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 (sour, salty, sweet, acrid, bitter), 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, and support our increased need for electrolytes. 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. These cooked fruits and vegetables are more warming than their raw derivatives. Heavier foods such as grains and animal foods are often prioritized 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. These warming foods are nourishing and building, in contrast to the cooling, cleansing greens and fruits of the spring and summer.
Come winter time, our staples include even starchier vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams, winter squash, root vegetables, and hot spices such as garlic, and onions. Herbs and spices, both savoury and sweet, are used in many dishes around this time – allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves are only a handful of this season’s favourites, all of which have warming properties. Most of us tend towards more cooked foods such as roasted meats, soups and stews, and roasted vegetables, which are naturally warming and have nourishing and building properties.
One of my favourite ways to incorporate foods into my fall and winter routine is with elixirs and teas. Chai, golden milk and hot cacao are some traditional favourites, though I tend towards mushroom teas from wild foraged fungi. I purchase wildcrafted chaga, and slowly simmer it with my foraged turkey tails or reishi, which provides a warming tea that has a robust, gently bitter and highly satisfying mouth feel. Elixirs can also serve as a substitute for a cold morning smoothie – add raw honey and organic heavy cream or grass fed butter for a nutrient dense way to start the day. Above all, it’s a great way to incorporate warming foods into your daily autumn routine to promote deep nourishment and abundant energy.
Kayla MacDonald, R.H.N.