The Fullness of Summer: The Summer Pitta Diet
by Gary Gran, CYT, DAy
How quickly the coolness of spring seems to turn into the heat of summer! And before we know it, summer is giving way to fall and fall to winter. At the same time, the spring harvest quickly blooms into the summer harvest, and before we know it we are storing foods for winter use.
Many people are familiar with the concept of eating with the seasons to maintain good health. For example, we can eat a reducing low-fat diet in the spring, an energizing high-carb diet in the summer, and a warming high-protein diet in the fall and winter.
To help stay in tune with the changing seasons it is especially helpful to mark the transitions between the seasons. In this article, we will focus on diet for the transition from spring to summer, summer itself, and the transition from summer to fall.
For background let’s review the concept of tridosha (three-doshas) from ayurvedic science. Kapha dosha is a combination of earth and water and has the qualities of coolness, dampness & heaviness and exhibits a downward, slow, and contracting action. It accumulates in nature and within ourselves during winter to a point of excess or aggravation in the spring. Nature’s spring harvest gives us the natural antidote for excessive kapha. Thus, the ideal spring diet is warming, drying and light with an upward and outward action.
If we continue our spring diet too long, we can become too warm, too dry, too light, and too expanded (think frazzled and scattered). During this time, we see the shoots, buds, tender greens, and early flowers of spring turning to the fully flowered, fully leafed and fruiting fullness of summer. This is the time to begin incorporating the full array of summer foods into our diet.
After kapha dosha comes pitta dosha which is a combination of fire and water. Fire has the qualities of heat, dryness, and lightness with a rapidly rising and spreading action. Water has the qualities of coolness, dampness, and heaviness with the downward and contracting action we noted with kapha dosha. Together, fire and water, as pitta dosha, have the qualities of heat, dampness and lightness with a rising yet contracted or intense action.
We can say that water helps to balance fire and that maintaining this balance of fire and water is central to maintaining good health in the same way that it is essential for maintaining all plant and animal life. For example, in gardening we need the right amount of sunlight and warmth (fire) and the right amount of water for each plant.
The ideal summer diet then is one that is cooling, moistening, nourishing and refreshing, with a balanced action. We find these qualities in abundance in the natural summer harvest which is rich in mature leafy greens, colorful flowers and fruits, and naturally complex carbohydrates. According to taste, summer foods should emphasize these naturally sweet foods, with the addition of bitter (cooling and clearing) and astringent (balancing & toning) foods.
After pitta dosha comes vata dosha which is a combination of air and ether. Vata has the qualities of coldness, dryness, and lightness. At the end of summer, it is time to transition back to a richer, more warming, oily and heavy diet for winter.
The Summer Diet
In the transition from spring to summer we can emphasize green leafy vegetables which are in abundance. They are bitter and astringent with a high chlorophyll content. They are detoxing, cooling, cleansing of the blood, the liver, and the skin. Choose tender or bitter greens and lettuces of all kinds along with handfuls of cilantro, parsley, dill and mint for generous salads. Also cook the more mature greens as they become available like kale, collards, chard and beet greens.
Flowers have a special affinity with pitta and help mark the transition from spring to summer. The bright colors correspond to the element of fire. Keep plenty of flowers around the house and garden and learn which flowers can be eaten. Try adding squash blossoms, rose petals, violets and borage flowers to your salads. Nasturtiums are delightful as well which exhibit a slightly pungent taste which shows its subtle fiery nature.
Some flowers are too strong and fiery, however, and can even be poisonous or narcotic. Take special note of the deadly nightshade (solonaceae) family such as belladonna, dulcamara, henbane, jimsonweed, and tobacco. Interestingly, when prepared homeopathically, these can be excellent remedies for excess fire, fever, redness, and delerium by the principle of like cures like. Please note the fruits of these plants can also be poisonous, like the brightly colored belladonna and dulcamara berries. Also, we have the cultivated nightshades, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant, which can aggravate inflammatory conditions like arthritis or act as common allergens.
As summer comes into fullness, we can focus on the cool and refreshing juicy fruits of the summer harvest. Eat plenty of apricots, sweet cherries, grapes, peaches, nectarines, plums and melons of all kinds. Perhaps the epitome of the summer harvest is the magnificent watermelon which is deliciously sweet, cooling and refreshing.
We can also enjoy the generosity of nature’s harvest from the summery tropics. Consider eating more mangoes, sweet pineapple, papaya, avocado, coconut, dates, and figs as they come into seasonal abundance from May through October.
A special class of fruits are the berries. They are well noted for their medicinal use. Their rich colors show a special affinity to fire. The colors show the presence of rich pigments, flavonoids, and phytonutrients now being studied by modern science. In classic ayurveda, the Indian gooseberry, known as amla or amalaki, is considered one of the best rejuvenatives for pitta, with protective and nourishing actions for the blood, liver, heart, eyes, skin and small intestine. We can use bilberries and wolfberries for the eyes, elderberries for the immune system, hawthorn berries for the heart, blueberries for the pancreas, schizandra berries for the adrenals, cranberries for the urinary tract, and saw palmetto and chaste tree berries for the reproductive system. We can enjoy fresh raspberries, blackberries, mulberries and organic strawberries. (Please note that commercial strawberries are highly sprayed and not recommended.)
For vegetables we can enjoy generous amounts of the so-called fruits of the vine such as cucumbers, okra, summer squash, zucchini, bitter melon, peppers and tomatoes. And what would summer be without delicious fresh-picked sweet corn? We can continue with lots of salads and work in more cruciferous veges like kale, brocolli (especially the flower heads), cauliflower and cabbage towards fall. Other veges of note are artichokes from the desert and jerusalem artichokes which are native to the midwest. For the transition to fall, when the weather is cooler, work in parsnips, sweet potatoes, and rutabagas.
Remember that pitta is a combination of fire and water. Too much fire has a drying effect. Use unctuous grains like basmati rice, spelt, whole wheat, and oatmeal to counteract the dryness. Too much water leads to dampness, humidity, heaviness, swelling, bloating and oozing. Use drying grains like blue corn, barley, quinoa and amaranth to counteract dampness.
All beans and peas are excellent for pitta and summer use because of their natural astringency and protective effect against environmental toxins. Try soy milk, tofu spreads, tofu dogs and cold bean salads for convenience. But don’t forget the abundant variety of fresh beans, string beans, green beans, peas and snow peas. Furthermore, whole grain and bean combinations provide a rich source of plant-based protein.
Animal based proteins are generally more heating and should be used with care during the summer. Exceptions are fresh water fish, and, if desired, organic poultry. Eggs can be a reliable source of supplemental protein, but the best source for summer use may be fresh organic dairy products. Fresh dairy is considered to have a neutral to cool affect on the body. If you want to enjoy ice cream on occassion, summer is the time to do it!
Drink spring water, fresh vege and fruit juices, and green tea in the summer. Green tea combines well with the mints, crysanthemum and rose for sun tea. Crushed fennel, coriander and dill seeds make a fine digestive tea. And you can use passionflower, california poppy, or chamomile tea to relax.
Cold-pressed olive oil and organic ghee are the best oils for regular summer use. Sunflower oil can be used if there are no inflammatory disorders. For essential fatty acids, borage oil and evening primrose oils are specific for pitta. Borage flowers have a cooling blue color and attract bumble bees to the garden. The beautiful evening primrose blooms in the coolness of the evening in harmony with the moon. It can be used for its phytoestrogenic properties to help balance the feminine moon cycle. In fact, why not enjoy the cool evenings and refreshing moonlight yourself!
You can also enjoy the coolness of water, gardens and woods. Think cool while you practice summer yoga poses like the half moon, tree, cobra, grasshopper, half spinal twist, inverted lake and lotus. Wear cool colors like white, blues and light greens, wear silver against the skin, and use soothing apricot kernal oil, coconut oil or aloe vera on the skin. Use floral scents like rose, jasmine, lavender, geranium or neroli, or more grounding woody scents like sandal.
Rose holds a very special place in our summer repertoire. The rosaceae family includes not only the mighty rose itself, but also the afore-mentioned cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums, raspberries, blackberries, strawberries and hawthorn berries, all marked by their five-pointed sepals. The leaves and petals of the rose family are noted for their astringency. For example, rosewater is used as a topical astringent and raspberry leaf tea as an internal astringent and gentle diuretic. And last but not least, the rose family includes all the apples and pears which mark the end of summer and the transition to fall.
The transition from summer to fall is also noted by the glorious burst of autumnal colors. This colorful pittic display can be viewed as the last hurrah of summer. We call it Indian summer. This is the time to release the remnants of summer heat from the body. And this is the time to enjoy the late summer harvest of apples and pears, perfect cleansing and clearing foods to end the summer season.