Seasonal eating: Spring

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A reader asked me to provide information on eating seasonally.  When she made the request, I’m sure she was wondering what foods are in season throughout the year so she can get the most out of the foods she chooses to eat.

While I certainly will answer that question, I also want to give you some other views about what seasonal eating can mean starting here with spring. (Note: If it’s summer or autumn where you are, check out those posts for seasonally appropriate information.)

Traditional Chinese Medicine

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Wood is the first element in the five element cycle.  The first element represents creation and birth.  It symbolizes new beginnings and the phase in which life becomes a “thing” with the bringing together of physical material, energy, and intention.

With these metaphors, we can easily see how spring is the season that corresponds with the Wood element.  Seeds and bulbs that have been resting in the ground burst forth.  Plants and animals that have been hibernating through the cold winter awaken with new energy and bring new life into the world in the form of buds and babies.

As it relates to nutrition, spring is a time to support our Wood element by eating foods that represent the element’s color and flavor.  The color for Wood is green and the flavor is sour or astringent.   All green vegetables and fruits, such as zucchini and green bell peppers, are good for keeping the Wood element in balance.  Vegetables that grow on or look like stalks, like asparagus, corn, and celery, are also good for the Wood element’s health because they have the image or shape of wood, regardless of their color.

Eat berries, citrus fruits, and other sour foods (like pickles, yogurt, and sauerkraut) to get the sour or astringent.  These flavors stimulate the liver and the gall bladder, the two organs associated with the Wood element.  Have you heard of people drinking warm water with lemon?  I do it every morning.  And while we’ve come to prove the science behind how it works, TCM has known for centuries that the sourness of the lemons helps the liver and gall bladder clean out toxins and effectively digest fat.

Spring Cleaning

Just like we want to do with our homes, it’s a good idea to “spring clean” our bodies too.  During the cold winter when we are covered in multiple layers of clothing, we all eat lots of hearty meals to keep our bodies warm and well… ahem… insulated.  Plus, we don’t worry that anyone will notice if we put on a few pounds by indulging in yummy desserts.  You know what I’m talking about!  The stews that are loaded with beef and potatoes; the lasagnas that get dished onto the plate piping hot from the pan; the pies that fill the house with the warm scents of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Look, I totally get it and I’m not saying we shouldn’t eat those things!  What I am saying is that spring is a great time to switch gears and head towards lighter foods… which lead to lighter waistlines and cleaner insides as well.  Produce starts becoming more available and the warmer days don’t leave us scrambling for foods to warm our insides.

The easiest way to do a spring cleaning with food is to really focus on eating more produce… especially vegetables.  Honestly, I’ve always wondered why those of us who live in the northern hemisphere make New Year’s resolutions that include eating healthier (which often means more produce) because there just isn’t an abundance of lighter options around in January!  But I digress…

If you are so inclined, you can also take your spring cleaning a step further by doing a full cleanse.  (If you’ve never done one before or want someone to make sure you get through the whole process, you may want to sign-up for my next group cleanse.)

What’s in Season

Alright, now that we’ve covered some of the reasons that you would want to eat for spring, here are the things that are in season.

Two notes:

  • This list does not include things that are considered in season year round like arugula, carrots and celery.
  • True seasonality varies by location, so check with your farmers’ market or on-line local publications (like this one for the US from Epicurious) to get the most accurate list.

Vegetables and herbs:

Artichoke Asparagus (green, white, purple) Avocado Bok choy
Broccoli Burdock Butter lettuce Chayote squash
Chives Collard greens Dill Escarole
Fava beans Fennel Fiddlehead ferns Leeks
Mint Mustard greens Parsley Peas
Radicchio Ramps (wild leeks) Radishes Red leaf lettuce
Rutabagas Snow peas Sorrel Spinach
Spring onions Supersweet Corn Sweet potatoes Swiss Chard
Vidalia onions Watercress Wild mushrooms

Fruits:

Apricots Bitter melon Blackberries Blueberries
Boysenberries Cherries Honeydew Jackfruit
Limes Lychee Mango Nectarines
Navel oranges Peaches Pineapple Plums
Raspberries Rhubarb (not technically fruit) Strawberries

Sea animals:

Spring is a great time for fresh water fish such as bass, carp, pike, salmon, sunfish, and trout.  From the salty seas and oceans, baramundi, halibut and sablefish are in season.

Land animals:

Although most pasture-raised meats are best in fall and winter, some fresh turkey is available in the spring and fresh lamb is available in the US starting in May.

What food are you most looking forward to having again now that it’s spring?

 

Sources:
— Alterman T. Spring Foods: Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs in Season Right Now. Accessed on March 20, 2015.
—Chef’s Resource Inc. Fresh Fish Availability Chart. Accessed on March 20, 2015.
— Produce for Better Health Foundation.  What’s in Season? Spring.  Accessed on March 20, 2015.
— Reichstein G. Wood Becomes Water: Chinese Medicine in Everyday Life. New York, NY: Kodansha International; 1998.

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