By: Kerry Hayes
September has arrived and it is officially pumpkin spice season! Pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin bars, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, all the pumpkin things! Aside from the high sugar content in many of these, let’s take a look at the actual benefits of pumpkin and “pumpkin spice” flavors from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective.
Classic TCM Properties: Sweet and warm. Benefits the spleen and stomach.
What this means: Pumpkin is great for digestion! According to TCM, the stomach has the job of rotting and ripening food (mechanical digestion). The spleen then pulls the nutrients from food and transforms them into Qi and blood to nourish our entire body and keep all of our organ systems functioning properly. Pumpkin can help support both of these organs.
Classic TCM Properties: Acrid, sweet, hot. Benefits the heart, kidney, liver, spleen. Warms and tonifies kidney yang, leads fire back to its source, dispels cold, warm and unblock channel, alleviates pain, encourages generation of Qi and blood.
What this means: Acrid and warm or hot foods are great for improving the flow of Qi and blood throughout the body. This can help improve chronic pain, and boost circulation. People who tend to feel cold and seem to always want a sweater, scarf or blanket even when others are feeling warm could benefit from these types of herbs.
Cinnamon also helps to “lead fire back to its source”. Think of our digestive system as a kettle over a fire. In order to cook the food, the fire has to stay hot. Sometimes a spark flies from the fire and burns some grass nearby. This can happen in our bodies too. Occasionally, the fire that is helping to keep our body warm enough to function loses some sparks that fly off and burn other organ systems. Cinnamon can help redirect those sparks back to where they are supposed to be.
Classic TCM Properties: Acrid and warm. Benefits the spleen, stomach, kidney, lung. Warms the middle burner, directs Qi downward, warms the kidneys and boosts yang.
What this means: Similar to nutmeg and cinnamon, cloves can help boost the circulation of our qi and blood. They also help to warm the spleen and stomach to ensure proper digestion and absorption of nutrients. Cloves also warm the kidneys. The kidneys are extremely important for urinary function and helping to maintain our electrolyte balance. In TCM, they are also the battery pack of the body. They store energy in the form of “prenatal Qi”. This is the energy source that we are born with. Kind of an emergency savings fund that we can tap into if we aren’t getting enough from our food. The kidneys are also the source of our yin and yang. They are extremely important! Cloves and cinnamon both help to support these functions.
Classic TCM Properties: Acrid and warm. Benefits the spleen, stomach and large intestine. Warms spleen and stomach, circulates Qi, protects intestines and stops diarrhea.
What this means: The properties of nutmeg are similar to those of cinnamon, only somewhat milder. Nutmeg also benefits the large intestine and can help alleviate digestive discomfort and diarrhea.
Classic TCM Properties: Acrid and hot. Benefits the spleen, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. Benefits digestion.
What this means: Allspice has similar properties to nutmeg and also helps to warm the body, improve circulation of Qi and blood and benefit digestion.
Classic TCM Properties: Acrid and warm. Benefits the lung, spleen and stomach. Releases the exterior, dispels cold, warms the middle burner, stops vomiting, and alleviates seafood poisoning.
What this means: Ginger is a powerhouse of an herb! It can help with nausea, vomiting, feeling cold, and can help boost our immune system. In TCM, the lung and spleen create our “Wei Qi” or “protective Qi” to protect our body from external pathogens. Basically, this means they are in charge of protecting our first line of defense… our skin, nose and mouth! External pathogens, like colds and the flu, first have to get into our body. Our protective Qi is in charge of preventing that from happening! If those pesky bugs do manage to sneak in, ginger can be very helpful at preventing them from getting in too deep. This is what “release the exterior” means. Ginger can tap into our natural immune responses and cause us to sweat a little bit. This is the body’s way of trying to kick that pathogen out before it can really make us sick.
Pumpkin and pumpkin spice flavors can actually benefit our bodies! The key things to watch out for are “pumpkin spice” foods loaded with sugar. Consuming too much sugar can damage our TCM spleen and prevent it from properly transforming nutrients into Qi and blood. This can contribute to the development of many different health issues. Check out the recipe below for healthy pumpkin muffins from Two Peas and their Pod
Time to embrace all the beauty that the fall season brings and get your pumpkin spice on! Stop on in and see one of our practitioners at TCM EastWest Acupuncture Clinic for more ways to stay healthy this fall! As always, we got you!