Regardless of where you live, the seasonal variations due to the earth’s axis in relationship to the universe has a profound effect on growth and well-being. As summer ends, we gradually adjust to the coming fall and winter seasons. Here in northern North America, we are blessed with prominent season changes. We can consciously prepare for the more inward looking time of winter through dietary changes to our meals. Our South African, Australian and New Zealand friends are doing the opposite!

My friends make fun of me because I seldom eat salad during the winter months. With the endless availability of fruits and vegetables out of season, we have dulled our sense of what is proper to eat during cooler months. Proper sounds old-fashioned, and is meant to, because the older translations of the Chinese dietary therapy treatises are maintained to this day with the slightly archaic language. Here is a relevant example: “The Sages nurture their yin in the fall and winter in order to follow the rule of rules” … in today’s vernacular, if you want to be healthy and you draw on the wisdom of those who have gone before, in other words, you need to nurture the yin part of your nature. The Yin/Yang concept represents the opposite energies that in western medicine are can be explained through the adrenal function.

The Yin/Yang opposites are akin to our parasympathetic nervous system (controlling functions we do not need to direct, such as digestion and circulation) that is the Yin function of substance and maintenance, and the sympathetic nervous system (controlling the stress response and immune system, the Yang or “active” nervous system that is triggered by outside stimulus).

Chinese medicine, through dietary and herbal therapy as well as acupuncture and acupressure, aims to restore balance to our physiological self. I am known to say, by way of explanation of Chinese dietary principles, that in the west we have remembered two things to do when we are feeling cool: close windows and put on a sweater! We have totally forgotten in this culture that there are obvious things to do if you are feeling cold, if you tend to feel cold when others feel warm. Eat warming foods! What on earth is that, you may ask? (Uh oh, I sense a couple of female friends wishing they could turn on the cool, actually!)

Chinese treatment for everything is a balancing act: counter cool with warming action, counter full, hot or excess with cooling, dispersing action. I am somewhat afraid that I am so familiar now that I will fail to see what is not easily understood to those new to the topic. So I shall return to what kinds of foods are great to eat as the winter season comes upon us, by way of example.

To attune to the impending cooler season, those of us in northern climates need to become more yin and contractive.

The fall is the season for foods with a “gathering” and drying nature, and here we turn to the “sour” flavor of food, which is less frequent than the other flavors in western cultures.

Here is what benefits you will derive from the “sour flavor foods”: they “collect and hold together the dispersed, capriciously changing personality, they are active in the liver, where they counteract the effects of rich food; they help digestion by dissolving minerals for better assimilation of nutrients, and they help the lung function. They ar also proper for organizing scattered mental patterns!

Such fun, I think, is this whole tradition. It is not hokey, either, but brings amazing results. So strange, too, I think, since we have lost this way of thinking in the west and have focused entirely on the appearance, texture and taste of foods. Yes, I watch the cooking shows too. What is sweet, wins…

So here is a list of sour foods – try them when you are needing to concentrate:

lemon, lime, pickles, sauerkraut, sour plum, crab apple and hawthorne berry; vinegar (which is also bitter); leek (which is also pungent); and all of the following which are both sour and sweet: aduki bean, apple, blackberry, grape, mango, olive, raspberry, tangerine, tomato. Add to that list dairy such as yogurt and cheese.

Be sure to focus your eating on seasonal produce, too, as harvest time is here. At first, we eat the tomatoes, the peppers, the summer squashes and the fruit that is ripening now, and later, we will be eating the root vegetables and the winter squashes. If your sweet tooth has gotten you in trouble, now is a great time to eat lots of orange fruits and vegetables, especially the round squashes, too, at this time of year.

I take a light-hearted look at all of this, and find it fascinating, but there are no shoulds for any of us. Wholesome foods will surely make us more healthy, and support the richness of the spiritual self that needs this physical body for existence in this dimension. Ha! Found a way to put something spiritual in, before the end of this post.

Be well, and enjoy the contractive nature of the fall as it comes upon us!