The month of September marks not only the end of summer and beginning of autumn, but also the back to school period. As temperatures begin to drop, and the weather changes, sometimes dramatically and unpredictably from one day to another, so our body needs to be in top shape to avoid getting ill. Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic traditions talk about how during the summer months our bodies will have accumulated heat, which now needs to be expelled in order for us to maintain optimal levels and remain healthy. Excess heat affects digestion, the heart and our energy levels (ever noticed how tired you are after a full day in the sun?), and can also affect our sleep. If you spent the warmer months at the beach going for long swims in the salty water - a natural cooler - going back to school, work and the dip in temperatures mean that you will no longer be able to cool down like this. So, what are some other ways to do so and ready your body for the autumn?
What to eat, and what to avoid
Mother nature, as always, has what we need at hand. This is why it is so important to eat seasonally and locally at all times. What you have around you is what your body needs to stay balanced. At the end of the summer your digestive system is at one of its weakest moments, and as we know good health starts in the gut, so eating the right foods is even more important now to set you up to avoid spending your winter with constant colds and other seasonal ailments.
As a general rule to help you decide which foods are cooling and which warming, other than noticing how your body feels afterwards, foods that grow underground usually tend to be more warming, and those above ground are more cooling. Also, bitter foods tend to be more cooling: radishes, dandelion swisschard, dandelion. Foods such as cantaloupe, watermelon and cucumber are particularly cooling foods. Berries, cherries peaches, tomatoes, figs, grapes, pears and apples are also cooling to different degrees. You should avoid ice creams, iced drinks and cold raw foods as this will increase body heat (the body needs to release extra energy to bring these to its own body temperature before it can digest them properly, thus creating extra heat in the process). Foods should be lightly cooked eg steamed, and eaten warm. With the coming of autumn citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and tangerines will also provide the necessary nutrients and vitamins, and are considered cooling in nature.
Other foods which reduce excess heat are celery, aubergines, broccoli, cauliflower, courgettes, soy and soy products such as tofu, millet, barley and amaranth.
There are also herbs and spices that can be used effectively. Peppermint and mint are cooling, whilst pepper, ginger and cinnamon are warming. So avoid that spiced chai and opt for a peppermint tea instead. Choose green tea over black tea or coffee, especially when you are feeling the heat. Dandelion (Taraxacum Officinalis), which we saw in an earlier blog post, can also help cool down and expel excess heat.
Boost your immune system: Echinacea and other herbs
If you want to give your immune system a boost, this is also the season when Echinacea is harvested. This is a plant with pink flowers, similar to a daisy. It originates from North America and has been used for centuries y Native Americans. There are actually 9 different varieties of Echinacea, but the ones most commonly found in formulations used to prevent colds and to boost the immune system, are Echinacea Angustifolia and Echinacea Purpurea. Echinacea is considered nature’s natural antibiotic and, as well as cooling the body, it is said also to help viral infections from spreading. The most effective is in extract form, but you can also find good quality ones in tablet form. The quality, quantity and strength varies dramatically between producers, though. The combination I take also includes Propolis and Rosa Canina (commonly referred to as dog rose), not just Echinacea, and I have been buying it for years from the same suppliers. It can be used as a preventive measure, or only when you catch a cold or flu instead of other common over the counter “remedies” such as aspirin and paracetamol which do nothing other than suppress symptoms at best, and at worst overburden your already overloaded liver and system. Echinacea supports the body heal itself naturally whilst helping it to detox.
Propolis , which has proven antibiotic and antimicrobial properties, can also be taken separately and can be found in extract form for maximum strength. The Rosa Canina is more commonly found mixed with various other immune boosting combinations. It is high in antioxidants and contains high levels of vitamin C.
Another herb you might find in such combinations is Acerola (Malpighia Emarginata). Thanks to its high levels of vitamin C, 30 to 50 times higher than that found in oranges, is a powerful antioxidant and immune booster in itself.
So, just because you are back to the grindstone and exposed to germs from colleagues or school mates, it doesn’t mean you have to catch a cold or come down with the flu. Nature has provided you with everything you need to stay healthy, it’s up to you to use it!