Currently we are at the end of winter season but spring harvest still feels far away here in Colorado, no matter how eager I am for fresh food from my garden. I wanted to talk about the importance of eating seasonally and how you can incorporate more winter foods into your daily routine. In Traditional Chinese Medicine winter is a time of yin which represents darkness. It is a time of rest, going inward, meditation, refining the spiritual essence, and becoming more receptive and introspective. The cold and darkness encourages us to go inward for warmth. Having the time and space to observe ourselves leads us down a path of growth and transformation.
Storing physical energy, storing our food, and even storing a few extra pounds all help get us through the season. Our digestion and circulation slows down. And our inner fires start to burn with less intensity which means we have less energy. More like the energy of the moon rather than the sun. When our bodies tell us to rest it is necessary for our health to listen. Only light exercise is needed during this time of year, so your spine and joints stay flexible. Yoga, Qi Gong, going on walks are all great forms of exercise for the season. Going outside also helps us maintain a healthy state of mind inspiring us to go inward while also fighting off the winter blues.
Staying healthy requires us to tune into the slow nature of the season. Winter time is known as the water element which is connected to the kidneys and bladder, which govern water metabolism. The kidneys are considered the root and foundation of the body. Contributing to our energy, warmth, and sexuality. They help the reproductive system function properly. The kidneys are also connected to our adrenal glands. The health of our adrenals plays a big part in the health of our kidneys. Taking care of ourselves when the world darkens is a crucial way to stay healthy through the toughest part of the year. But the darkness of winter is necessary for us to receive peace and clarity so we can have the strength to move forward in the busy seasons.
In winter, we rely on storage crops. Heavier food that keep us grounded, warm, and comfortable. Grains, beans, and fermented foods provide most of our nourishment for the season. These foods help us settle into our inner worlds. Allowing us to slowly dream up our intentions for spring.
Salt and Seaweed
Salt is most ideal for the season because it cools the exterior while warming the lower body. It stimulates the kidneys and promotes fluid metabolism and is moistening to the body. This helps balance the body in winter when it is dry and when the body is producing more heat and using more fluids. Salt will also detox any impure and unhealthy foods. Salt has the power to soften lymph and muscles. As well as, promotes bowel movement. But remember that overuse of salt will damage the kidneys and can cause many different kinds of deficiencies. About 3,000 mg per day is the recommended use.
The quality of salt also needs to carefully be considered. Most sea salt is refined and stripped of its trace minerals. True sea salt is grey rather than white. The brand Celtic sea salt can be commonly found at the grocery store. Also one of the best salty foods to eat in the winter time is seaweed. Seaweed helps detox the liver of poor quality foods and high fat foods. Incorporate seaweed with homemade Dashi broth or for a Shabu Shabu gathering. Other vegetables that contain sodium are beets, turnips, chard, spinach, and parsley.
Beans look a great deal like kidneys so naturally they rule the water element. A soup of beans cooked with seaweed nourishes the kidneys and the bones. Both foods contain the highest concentration of magnesium and calcium. Protein in legumes help regulate hormones, metabolism, sugar and water. And promotes proper brain development and help the adrenals and kidneys function properly. Many may have an intolerance with beans but this is often due to improper cooking, the type of legume, and poor winter food combinations.
Legumes are considered drying and diuretic. Soybean products should be avoided when deficiencies present themselves in thin, dry, and frail persons. Oil and salt help balance these effects. Legumes are great for balancing excess, in strong, robust persons that have symptoms of heat, damp or overweight. In Chinese medicine beans are categorized by the five elements based on their color. Red for fire, yellow for earth, white for metal, black/brown for water, and green for wood.
In the winter time I like to stock up on dry beans of all different kinds. Some of my favorites to have on hand are black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, great northern beans, chickpeas and adzuki beans. I go to my local co-op to stock up and keep a large jar full during the winter time. Another place I like to buy dry beans is Purcell Mountain Farms all of their bulk foods are sourced directly from farmers and they have a extensive variety of organic dried goods. Also if you want to grow and dry your own beans I highly suggest checking out High Desert Seeds + Gardens selection. Use them to make chili, tortilla soup, tacos, burritos, falafel, potato soup, so much more.
Root Vegetables and Winter Greens
Mustard greens, kale, bok choy, spinach, and arugula can often be found fresh in the dead of winter. Farms in Colorado use hoop houses to grow winter vegetables to protect them from snow but you can also grow your own with an a frame or sturdy row covers. Mustard greens are warming and pungent. They help tone and moisten the lungs and intestines. Clearing congestion, improving circulation, dissolving stagnation, and improving energy. Add steamed winter greens to your congee in the morning. Or add them to soups, stews, or winter stir fries.
Root vegetables like carrots, turnips, beets, and radishes are common winter food. Carrots help stimulate the elimination of waste by treating indigestion, excess accumulations, and bad bacteria in the intestines. While strengthening the lungs, spleen, pancreas, and liver. Carrots and other root vegetables hold up well in a root cellar or the bottom drawer of your refrigerator. They often help to add a lot of flavor and nutrients to winter food like soups and stews.
Grains contain essential nutrients for proper human development, vitality, and prevention of disease. Combining grains with other unrefined plant food gives all the elements of proper nutrition for a healthy diet. When you embrace grains into your diet you no longer have to be concerned with missing nutrients and cravings. As long as healthy digestion has been achieved. Grains satisfy hunger, provide energy, endurance, calm nerves, and encourage deep sleep. Also they promote elimination, quick reflexes, long memory, and clear thinking. They help one find the place for receptivity, relaxation and mental focus. This winter food category is considered neutral when it comes to yin and yang.
The essential point about grains is they have to be whole grains for proper nutrients. Most of the grains we eat in the western world are extremely processed into bread or cereal. Whole grains can be rather tough to get used to because they are fibrous and require a lot of chewing. But this miraculous group of food is the foundation of health. Each person who is struggling with balancing their constitution should start with grains. If one is dealing with more excess add amaranth, rye, whole barley, and wild rice to your diet. If dealing with any kind of deficiency eat more rice, wheat, barley, spelt, well cooked oats, and quinoa. Heat can be cooled with millet, wheat, amaranth, wild rice, blue corn, and whole barley. Cold can be fixed with oats, spelt, sweet rice, quinoa, and basmati rice.
Grains can be a simple meal in the winter time. Cooking up a pot to eat for the week requires little work and is inexpensive. Try mixing a variety into your daily routine. I like starting my day with a bowl of warm oatmeal. Then I add in different kinds of grains like quinoa and amaranth to my plant based veggie scrambles that I have for lunch. Then sometimes I will add more grains to my dinner with rice or a fresh loaf of sourdough bread. There are so many ways to add grains to your diet. Just make sure that they are sourced locally if possible and minimally processed so you don’t feel like you are starving or malnourished.
The wonderful world of fermented winter food adds an abundance of flavor to a rather bland season of grains and beans. They help regulate your digestion and give your gut flora a healthy dose of nutrients. Fermented food is essential for growth of Lactobacillus acidophilus which helps control overgrowth of candida and cancer, and helps prevent degenerative illnesses.
Fermentation preserves nutrients and also breaks them down, making it more bioavailable. That is why sourdough bread can be eaten by those who have celiac disease, because the gluten has already been broken down by the micro bacteria. The art of fermentation can also break down certain toxins and can even create new nutrients.
Before winter hits you can ferment a lot of your favorite winter food from your fall harvest. Cucumbers, cabbage, carrots radish, peppers to name a few. Make a batch special for tacos, salads or soups. There are endless possibilities with fermenting foods, it is a ancient practice that humans have cultivated practically since our existence.
When you are cooking in the winter time it should be a meditative experience where your attention is focused on energy that you are giving to the meal. Connecting to food in this way helps you form a deeper relationship to your health and nourishment. Using the freshest ingredients from your garden or local farm stand also helps inspire you to cook wholesome meals because the energy that went into grow that food transcends into your overall well being. This blog is a starting point. Showing you the way to nourishment through the seasons. Helping you cultivate a relationship with the food you eat so you can take control of your health with plants.
Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford
Wild Fermentation: The Flavor, Nutrition, and Craft of Live-Culture Foods by Sandor Ellix Katz
Here are more seasonal food blogs for you to check out!