Eating for the Season: TCM and Summer

Summer, for Chicago city dwellers, means a time of street fairs and outdoor concerts, farmers markets, and beach time. THESE are the reasons we continue to dwell here during the winter.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Summer

  • Heart organ system
  • Fire
  • The color red
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Emotion: Happiness and laughter
  • This is considered to be a growth process
  • Controls sweat

The heart, as related to Chinese Medicine, is called the Shen or the mind/ spirit. It is what is referred to as a yin organ system and is considered to be the “emperor.” It has an external relation to the yang organ system of small intestines. The small intestines separate waste and distribute the nutritious elements throughout the body.

The heart opens into the tongue, controls the blood vessels and is reflected in the face. For example, you speak your mind, and people can read your emotions on your face.

According to the Five Phases (Earth, Fire, Metal, Wood, Water)
Wood (Liver) Produces Fire (Heart)
Fire (Heart) Produces Earth (Spleen)
Water (Kidney) conquers Fire (Heart)
Fire (Heart) conquers Metal (Lung

Disorders of the Heart – according to TCM:

  • Emotional distress
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lack of vitality in face
  • Lassitude
  • Frequent sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Sweating hands/feet/chest

Summer is the time of year children are out of school, college students are flooding the poolside bars, and the sun worshipers are scattered across the beach. Whether you are young or old there is the chance of heat stroke if you do not maintain proper hydrations. Many of the foods listed below will help to enhance body hydration. However, you must keep drinking your water!

If you find yourself on vacation in a tropical destination do not forget your garlic. Yep, garlic or at very least garlic pills. Garlic is antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal. So although you may smell a little funny, at first onset ingest larger amounts of garlic, and you may be able to fight of the impending doom of a ruined vacation. It is also useful for traveler’s diarrhea if you accidently consume some questionable food or drink the water. It works the best as preventative or at initial onset.

Fire corresponds to the heart and summer is hot, which means that the hot weather could cause disease if you overheat. It is recommended that you eat predominately cooling, damp-providing (yin foods) to disperse heat and build up body fluids. The bitter taste is associated with the heart and fire. Bitter cool foods should be consumed.

Eat what is in season! Make use of those farmers markets!

There is a theory that by eating spicy foods (red and green hot peppers, cayenne red pepper, fresh ginger, horseradish, and black pepper) you are able to increase warmth, but ultimately bring the body heat out to the surface to be dispersed through sweat. Spicy foods in warm climate are commonly seen in parts of Asia, India, Mexico, and many other countries that are primarily hot. WARNING: there is such a thing as to much of a good thing. By causing increased sweating during the summer can cause the body to deplete its natural yang (warmth), and will result in the inability to stay warm in the colder seasons. For some people who are naturally hot, spicy foods are never a good thing. You are only adding more fuel to the fire.

  • Naturally hot people should choose more cooling foods.
  • Meats, eggs, nuts, seeds and grains can cause sluggishness during the summer.
  • Eat less and lightly on hot days; try to eat multiple small meals. Remember your body is burning more calories because you are being more active. Split up your meals so you can enjoy the longer hours of sunlight!

Foods to Help You Stay Cool in Summer

Legumes & Grains
Other Products
Soy milk
Kelp (& seaweeds)
Soy sprouts
Spirulina; wild blue green
Dandelion greens & root
Oyster-shell calcium
Honeysuckle flowers
Wheat & barley grass
Button mushroom
Mung beans and sprouts
Red clover blossoms
Watermelon (especially the rind)
Alfalfa sprouts
Lemon balm
Swiss chard
White peppercorn
All citrus
All berries
Black/green tea
Summer Squash
Mineral water
Cabbage (green, purple, or Napa)
Bok Choy
Sweet corn

The Chinese have recommended green tea during summer for centuries because it can disperse summer heat, and can expel toxins, cool the heart fire, calm the mind.

  • The white of the watermelon helps to hold on to fluids while the red produces fluids.
  • Tomatoes produce fluids
  • Mung bean tea: helps with “heat stroke” or summer heat.  Keeps the body cool on hot humid days.  It also helps cool people that tend to be naturally hot.

Foods to Avoid in Summer

Chinese medicine recommends avoiding hot foods, like coffee, and spicy foods in summer. Ice cold beverages and ice-cream are also to be avoided, because they block the stomach’s digestive energy.  However, my personal opinion of this is that I would prefer a patient to eat ice cold foods and ice cream during the summer rather than consuming them during the winter. In the view of Chinese medicine, children have a physiologically weaker digestive system until they are 8 years old, and are especially sensitive to cold foods and beverages. Just something to keep in mind during summer.

Summer Salad Recipes

Pressed Cucumber Salad

Cucumbers sliced paper thin
½ tsp. salt in 1 cup water
Pinch of dill

  • Soak cucumbers in brine 30 min
  • Drain and dry slightly bypressing slices between paper towels
  • Sprinkle with dill and serve.

Cucumber Salad

3 large cucumbers, thinly sliced
3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon Olive oil (kosher for Passover)
1 tablespoon sugar ±
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion

  • Toss cucumber with salt in large bowl. Cover with plate that rests directly on cucumbers; weight down with 1-pound can. Let stand 1 to 2 hours.
  • Drain in colander; rinse well.
  • Combine lemon juice, oil, sugar, and dill in serving bowl.
  • Mix in onion and cucumber.
  • Refrigerate overnight. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Tomato Salad

Vine ripe tomatoes
Sweet onion
Olive oil
Feta or fresh mozzarella

  • In a bowl combine tomatoes, onion, and fresh mozzarella
  • Add olive oil, salt to taste, pepper, oregano, and a tiny bit of water
  • Mix
  • Add in cucumber if desired


Healing with Whole Foods, P. Pitchford, North Atlantic Books; 2002

Teri Calandra, Dipl.Acu, MSTOM, L.Ac., LMT, RMT

Teri began her studies in energy medicine as part of her own personal development journey, and continues to to learn and integrate that knowledge into her practice. Teri is the founding practitioner of Calandra Center for Health & Wellness in Schaumburg, Illinois. She is licensed by the State of Illinois in acupuncture (L.Ac.), and board certified through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).