Supporting the Metal Element in Fall

By Helen Spieth, L.Ac

In Chinese Medicine, the seasons, the five elements and the organ systems that they relate to, are guiding principles in both prevention and treatment of disease. The Fall season belongs to the metal element which relates to the lungs and large intestines, and also includes the nose, skin and the breath. Together, these are our primary routes of elimination of waste.

The metal element is said to have the quality of dryness. This is balanced by the nature of the earth element, whose quality is dampness. The earth element relates to our digestive system. A healthy digestive system is a pre-requisite to healthy assimilation and elimination.

When an element is out of balance, the tendency is for it to move towards an extreme of its original nature; metal tends to become overly dry, earth becomes too damp, fire becomes excessively hot, and so on. In turn this negatively affects the total system of the five elements and their respective organ systems, though it can play out differently in each individual.

Since the fall season reflects the nature of metal, the related organ systems will have more of a tendency to become overly dry at this time of year and will need extra support.

Here are some examples: Dry coughs are more common. If you have a tendancy to constipation, you may notice that it is more pronounced at this time of year. If you are approaching menopause, you may notice that your skin is drier and a general lack of moisture in the body is more obvious. Eczema may flare up. If you have a tendancy to dandruff, it may be exacerbated. Or you may just notice that your nose, eyes and mucous membranes feel a little dry. All of the above can become more pronounced during the fall metal season.

Below you will find 3 simple recipes to help keep your metal organ systems in balance. They all have the quality of moistening and preventing dryness. But first a little more explanation for those interested...

  • A primary food having the quality to moisten the lungs according to Chinese Medicine theory are pears. So it is no surprise that pears are in season right now.
  • Raw honey is also very lubricating for the lungs and large intestine. It's no coincidence that the late summer season is the busiest time for bee keepers as they harvest this valuable nectar just as fall approaches.
  • The primary flavor that moistens the metal element is pungent. Foods and spices with a pungent nature include onions, garlic, horseradish, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, ginger, tumeric etc. We should make extra effort to include these in our cooking at this time of year.
  • Seeds such as hemp and flaxseed also have a moistening effect. Hemp seeds are in the majority of Chinese Medicine formulas for treating constipation due to dryness. (From a Chinese Medicine perspective there can be several different imbalances causing constipation so this will help only if dryness in the large intestine is the key factor. A well trained Chinese Medicine Practitioner would be able to diagnose if this is the case).
  • Note also that these recipes are sweet. This may be delving a little too deeply into Chinese Medicine theory for most of you, so scroll down to the bottom if you would just like the recipes.

To those of you still reading, the five elements and their respective organ systems are all related. One relationship is the generation cycle. Earth is said to generate metal, just as those precious metal ores are found deep with in the earth. We also describe this relationship as earth being the mother of metal; healthy earth generates healthy metal. The flavor that strengthens the earth is the sweet flavor; foods like rice, squash, sweet potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables area all considered sweet; again the foods that nature provides at this time of year.

A guiding principle in Chinese Medicine is "if the child is sick, support the mother". Isn't that so important in life too? Earth is the mother of metal so in order to have healthy metal, earth must be healthy. In order to support metal, earth must be tonified with the sweet flavor.

On a final note, the power of Chinese Medicine lies in prevention of disease; the anticipation of tendencies, seeing where imbalances are surfacing and bringing them back into balance before full blown and uncomfortable or debilitating symptoms appear, especially as we age. Chinese Medicine can be and is used to treat all manner of chronic and reciltrant disease but it's unlikely that something broken can be restored to its original state. Better to work on preserving its optimum function.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from the Nei Jing Su Wen, the "bible" of Chinese Medicine, written 3000 years ago:

"In the old days the sages treated disease by preventing illness before it began, just as a good government or emperor was able to take the necessary steps to avert war. Treating an illness after it has begun is like suppressing revolt after it has broken out. If someone digs a well when thirsty, or forges weapons after becoming engaged in battle, one cannot help but ask: Are not these actions too late?"

If you suffer dry coughs every fall, or suffer from chronic constipation, the recipes below almost certainly won't be enough on their own to reverse that. Though they will help. And they will help prevent their appearance in a relatively healthy individual.

Give your body what it needs every fall season; the foods that are in season, and think ahead by eating to prevent disease.

Use these every fall to keep your metal element happy!

Recipes for the Fall

Stewed Pears

Flaxseed Jelly

Fire Cider

Stewed Pears

  • 8 Pears
  • 2 Cinnamon Sticks or 1/2 tsp. Ground Cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. Cloves or 1/4 tsp. Ground Cardamom
  • 3 slices of Fresh Ginger or 1/4 tsp. Dried Ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. Ground Fennel Seed
  • Ground Flaxseeds or Flaxseed Jelly (optional, recipe below)
  • Raw Honey to taste (optional)

Core the pears and cut into bite sized chunks (no need to peel unless you prefer). Place in a saucepan with the spices and add a splash of water, just enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Bring to a gentle simmer with a lid on until the pears give up their juice. Remove the lid and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally and adding a little more water if necessary, until the pears are soft and mushy.

Allow to cool and remove the spices if using whole.

This will store in the fridge for a week. Warm to serve. Adding some flaxseed jelly (see below) or sprinkling on ground flaxseeds will make it even more therapeutically beneficial. You may also add raw honey to taste if you wish.

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Flaxseed Jelly

  • 1/3 cup Whole Flaxseeds
  • 1 cup Water
  • Raw Honey to taste

Place the flaxseeds and water in a saucepan. Heat to a gentle simmer and simmer gently for around 5 mins until a thick gelatinous mixture is formed. Allow to cool a little before stirring in some raw honey to taste. Store in the refrigerator. Eat 2 tablespoons a day or stir some into your stewed pears.

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Fire Cider

  • 1 part Garlic
  • 1 part Horseradish Root
  • 1 part Onions
  • 1/2 part Fresh Ginger
  • Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Raw Honey to taste

Chop fresh garlic, onions, and horseradish into small pieces. Grate fresh ginger. In total you will need enough to fill a quart mason jar half way. The amounts and proportions vary according to your particular taste. If unsure, start with equal amounts of the first three ingredients and roughly half part ginger the first time you make this; you can always adjust the flavors in future batches. Put in wide mouth quart jar and cover with Apple Cider vinegar (keep vinegar about two to three inches above the herbs). Let sit two to four weeks. Strain and discard spent herbs. Add honey to taste (add the honey after you strain the rest of the herbs).

Fire Cider should taste hot, spicy and sweet. Great as a preventative winter time tonic and/or as a remedy for colds and coughs. I love to take little shot glasses as an immune booster and often people use it on rice or steamed vegetables. It’s quite tasty!

It can also be purchased at Alberta Food Coop in NE, though it will contain chili peppers which are in the original recipe. As part of the nightshade family, chili peppers may be inflammatory to some of us.

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Helen Spieth L.Ac, M.Chem is a graduate of the Masters program in Chinese Medicine at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland. With a background in Biochemistry, Helen blends Classical Chinese Medicine and traditional eastern dietary therapy with the latest clinical research. Helen offers complimentary 20-minute consultations by phone or in by person for those wishing to discuss how Chinese Medicine can help individual health concerns. Please call Natural Health Choices Clinic at (503) 445.7115 to schedule your complimentary consultation.


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