This is Part 1 of 2 laying the groundwork for food as medicine. Part 2 is the recipe for turmeric, ginger, garlic and noodle soup.
I did my first FB Live in the Kitchen with my husband Kevin today—we had such a blast together! I shared the ingredients for a nourishing, warming, restorative soup with 3 key ingredients: turmeric, ginger and garlic. Easy to make, light and so satisfying, this soup’s 3 essential ingredients complement each other and have a synergistic balance as the foundation for a curry that can be used independent of this dish. We can’t talk about food as medicine, or in this case Chinese medicine, without discussing the yin and yang theory, thermal nature of food and the Five Flavors.
In a nutshell, yin and yang are limitless pairs of opposites that are both interchangeable, as well as transforming into each other. The theory of yin and yang can be observed in everything, in everyone, in nature, in the seasons, in plants, in animals. In every corner of the universe! Some examples of yin and yang are:
- Passive vs. Active
- Interior vs. Exterior
- Cold vs. Hot
- Inside vs. Outside
As mentioned above, yin and yang are opposite pairs that mutually transform into each other. Here’s another way to think about these opposites with respect to temperature and the environment and how yin and yang manifests in us: heat produces cold and cold produces heat. We can see this when we catch a cold and are running a fever. Or when we get over-heated or too much sun and we get the chills.
Along with yin and yang theory, let’s take a look at the thermal nature of food. What comes to mind: hot/cold and warm/cool. All animals and plants express a thermal nature. This depends on a couple of different factors. Where the food is from; the climate where it was grown; how it was cultivated and harvested and how it is then prepared for human consumption. Physiology, or how organisms, organ systems, individual organs, cells, and biomolecules carry out the chemical and physical functions in a living system, plays a significant role in the thermal nature of our food. Cool foods direct energy inward, moving blood flow down to our lower extremities. Warm foods direct energy and blood flow upward, towards the surface of the body. Thermal nature is more well defined when we discuss the Five Flavors that create balance and seasonal harmony.
There are Five Flavors in Chinese medicine that have a specific affinity for internal organs and corresponding season . The bitter flavor is yin and cooling, enters the heart and small intestine organs, season of Summer, drains heat, breaks up phlegm/mucus and can lower blood pressure. Some examples are dandelion greens, citrus peel, celery and asparagus. Next up, sour (acidic) is yin and cooling, has an astringent effect by preventing fluid leakage in body, enters the liver and gall bladder organs, is associated with the Spring and can address diarrhea, excess sweating and irritability. Apples, vinegar, pickles, kefir, sauerkraut and sour plum are a few examples. Sweet is yang in nature and has a harmonizing and relaxing effect which makes this flavor great for digestion, bloating, pain and heals burns and wounds. This flavor has an affinity for the spleen and stomach organs and is connected to Late Summer. Examples are sweet potatoes, cherries, grains and beets.
Salty is yin and cooling and has a descending, centering energetic in the body. This flavor is associated with the kidneys and bladder organs and with the Winter. In addition, salty foods moisten dryness, soften masses/tumors/nodules, break up phlegm, balance digestion and help detox the body. Some examples are barley, seaweed, soy, miso and millet. Last, but not least the pungent flavor is yang, warming and expansive. This flavor moves energy and blood flow upwards in the body—head and chest to the surface of the skin and is paired with the lung and large intestine organs, as well as the season of Fall. Examples of pungent foods are warm spices like cardamom, clove, cinnamon, garlic, ginger and scallions.
Combining and preparing foods with more than one flavor, in accordance with the seasons, to create harmony and balance within us is key to our longevity and health. My next blog will list the ingredients, their synergistic properties and the recipe for this delicious soup!