Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Recipe: Nettle Soup

Traditional Chinese nutritional theory advises us to include in our springtime diet foods that match the energetic quality of spring: light, energetic, ascending, expansive. That means it's a great time of year to incorporate fresh greens, young plants and sprouts into our meals.

If you're especially hardy, you can forage fresh greens like chickweed, dandelion, and miner's lettuce growing wild in the East Bay hills right now. These can be incorporated into soups and salads; but please forage respectfully and not from areas where the soil or surrounding air may be contaminated.

Nettles are a favorite springtime plant that can be harvested or found at farmer's markets at this time of year. (Be sure to wear gloves when working with them because they sting!)

The following recipe is adapted from British author Penelope Ody's book The Chinese Herbal Cookbook: Healing Foods from East & West. If you can't find nettles, you can use any fresh leafy green vegetables in place of nettles.

About nettles, Ody writes:

"Nettle soup is a classic spring cleanser eaten for generations in Europe as a healthy tonic full of vitamins and minerals to help strengthen the body after a long winter.

Winter diets are no longer so deprived, but eating nettles in spring is still an excellent way to cleanse the system. Nettles act as a purifier for the blood, clearing toxins, lowering blood pressure and with a diuretic action to help flush the system.
miner's lettuce

Stinging nettles are a common weed generally found on neglected wasteland, in compost heaps or in hedgerows. When the plants first come up in spring, they can be difficult to distinguish from other common weeds. If you pull up the plants the roots are a characteristic dark yellow; if still in doubt, confirm by touching the plant with your bare fingers -- the stings are very mild in the early spring....

Nettle soup should really only be made in the spring, as later in the year the nettles become coarse, unpleasant to eat -- and the stings hurt!"
nettles - foraged



  • 225g/8oz young nettle leaves
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped (Stephanie's addition)
nettles - chopped

  • 1 medium potato, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 quart vegetable or meat stock
  • salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • creme fraiche to serve


Remember to wear rubber gloves when preparing your nettles: wash & finely chop. Set aside.

Heat the butter in a saucepan and saute the onion & potato for 2-3 minutes, then add the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10-15 minutes or until the potato is soft and the stock is thickening.

Add the chopped nettles and return to a simmer for a further 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you prefer a smoother soup, blend with an electric whisk or in a blender or food processor; then gently reheat for 1-2 minutes before serving. Serve each portion topped

with a spoonful of creme fraiche.

nettles with horsetail plant

Ody, Penelope; Lyon, Alice; Vilinac, Dragana. The Chinese Herbal Cookbook: Healing Herbs from East & West. London: Kyle Cathie, Ltd., 2000.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Review: Making Babies

Increasingly, couples are turning to Chinese medicine for fertility support.

There are many good books on the market on natural and medical approaches to fertility enhancement. Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility takes an important place among them. This book is a fabulous resource for anyone wanting to learn more about the ways that Chinese medicine can support fertility. And for any couple (or individual) experiencing trouble conceiving, this book is a great first resource and wide-ranging storehouse of information related to getting pregnant. This book will empower couples and individuals to develop their own, personalized, pre-conception plan for optimizing health and fertility.

Making Babies is a truly complimentary -- East-West medicine -- team-effort. The book's authors are Dr. Sami S. David, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and pioneer in the field of Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART), and Jill Blakeway, Licensed Acupuncturist and Founder & Clinical Director of YinOva Center, an alternative health service for women in New York City.

Conception: As Naturally As Possible

Not only are David and Blakeway are committed to a complimentary approach to fertility enhancement. Their mission in Making Babies is to help women get pregnant as naturally as possible. Their goal is to help women/couples understand exactly what might be getting in the way of natural conception, and to utilize the least invasive combination of methods for fertility enhancement that are necessary. They draw on lifestyle and nutritional adjustments, exercise, self-massage & relaxation strategies, acupuncture, Chinese herbs, medical and surgical treatments.

Dr. David's professional story is interesting. In the early 1980s, he was the first doctor to successfully perform IVF (in-vitro fertilization) in the state of New York. Uncomfortable with the feeling of "playing God," however,  he reassessed his contribution to the field of reproductive endocrinology. While most of his professional colleagues went on to run IVF-centered practices, Dr. David turned his attention to less invasive medical and surgical treatment of infertility.

Dr. David and Ms. Blakeway acknowledge the important and valuable role of ART in helping millions of couples and individuals to conceive, and they are happy to refer patients to their colleauges who specialize in ART when necessary. However, they begin Making Babies by thoughtfully addressing their concerns regarding the overuse and risks of ART.

The book is full of interesting anecdotes of women who, after months or years of struggling with infertility, were directed toward IVF by a physician, or who experienced failed IVF attempts. David and Blakeway describe how many of these women subsequently went on to conceive naturally after receiving: 1) a clear diagnosis of the cause of their infertility and 2) a far less invasive medical intervention.

This paragraph, from Making Babies, nicely summarizes David's practice,

"I'm a surgeon, but I approach infertility medically, then surgically if necessary. I only take about 10% of my patients into the operating room. The way I see it, the less invasive a treatment is, the better (of course, it still has to work). I don't put anybody on fertility drugs unless I have to, which turns out to be less than half the time. And when I do prescribe fertility drugs, I use only one-quarter of the dose most IVF docs do. Some couples I see need drugs, but not fertility drugs -- they need antibiotics or steroids. Some benefit from simply taking over-the-counter cough medicine or plain old aspirin. Some of my patients simply need to douche with baking soda....... My preference is always for the gentlest option that will be effective.... Almost always, good medical detective work will uncover the cause of a patient's infertility and so reveal the appropriate solution. And despite what you'd think if you walked into just about any IVF clinic in this country, the solutions don't often involve major invasive interventions."

The Nuts & Bolts of Conception

The next section of Making Babies is a thorough, yet accessible, overview of the structures and functions of the male and female reproductive systems and the mechanisms of conception, followed by a discussion of several methods for women to monitor their fertility cycles.

The idea here is that women and couples should be as informed and knowledgable as possible, particularly when they interact with their medical providers. Furthermore, David and Blakeway keep emphasizing the importance of knowing and understanding the specific diagnosis underlying one's fertility challenges, so that the remedy can be as focused, effective and gentle as possible.

Next comes a discussion of lifestyle, dietary, nutritional, exercise and stress reduction practices for optimal fertility, accompanied by descriptions of how women might modify these practices according to the phase of their menstrual cycle. These recommendations are based in a combination of western naturopathic and traditional Chinese medicine systems.

A nice aspect of the book is that the educational pieces and recommendations are all presented gently, optimistically and, often with a good bit of welcome humor. David and Blakeway are very much in touch with and compassionate about real women's day-to-day lives.

The Five Fertility Types

This section is the heart of the Making Babies. And, its the part where Chinese medicine really makes its contribution. This is also my favorite part of the book.

In introducing this section, Jill Blakeway rightly points out that one of the advantages of traditional Chinese medicine over western medicine's "one size fits all" treatment approach is its highly developed system of differential diagnosis. Chinese medicine will not, for example, treat all cases of luteal phase disorder or ovarian cysts equally. Rather a Chinese medicine practitioner seeks to discern an underlying pattern of imbalance, unique in each patient's case, based on all available signs, symptoms, fertility charting, laboratory testing, etc. Treatment for each patient is unique and addresses that patient's specific pattern of imbalance.

The idea of Chinese medicine is to bring restore a patient's health by bring him/her into balance. Healthy people have healthy babies.

The Five Fertility Types, then, are the five most common Chinese medicine patterns that Blakeway finds in her infertility patients. Instead of using Chinese medicine terminology that is erudite and elusive to the lay person or western practitioner (think "Kidney Yang deficiency, Liver congestion Qi stagnation, damp phlem accumulation"), Blakeway has come up with five diagnostic labels:

1. Tired
2. Dry
3. Stuck
4. Pale
5. Waterlogged

As a Chinese medicine practitioner who likes to write for western audiences, I'm very impressed with how Blakeway handles this section. I love the clarity of her descriptions. For each of these types, she explains the signs and symptoms that typify the pattern, including hormonal imbalances and western diagnoses commonly associated with these patterns of imbalance. She shows how each pattern of imbalance relates to sub-optimal function of very specific aspects of reproductive function.

Blakeway highlights the importance of consulting with and coordinating with conventional medical practioners in the service of infertility patients. She seeks to put translate Chinese medicine diagnoses in the context of western medicine, framing them in terms of hormonal imbalances and explaining how acupuncture and herbs can help to level them out. In working with western doctors, Blakeway sets time limits and accessible goals to guage patient's progress. I.e. she likes to see very specific signs of hormones returning to balance as acupuncture and herbal treatment progresses through three consecutive menstrual cycles.

Common Fertility Problems and Their Solutions:

The next part of Making Babies is a thorough discussion of a full range of common fertility problems. These are divided into the categories of:

  • hormonal/endocrine imbalances
  • structural/anatomical issues
  • infections
  • immune system issues
  • general health issues (such as hypothyroid, anemia, diabetes, intestinal disorders, etc.)
For each common fertility problem, Blakeway and David discuss:
  • diagnostic methods, including how these should be timed in terms of a woman's menstrual cycles;
  • typically associated Chinese medicine diagnostic patterns;
  • solutions, including self-help tips, acupuncture and herbal treatment, medical or surgical intervention; along with
  • illustrative case studies of real-life patients and how they dealt with their fertility challeng and went on to have healthy babies.
Finally, David and Blakeway include a detailed discussion of a whole range of assisted reproductive techniques, including the role that Chinese medicine can play in supporting these techniques, when to use them, and how to make them as gentle as possible.

The Pre-mester: How to Use the Making Babies Program for your Fertility Type:

Making Babies culminates with an action plan. Patients are recommended to take three months in which to strengthen and rebalance their bodies using a range of recommendations in the areas of food, herbal teas (called "fertiliteas"), exercise, lifestyle, supplements, fertility strategies, medical assistance, acupuncture, and Chinese herbal medicine. The authors lay out five comprehensive prescriptions, one for each fertility type. They maintain that three months of following these guidelines, in a relaxed, non-rigid way, will effectively help many couples and individuals in overcoming barriers to fertility and along the way to successfully conceiving and making a healthy baby. This is in line with most systems of traditional medicine and healing, which recommend that couples set aside a period of time to boost their health before conceiving.

In closing:

Some of the things I love about this book are:
  • It's highly informativeand thorough. Key problems and solutions are discussed from various perspectives: Chinese medicine, western medicine, self-help.
  • It succeeds into making Chinese medicine concepts applicable by real-life people in critical, time-sensitive situations.
  • It empowers readers to interact with conventional and alternative medical providers from an informed perspective, laying the foundation for gentler, more effective outcomes.
  • It's real-life based, kind, friendly, optimistic, easy to read and implement.
I highly recommend this book to anyone thinking of getting pregnant, anyone running into trouble conceiving, or anyone simply looking for clearn, down-to-earth, writing on Traditional Chinese Medicine.

A Brief Illustration of one of the five Fertility Types:

Tired, for example, is the most common pattern in her infertility patients. Chinese medicine practioners would call tired "Yang Qi vacuity." Tired patients have sluggish metabolic symptoms. Hypothyroid condition is an example. The symptoms of tired patients reflect hormonal imbalances affecting the reproductive hormones, but also eoncompassing the thyroid, adrenal and pituitary glands. These imbalances impact metabolism, circulation, libido and, in turn, fertility. 

In Chinese medicine terms, Yang Qi has functions of transforming, transporting, warming, protecting and containing. Weakness of Yang Qi may manifest as an inability of the woman's body to transform and egg and sperm into a viable embryo, to transport the egg from through the fallopian tubes into the uterus, to create the right temperature environment in the uterus, to mount the appropriate immune response to protect the embryo, or to contain the growing embryo in the uterus. Chinese medicine treatment would seek to warm and augment Yang Qi in order to support a women's body in these specific functions.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Eight Easy Herbal Teas for Spring

A cup of herbal tea is a perfect way to attune our bodies and minds to the delicate, fresh energy of Spring.

Spring is a great time of year to attend to the health of the Liver. In Chinese medicine, the Liver plays a critical role in the health of our blood and in the flow of energy throughout our body. Sub-optimal Liver function, which we call "Liver congestion Qi stagnation" can make the transition from Winter to Spring a little more challenging, giving rise to symptoms like seasonal allergies, hormonal imbalances, PMS, painful periods, vision problems, headaches, migraines, muscle spasms, tendon & ligament injuries, mood swings, irritability, anger, depression, stress and overwhelm.

Here are eight easy-to-prepare herbal teas. Sip them throughout the day at home or at work to soothe & nourish your liver and ease your transition into Spring.

Keep it simple. Most of these herbs can be found in tea-bag form in your local health food store. Otherwise, you can buy them in bulk from your local health food store or western or Chinese herb supplier. Just steep in warm water and enjoy.


The simplest "tea" to support the Liver is a cup of hot water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. The sour flavor has a special affinity for the liver, counteracting the effects of rich, greasy food by breaking down fats and proteins.


Known best for treatment of colds & flus, peppermint also clears the eyes (eyes are related to the Liver in Chinese medicine), and circulates Liver Qi, relieving emotional stress, moodiness and gynecological problems, like PMS and cramps.

Peppermint tea with a bit of honey is a wonderful blend of sweet and spicy that is cooling, refreshing and revitalizing.

goji (or lycium) berries

Reputed as a longevity herb in China and said to brighten spirits and improve eyesight, goji berries are used by herbalists to nourish Liver and Kidney Yin and Blood to treat imbalances characterized by dryness, pallor and low-back ache. You can find goji berries in health food stores. Steeped with peppermint leaves, chrysanthemum flowers or other fresh herbs, they add richness and sweetness your favorite Spring tea.

dandelion leaf & root

This common weed is a tonic herb full of vitamins and minerals. It is well-known as a cleansing herb, as it stimulates the liver, induces bile flow and cleans the hepatic system. It tones the kidneys and aids in water elimination as well.

Chinese medicine uses all parts of the dandelion plant to clear toxic heat from the Liver. The leaves can be eaten as food or steeped and drunk as a tea. An infusion of dandelion root makes a pretty compelling coffee substitute.


Nettles are one of the best-loved herbs in the western herbal traditions. You can find the young stinging nettles growing in the East Bay hills right now.

Nettles have become well-known for the treatment of hayfever and allergies. Sip nettle tea daily to prevent Spring allergies. Nettles are full of vitamins and minerals. They activate the metabolism and strengthen the entire body. They tone the kidneys and cleanse the blood.

Additional uses are as a reproductive tonic for men and women; to ease growing pains in young children; to alleviate PMS and menopause symptoms; as a diuretics and to ease inflammation of the unrinary tract; to ease skin conditions like eczema; to decrease mucous in the body; and generally to enhance energy and vitaility.

Fresh nettles can often be found at farmers' markets at this time of year. You can also harvest them (wear rubber gloves because they sting!), and steam them for eating as you would other green vegetables, or steep and drink the tea. You can also find them in dried form at health food stores.


Chrysanthemum treats fevers, colds, flu, headache and fever. In Chinese medicine it is used to clear heat from the Liver in order to heal red eyes, blurred vision, dizziness and hypertension symptoms. It can be used as an eye wash for sore or swollen eyes. It calms anger and irritability. 

The Chinese drink it steeped with goji berries or mint leaves for its cooling and refreshing taste and rejeuvenative properties.


Containing a lot of highly-assimilable calcium, chamomile helps soothe the nerves and improve sleep. It also eases cramps and spasms and improves digestion.

A gentle herb, chamomile is one of the best children's herbs. It's useful for teething, crying, restlessness, colic, gas, fever and insomnia. Used in a bath or as a wash, it can soothe cuts, skin abrasions and diaper rash.


Turmeric is most commonly known as a spice in Indian cooking; but it can also be steeped as a tea and found as bagged tea in health food stores. The tuber can be juiced. I like to incorporate grated turmeric into my homemade saurkraut!

In Chinese medicine, we use both the turmeric tuber (which is energetically cooling) and the rhizome (which is energetically warming). Both have a powerful affect on many types of pain. The cooling tuber calms the nervous system as well.

Turmeric strengthens digestion, improves intestinal flora, aids in digestion of protein and moves gastric or abdominal congestion and its related pain. It powerfully detoxifies and decongests the liver and dissolves gallstones.

A great herb or food supplement for athletes, turmeric's action on the liver helps flexibility of the tendons. Blood-moving and anti-inflammatory, it is useful for wounds, bruises and other injuries, taken both externally and internally.

The warm rhizome is especially used to treat pain -- pain related to injury, chest pain, gastric, hernia or abdominal pain, and menstrual and postpartum pain. It circulates and purifies the blood, is anti-inflammatory, and stimulates the formation of new blood cells.

The tuber cools the blood and can be used to quell anxiety and agitation.

Related article: Ten Lifestyle Tips for Spring Wellness.


Rosemary Gladstar. Family Herbal: A Guide to Living Life with Energy, Health, and Vitaility.

Lesley Tierra, L.Ac. The Herbs of Life: Health and Healing Using Western and Chinese Techniques.

Bensky & Gamble. Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ten Lifestyle Tips for Spring Wellness

According to the Gregorian calendar, Spring begins on March 21st. But in the classical Chinese lunar calendar, Spring starts in early February (with the celebration of the lunar new year) and peaks at the spring equinox on March 21st.

Accordingly, we are well into the Spring season -- the time of year when the energy of the earth begins to "quicken" after the dormancy of winter.

It certainly feels like Spring in the Bay Area. The longer hours of sunlight, budding fruit trees and fresh green growth sprouting from every sidewalk crack are impossible to miss.

In Chinese medicine, each new season brings a fresh opportunity to balance & strengthen our organ systems. The organ associated with Spring in Traditional Chinese Medicine is the Liver. Spring is a great time to attend to the health of the Liver.

According to Chinese medicine theory, the Liver plays a critical role in the health of the blood and the flow of energy throughout the body. When the Liver stops functioning optimally, the energy of the whole body becomes blocked. We call this condition "Liver congestion Qi stagnation." Common symptoms are:

  • seasonal allergies
  • hormonal imbalances
  • PMS and painful periods
  • vision problems
  • headaches & migraines
  • muscles spasms
  • tendon & ligament injuries
  • chronic neck pain or TMJ
  • mood swings
  • irritability, anger, sadness
  • stress, overwhelm.

In Springtime, the Qi of the Liver typically begins to flow more easily. Problems that bothered us in the Winter often start to feel better and we have more energy and vigor. Sometimes, though, when the Liver is not functioning optimally, the transition can be a little rocky. Issues related to Liver congestion (like those listed above) can be exacerbated for a while.

Although Liver imbalance can be addressed with Traditional Chinese Medicine at any time, Spring is the season when we can most effectively support the health of the Liver to bring about lasting changes.

Consider the following list of suggestions, derived from Chinese five-element theory, for boosting your health and unblocking "stuck Liver energy" during the Spring season.

But First .....  What is Five-Element Theory?

Five-element theory arose in pre-industrial, agrarian China where, as in all pre-industrial cultures, humans closely observed and depended on natural cycles of the earth and climate. In five-element theory, the five seasons of the year – Spring, Summer, Late Summer, Autumn and Winter – each correspond to a specific set of qualities and energies. In agricultural society, survival depended on a sophisticated understanding of and adaptation to the patterns of nature. Our modern, urban lives are less directly tied to agricultural cycles, but we still find greater health & happiness when we align ourselves, in big or small ways, with the prevailing energies of our natural environment.

In Five-Element Theory, Spring has the following Correspondences:

Element  :  Wood
Color  :  Blue-Green
Direction  :  East
Energy  :  Outward Expansion, Effortless Growth
Weather  :  Wind

Emotion  :  Anger
Sound  :  Shouting
Organs  :  Liver, Gall Bladder
Tissue  :  Tendons, Ligaments, Nails
Sense Organ  :  Eyes
Taste  :  Sour
Icon  :  Dragon
Life Stage  :  Birth, Infancy, Beginning

1. Rise Early/Sleep Early:

The Spring season corresponds to the direction East, where the sun rises. It corresponds to early morning and new beginnings. New beginnings are a great antidote to "stuck energy." Hit the refresh button and find new vitality by rising early & taking in the delicate sweetness of dawn.

Go to bed before 11:00 p.m. This allows you to be in a deep stage of sleep during the Liver time (1:00-3:00 a.m.) The "Liver time" is said to be the time when the blood is strengthened and our hormones regenerated.

2. Get Outside:

Outdoor air helps the Qi flow, as does movement and increased breathing. If you're feeling irritable, lethargic, or stuck, find some time for an outdoor activity --- hiking, gardening, bicycling -- whatever suits you!

Whereas winter is an appropriate time for deep rest and hibernation, Spring is a good time to increase our activity level. Keep in mind, though, that the energy of Spring is still new & delicate. Your tendons and ligaments may be more susceptible to injury at this time of year when the air is still cool. So build up slowly & don't overdo it.

3. Stretch:

In Chinese medicine, the Liver is said to have a special relationship with the sinews -- that is, all the tendons, ligaments and cartilage that attach to our joints, allowing our muscles to move our body.

One of the Liver's jobs, according to Chinese medicine, is to send Blood to the connective tissues when the body is active. When the body is at rest, the Blood flows back to the Liver to be cleansed and regenerated. If this system is is working well -- if the Blood is properly enriched and circulating smoothly -- then our sinews will be properly lubricated and our movement smooth, flexible and pain-free.

Gentle stretching improves the health of the connective tissue and the flow of Qi. These, in turn, support the health of the Liver, thereby improving the quality of Blood in the body, which in turn nourishes the connective tissue. Stretching feels great and helps to revitalize the body after winter. It is the form of exercise specifically recommended for Springtime in classical Chinese medicine texts.

4. Eat Lightly:

The liver is our major organ of detoxification. Together with our gallbladder, it also metabolizes fats. In Spring, our appetites naturally decrease, helping to cleanse our bodies of heavy foods and other indulgences of winter.

In addition to eating less, you can support your liver's natural springtime detoxification process by decreasing your exposure to toxins and chemicals. Simple steps include eating organic foods, avoiding pesticides and preservatives in food, using chemical-free cleaning products, and natural body care products.

Taking a break from alcohol for a couple of weeks may also be helpful to the liver.

5. Embrace Green:

If I could only give one health tip this season, I'd say EAT GREEN!  Green is the color associated with Spring in Chinese medicine theory. All green vegetables are supportive to Liver health. Bitter leafy greens are especially helpful in detoxifying, helping to chelate heavy metals in the body. These include dandelion greens, kale, mustard greens, brocoli rabe, arugula, bok choy, cilantro and parsley.
The taste associated with the Liver is "sour." Garnish your leafy green vegetables with a little sour in the form of lemon or lime juice or apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized is best.) Sour helps guide nourishment to your Liver & supports circulation of Liver energy, according to Chinese medicine theory.
Please look out for a more comprehensive article on food & cooking methods for Spring health -- coming soon!

6. Enjoy Herbal Teas:

The simplest "tea" to support the Liver is a cup of hot water with a squeeze of fresh lemon. (Remember, the flavor sour corresponds to the Spring season, and has an affinity for the Liver.)

Sipping any of the following teas supports Liver health and lightens emotional intensity: peppermint, green tea, goji berries, dandelion leaf or root, nettles, chrysanthemum, chamomile, turmeric.

For more, please see my article, 8 Easy Herbal Teas for Spring.

7. Rest Your Eyes:

Each of the major organs in Chinese medicine is said to "open into" one of the sense organs. The Liver and the eyes have a mutually supportive relationship.
Consider taking a mid-day 20-30 minute break to lie down with closed eyes. (Even 5-10 minutes is helpful!) If you work on the computer most of the day, consider taking breaks throughout your day. First, look away from the computer to focus your eyes for a minute or two on something in the distance. Then, gently close your eyes and take a couple of deep breaths.
Again, remember the relationship of the color green to the Liver and the Spring season. Keep a green plant by your desk. Take a moment to gaze at your plant periodically during your work day. Take a few moments to gaze out the window. Take a daily walk allowing your eyes to relax while taking in the abundant green growth of the season.

Another way to relax the eyes is to be aware of the weight of the eyeballs. Close your eyes & imagine feeling the eyeballs sinking downward and backward, heavy against the back of the eye sockets. This exercise can provide some restorative balance, as we tend to spend most of our day with our eyes and our necks craned forward, hyper-alert.

8. Express Your Creativity:

Let's step back for just a minute and look at the energetic cycle of the seasons according to five-element theory:

Winter is the time for deep rest and reflection. It is the darkness in which new ideas and visions germinate. With the thawing/quickening of Spring, new ideas begin to take form as delicate sprouts. The element associated with Spring is wood-- which we can visualize as the vibrant, uninhibited, outward growth of green plants. The growth of Spring, however, is still fresh and delicate, wild and unformed. Creative. It's still cold in Springtime, and our energy to act on new ideas is still limited. It's not until summer that our efforts really begin to produce lasting changes and results and our projects come to fruition.

That being said, Spring is a great time to explore creative expression. Take an art class. Dance. Cook. Sing. Craft. Write. Its a great time to begin experimenting with outward expression with any dreams or visions you had during the winter months.

Liver energy does not like to be stifled. Feelings of frustration, anger or stress -- or any of the other physical or emotional symptoms listed above -- point to Liver congestion-Qi stagnation. Creative expression nourishes the Liver and provides a wonderful outlet for stagnant Qi.

9. Deal with Anger:

Anger is associated with the Liver in Chinese medicine. Anger arises from congestion of the Liver and consequent lack of free flow of Qi in the body. Ongoing anger, resentment and frustration exacerbate Liver congestion and give rise to heat and inflammation in the boy, thereby exacerbating a range of physical and emotional syndromes.

Spring is an important and fruitful time of year to deal with feelings of anger because Liver energy is so available to us. Creative expression, physical movement, therapy, forgiveness, meditation are some avenues for dealing with anger.

I like the idea, which I came across in Paul Pitchford's book Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, of cultivating joy as an antidote to anger. Joy is the emotion associated with the Heart organ, the element fire and the Summer season. According to the five-element cycle, joy is the child of anger (summer is the child of spring; fire is the child of wood.) If we strengthen the fire element, then we have somewhere to channel our excessive wood energy. 

How do we cultivate more joy in our lives? Some ideas are expressing gratitude, practicing kindness and compassion, creative expression, community building.

10. Get a Seasonal Acupuncture Tune-Up:

Even if you only have acupuncture a few times a year, the change of seasons is a good time to do it. Treatments are designed to harmonize your body (your internal environment) with the season (your external environment.) At this time of year, the energy of the Liver system is highly accessible to influence through acupuncture points and appropriate Chinese herbs. 

Especially if you are feeling stress, anger or frustration or any of the signs and symptoms associated with Liver disharmony, listed above, just one session can help you start the season out right.

Links to more articles by Stephanie on Spring Health:

The Liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine

Spring Recipe: Nettle Soup

Eight Easy Herbal Teas for Spring

Spring Food & Cooking Tips


Haas, Elson, M.D. Staying Healthy with the Seasons.

Liu Ming. Lectures, Oakland, CA.

Macciocia, Giovanni. The Foundations of Chinese Medicine: A Comprehensive Text for Acupuncturists & Herbalists.

Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition.