Eating With the Seasons – A Healthy Tradition By Sarah Coleman
“Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly should proceed … to consider the seasons of the year and what affect each of them produces.”
If you walk into the fresh produce aisle of a big supermarket, would you be able to tell what season it is? Tomatoes in the depths of winter, broccoli in the height of summer, garlic from Mexico, lemons from America – anything goes!
With the globalisation of food systems, it is no wonder that our relationship with food and the seasons is broken?
In traditional healing systems, achieving good health means living in harmony with the seasons, eating each new season’s foods. As such, we are inextricably tied to the world around us and not separate from it.
Recognising seasonal changes and how they affect health is integral to all traditional healing systems. Let’s look at how it plays out in the history of Western medicine, Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine.
The Western Tradition
Western medicine adopted the humoral theory of health shortly after 400 BC, and it dominated for the next two thousand years. People were said to possess four internal “humours” – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile.
In turn, each of these internal humours aligned with the seasons:
Spring: blood, hot, wet
Summer: yellow bile, hot, dry
Autumn: black bile, cold, dry
Winter: phlegm, cold, wet
The balance of these humours was considered essential to maintaining good health. Disease came about when these humours, and their interaction with a person’s lifestyle, habits and environment were not harmonious.
Particular humours were believed to become excessive during certain seasons because they are similar to natural elements. For instance, phlegm is cold and wet like winter, making a person more susceptible to bronchitis and pneumonia in the colder seasons. In contrast, a wet, warm spring increased hot, wet blood, causing dysentery and nosebleeds.
Ayurveda, the traditional medicine system of India, has been in existence for at least 5000 years. It is still an integral part of Indian healthcare. It incorporates the concept of “ritucharya”, or “seasonal regimen” in maintaining good health.
India has six different seasons:
- vasanta ritu (spring)
- grishma ritu (summer)
- varsha ritu (monsoon)
- sharad ritu (autumn)
- hemanta ritu (autumn-winter)
- shishira ritu (winter)
It is vital to incorporate seasonally-appropriate foods into your diet to ensure optimal health throughout the changing seasons. In contrast, eating food not aligned with the seasons creates stress in the body and increases susceptibility to disease.
We should adjust our behaviour to the changing seasons, just like the plants and animals around us. In Ayurvedic medicine, lifestyle diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease arise when your diet and lifestyle do not adapt to the ever-changing environment.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Paying attention to the seasons is also a fundamental principle of traditional Chinese medicine. For example, imperial physician Hu Sihui of the Yuan Dynasty recommend in his text Principles of Correct Diet:
“Sow in spring; grow in summer; harvest in autumn; store in winter.”
Spring is considered the season to eat foods that nourish the growth and development of qi (vital energy that circulates through the body). Summer is a time to hydrate, dispel heat and dampness. Autumn is cool and dry, a time to nourish the lungs with moistening foods. Warm and hot foods “expel the cold” during winter.
Where you live is also tied to food therapy. People in cold and dry highland areas require additional pungent and nourishing foods. People in low, hot and rainy terrains need more heat-clearing and damp-expelling foods.
More advantages of eating seasonally
Traditional healing systems show us that we are not separate from the seasons. Seasonal foods are also beneficial for the following reasons:
- Variety: is the spice of life! As the seasons change, so should your menu. Consume seasonal foods to avoid boredom and to include a wide variety of nutrients.
- Budget-friendly: foods that are in season are in abundance. Foods that are out of season tend to be more expensive.
- Community: “know thy farmer”, forming a good relationship with your grocer or directly with producers at your local farmers market is the key to seasonal eating. Not only are you “in the know”, but you are also building community.
- Sustainable: seasonal foods are generally locally grown, less likely to be from far-flung places. This means fewer food miles and less food wastage.
- Nutrient boost: local seasonal foods do not rack up the food miles. After harvest, there is minimal transportation and storage, which also results in minimal loss of nutrients.
Let’s finish off with a bit of perspective! Choosing locally and seasonally grown food is not always feasible or convenient. If you live in an area with extreme weather conditions, your growing season may be short and your produce limited.
Fortunately, humans are inventive creatures. In times of abundance, we preserve seasonal foods, squirrelling them away for leaner times. A few preservation methods can even boost the nutritional value of your food.
Fermentation enhances the nutritional value of many raw fruits and vegetables. Also, processing tomatoes with heat concentrates nutrients such as lycopene and beta-carotene, making them more available to our bodies.
When it comes to the crunch, seasonal vegetables and fruit are a good choice all year round. So eat seasonally as much as you can and reap the benefits!
Over to you ~ what foods do you love when they are in season?
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Sarah Coleman is a naturopath, freelance writer and content creator. Find her at www.complementarywords.com or blogging about fermentation, home herbalism and slow food at www.thekitchenapothecary.com. When not writing, she enjoys life on her small farm in Tasmania, being walked by her dog and hunting down the funkiest of ferments.
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Sarkar, P, Kumar DH, L, Dhumal, C, Panigrahi, SS & Choudhary, R 2015, ‘Traditional and ayurvedic foods of Indian origin’, Journal of Ethnic Foods, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 97–109.
Thakkar, J, Chaudhari, S & Sarkar, PK 2011, ‘Ritucharya: Answer to the lifestyle disorders’, Ayu, vol. 32, no. 4, pp. 466–471.