Cara O. Frank, L.OM.
I first wrote this piece in 2011- here it is, nearly 10 years later and this reminder is still important. Each year, I tweak it a little.
Although our calendar only has 4 seasons, this time of year is distinct from both summer and autumn. we intuitively understand that this right now is a pivot: a shift. The light changes. Cicadas are cacophonous. It’s cooler in the morning. Our attention shifts. This is a season of harvest.
In East Asian theory, we have five seasons; each associated with body organs, colors, flavors, emotions and even smells. Late summer is the season associated with the Earth element.
Earth is related to Spleen and its partnered organ, the Stomach. As in nature, the Earth element is concerned with generating, nurturing, abundance, and the ripening of the life force in our body. It’s in charge of the flesh, muscles, lips, and mouth. Simply put when we eat like Goldilocks, we hit the sweet spot of nourishment: not too little or too much. Not too hot or too cold. Just right. eating and digesting well is how we nourish ourselves.
This season aims to return to our central core: to nourish, our life force or Qi, as the body at this time is most attuned with Earth. Take time to take care of yourself, nurture yourself, and remember what is important for you to stay balanced and grounded to Earth. Nurture others as well, but without over-extending. Go to bed a little earlier and sleep a little later- in accordance with the shortening days.
The color of the Earth Season is yellow, and the flavor is sweet: think of squashes and pumpkins and corn. All foods that are ripening right now. Millet is the grain that matches this season and it’s yellow too.
Earth and the Spleen are concerned with digesting our thoughts as well as our food. If our Spleen and Stomach are functioning properly, we are compassionate and empathic. A weakened or disturbed Earth energy system shows up with signs of impaired or dulled thinking, or on the opposite end of the scale, over-thinking, circular thinking and mental churning. On a mental or emotional level, Earth is in charge of ‘digesting’ our thoughts and feelings. It’s involved in learning, thinking, and analysis. Often, when I’m teaching and I see my students glaze over with information overload, I’ll give them a formula to help them digest; to help them absorb the most important facts. For all of us, our news cycle has been so rapid (and, honestly, not nourishing) that we’re all suffering from information overload.
To rebuild and promote Stomach and Spleen Qi, be conscious about easing the work of your stomach and digestion. Soups and stews are gentler on your stomach and focus on vegetables orange or yellow in color during this season.
Here’s a lovely recipe from Food52.com for simple carrot soup.
For many years, I’ve had a lot of fun using vegetable “offal.” I’m including a recipe for carrot top- faro soup (Faro is a kind of wheat, so if you’re gluten free, then try brown rice or millet). I’m also adding my favorite recipe from this summer: radish top pesto. It’s spicier than basil pesto and has a clean and bright flavor. No, it’s not sweet. It focuses on warm and spicy flavors, which helps to move stagnation. A perfect counterpoint to sweet.
Creamy Carrot Soup
Courtesy of Food52.com
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, sliced thin
1 bunch fresh sage, leaves only, cleaned
1 lb. carrots, peeled and sliced in rounds
3 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
1 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)
1 teaspoon white pepper (to taste)
Melt butter in a medium pan on medium heat. Allow to brown gently and froth.
Add the sage leaves (reserve a few for decoration later) and let crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a paper towel.
Add the onion and cook a few minutes until translucent.
Add the carrots and let them cook for 5 minutes.
Pour in the stock and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until carrots are tender. If the soup is too thick, add some hot water during the cooking process. Remove soup from the stove and allow to cool for 10-15 minute.
Blend everything in a food blender until smooth. Taste, then season with salt and pepper. Serve (great in small shot glasses) with the reserved browned sage and some more fresh sage.
Carrot Top Faro Soup
I entered this recipe in a contest for “Your Best Carrot Recipe” on food52.com.
I hated throwing carrot tops away. It seemed like such a waste. The key was to find a recipe that could handle their strong carroty herbaceous flavor. This simple soup is humble and nourishing. The flavor is way more than the sum of its parts. Adding the fennel opens up another delicious dimension to the soup, but it’s not necessary. Same with the parmesan rind. Without it, the soup is pure, clear flavor. With it, the soup develops a meatier umami that I find delicious. You could also sprinkle parmesan on the top after serving. Nice with crusty bread, an escarole salad.
1 bunch carrots, with tops
1/2 cup Faro, Brown Rice or Millet
3-5 cloves garlic or green garlic
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 parmesan rind
1 cup chopped celery
1 onion, chopped
3-5 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup diced fennel (optional)
1 cup fennel fronds if you have them
Slice the carrots into rounds like pennies. Wash the carrot tops carefully because they can be sandy. Pick the tender leaves from the fibrous stalks. Chop them finely. Chop the fennel pollen if using that.
Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and add the carrots, onions, celery, and garlic. Add the fennel if using it. Sauté until tender, about 5 minutes.
add the rice or faro and stir very well. The grains taste better if they absorb some of the fat.
add 4 cups of the broth, rice or faro, and parmesan rind. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 30-45 minutes until the grains are almost tender. Add more stock if needed. Add all the chopped greens and simmer for another 10-15 minutes until done. Try to find the parmesan rind and fish it out.
Radish Leaf Pesto
3 C radish leaves stems removed and washed.
1 cup basil leaves
3-4 cloves of garlic
1/2 C chopped hazelnuts, pine nuts or pumpkin seeds. (I’d avoid walnuts. They taste too bitter to me)
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/2 – 1 C extra virgin olive oil
Make this like any pesto:
Put the radish leaves, basil, garlic, nuts, salt, and cheese in the food processor. Once they are processed, the little prickles on the leaves magically disappear. Drizzle olive in while it’s running until it’s the right consistency. You won’t need to add pepper because the radish leaves are spicy. You might add some lemon zest to really brighten the flavors. You can serve this on anything: eggs, pasta, grilled meat, tofu.
About Cara Frank, L.OM.
Cara Frank, L.OM., was raised by a health food store in Brooklyn, NY. When she was 8, she cartwheeled 5 miles from Greenwich Village through Soho and Chinatown and across the Brooklyn Bridge. For nearly 40 years, she has had the same crazy passion for Chinese medicine. At 17, she had her first acupuncture treatment. At 20, she enrolled in acupuncture school. 1n 1998, she went to China to study where she fell deeply in love with herbs and has never recovered.
Cara is the founder of Six Fishes Healing Arts in Philadelphia. She maintains a busy acupuncture practice and acts as the head fish of the office. She is also the president of China Herb Company. You can read her full bio or schedule an appointment.