Food therapy refers to the incorporation of certain food items as major parts of the diet in order to prevent or treat disease. This type of therapy as practiced here at Sacred Oak follows classical Chinese medical theory to ensure that the integrity of your body is properly maintained and supported throughout the process of healing.
What is the difference between an herb and a food item?
Herbs generally have a more profound and focused effect on the body and should be used properly according to their energetic effects and specific indications in order to prevent a worsening of current disease patterns or inducing the development of new ones. Food items, on the other hand, have a more general effect on the body and are generally safe for everyday use, provided that use is in moderation and food energetics are kept in mind. Certain foods, such as garlic and onions, have stronger effects than others. Food preparation methods, like herbal processing, can alter the energetics and effects of certain foods. There certainly herbs that can be safely used as food and foods that are used as herbs.
All foods have a certain energetic temperature that determines their effect on the body.
Hot: raw garlic, cloves, mutton, goat, venison
Warm: mustard greens, oats, chicken, salmon, trout, mussels, walnuts, sage, ginger, cinnamon
Neutral: carrot, beets, turnip, potato, rye, rice, beef, pistachios, squash seeds, flax seeds
Cool:cucumber, eggplant, watercress, wheat, barley, tofu, pork, duck, peppermint, apples
Cold: laver, tomatoes, bananas, persimmon, watermelon
Most foods fall within the warm to cool range. Those within the hot and cold categories should be used with other foods that will balance their effect on the body. Foods should always be cooked to ensure proper digestion. Raw foods should be used rarely and only by individuals with strong constitutions who tend toward Heat-type symptoms (yellow discharge, inflammation, hot body and temper). Raw foods weaken the Digestive Fire, which is essential for optimum immunity and body function.
Each food has unique properties that gives it an affinity for certain Organs and allows it to counteract the External Pathogens and/or alter the Body Substances. The taste generally indicates which organs it acts on according to Chinese medical theory. For example, watercress is pungent, bitter, and sweet. The pungent taste allows it to act upon the Lungs, the bitter allows it to clear Heat, and the sweet flavor allows it to moisten Dryness. In this way it is able to clear Phlegm-Heat from the Lungs, which manifests as yellow phlegm that is generally difficult to cough up. This is just one example for watercress.
Each food may also have unique actions and effects on the body in ways that do not correspond to their taste, but rather correspond to where they grow. Watercress grows in the cold winter months in flowing water sources. Both Cold and Winter correspond to the Kidneys in Chinese medicine. Cold tends to congeal and causes stasis, a major problem in the winter months. Watercress is able to treat Blood Stasis. Since it grows in the water, it has an affinity for water and thus acts on the Kidneys by promoting urination.
This is an example of "The Doctrine of Signatures", whereby a plant's physical characteristics (color, taste, scent, shape, etc.) and natural, preferred growing environment (dry mountainside, wet riverbank, dark forest) give an indication as to the energetic and healing properties of that plant. Generalizations, however, cannot be extended to every plant in a certain environment although plants that naturally gravitate toward certain environments tend to have similar effects albeit on different parts of the body.
In terms of disease prevention, the best way to prevent disease using food is to eat food that is grown in your local environment with sustainable, organic methods in healthy, fertile soil. By doing this you also make sure to eat according to the season as foods grow during the season when they can be most beneficial. Foods that mature in the summer tend to be more cooling and moistening to counteract the higher temperatures and fluids lost through sweating. Cooking methods should also be changed according to the seasons with steaming and light cooking techniques employed in the Spring and Summer and baking and roasting for Autumn and Winter. Eating this way attunes us to the flow of Nature and best prepares and fortifies our bodies as the seasons change.
Meals should be eaten at regular times throughout the day with minimal to no snacking in between. Overeating and late meals should be avoided. Meals should gradually become smaller and more simple as the day progresses with breakfast being the biggest meal and dinner the smallest. Of course, always eat enough to last you until the next meal time without becoming full.
Please make all changes to diet gradual. Ease in to a new food or diet so as not to shock your body and to ensure that you can more easily adopt this new food or diet into you daily routine for long term benefits.
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