According to Chinese tradition, autumn is associated with the metal element, lungs, and large intestinal organs. Both the lung and large intestine are organs of detoxification and elimination. We release waste products in gas form through exhalation and solid waste through defecation.
Traditional Nutrition Fall Flavor
The flavor of the metal element is pungent. This flavor’s action is dispersing; it promotes the circulation of Qi and blood. Some examples of pungent foods are radish, mint, ginger, garlic, onion, and cinnamon.
Days gradually shorten, the temperature is excellent, and the climate is dry. The harvest is close, and traditionally, people would be busy preserving and storing for winter.
This environmental shift also affects our bodies; we may notice drier skin, eyes, and mucous membranes.
Our lungs are considered the most external internal organs in East Asian medicine because the respiratory system connects to the outside world through our sinus and nasal passages. These delicate tissues can become dry in the autumn and more susceptible to invasion and infection.
Internally, we can think about releasing what no longer serves us—what we held on to this year that did not advance our purpose, goals, or joy. And we can turn inward and reflect on what we’ve learned this spring and summer.
Autumn Seasonal Eating
The way we eat changes with the seasons. To counter the dryness, we eat moistening, yin-enriching foods; we eat cooked and warming foods to counter the cold. Spicy foods, herbs, and spices provide warmth, while meats, grains, roots, and winter squash provide moisture. The savory disperses the sweet and moist throughout the body. So the key to autumn eating is sweet and spicy!
Here are a few foods I recommend and enjoy in the fall and some of their benefits:
Winter Squash includes pumpkin, butternut, acorn, and many other varieties. Winter squashes are sweet and enrich you. They provide nourishment as food choices naturally decrease at this time of year and as we go into the winter storage months. Cut into big pieces, scoop out the seeds, sprinkle with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, or allspice, and oil the skin. Bake at 400 until the flesh is tender.
Apples and pears Both apples and pears are abundantly available during the fall season. They are sweet, slightly tart (especially certain apple varieties), and possess cooling properties. Apples help detoxify the liver, promote bowel movements due to their fiber content, and can help moisten dryness. Pears are particularly beneficial for the lungs, as they help produce fluids and alleviate coughing. Try enjoying them fresh or bake them with a sprinkle of cinnamon and honey for a delightful treat. A traditional Chinese remedy for cough is to eat steamed pears.
Root Vegetables Beets, carrots, turnips, and parsnips are some root vegetables that shine during the fall. Root veggies are grounding, which is helpful when the winds of change sweep through during autumn. They are packed with vitamins and minerals that help nourish our bodies during the cooler months. You can roast them with your spices, add them to soups, or make a hearty stew.
Ginger and turmeric Both of these spices are warming in nature. Ginger is known to enhance digestion, warm the body, and help blood circulation. Turmeric, with its vibrant yellow hue, is an anti-inflammatory powerhouse. It’s excellent for joint health, significantly as the temperatures drop. You can add ginger and turmeric to soups, teas, or smoothies.
Leafy Greens Kale, chard, and collard greens appear strongly in the fall. These greens are packed with essential nutrients and are a good source of dietary fiber. They help support the body’s detoxification process, particularly the liver. Sauté them with garlic and a touch of red pepper flakes for warmth, or add them to soups and stews.
Walnuts and chestnuts: As we move into the colder months, our bodies require more nourishing and warming foods. Walnuts and chestnuts are ideal for this time of year. Walnuts benefit the brain and kidneys and have a warm nature. Chestnuts, on the other hand, are delicious and support our digestive and respiratory systems. Roast them for a heartwarming snack, or add them to your favorite dishes.
Broths and soups: Warm, hearty broths and soups are the essence of fall. They can be both nourishing and hydrating. Bone broths are particularly beneficial as they are rich in minerals, collagen, and amino acids that support gut health. Vegetarian broths made with a mix of autumn veggies can also be profoundly enriching.
Reflection on Autumn Eating
Fall is a transitional season—a bridge between the vibrant energy of summer and the quiet introspection of winter. It’s a time to slow down, turn inward, and nourish our bodies with warming, grounding foods. It’s also a period to reflect on the harvest of our efforts throughout the year and to shed what no longer serves us, much like the trees letting go of their leaves. Embracing the foods of the season helps us remain physically and emotionally balanced as we prepare for the colder months ahead.
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