Most of the people who walked into my office over the last two decades presented signs of some degree of Spleen deficiency. Most of my students did too; and definitely all of the mothers I know, including myself. The signs I am talking about might be familiar to you as well: a feeling of heaviness, as if the pull of gravity is growing stronger as you advance through life but your strength diminishes. The flesh becomes softer, less toned. And please, hear me well, I am in no way advocating for the one-size-fits-few body ideal that has been the norm for the last 50 years of so; I am referring here to a tendency to gain weight but feel less nourished, to not have enough energy to exercise or exercise and feel depleted afterwards. I’m thinking of grocery bags becoming too heavy. Another sign is mental fog and difficulty concentrating, as if your head is filled with mud. Do you know that feeling? It’s like knowing you know something, but being unable to reach it in your mind. Other clinical symptoms are edema, heavy bleeding, sugar cravings and loose stools, sometimes alternating with constipation.
Why are these symptoms so common? Whereas in the Western medical system they are unrelated, in Traditional East Asian Medicine they are all signs of a Spleen deficiency. The Spleen is related to the Earth element and is at the center of the five element wheel. The Earth element pertains to a broad array of processes and functions, some of which echoes Mother Earth’s nourishing functions, the ultimate provider, care taker and nurturer. Traditional East Asian Medicine looks at the ever shifting balance and the relationships that form everything. And, just like the Earth, someone cannot give endlessly without receiving. This pattern creates imbalances and leads to deficiencies. Nourishment is central to the health of the Spleen; one needs enough nourishment on all levels, but also proper nourishment. Hence, the quality of the food is of prime importance: refined foods concentrated in sugar and flour are detrimental to the Spleen and we all know it constitutes a non-negligible part of a lot of peoples diet (or did at some point). In fact, one basic thing to remember about the Spleen is its need of balance: it strives for it and it can greatly suffer from excesses of all kinds. The Spleen loves the middle path.
Harmonizing the Earth element, at the center of all, is fundamental to preventing disease, and, when disease settles in, this approach provides invaluable tools to lay the building blocks that will restore the body’s ability to heal. This is also where Traditional East Asian Medicine meets Ayurveda: the quality of the digestive fire and digestion is the basis of health.
Beyond medicinal plants, eating at regular hours, naturally (but not excessively) sweet food, receiving and not just giving as well as finding a balance are key insights into replenishing the Spleen, and avoiding 101 diseases.
Here is a table of some of the correspondences of the Earth elements:
As we have seen, the best medicine for the Spleen/Earth is food. In the same vein, medicinal plants that are most useful to balance this element are sweet and nourishing or support digestion.
|Here are a few of my favorites:|
|Astragalus||Decoction or powder, in food, syrup or herbal drink|
|Codonopsis||Decoction or powder, in food, syrup or herbal drink|
|Cinnamon||In food or herbal infusion|
|Ginger||In food or herbal infusion|
|Fennel||In food or herbal infusion|
|Fenugreek||In food or herbal infusion|
|Spices...||Really, all spices!!!|
|Red root||Not to treat Spleen deficiency per se but to treat the dampness that often comes with it|
To go further
I have been incorporating Chinese Energetics in my Western herbal practice for over a decade now and found that this lens provides invaluable insights in the root imbalances of many health issues we are facing today. I’m offering the online course “Chinese Energetics for Herbalists” in a few weeks. Don’t miss it! And please join the discussion on this blog!