Greens with ginger & garlic

04 April 2024 | Treats
Danny Blyth
Member: Gloucestershire
After a long wet winter, spring is a very welcome guest. And as we know the direction of spring, and its organ the liver, is outward and upward – 肝主升發 the liver governs rising upwards & spreading outwards.

To match this with food we use the spicy/pungent flavour. This moves our qi, and aligns it to the exterior, helping us to eliminate any pathogens accumulated over the autumn and winter – a ‘spring clean’.

In this recipe fresh ginger and garlic are perfect spicy representatives – moving our qi and gently releasing the exterior, whilst moving and aiding digestion. But their flavour and qi are strong – they need grounding in some more ‘earthy’ ingredients. For balance, serve them with some neutral/sweet rice or pulses.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 2-3 cm grated fresh ginger
  • 1 head of lettuce, washed and torn
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 tsp honey or sweetener

Fry the garlic and ginger in a little oil.

Add the lettuce, then quickly add the rice vinegar, soy sauce, honey or sweetener, and salt and pepper to taste.

Cook for a minute or two until wilted. Serve with rice or pulses.


The colour associated with spring is, of course, fresh green – 青 – and matched with the rapid upward outward growth of their young fresh leaves, spring greens are the perfect spring food. These bitter/sweet cooling leaves might come from the beet family – spinach or chard, mustard family – kale or cabbage, or lettuce family – lettuce, dandelion or endive.

Here I have chosen lettuce, as its bitterness helps to drain the heat – or damp-heat – that a stuck liver can form, as well as calming the shen which can easily get restless at this time. And we rarely cook our lettuce, which seems a shame. The Anglo-Saxon folk name for lettuce was sleepwort, so strong is its ability to calm, promote sleep and relax.

Frying off the garlic, ginger and lettuce matches the free flow of liver qi – 疏泄 shūxiè – perhaps better translated as spreading out and discharging. But too much of this can deplete our qi and fluids, so we add the sour gathering rice vinegar and salty soy sauce – to protect the fluids and counterbalance the upward outward movement of qi.

In Simple Questions chapter four – 素問 Sùwèn – the sour flavour is associated with the wood element, its inward consolidating nature perfectly counterbalancing the upward/outward nature of wood – so it is right to include it here. We also add a little sweet honey or sugar to harmonise the liver and to nourish the qi and fluids. Combined they give a rounded and delicious flavour – then just a little salt and pepper and we are ready to go.

Danny Blyth is an acupuncturist and herbalist, teaching traditional Chinese medicine at the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, teaching tai chi and qigong at Jadestone Tai Chi, and working as a musician with Hot Fingers.
Artwork by Beatty Harris