Eat with the Seasons

Seasonal eating is a key part of TCM diet and nutrition and it is a bit more than just eating your seasonal farmers market’s produce.

The Chinese calendar divides the year into 24 seasonal points 二十四节气 (also called “solar terms”). These 2-week long seasonal periods make up the 5 seasons. There are certain foods, both dried and fresh, that are more suitable for a particular seasonal point. Since the dietary recommendations for adjacent seasonal points are often similar, and many of you live in climates that may not experience all 24 seasonal points, so we’ve summarized this wisdom into 5 seasons to make the information more practical. 

For example, if you live in the Southern hemisphere, you should refer to “Winter” when you are experiencing “Summer.” 

Let us eat with season and tune-in to mother nature.

Spring 春季

Seasonal Points 节气

Beginning of Spring | 立春 | 02.04 - 02.18

As its name suggests, Beginning of Spring lifts the curtain of winter for spring. After that everything turns green and full of vigor; people clearly see that the daytime becomes longer and the weather warms.

Rain Water | 雨水 | 02.19 - 03.05

Rain Water signals the increase in rainfall and rise in temperature. With its arrival, lively scenery starts blossoming: the river water unfreezes, wild geese move back from the south to north, and trees and grass turn green again.

Insects Awakening | 惊蛰 | 03.06 - 03.20

Insects Awakening alludes to the fact that winters’ sleeping insects and animals are awakened by spring thunder. It is the key time for spring agricultural activities.

Spring Equinox | 春分 | 03.21 - 04.04

On the day of the Spring Equinox, sun is directly above the equator. After the day, the sun moves northward, resulting in gradually longer day time in the Northern Hemisphere and longer night in the Southern Hemisphere.

Clear and Bright | 清明 | 04.05 - 04.19

Fresh Green is also a traditional Chinese festival - Tomb-Sweeping Day. From that day on, temperature continues to rise and rainfall increases, making it a crucial time for plowing and sowing in the spring.

Grain Rain | 谷雨 | 04.20 - 05.04

Grain Rain originates from the saying that goes "rain brings up the growth of hundreds of grains," which shows that this period of rainfall is extremely important for the growth of crops

Spring Dietary Key Words

Liver-friendly foods

Wood element

Sour/sweet flavors are recommended

Yang & uprising foods

Spring's "Good" Food List

  • Vegetables: artichoke, eggplant, dark leafy vegetables, Chinese yam,  Chinese chives, radish, spring bamboo shoots, shiso leaves, celery, purslane, micro-greens, garlic, green onions, sprouts, cilantro

  • Fruits: currants, tangerine, citrus fruits, grapefruit, kiwi, rhubarb

  • Protein:  free-range egg, chicken, shrimp, white fish, rabbit

  • Carbohydrates: wheat bran, rye spelt, brown rice, sprouted rice
  • Herbal: goji 枸杞, jujube dates 红枣, Qian Shi 芡实, Chinese mugwort 艾草, mulberry leaf 桑叶, goji leaf 枸杞叶, aged orange peel 陈皮, lily bulb 百合, chrysanthemum 菊花, ginger 生姜

  • Other: vinegar, white wine, green tea

  • To Limit: over indulgence of alcohol, spicy foods

Early Summer 夏季

Seasonal Points 节气

Beginning of Summer | 立夏 | 05.05 - 05.19

On this day, the sun's rays reach an angle of 45 degrees to the earth. The temperature will rise quickly after it, yet in Northern China weather remains mild, not tropical.

Lesser Fullness | 小满 | 05.20 - 06.04

Lesser Fullness means that the seeds from the grain are becoming full but are not ripe.

Grain in Ear | 芒种 | 06.05 - 06.20

The arrival of Grain in Ear signifies the ripening of crops such as barley and wheat. It is also a busy period for farmers.

Summer Solstice | 夏至 | 06.21 - 07.05

At this time, much of the northern hemisphere receives the most hours of daylight, but it does not bring the hottest temperatures which will come only 20 to 30 days later.

Lesser Heat | 小暑 | 07.06 - 07.21

Lesser Heat suggests the hottest period is coming but the extreme hot point has yet to arrive.

Early Summer Dietary Key Words

Heart-friendly foods

Fire element

Bitter/light/mildly sour flavors, instead of spicy or sweet

Calming and cooling foods

Early Summer's “GOOD” Food List

  • Vegetables: bitter melon, silk gourd, summer squash, winter melon, cucumber, tomato, eggplant, mushroom, corn, celery, lettuce, endive, dandelion, endive

  • Fruits: honeydew, lemon, berries, plums, cherry, watermelon, elderberry, peach

  • Protein: plant-based protein, mungbean, azuki bean, soy milk, gingko nut, yogurt

  • Carbohydrates: millet, pearl barley, oats

  • Herbal: honey suckle 金银花, chrysanthemum 菊花, lily bulb 百合, lotus leaf 荷叶, lotus seed 莲子, black plum 乌梅, mint 薄荷, saffron 藏红花, aged tangerine peel 陈皮, longan 桂圆, prunella 夏枯草

  • Other: ginger, paprika, matcha, coriander, basil, marjoram, rosemary, thyme

  • To Limit: alcohol, fried foods, iced coffee, dairy-based ice cream

Late Summer 长夏

Seasonal Points 节气

Greater Heat | 大暑 | 07.22 - 08.06

During Greater Heat, most parts of China enter the hottest season of the year, during which the temperature could reach above 35 degrees celsius in many cities.

Beginning of Autumn | 立秋 | 08.07 - 08.21

It reflects the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. The fruitful season is approaching.

Late Summer Dietary Key Words

Spleen and Stomach health

Earth element

Naturally Sweet flavors

Dampness-reducing, Cooling, Yellow-toned foods

*The most important time for Digestive Health*

Late Summer “GOOD” Food List

  • Vegetables: Chinese yam, celtuce, winter melon, carrot, spinach, summer squash, mushroom, celery root, eggplant, zucchini, napa cabbage, fava beans, snap pea, corn, tomato, seaweed

  • Fruits: watermelon, apple, berries, peaches, plums, prunes, banana, cranberry, fig, quince, coconut, pineapple, papaya

  • Protein: lean pork, mungbean, azuki beans, coix seed, soybean, pistachio

  • Carbohydrates: barley, rice, millet, oats, wheat

  • Herbal: lotus leaf 荷叶, lotus seed 莲子, aged tangerine peel 陈皮, Qian Shi 芡实, Bai Zhu 白术, Fu Ling 茯苓, Sha Ren 砂仁, hawthorn berry 山楂, fish mint 鱼腥草

  • Other: early summer foods also applies

  • To Limit: iced beverage, fried or high-fat foods, very sweet foods, alcoholic beverage

Autumn 秋季

Seasonal Points 节气

End of Heat | 处暑 | 08.22 - 09.06

End of Heat implies that most parts in China are getting rid of the hot summer and entering autumn.

White Dew | 白露 | 09.07 - 09.21

White Dew is the real beginning of cool autumn. The temperature declines gradually and the vapors in the air often condense into white dew on the grass and trees at night.

Autumnal Equinox | 秋分 | 09.22 - 10.07

Autumnal Equinox lies at the mid-point of autumn, dividing autumn into two equal parts, after which the location of direct sunlight moves to the south - days become shorter and nights longer in the Northern Hemisphere.

Cold Dew | 寒露 | 10.08 - 10.22

At this time, temperatures are much lower than in White Dew in most areas of China. The dew is greater and colder and there will be less rain.

First Frost | 霜降 | 10.23 - 11.07

First Frost marks the last solar term of autumn, during which time the weather becomes much colder than before and frost begins to appear.

Autumn Dietary Key Words

Lung health

Metal element

Aromatic flavors

Yin-nourishing, Moistening, White-toned foods

Autumn “GOOD” Food List

  • Vegetables: cauliflower, snow fungus, shiitake mushroom, sweet potato, Chinese yam, parsnip, lotus root, spinach, brussel sprouts, pumpkin, soybean sprouts, leek, broccoli sprouts, water chestnut, fennel, onion, watercress, chestnut

  • Fruits: apple, tangerine, pear, golden kiwi, guava, sugar cane, persimmon, peach, pomelo, fig, ginkgo nu

  • Protein: silken tofu, duck egg, duck, river fish, crab, black bean, sesame

  • Carbohydrates: glutinous rice, oats, red rice

  • Herbal: American ginseng 西洋参, Sha Shen 沙参, Yu Zhu 玉竹, Mai Dong 麦冬, lily bulb 百合, lotus seed 莲子, monk fruit 罗汉果, Huang Jing 黄精、chrysanthemum 菊花、osmanthus 桂花, Huai Shan 淮山, apricot kernel 杏仁, Chuan Bei 川贝

  • Other: honey, spices, tahini, rice wine, extra virgin oils

  • To Limit: crackers, chips, dry or baked goods

Winter 冬季

Seasonal Points 节气

Beginning of Winter | 立冬 | 11.07 - 11.21

Winter is coming from that day on, and crops harvested in autumn should be stored up.

Light Snow | 小雪 | 11.22 - 12.06

Light Snow refers to the time when it starts to snow, mostly in China's northern areas, and the temperature continues to drop.

Heavy Snow | 大雪 | 12.07 - 12.20

Around this day, the snow becomes heavy and begins to accumulate on the ground as the lowest temperature drops to around zero degree Celsius in northern China.

Winter Solstice | 冬至 | 12.21 - 01.04

On the first day of Winter Solstice, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the shortest day and the longest night in the year, as the sun shines directly at the Tropic of Capricorn.

Lesser Cold | 小寒 | 01.05 - 01.19

During Lesser Cold, most areas in China have entered the bitter cold stage of winter. The ground and rivers are frozen. The cold air from the north moves southward continuously.

Greater Cold | 大寒 | 01.20 - 02.03

Greater Cold is the last solar term in the annual lunar calendar. In this period, snow, rain and icy cold weather exert a big influence on people's lives.

Winter Dietary Key Words

Kidney health

Water Element

Salty and Sweet flavors

Replenishment and nourishment

Dissolving fear

Yang, Warming, Black-toned foods

Winter's “GOOD” Food List

  • Vegetables: scallion, garlic, carrot, root vegetables, fennel, leek, chestnut, potato, radish, winter bamboo shoot, cooked cabbage, mushroom, asparagus, Chinese yam

  • Fruits: grape, pomelo, tangerine, mulberry, apple

  • Protein: black soybean, walnut, black sesame, sunflower seeds, hempseed, bone broth, lamb, beef, venison

  • Carbohydrates: black rice, purple rice, glutinous millet, glutinous rice, rye bread, whole wheat flour

  • Herbal: goji 枸杞, jujube dates 红枣, longan 桂圆, safflower 红花, Chuan Xiong 川芎, Dang Gui 当归, astragalus 黄芪, Sichuan pepper 花椒, turmeric 姜黄, cordyceps 虫草, bay leaf 月桂叶, black pepper 黑胡椒

  • Others: miso, ginger, alcohol, wine, spices, black tea

  • To Limit: iced/cold beverages, raw foods, cold/cooling herbs