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The Fire Without and the Fire Within: Herbal and Health Tips for Summer

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Summer is the essence of life, growth, heat and activity. With the sun at its zenith, nights are short and days are long. Our energy is expansive now, flowing outward to act on the plans and seeds sowed in spring. Similarly, the body's heat, or "inner fire," starts rising close to the surface, cooling us inside. We are motivated now to pursue sports, gardening, yard work, hiking or other outdoor activities. We feel compelled to get things done, to work and to socialize.

Not surprisingly, in traditional Chinese medicine, the fire element and its corresponding Organs, the Heart and Small Intestine, correlate with summer. With increased heat, circulation and joy (the Heart's emotion), we generally feel more optimistic, find it easier to work on relationship issues, and experience increased sex drive.

Summer Ailments and Diet Tips

Because our fires are closer to the surface, we can easily overheat through over-exposure to the sun, heated environments, or hot-natured foods. Lighter, easier to digest foods are appropriate now, such as fruit, salads, grains and legumes. Red meat and excess meat eating should be kept at a minimum, if eaten at all.

People with Excess Heat often feel worse in summer and are generally tired, sluggish and easily overexcited or impatient in hot environments. Many are easily prone to heat exhaustion, headaches, arthritis, colds, allergies, hypertension, chest pains and palpitations. Eating too many hot, spicy, greasy, fried foods, red meats, alcohol, sugar, caffeine, or smoking tobacco aggravates these symptoms. Instead, eat fresh vegetables, salads, fruits, legumes, white meats, mung beans, watermelon, soy bean sprouts and room temperature herbal teas.

Drinking excessive amounts of cold and iced drinks causes Stomach Heat (in any season) with headaches across the forehead, bad breath, bleeding gums, ravenous hunger, extreme thirst (especially for cold drinks), constipation, nausea, vomiting, sour regurgitation or mouth ulcers.In fact, iced drinks taken with fatty or fried foods causes cholesterol according to the Chinese because cold drinks "encapsulate" fat, making it indigestible and turning it into fatty deposits in the blood vessels. Although we like iced drinks in the West, they also ultimately create Heat because the body has to increase metabolic warmth in order to digest them. People who live in hot climates mostly drink hot teas and eat spicy foods since these make the body sweat, ultimately cooling it.

Other people eat excessive amounts of cooling foods in summer, such as salads, raw foods, iced drinks/foods, juices, smoothies, soy milk and too much fresh fruit (especially melons). Since these cool the digestive "soup pot" of the body, they cause poor digestion and assimilation, resulting in undigested food in the stools, gas, bloatedness, sleepiness after meals, low immunity, weakness, tiredness, nausea, loose stools, or diarrhea. Thus, if you tend to feel cold, even in summer, limit intake of cold foods, eat all cooked foods, add spices (such as ginger and cardamom), increase protein (such as red and white meats) and drink warm herbal teas. Balance the cool nature of raw fruit intake by eating its more warm-natured seeds or a bit of its peel. These are ancient Asian secrets to "keep the doctor away."

Protect your energy

While the fiery energy of summer pulls us into activity, we need to guard against over-activity and over-excitement, as these injure the Heart, depleting our energy reserves and robbing our bodies of the vital Essence that we need year-round. If we experience low energy now, it's often because we didn't rest sufficiently during winter, or we're over active now. Tiredness, exhaustion and "burnout" result, particularly if we go from dawn to midnight, accomplishing many different tasks, socializing more, working out a lot, skipping meals and snacking instead, having more sex and fitting in vacations, house repairs and yard work with everything else.

Summer is actually the time to protect your energy, especially for those who already have low energy. Thus, rest during the hotter hours of the day (this is siesta time in many countries), pace yourself, delegate, prioritize, moderate activities and exercise, and eat three regular meals daily. Take Siberian ginseng to enhance endurance and immunity.

Dressing in summer seems easy - the fewer the clothes the better. Yet, regularly baring midriffs exposes the Kidneys and abdomen to Coldness, ultimately depleting Essence and metabolism respectively. Those who frequently feel cold should maintain body heat by covering up on cooler summer days. Air conditioning can lower immunity and cause colds or chills, especially if kept too high, or if indoor/outdoor temperatures differ extremely. If air conditioning is a must, keep it at a higher temperature to more closely match that of the outdoors, and wear a sweater.

Summer Herbs for Balance

The cooling and drying qualities of the bitter taste strengthen the Heart and Small Intestines and eliminate excess fluid and cholesterol from the blood. Spicy herbs, such as chilies and curry blends, open the pores and create perspiration to cool the body. Herbs such as mint, lemon balm, chrysanthemum, hibiscus, red clover, violet leaves, honeysuckle, borage, rosehips and green tea also cool the body and make refreshing summer drinks. Hawthorn and longan, because they nourish the Heart, are good now as well. Don't take ginseng or other strong warming tonics during summer (unless you're weak) because they're too heating and stagnating now, potentially causing headaches, chest pains, stomachaches, or excessive thirst and sweating.

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