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The Five Elements and The Five Seasons

Choosing Foods by the Macrobiotic Calendar

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The Five Elements and The Five Seasons

Courtesy Jody Hoy

One of the most important areas of macrobiotic science is the division of life into five elements: fire, earth, metal, water, and wood. Each of those elements has a corresponding season, with its attributes and foods. What follows is a basic summary of how the elements translate into our Western calendar, and how to make food choices that are particularly nourishing for our bodies during any time of year.

Fire: High summer, from the summer solstice of June 21 to mid-August

During the summer months, life is at its most expansive, full manifestation. The sun is at its highest, food is abundant, and all plant life is full of vital life force. The element of summer is fire, the associated color is red, the flavor is bitter, and the energy of fire is connected to the heart and small intestine. The hours of the day when the Heart is most active are between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.; small intestine is 1 to 3 p.m.

Foods that most enhance the fire element:

Grains: Corn, maize, popcorn, amaranth, quinoa

Vegetables: Asparagus, Brussels sprouts, chives, endive, okra, scallions

Beans and Pulses: red lentils, chickpeas

Fruits: apricot, guava, strawberry, persimmon, peaches, cherries

Fish: shrimp, lobster, crab

Spices: chilis, curry, and spices in general are considered fire foods

Earth: Mid-August to the fall equinox of Sept 21

During late summer we experience a distinct shift, a brief pause between the explosive energy of summer and the quiet descent of autumn. While the days are still hot, evenings turn cooler, the sunsets come a bit earlier and the harvest begins to slowly shift from the delicate juicy foods of summer to the hardier foods of fall. The earth offers up all of her great abundance, and it is a time when all of life seems to balance. The earth element is the most stable of the five, its color is yellow, the flavor is sweet, and the associated organs are stomach and spleen. The hours for stomach are 7 to 9 a.m.; spleen is 9 to 11 a.m.

Foods that enhance the earth element:

Grains: Millet

Vegetables: Sweet corn, all squash: (acorn, butternut, Hokkaido, Hubbard, spaghetti, pumpkin) shiitake mushrooms, beets, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, collards, chard, artichoke, sweet peas, and string beans

Fruits: sweet apples, figs, cantaloupe, sweet orange, honeydew, tangelo, raisins, sweet grapes, papaya, dates, tangerine

Fish: salmon, tuna, swordfish, sturgeon

Nuts: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds

Sweeteners: agave, maple syrup, rice syrup, barley malt, molasses

Metal: Autumn, from Sept 21 to the winter solstice of December 21

During the fall a downward shift occurs; the light lessens, days grow shorter, and energy descends back into the earth for the dormant cycle. Leaves fall from the trees, the last fruits ripen, and life energy contracts. The color of the metal element is white, its flavor is spicy or volatile, and the associated organs are lung and large intestine. The hours for lungs are 3 to 5 a.m.; large intestine is 5 to 7 a.m.

Foods that enhance the metal element:

Grain: White, brown, and sweet rice, mochi

Vegetables: cauliflower, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, celery, daikon radish, onions, watercress, mustard and turnip greens, turnips, garlic, cucumber, leeks

Beans and Pulses: white beans

Fruits: Banana, pear, apples

Fish: Bass, snapper, cod, haddock, herring, flounder, sole, halibut

Herbs and Seasonings: dill, fennel, thyme, ginger root, horseradish, cinnamon, cayenne, basil, and rosemary

Water: Winter, from December 21 to spring equinox of March 21

Winter is the dormant season, when all life force burrows deep in the bosom of the earth. It is a time of replenishing so that when spring comes, the gathering energy will burst forth with new growth. The color of the water element is black, its flavor is salty, and the associated organs are bladder and kidneys. The hours for bladder are 3 to 5 p.m.; kidney is 5 to 7 p.m.

Foods that enhance the water element:

Grain: Barley, buckwheat, black rice

Vegetables: Beets, burdock, asparagus

Beans and Pulses: Adzuki, black beans, black lentils

Sea Vegetables: arame, dulse, Irish moss, kelp, hijiki, nori, wakame, kombu

Fruits:blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, purple and black grapes, watermelon, black raspberries

Fish: blue fish, caviar, scallops, oysters, clams and mussels

Nuts: chestnuts, black sesame seeds

Condiments and Seasonings: tamari, shoyu, miso, tekka, gomasio, umeboshi, salt cured pickles (these last two are also sour)

Wood: Spring, from March 21 to summer solstice of June 21

Spring marks a miraculous bursting of energy. Sap, which is nature’s lifeblood, courses through the trees; new life pushes its way up from the depths of the earth, and we are surrounded by a bright sense of renewal and creativity. The color of the wood element is green, its flavor is sour, and the associated organs are gall bladder and liver. The hours for gall bladder are 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.; liver is 1 to 3 a.m.

Foods that enhance the wood element:

Grain: wheat, oats, rye

Vegetables: broccoli, parsley, lettuce, kale, collard greens, carrots, alfalfa, beets, leeks, zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, artichokes

Beans and Pulses: mung, lima. green lentils

Fruits: limes, lemons, grapefruit, green apple, sour cherry, avocado, plums, quince

References: Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford; The Five Transformations by Tom Monte and Sam McClellan

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