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Autumn: Herbal and Diet Tips for Health

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In Fall we harvest the fruits and labors of Spring's planting and planning. Shorter days and cooler nights send the surface fires into the body. Just as many people harvest bounty from their gardens to stock up for Winter, now it's time now to pull back from multiple summer activities and store energy in your trust fund reserves. This is the time to discriminate and separate out what is needed from what isn't. Change and old age represent this, and when we don't release the old or accept changes, we experience grief and sadness.

Fall Correspondences in Traditional Chinese Medicine

The ability to receive, or take in, and to release the unnecessary, is attributed to the traditional Chinese Metal element ruling the Fall, with its corresponding Organs, the Lungs and Large Intestine.  

The Lungs open to the nose and control breathing and the skin, including the opening and closing of pores, while the Large Intestine rules elimination. If Lungs are weak, or if you overindulged in cooling summer foods or over-activity, then excessive mucus now builds in the Lungs, impairing their breathing function. Asthma, bronchitis, allergies and other lung ailments also result and often kick up at this time of year. Since the Large Intestine and skin eliminate what is unnecessary, skin eruptions and constipation often show a toxic condition of the body or suggest an overactive life. Colon purification and mucus elimination from the Lungs (letting go!) are beneficial now.

On the other hand, air is dry in Fall and can injure the Lungs since they need a certain amount of lubrication to protect against inhaling dry outer air. If dryness invades the Lungs or Large Intestines, then dry coughs, stuffy nose, sinus infections, constipation or dry stools can result.

Diet and Lifestyle Tips to Prevent Fall Ailments

People experience colds and flu now more than any other time of year. As well, shortness of breath, chronic sinus infections, stuffy nose, nasal drip, mucousy coughs, asthma and other upper respiratory diseases, chapped lips, dry skin and skin diseases often occur. The tips below will help you to prevent these illnesses.

I find that people have more difficulty adjusting to Fall than any other season. Although evenings are cool, the warm days entice us into enjoying any remaining good weather. We continue to eat Summer's cooling foods (watermelon, salads, ice cream, iced drinks, raw foods and juices), dress lightly (few clothes, exposed necks, arms and midriffs) and live as if Summer still exists (continuing at Summer's hectic pace, adding in night school while still working eight hour days and gardening afterward).

Even though days are still warm, remember that your body's energies are moving inward to store for the coming cold season. Support your immunity by stopping all cooling foods and eating only cooked food and warm drinks, adding in spices such as garlic, black pepper and ginger. Also limit intake of sugar as it depletes the immune system by 50%. Layer your clothes so you stay warm or cool as needed. Cover your neck with a scarf, even if it is warm outside, as Fall winds are cool (colds and flu invade the body through the back of the neck, the area most vulnerable to Wind). However, when it warms up, take off a few layers so you don't lock Summer's heat in, as this leads to coughs with fever.

Begin reining in your energy -- slow down and let go. Do yogic breathing exercises regularly as they strengthen the Lungs, helping to protect from respiratory problems. Warm your abdomen and lower back with moxibustion, and on cooler nights, sleep with a hot water bottle over these areas. If you keep windows open at night, make sure they aren't near your bed to prevent waking with stiff neck and shoulders.

Eat more warming foods now. Eliminate juices and raw foods and have salads less frequently as these cooling foods are inappropriate for Fall and Winter. Excessive intake of cooling and dampening foods (greasy foods, flour products such as breads, muffins, pasta, cookies, pastries and chips, raw foods, juices and frozen foods and drinks, dairy) cause coughs or upper respiratory diseases, especially in Fall. Eating all cooked food, root vegetables, winter squash, barley, rice, spices such as garlic, ginger and black pepper, increased protein and roasted foods support Lung functions and alleviate Dampness. Cook seasonal fruit and add ginger, cinnamon or cardamom to prevent mucus formation. For dry coughs, cook pears with some whole sugar.

Fall Herbs for Balance

Spicy herbs like garlic and black pepper clear Lung mucus, as do expectorants such as elecampane, mullein, coltsfoot, mulberry root bark, platycodon, wild cherry bark and loquat. Herbs that strengthen immunity, such as astragalus, support Lung function and help prepare the body for Winter.

A good Fall immune tonic called Jade Screen is made of 1 part astragalus, 1/2 part white atractylodes and 1/4 part sileris. It helps the Lungs regulate the opening and closing of the pores, keeping Wind from invading and preventing colds and flu, chronic coughs and runny noses.

Other fall herbs moisten the Lungs to protect against Dryness, such as black sesame seeds, marshmallow and ophiopogon. Flaxseeds likewise moisten the Intestines to prevent constipation.

Grapefruit seed extract is extremely effective for sinus infections so prevalent now. Take 10-15 drops liquid internally, 3 times daily; use the nasal spray several times a day (both forms may be purchased at health food stores).

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