I write about my grandmother a lot and that’s because she is a really wise lady. Whenever I get the chance to sit down and chat with her, without noisy kids and a million other people around, I always ask her about the food that she ate growing up in a small village in Greece. And every single time she refers to ‘seasonal foods.’ She talks about the leafy salads that were eaten in spring and the cabbage and potatoes devoured in winter. She reminisces about the excitement that flooded her house leading up to a new season as the entire family had waited a whole year to be able to have the fruit and vegetables that only came along then. Nothing was really taken for granted. And food tasted better. Because, generally, it was better. Better for you.
Just as an FYI, you should know that this post is sponsored by Fusion Health. But all opinions expressed by the author are 100% authentic and written in her own words.
Greece wasn’t the only place on the planet where people were following the cues of nature. For many thousands of years, the Chinese have also been paying loads of attention to their surroundings and incorporating that into what they have been putting into their bodies, and when. At a really basic level this makes so much sense because as humans we are physically intertwined with nature in many more ways than we may at first think. The environments that we live, play, work and rest in have such a big influence on how we feel and whether we become unwell more often than we should.
Medicinal Foods, foods that have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for both immune health and as symptomatic relief have been around, as I said, for thousands and thousands of years. You’re probably familiar with quite a few of them, but perhaps have never stopped to think when and where their use to treat certain ailments originated. Ever felt nauseous and downed some ginger tea? It helped didn’t it? Cabbage, mushrooms, garlic, celery, tomatoes, asparagus and so many other foods also have healing properties. They’re foods used as medicines. Thus, Medicinal Foods.
At its core, the concept of Medicinal Foods is very simple. However, it is a topic that has much depth, and many layers and complexities at all its different levels. I won’t go into every one of them here. I will try to keep it simple for this post, but I do strongly recommend further reading if you are fascinated by what I have to say. As mentioned above, Medicinal Foods relates to selecting what we eat based on their health properties. When you think about it, it is extremely logical. The concepts of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which are interwoven with Medicinal Foods look at what our bodies need in the different seasons and recommend nourishment that can satisfy these requirements. For example, in winter, when the weather is cold and drying we need to obviously keep warm and moisturised and as the Chinese would say, nourish our Yin to build health reserves in preparation for Spring when Yang predominates and we are very active. When we aren’t moving as much and there’s less activity and like many animals who hibernate in these chilly months, we are also trying to conserve our energy, TCM recommends that we eat foods with “good fat” that are also protein enriched such as nuts, beef, duck, and beans.
It isn’t a restrictive way to look at diet, as there are so many options available when it comes to choosing what to prepare and eat. And the great thing is that the cooking process, (the process of adding heat to foods), can very much change a certain food’s energy, making it more Yin, when uncooked it may very much have been a Yang (spring/summer) food. By cooking foods, we are, energetically speaking, adding warmth into them, making them more suitable for winter. For example, apples are a great summer food but by stewing and preserving them, they become excellent for consuming in winter. This is what most of us do anyway! We grab a fresh apple as a summer snack and we tend to cook and eat our apples stewed or in pies in winter. It’s what our body seems to crave naturally.
In my opinion, the best thing we can do when it comes to healthy eating and looking after ourselves in general, is to integrate the philosophies and teachings from both Eastern and Western cultures. I think we are pretty damn lucky to have the resources that enable us to do this. Basically we should combine our knowledge about the science behind illness and food (from the West) with the teachings about energetics, harmony and balance between our bodies and the outside world (as understood by the East.) Science provides great insight into what’s going on with our bodies based on objective evidence but at the end of the day we don’t live in labs, we live in a world that’s constantly changing, with an abundance of natural and man-made influences, and these all need to be acknowledged and understood in conjunction with said science.
I’d like to make note regarding this post. As y’all know anyway, I am not a doctor, dietician, nutritionist or anything similar. The above piece is based on my opinion and beliefs as well as an interview I conducted with Paul Keogh, Co-Founder and Technical Director, Fusion Health. If you have health issues you should seek appropriate professional advice. Phoodie.
A gallery of medicinal foods:
They say "An apple a day keeps the doctor away"
If you’re keen to stay healthy this winter, Chinese herbal medicine offers some time-proven insights to support your immunity, address cold and flu symptoms and support recovery from infection.
Ancient wisdom, modern medicine.
Fusion® Health products integrate the recorded tradition of Chinese herbs with the science of Western herbal medicine in addressing specific health issues. In traditional Chinese medicine, working towards a state of balance is the fundamental basis of good health, enabling your body and mind to function at their best. Fusion® Heath products are manufactured in Australia.
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Do you find certain foods provide health benefits?