As the leaves start to fall, the evenings get cooler and the forest starts to shift. Wild mushrooms start to pop up out of the disturbed mossy soil, and apple trees become abundant with ripe fruit. With this change of seasons, our bodies quiet down from the high energy of long summer days, and we start to crave more routine. As the air gets brisk, we crave more warm, cooked foods – this is a good time to ditch the fruit smoothies for a warming elixir.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), we view food on a scale of its warming or cooling properties, which includes hot, warming, neutral, cooling, and cold. This can be applied in the context of the temperature of food, but it also refers to cooked vs. raw, the method of cooking (steaming, baking, grilling, sauteeing), the flavour (spicy, sour, salty, sweet), and the energy of the food itself. Although this may sound complicated to someone unfamiliar with TCM, there are some basic principles we can follow to incorporate these practises into our diet, arguably most importantly, eating with the seasons.
Eating seasonal foods improves energy, mood, temperature regulation, sleep, digestion, and overall vitality. Consider foods that grow seasonally in the summer, such as fruit – melons, stone fruits, and berries are all rich in water and water-soluble vitamins and minerals that helps hydrate and cool the body. Naturally, we tend to eat lighter in the summer, eating more leafy greens and raw, fibrous vegetables.
In fall, we have an abundance of late summer squash, apples, wild mushrooms and root vegetables that are comforting, nourishing and warming. Culinary herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme are used in many autumn dishes, and pair well with these seasonal foods. At this time we also harvest the last of our summer crops, cooking them and preserving them, as demonstrated in canning tomato sauce, berry jams, and pickled vegetables. Heavier foods such as grains and saturated fats are often reintroduced during fall, as our bodies require more energy to maintain temperature regulation in the cooler weather. Broths are great to sip on as a warming drink, or added to soups, stews, sauces, and risottos.
Come winter time, our staples include starchier vegetables such as potatoes potatoes and yams, winter squash, root vegetables, garlic, and onions. Herbs and spices, both savoury and sweet, are used in many comfort foods – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves are only a handful of this season’s favourites – all of which have both a warming flavour and energy. Most of us tend towards slower cooked meats such as beef roasts, pulled pork, and whole chickens, which are naturally more heating and higher in nourishing fats.
One of my favourite ways to incorporate warming foods into my fall and winter routine is with elixirs. For example, golden milk, a spiced turmeric latte, incorporates warming spices into a nourishing tea. Golden milk typically contains turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, and ginger in a base of milk – dairy, almond or otherwise – and can be blended or whisked with a bit of sweetener. This is a very well balanced elixir, as it is anti inflammatory, immune supportive, and acts as a digestive tonic. You can even add a scoop of collagen and a splash of MCT oil, and treat it as a replacement for your cold morning smoothie! Above all, it’s a great way to incorporate warming herbs into your daily autumn routine.
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.
Originally published in 50+ Living in the Comox Valley Record for Edible Island Whole Foods Market on Thursday, October 18, 2018.