Loving Your Liver

April 13, 2016

Truly warm days of summer seem a distant dream at the moment, but there is a shift in the energy around us. You can feel it if you really pay attention. The sun feels warmer; the buds more visible on tree branches; the nights seems a little less frigid. 

It is that time of year when we begin to transition ourselves from the more dormant energy of winter into the more active energy that we know as spring. In the philosophy that is the foundation of Traditional Chinese Medicine, the energy of spring is strongly ascending, yet rooted in the Earth. Seen as inspirational in many ways, called the time of rebirth, we draw our lighthearted, free-spirited nature from this time of year.  

The characteristic color green of spring illustrates the light fresh energy when all things are reaching toward the sun, growing and developing to their fullest potential. The animating flavor of spring, lightly sour, makes our energy rise and move through us, lifting our spirits. 

Even the cooking techniques are light and vitalizing—sautéing, blanching and pickling. The organs animated by this season’s energy are the liver, gall bladder and nervous system. And since the liver supports the function of the eyes and our vision, any trouble in this area can usually be related to a liver imbalance. 

The liver and gall bladder (supporting the nervous system) are responsible, primarily, for the movement of our blood through the body. At any given time, a good bit of our blood supply is being held in the liver, with this single organ moving a great quantity of blood in and out at a consistent pace to insure smooth bodily function. The primary detoxification gland of the body, the liver is constantly bombarded by any number of toxins–environmental and dietary. It is the job of this organ to neutralize these poisons and remove them, so they do us no harm. 

The liver and gall bladder are associated with the excretion of bile, a liquid produced in the liver used by the body to emulsify fats in the digestive process. However, if there’s excess bile being produced and it isn’t reabsorbed into the body, it can back up into the bloodstream. If this happens, the bile actually affects the cells of our blood, with a strongly irritating effect on our nervous system. According to TCM, this imbalance results in an impatient and irritable nature. Sound familiar?                

Another important job of the liver is to regulate the release of sugars into the body for fuel. If this release is blocked due to the accumulation of fat in the body, the liver becomes stressed and we feel that we may lose control, since we can’t tap into our reserves. Liver and gall bladder trouble, which ultimately can become nervous system trouble, is the direct result of over-consumption of more dense, fatty foods, like animal products and dairy foods and including oily plant-based foods (think onion rings or French fries) can lead to trouble.  As the liver malfunctions, our emotions mis-fire, leading to bad tempers and aggression.

There’s a reason we are not so attracted to heavy, oily foods this time of year. Spring energy is a light, gently ascending movement that propels us toward our goals. Lightly sour, delicate grains will animate this energy beautifully. Wheat, oats, rye and barley all contain a dispersing, opening energy that can help to move energy through us, keeping us vital and energized, preventing our life force from getting stagnant or stuck.  

Beans that support spring energy are green lentils, split peas, black-eyed peas and peanuts…all as nutritious as any other bean, but they maintain a light quality. They cook quickly and even stewed with vegetables, these beans never make us feel full and heavy.

The vegetables that animate spring energy include the artichoke, broccoli, lettuce, parsley, green beans, green peas, alfalfa sprouts and summer squash. All of these veggies have a delicate ascending nature, branching out from their anchoring roots. These stems draw nutrients from the soil and send them out to their branching-out clusters, peas, pods and leaves. This rising quality creates in us, the ability to draw information and food from our surroundings, filter it and dispense it to the appropriate place in our bodies for use. These vegetables allow us to be flexible, but not soar off into the stratosphere of dreamland. We can open to our creativity, but have the common sense to know how to channel that energy.

Fruits for spring energy support are lightly sour. Granny Smith apples, lemons, plums, limes and pomegranates, with their delicate structure and tart taste are perfect. These are fruits that bring our energy up in the body; rising and making us feel light and energized.

Oils pressed from seeds, fruits and nuts are expansive foods; viscous liquids used to cook foods–to make them vital. Oils draw fire into foods, opening them, so we can digest them easily, their energy rising in us, enlivening our life force. You don’t eat fresh, crisp, stir-fried vegetables and then feel lethargic. You feel light and enlivened. 

The food is some of the best the year has to offer…tender green shoots, baby vegetables, delicate asparagus…all designed by Mother Nature to take our bodies gently into the warm days ahead.