Eating seasonally is something humans have done without even thinking about it for thousands of years – it wasn’t until the 1960s that supermarkets sold avocados! Now however, with aisles of food from across the world, it takes only minutes to grab tropical fruits, coffee, rice, and chocolate from across the world, that would be almost impossible to grow naturally in the UK. Whilst pretty much everyone I know (including me) enjoys non-seasonal food, and things like coffee and chocolate that are anything but local or seasonal, it’s still incredibly important to understand why eating seasonally is good for us, and why eating non-seasonally can actually be really bad for us. Health and nutrition leader and sports medicine expert Dr John Douillard has carried out extensive research into this, and shared on his blog that when deer eat out of season, they can die.
Whilst eating out of season may not kill us, it can contribute to poor gut health, high blood sugar levels, acidity, digestive problems, as well as a poor immune system, which overall, can shorten life span and health span. When we eat the foods and herbs that are in season and grow locally, we’re giving the body the exact nutrients it needs to be healthy in that season, and at that time. These seasonal foods can actually help balance the qualities of the season, and support us to feel our best. As we enter into Spring here in the UK, the qualities of heaviness, warmth, moisture, oiliness, sluggishness, congestion, and growth are abundant. These qualities are characteristic of the Ayurvedic dosha Kapha. A balanced amount of Kapha in our bodies is great, as it supports healthy growth, strength and good fertility, but too much often results in excess weight, water retention, Spring colds, allergies, asthma, phlegm and lethargy. Luckily, the plants in season during Spring are perfectly suited to prevent accumulation of excess Kapha energy, and help support the body’s natural detoxing processes throughout this season, helping us feel light and energised!
Bitter is Better
I’ve included a chicory salad recipe in this post, as chicory is seasonal to the UK, and is slightly bitter. Many chicory recipes give the option of lightly cooking the leaves to reduce bitterness, but that same bitterness is what gives the plant much of its benefit. Bitter foods are actually really good for us, especially during Spring. The taste can help reduce those qualities of heaviness and sluggishness, improves digestion, balances blood sugar, moderates hunger, and is naturally ‘detoxifying’. Dr. Andrew Weil is an integrated practitioner of medicine with over 30 years’ experience, and has an extensive blog covering a wide array of natural health topics. He says; “Bitter foods also affect health in that they stimulate the liver to produce bile, which is an important part of optimal digestion. Bile emulsifies fats and renders nutrients – especially fat-soluble ones such as vitamins A, D, E and K – more available”. So by consuming bitter foods, we help improve and maintain liver health (something Chinese medicine says is vital to focus on during Spring), and aid digestion of the heavier foods we may have consumed over Winter.
Bitterness is the least common taste we come across in the modern Western diet (which tends to favour more sweet and salty tastes), but when we do eat bitter foods like chicory, dandelion greens, spinach, broccoli and coriander, we tap into the tastes our ancestors would have consumed naturally. In the UK, our ancestors would have eaten many more wild greens and herbs than us, simply by picking them straight from the ground whilst out hunting, foraging and travelling. These naturally growing herbs like dandelion, wild garlic, fennel, nettle, borage, and cleavers, are naturally bitter, and extremely high in nutrients like iron, calcium, vitamin A, flavonoids, phenols, omegas, potassium, fiber, vitamin C, and other highly beneficial micronutrients that are important for the immune system, but that we really don’t tend to get much of in a standard modern diet. To read more about the benefits of bitter foods, click HERE.
Foraging Foods & Buying Seasonally
There’s a lot of evidence to show that when communities lived in a more foraging-focused, seasonal and connected-to-nature way, that we probably had a more nutritious diet than we do today, with far less diabetes, heart disease and obesity. To start eating a little more like our ancestors did, and in the way our bodies have evolved to, it’s pretty easy: simply buy foods that are in-season, and if possible, local. Seasonal foods are often actually a little cheaper in supermarkets too, as there’s a lot of them around, and they haven’t had to travel thousands of miles across the world to get there. Over the next couple of months too, plants like wild garlic, nettle, dandelion, and cleavers will all be growing abundantly in the UK, and if you know where to look and know safely what you’re looking for, you can forage them for free! (whilst being mindful to leave enough of the plants left for them to continue growing and flourishing). Look out for the seasonal foods in your supermarket or local farmer’s shop, as eating these will support your body to align with the season, giving it the exact nutrients is needs, whilst also supporting UK farmers.
Try including some of these foods in your meals over the next few weeks, and try the chicory recipe below!
- Brussels Sprouts
- Jerusalem Artichoke
- Cabbage (red, savoy and white)
- Spring Onions
- Spring Greens
Seasonal Chicory & Beetroot Salad
With Parsley Dressing
For the salad
(serves 1 )
- 1 small head of chicory, thinly sliced
- 1 small beetroot, thinly sliced
- 1 handful kale, ribs removed and lightly steamed
- 2 tbsp seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame etc)
For the dressing
- 1 handful fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp honey (raw and local will help protect against hayfever and seasonal allergies)
- Pinch of salt and pepper
- Add all salad ingredients to a bowl
- Add the dressing ingredients to a blender and whizz
- Dress and toss the salad, and serve with a slice of sourdough toast and butter if you like.