Metal Element Seasonal Food Guide According to TCM

We cycle out of the Earth Element (late summer) into the metal element(fall) once the leaves start to change hue. There is that distinct feeling when the Earth starts to move from yang to yin—the beautiful qualities of summer start to fall to the earth. Everything starts to lose its color and beauty. The land hardens in preparation for the colder months ahead. Nature contracts, moving its essence inward and downward. This movement of qi transforms in nature the same way it transforms in our bodies. The Earth and our bodies become dry and brittle in the fall and winter. 

Letting Go So New Inspiration Can Arise

Fall is the season of harvest and letting go of what must change and die. This gives us the time to pull inward and focus on things that truly matter—like gathering together to feast on summer’s harvest. Our energy levels start to fade.  We prepare for the stillness of winter by storing food, fuel, and warm clothing. Prepare ourselves by studying and planning for new opportunities for creativity that come out of our periods of introspection so we can start to focus on being present with the natural transitions.  

If we think of the movement of gathering and letting go, we can see how the season corresponds with the health of the lungs and large intestine. The lungs gather energy through breath, and the large intestine lets go of what our body no longer needs. The Five Element theory teaches us how to care for these organs through seasonal foods, herbs, and practices—focusing on foods that keep our body fluids moist and flowing, gently stimulating blood circulation through movement practices, and taking herbs that protect the lungs and boost immunity. 

The Inner Classic says, “The forces of Autumn create dryness in Heaven and metal on Earth; they create the lung organ and the skin upon the body, the nose, and the white color, pungent flavor, the emotions of grief, and the ability to make a weeping sound.” 

The Season of Grief

Grief is felt through every breath. It is the most prominent emotion in autumn. When we watch the Earth enter into a yin cycle, our world, once full of light, quickly dims into darkness. We feel the heaviness of change in our lungs if we hold onto the loss of light too tightly. The attachments that no longer serve us become dense like metal and get caught in the body. Often manifesting into respiratory and digestive ailments.

Recognizing the constant cycles of change helps us find harmony through transformation. As we descend into the darker period, it is important to make space for introspection. Working through the darker realms of the self. Learning virtues of impermanence, acceptance, and surrender within the process of letting go of our grief.

There are many layers to our suffering in our modern world, and we all carry it differently. Gently offer yourself and others spaciousness and rest so new life can form from the compost of fallen leaves.

The Metal Archetype

Metal people are best described as the yogi or alchemist archetype. The yogi learns to let go of worldly attachments to gain more awareness of reality. The alchemist refines metals into gold. Relating inner work to the alchemical process of transforming our false identity into our divine nature. Seeking perfection in form and function. Through the process of discernment, he distills good and pure from coarse and primitive qualities. Extracting organization and order from the experience of chaos. Molding and performing tasks with clarity and precision. Holding standards of aesthetic, moral values, virtue, and principles of beauty. Mastering a life of ceremony and discipline. Finding comfort in sanctuary, serenity, and detachment. Teaching the structure of ritual, turning the mundane into sacred cosmic reality. 

Food For Fall

Consider autumn’s abundant yet contracting nature when considering appropriate seasonal foods for autumn. This way of thinking indicates concentrated foods that are dense and mineral-rich, like white root vegetables, that help build the blood and prepare the body for colder weather. The color white represents purity; our lungs need a pure environment to thrive. Metal is a pure substance formed from the reduction of Earth You may notice your cravings leaning toward heartier flavors like warming soups and recipes full of spicy, pungent flavors that stimulate circulation. The warm fragrance of baked goods with warming spices and sautéed vegetables stimulates our appetite. Take extra care and focus on preparing wholesome meals cooked slowly at a low heat. Helping the food retain moisture and cellular integrity.  Bitter, salty, and astringent foods help move the energy of our food down and out while maintaining fluids and energy. 

After the scattered pattern of summer, we need to find ways to settle our energy and re-organize our lives in preparation for the cold months ahead. Preparing mentally for periods of focus, we can help prepare the body to begin the process of contractions by adding sour foods, such as rose hip tea, vinegar, cheese, yogurt, lemon, sourdough, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, leeks, aduki beans, grapefruit, limes, and sour apples, plums, and grapes. Small amounts are all you need. 

The Sense of Metal

The sense of smell is related to the Metal element and lungs. The health of the nose and sinuses indicates the health of the lungs. Breathing in scent can often be desensitized in our modern world. We spray chemicals in the air and are constantly exposed to exhaust from our cities and towns.  But our sense of smell is a key tool to assess situations. Smelling if our food has gone bad, if a plant is poisonous, or if our neighbor is spraying strange chemicals. If our sense of smell is blocked, it can cause us to feel scattered and cut off from the world. Losing all sense of our reality. We are unable to breathe in all that life has to offer. 

Dealing with Fall Dry Conditions

Fall turns into a dry climate because the earth contracts, stores, and condenses its energy into the soil. Dry conditions usually disturb the lungs and cause respiratory problems. Lung imbalances can also be due to diet, excessive activity, or organ malfunction. Symptoms of dryness in the body include thirst, dry skin, nose, eyes, lips, throat, itchiness, skin rashes, and a thin body type. The large intestine can also dry, causing stagnation, IBS, and a stressed immune system. The lungs also govern the skin, our body’s first line of defense from external invasion and the protection of internal resources. Protection of our skin and lungs is our first concern in the autumn, which builds our immune system.

The emotion associated with the metal element is grief because it is the time of year when the veil between worlds is thin, so many pass over to the other side. That is why we celebrate Halloween, Dia de Los Muertos, and Samhain simultaneously in the fall. Grief can cause dry symptoms to develop, like eczema, asthma, back pain, stiff joints, and constipation. When we are not able to naturally cycle through grief and are having trouble letting go, these symptoms can become chronic.

In treating dry conditions, especially in the lungs, you need foods that moisten, like soybeans, barley, millet, pear, apple, persimmon, seaweed, mushroom, bok choy, almond, peanut, sesame, flax, honey, rice syrup, milk, eggs, dairy, crab, clam, oyster, mussel, herring, and pork. And herbs like marshmallow root and fenugreek. Using small amounts of salt or salty foods also helps moisten the system. Those with dryness should avoid bitter, aromatic, and warming foods in excess. 

How to Balance Lung Qi

The lungs receive vital force from the air, mixing it with the qi extracted from food. Qi and nutrients are then distributed through the body. This essence protects the body’s surface, including the mucous membrane and the interior/exterior of the lungs, from viruses, bacteria, and other pathogens. 

Lung qi energy is characterized by its ability to consolidate, gather together, maintain strength, and unify against disease and cellular immunity. Therefore, balanced metal energy is a unified qi that holds onto direction, creates order, and looks effective in what it does. Looking at how we hold on and let go can be expressed as emotional attachment. The colon helps release what is no longer needed physically, emotionally, and spiritually. And our lungs help bring in new inspiration. We suddenly feel the energy of summer slowly, and we have “room to breathe” to let in new ideas and set down our daily stressors. 

Healthy lungs indicate those who can hold onto their principle and hold commitments. When it comes time to let go, they do it without emotional repression, grief, and sadness and resolving it. Weak lungs look like an experience of loss associated with confusion, attempting to stifle sadness, and never completely letting go. They look disorderly, and others lose their possessions easily or hold onto them with unreasonable attachment. Metal type people can be described like this when in and out of balance.

What We Value Affects Our Lungs 

The perception of value is skewed when we have metal element imbalances.  Values that are monetary gains and consumption can distance us from what true value means. True value is based on our intrinsic worth, self-confidence, and beingness. We have been conditioned to put value on money, status, and external factors when really true value comes from how we view ourselves. When we can shift our perspective on value, we can cut through our illusions so that we can find the essence of who we truly are and let go of the identities that make us sick. 

Foods that Help Cleanse the Lungs and Colon

Pungent, spicy foods are used to cleanse and protect the lungs and large intestine organ systems. The pungent taste helps disperse stuck mucus, blocking qi in the organs. Chilis can be used to help the lungs. Any white pungent foods, such as onions, garlic, turnips, ginger, horseradish, cabbage, and white peppercorns, help balance the metal element. 

Dark leafy greens and golden orange vegetables are protective because they are high in beta-carotene. Which helps surface mucous membranes. Protecting the lungs and colon against cancer. Foods high in beta-carotene are carrots, winter squash, pumpkin, broccoli, parsley, kale, turnips, mustard greens, watercress, wheat, barley, and algae, including herbs like yerba santa, mullein leaf, and nettle.

Green foods that are high in chlorophyll help inhibit viruses and discharge residues in the lungs that can come from chemical fumes, coal dust, and cigarettes. They also improve the digestion of protein and fats. Overall, improving optimal health.

Cleansing the lungs also requires fiber. Fiber is the indigestible portion of foods like the bran of grains—pulp of fruit, and cell walls of vegetables. Fiber helps aid the function of the intestines and cleanses the colon and lungs. Eating a large variety of whole vegetables will help add enough fiber to your diet. Fiber also encourages healthy gut bacteria. Choose vegetables that are not mucus-forming fiber when trying to cleanse the system.

I hope you have enjoyed this TCM perspective on autumn and that it is helpful through the seasonal change. Let go, breathe, and just be. Harness that metal energy. I hope this guide helps you find balance during this time of year. 

Check out my recipes (with more on the way) for more ideas on what to eat throughout the seasons.

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