In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) the Spleen holds an important and central position. It is the energy system that moves energy we attain from our ingested foods throughout the whole biological system.
This is important, as it is our foods that provide us with the 'qi' that we need for other vital biological functions.
The Spleen works together with the stomach, as the stomach receives, roots and ripens the ingested food; whilst the spleen moves it up and out in all directions through the body.
As the spleen has a natural affinity with dampness, disorders of this energetic system (this is not necessarily reflected in the function of the physical organ) are often seen in clinical practice in TCM. It particularly shows up for people who have issues with damp and phlegm, difficulties with digestion, IBS or IBD. It may show up in many other ways that include a muzzy or fuzzy head, or even asthma. Another issue can be weight gain.
There are certain foods which are either helpful, or unhelpful - depending upon other conditions within the body. For this article, I want to focus on foods that are helpful to nourish any spleen deficiencies.
Grains are wholesome and nourishing foods. They are grounding and good for both blood and qi. They release energy slowly, and can be helpful to drain damp - especially if they are 'whole grains'. You may want to consider grains that are soaked overnight, or sprouted if you are having particular difficulties with digestion.
Grains that will nourish the spleen include barley, millet, oats, rye and spelt.
Rice and sweet rice is particularly nourishing.
Lastly, both wheat and seitan are considered nourishing for the spleen, but it is always important to consider if you are able to tolerate grains, as they can be particularly difficult for some people to digest. Please be mindful if you are wheat intolerant and if you are gluten intolerant (as seitan is a gluten).
I particularly LOVE mushrooms. Especially for their medicinal properties.Also - who doesn't want to hang out with a "fun-gi" (fun - guy...!!!) lol.
Shiitake and oyster mushrooms are particularly great for nourishing the energy of the spleen.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are particularly important to provide us with 'good' oils, which are so important for sand our overall health. However, nuts and seeds are slightly taxing for the spleen, due to their oily nature. Oil can burden the spleen, and lead to the formation of damp within the body. So their consumption should be minimal, but not avoided. Check out ideal quantities of nuts and seeds for your body and do not exceed this limit.
Almonds, chestnuts, coconut, hazel and peanut are nourishing for spleen to some degree. However, Iw would be directed towards more rounded oils, such as flax-seed / linseed and pumpkin seed. Consider creating a blend of oils from these, as they provide a great blend of omegas and pumpkin seeds are also great at targeting any parasites in the large intestine! So that is an added benefit.
Herbs and Spices
I love, love, love herbs and spices. I think that we generally completely under-estimate their potency. They are little powerhouses of energy, that can be utilised in everyday cooking as a catalyst for big changes in our energy system.
The following herbs are great to support the spleen - and therefore digestion.
Caraway, basil, dill, fennel, aniseed, cardamom and cumin.
Rosemary and thyme are traditional additions to roasted red meats that will support their digestion.
Cinnamon, and clove are fab partners - particularly in warmed fruit dishes.
Spicy additions to savoury foods are also warming. They include asafoetida, garlic, turmeric and ginger; cayenne and chilli are hotter still.
Use herbs to make yourself soothing and spleen nourishing teas.
Combine rose and rosemary tea is great, especially if you want to nourish and want the heart .
Chamomile tea is soothing and relaxing, encouraging the parasympathetic nervous system to initiate - which is when our body begins to rest and DIGEST...
Marjoram tea is a great aid in all types of digestion issues, as it supports the stomach in its rotting and ripening and also in moving the qi gained from complete digestion around the body.
Astragalus is particularly beneficial if you want to nourish the spleen, digestion and also support the liver in its digestive function!
Nettle tea is another 'go to' herbal tea that supports the spleen and liver as well as the kidneys and bladder.
A pinch of nutmeg or turmeric are also powerful spices to support the spleen. Turmeric has recently become a bit of a 'superfood' - and turmeric teas are definitely worth a try.
I love the tea traditions of the East.
The love of tea is something that was brought back to the UK from this part of the world, and observing the "art of tea" might be a wonderful way to reintroduce the health benefits of drinking herbal tea.
The Art of Tea is more than simply 'drinking tea'. It is a mindful and healthful contemplation on the space and time that we allow ourselves when we appreciate the 'gift' that is imparted to us though the infusion of the herbs into hot water.
Perhaps it is time to sit back and reintroduce this pleasurable experience of 'afternoon tea' back into our very 'British' constitutional energetic...
Fruit and Vegetables
There is no doubt that the 'berries' are packed with essential nutrients and are great tonics for spleen. Blueberries, bilberries, mulberries, cherries and of course strawberries are all sweet treats for the spleen. As the spleen yearns for sweet foods - these are nourishing and nutritional little packets of sweet goodness!
Lemons and limes are also great for the spleen. As they are more moving and sour, they are also beneficial for the liver - so a double whammy for digestive support.
Mangoes and avocados are more exotic fruits.
Tangerine, orange and lemons - especially the 'peels' are also great to add to foods and/or drinks.
Lastly, dates and figs are great for the spleen - but are also potent blood tins. So a double benefit if you are slightly blood deficient, anaemic etc.
The spleen and liver both love dandelion leaf; fennel bulbs and kale.
Asparagus and cabbage are also both appreciated by spleen and liver energy.
Corriander and alfalfa sprouts are highly nutritious options to throw into a green salad.
Cauliflower, broccoli, string beans, aubergine, pumpkin, and lotus root are other options.
Lastly, root veggies include potato, sweet potato, squash, parsnips and turnips.
Legumes, Meat and Fish
Getting protein into your diet will necessarily require these food groups. A go-to might often be dairy, but although I include it in the last category here, I would caution that proteins are best attained through these food groups in preference to dairy.
Anchovy, herring (often traditionally referred to as 'roll mop'), sardines and whitebait are all traditional fish that can often be found tinned, so can be available all year round.
Salmon, shrimp and prawns are all additionally supportive of blood as well as the spleen. So once again can be used to build up blood in cases of anaemia.
Beef, chicken, lamb, pork and turkey are standard meats that are available. Game meats include duck, rabbit and quail.
As our last category, I caution dairy in regards to the spleen.
Like the oils, this food type is likely to be 'damp-forming', and can be more problematic than helpful if there are spleen energy issues. So it is important to check if you have allergies or intolerance to diary. In addition, if you do not have any digestive difficulties with dairy, you should eat them sparingly, due to the burden they place on spleen. Once your spleen energy is working well, you may well be able to re-introduce dairy into your diet more regularly. At this point it may be useful to know which dairy products are particularly supportive of the spleen function.
Butter and ghee are warming and sweet for the spleen energy. cheese can also be a support. The more sour the cheese, the more likely it will also support the liver.
Both chicken and quail eggs are sweet additions for the spleen.
Cautionary foods to avoid
Dairy and oils are foods to avoid when you are working to build up the spleen. This is particularly important if the spleen energy is particularly weakened and you have food intolerances, bowel issues or your TCM practitioner has mentioned that your condition is in any way associated with pathogenic 'damp'.
Fried foods and cold foods are also best to avoid as you work to nourish your spleen.
Remember that these changes are to assist the movement of energy within the body and to support 'healing' in a particular energy pathway of the body. Because we 'name' the energy pathway with an associated organ - it does not mean there is any issue with that organ!!
Also remember that as your body and your energy system improves, and as your symptoms improve, that the food changes you are making now are not necessarily 'forever'. As you work together with your practitioner, they will be able to advise you on specific changes.
As with all nutritional and food energetic suggestions, it is a good idea to always discuss options and considerations around any dietary changes with your healthcare provider and with your individual TCM practitioner.
Always adapt any suggestions for your own health.
Avoid all foods you are intolerant and allergic to.
Check with your healthcare provider at all times.
Introduce changes slowly and methodically - and be mindful of the changes that you observe happening.