Studying Naturopathic nutrition and working in the garden allows me to bring my studies into daily life, exploring the balance in the human body along with the surrounding environment. A particular area of interest, relating to this balance, are The Five Elements (of the Traditional Chinese Medicine approach). These are Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal/Air and Water, all seen as aspects of the basic life force (Qi). Health is considered a harmonious balance of the five elements that shifts and remains dynamic. Imbalances in the five elements cause disturbances and illness. With the human body and the environment sharing characteristics of each element, when in balance we are able to move rhythmically and in harmony with each other. This is an area I'm currently exploring as I become more familiar with the elements and more in tune with my cycles and the seasonal rhythms.
Reflecting upon our most recent transition over the Summer Solstice, about a month ago now, we moved from Wood into the Fire element; Spring into Summer. Summer representing the season of heat, growth, warmth and light - all feeding into that fire energy! As well as associating with the seasonal changes, each element associates with different body organs, a taste, a colour, a smell, a sound, an emotion - among other things! For the fire element for example, these are: the heart and small intestine, bitter, red, burning, laughter, joy and burnout. It has been interesting observing the different characteristics of each element and their reflected changes - sometimes large or at other times very subtle - in myself and my environment as we move through these transitions, and as we embrace each different element. In particular, recognising what plant growth supports the colours of the elements through my work as a gardener, and what feeling harvesting, preparing and eating meals based upon those colours can provide.
As previously mentioned, the colour for the fire element is Red. When we work on balancing this element, we might focus on incorporating more/ less red foods and drinks, recognising where we might want to tone down our fire energy or feed it. As pictured in my harvest, there's plenty of red's to support the energetic, expansive fire energy in balance - tomatoes, strawberries, gooseberries, red currants and nasturtiums, with peppers, chillies and beetroot soon on their way too! Not to mention the abundance of rose blossom around to uplift the heart - great as a tea or water infusion, to flavour and decorate sweet treats or to apply to our skin through oil.
There's abundance, joy and creativity to be found in this element, mirrored in the productivity and growth of our gardens, hedgerows and natural terrains, as well as through the longer, warmer, energising days that envelop us at this time of the year. It has been interesting to feel and explore the changes in my energy through the seasons, along with my newfound awareness of the elements, as well as recognising that what I often need to find balance is right there in front of me. Nature has a huge amount to offer us when we learn how to work with it. Making sure you have reds in your meals doesn't take much thought during summer if you are already growing or sourcing food locally and seasonally - the five elements follow this rhythmic pattern of plant seasonality throughout the year, and with this awareness we can also do the same.
Along with the fire balancing qualities of these foods, they are all grown above ground and can be eaten raw. In this way they are naturally light, expansive foods and can be prepared in a way that doesn't require heat or processing which could damage their nutritional quality. This may not be the case for everybody, however time of year, I definitely go toward food that makes me feel fresh, light and that is easy to digest. Differently to when we start to welcome in Autumn, the Metal season, where I might start to incorporate some supportive warming foods and drinks back into my diet with more root veg in the garden and the days becoming cooler and darker.