-Greg Zimmerman

The Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen describes the summer season. “In the three months of summer, there is an abundance of sunshine and rain. The heavenly energy descends, and the earthly energy rises. When these energies merge, there is intercourse between heaven and earth. As a result, plants mature, and animals, flowers, and fruit appear abundantly.” [i]

According to the 24 solar nodes of the Chinese calendar, summer this year begins on May 5th, 2018 and will extend until August 8th, 2018 when autumn begins. The summer solstice this year will occur on June 21st, 2018 and will be the longest day and shortest night of the year. The hottest day of summer will be on June 21st, 2018.

  • Summer begins, 立夏 li xia
  • Summer solstice, 夏至 xia zhi
  • Hottest day of summer, 大暑 da shu

The three months of summer are governed by the fire element. The heart and small intestine correspond to the fire element and during this time they are susceptible to the pathology of the fire element such as an excess fire pattern or an imbalance among the five elements. One common example is fire overacting on the metal, which affects the lungs and large intestine in a vicious evil pattern.

The Huang Di Nei Jing Su Wen goes on to offer advice on how to stay healthy during the summer. “One may retire somewhat later at this time of the year, while still arising early. One should refrain from anger and stay physically active, to prevent the pores from closing and the chi from stagnating. One should not overindulge in sex although one can indulge a bit more than in other seasons. Emotionally it is important to be happy and easy-going and not hold on to grudges so that the energy can flow freely.” [ii]

We can see that the Su Wen is telling us to keep our hearts calm, cool and relaxed in order to prevent the flaring of the heart’s fire, which could be detrimental during the summer months. Because there is an abundance of fire during this season, it will be less taxing on the body to have less sleep or even a little more sex. It’s good to note that while the fire element is abundant, the water will be weak, so caution should be exercised to avoid overindulgence and damage or leaking of the kidney essence.

Adjusting our daily routines and activities is important in terms of living harmoniously with the seasons. It is also important to eat properly by reducing or avoiding foods of one flavor while increasing the consumption of foods of another in accordance with the climacteric and elemental influences predominate during a certain season.

During the summer we need to keep the fire element in check and balance. It is also wise to strengthen the metal, which the fire will attack when it is too weak or when the fire is too aggressive. The can be a preventive measure to reduce the vulnerability of the metal element or a therapeutic one if the fire has already done so.

The flavor associated with fire is bitter, and the flavor associated with metal is pungent. Therefore, during the summer season one should reduce the amount of bitter foods and increase the amount of pungent foods. Reducing bitter foods will help to reduce the amount of fire. Increasing the amount of pungent foods will strengthen the metal to protect it from fire.

  • Examples of bitter foods include bitter gourd, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, turnips, apricot seed, lily bulb, gingko, plum kernel, peach kernel, seaweed, bergamot, asparagus, and coffee.
  • Examples of pungent foods include fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, celery, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, radish leaf, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, leaf mustard, Shanghai cabbage, and wine.

Fire has the tendency damage metal since metal is the element that is controlled by fire. This pathological attack within the five-element structure is a ‘vicious attack”.

Another area of concern, when analyzed via the five-element, is that while fire is exuberant, the water is at its weakest. It is therefore beneficial to take a kidney tonic during the summer to generate and strengthen the water element.

Commonly used kidney tonics include:

  • Rehmannia Eight Formula, Ba Wei Di Huang Wan 八味地黃丸
  • Rehmannia Six Formula, Liu Wei Di Huang Wan 六味地黃丸
  • Eucommia and Rehmannia Formula, You Gui Wan 有歸丸
  • Achyranthes and Rehmannia Formula, Zuo Gui Wan 左歸丸

Formulas that balance the heart and kidney may also be considered if there is a pattern of disharmony between the fire and water.

Commonly used formulas that balance the heart and kidney include:

  • Ginseng and Zizyphus Formula, Tian Wang Bu Xin Dan 天王補心丹
  • Coptis and Gelatin Combination, Huang Lian E Jiao Tang 黃蓮阿膠湯
  • Lotus Stamen Formula, Jin Suo Gu Jing Wan 金鎖固精丸

One of the difficulties in staying healthy and treating illness during the summer season is that yin will lie deep in the interior while yang is active and moving towards the extremities and exterior. Because the yin is in the interior and the yang at the exterior, if there is interior cold or excessive yin fluids that yin could accumulate to cause yin conglomerations since the yang qi cannot metabolize it. During the hottest days of the summer, the abdomen will have the tendency to get cold since the yang will expand with the heat.

Therefore, because of the yin and cold, it is advised to avoid consuming cold snacks, cold noodles, cold cereals, uncooked raw foods, and sweetened cold beverages because they can create cold in the abdomen.

Regular consumption of warming tonics, especially in a pill or powder form can warm the interior and help prevent the excessive accumulation of yin and cold. Additionally, it helps to drink warm liquids, eat warm food, keep the portions small, eat more often, avoid overeating, and avoid fatty and greasy foods. One can enjoy warming spices by drinking cinnamon and cardamom tea and cooking with cardamom, ginger, or star anise.

Commonly used formulas that warm the interior include:

  • Ginseng and Ginger Combination, Li Zhong Tang 裡中湯
  • Aconite, Ginseng, and Ginger Combination, Fu Zi Li Zhong Tang 附子裡中湯
  • Cardamon and Fennel Formula, An Zhong San 安中散

Summer heat afflictions happen during the summer season, especially following the summer solstice, when the temperature is at its highest and very humid. These are the pathogenic factors fire and dampness which can become pathogenic and cause illness. There are various types of summer heat afflictions that can occur due to differing circumstances. These include summer heat complicated with an exterior pathogen, summer heat where dampness is prominent, summer heat that has disturbed the qi mechanisms, qi deficiency caused by summer heat-induced sweating, and fluid damage caused by summer heat-induced sweating. There are various formulas and treatment strategies that can be used to treat summer heat afflictions, and many of them will be structured to address the various aspects of summer heat pathology.

Since summer heat disorders are primarily caused by heat and dampness, summer heat clearing formulas always include herbs that address dampness. It is not uncommon to experience exterior cold symptoms simultaneously with summer heat symptoms, surface releasing herbs are often used as well. Summer heat will cause excessive sweating which can damage the qi, body fluids and yin, so herbs that tonify the qi, nourish body fluids and tonify yin are also often used according to the pattern differentiation.

The lungs generate fluids by directing qi down, and water follows the qi into the kidneys. For this reason, the lungs are referred to as the “upper source of water”. The lungs are delicate and easily injured, and therefore care must be taken at the onset of a summer heat affliction. When the lungs are damaged and unable to guide fluids downwards, the fluids with then exit as sweat which will be detrimental to the qi, body fluid and yin.

Common formulas used to clear summer heat include

o   Astragalus and Atractylodes Combination, Qing Shu Yi Qi Tang 清書益氣湯

o   American Ginseng and Ophiopogon Combination, Qing Shu Yi Qi Tang 清書益氣湯

o   Elsholtzia Combination, Xiang Ru Yin香薷飲

o   Elsholtzia Plus Combination, Xin Jia Xiang Ru Yin 新加香薷飲

o   Elsholtzia Ten Combination, Shi Wei Xiang Ru Yin 十味香薷飲


[i] Huang Di Nei Jing, Unschuld

[ii] Huang Di Nei Jing, Unschuld