The time when the sun is highest in the sky and is nearest to us is the summer solstice, time of the fire element in Chinese medicine. It is also the turning point, the point at which the sun starts to decline on the wheel of the year, heralding autumn.

In terms of food, summer is the time when cold foods such as salads are ok – although in the UK sometimes we have very little hot weather, and in that case eating cold foods is still probably not such a good idea. The climate does seem to be changing though, and last year we saw temperatures higher than usual – so perhaps the cooling foods of a Chinese summer may be more useful now.

I remember going to Hang Zhou to study herbal medicine in 2006. One of the doctors there routinely added huo xiang (agastaches root) to all the formulas, and when questioned about it, told us it was because of the heat and humidity. Hang Zhou in summer is 40 degrees and nearly 100% humidity, and huo xiang is great for summer heat dampness. Of course we hardly ever use it for that here in the UK – the only formula I use it in is huo xiang zheng qi tang for stomach upsets, which is not a Jing Fang formula, but which I have seen Dr Feng use. Not surprising as it is very effective.

If the temperature is very hot, cooling and moistening foods and herbs are useful, and some of the coolest are cucumber and watermelon. Other foods include mung beans and of course leafy greens. Herbs to consider are lu gen (phragmitis stem) and dan zhu ye (bamboo leaves).

Enjoy the summer solstice!

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