In Traditional Chinese Medicine, each of the five seasons (Spring, summer, late summer, autumn, and winter) is associated with a specific element. As fall begins to turn to winter, we transition from the element of metal to the element of water and start incorporating more warming foods.
As Paul Pitchford explains in Healing with Whole Foods, in order to “unify” with winter, “one emphasizes the yin principle to become more receptive, introspective, and storage-oriented; one cools the surface of the body and warms the body’s core” (354). We need to seek inner warmth.
The kidneys are the organs most affected by wintertime. We may notice that we naturally gravitate towards “warm hearty soups, whole grains, and roasted nuts” on cold days. Pitchford recommends dried foods, small dark beans, seaweed, and steamed winter greens to fortify the kidneys. It is also important to cook foods at a lower temperature with less water.
Salty and bitter are the flavors for this cold season, appropriate because “they promote a sinking, centering quality which heightens the capacity for storage.” They help cool the exterior of the body and bring body heat “deeper and lower,” which means that we feel the cold less.
Salty foods include: miso, soy sauce, seaweeds, salt, millet, barley, plus any food made salty by the addition of salt. However, it should be noted that an excess of salt causes an over-consumption of water, weakening the bladder and kidneys and affecting the heart.
Common bitter foods may not be bitter on their own but are a combination of bitter and other flavors, including: lettuce, watercress, endive, escarole, turnip, asparagus, alfalfa, carrot top, rye, oats, quinoa, and amaranth.
Citrus and other foods for which the protective coating is bitter are also on the list. The strongest bitter qualities, however, can be found in herbs such as chicory root, burdock root, horsetail, and chaparral.
Try this recipe from Healing with Whole Foods to brighten up even the darkest of winter days.
Winter Sunshine Soup
1 cup yellow split peas, soaked
2 quarts water
1 5-inch piece kombu, soaked
½ onion, cut into crescent moons (optional)
2 carrots, cut into flowers
1 cup winter squash, diced
½ cup parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon salt
• Place kombu and peas in a pot with water.
• Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
• Add onions, carrots, squash, and salt. Simmer until peas and vegetables are tender.
• Add miso diluted in stock and simmer 5 minutes more.