room temperature water to help your body remain hydrated.
- See your acupuncturist – winter is often the time when people catch the most head colds. Seeing your acupuncturist can shore up your protective qi and lessen or eradicate head colds during the winter.
Get out and enjoy the weather change from summer to autumn, but remember to be prepared like your local boy scout. You don’t want to be caught off guard.
By Michael Pingicer, L.Ac.
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1 Wang, Bing & Wu, Nelson (trans.). The Yellow Empero’s Inner Classic. China Science & technology Press.
2 Flaws, Bob (1983). Prince Wen Hui’s Cook. Blue Poppy, Boulder, CO.
3 Wang, Bing & Wu, Nelson (trans.). The Yellow Empero’s Inner Classic. China Science & technology Press.