In Chinese medicine, the five elements - Fire, Earth, Metal, Water, and Wood - can be used to describe all patterns that occur in nature, including the change of seasons. Spring is the season of the Wood element, of new growth and fresh movement. Summer is related to the Fire element, being the hottest season of the year, and Fall to Metal, the time of contracting and consolidating. The Winter season is associated with the Water element, the most dark and yin time of the year.
So where does the Earth element fit into the seasons? Some people say that the Earth element is represented in the change of seasons from one to the next, that time when things feel kind of still and grounded as hot turns to cold and dark turns to light. Another idea is that Earth is represented in the Late Summer, the time of the big harvest when the days are no longer unbearably hot, but the leaves have yet to turn and blow away in the autumn wind.
Walking through the Mar Vista Farmer's Market this morning made me feel like Late Summer really is the time of the Earth. As the last of the berries, peaches, and plums were being sold, their seasonal decline marked by the smaller and smaller tables taken up by the farms that grow them, there have been some new arrivals to the market to take their place. Today there were baskets full of summer squashes of all kinds - zuchini, cousa, yellow, and those cute little flat ones that look kind of like UFO's. There were also the first of the pomegranates, persimmons, asian pears, and so much delicious corn. Huge yams the size of my cat were pulled from the Earth and placed for sale in delicious piles of deliciousness.
The Earth element in the human body is related most closely to the digestive system, the place in which we take in from our surroundings and process what we need. It is the foundation of our bodies, being anatomically the physical center of ourselves as well as the center in which we can spiritually "stomach" what the universe gives us.
In celebration of my Spleen and the spirit of late summer, here's a simple recipe for a delicious seasonal soup I had for supper. All the produce can be found at the farmer's market, and ingredients in the soup have the Chinese nutritional properties of tonifying the Spleen and Stomach:
4 Garnet Yams, cut into large chunks
3 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 bunch Spinach, cleaned and cut
1 bunch of Baby Bok Choy
1 bunch On Choy, cut into thirds
2 large handfuls of mushrooms
6 slices fresh Ginger
6 pieces of Da Zao
3 pieces of Huang Qi
1 lb Jumbo Shrimp
*serves 3 hungry people who can really get down, with enough left over for lunch the next day
Put the cubed yams and garlic in a pot with plenty of water (at least a gallon). Bring to a boil and cook until the yams darken in color. Turn the heat down halfway and throw in the spinach and baby bok choy. Add the ginger, da zao and huang qi and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mushrooms. You can season to taste with some salt, lime, or soy sauce, or nothing at all if you like it the way it is (I happened to have some prepared nước mắm for such an occasion. I am Vietnamese... that stuff runs in my veins!). Right before serving, blanch the on choy until it just gets soft, and cook the shrimp just long enough for it to get pink. Enjoy with some rice or noodles!