Lessons from my allotment

Summer 2023 | Treats
James Woodward
Member: Kent
For the last four years I have enjoyed creating an allotment space, starting with an area that just consisted of soil and weeds. Throughout this time it has been a sanctuary for tranquility, wellbeing and fresh food. It has also helped me understand aspects of Chinese medicine starting with looking after the soil and cultivating the land.

Focusing on the earth element is central to good post heaven qi and is essential for nourishment – to allow for healthy vegetables to grow. Drainage is important for the soil, to prevent flooding and rotting or fungus on the plants – similar to preventing damp forming in our bodies.

Then there’s the seed quality for pre heaven qi, which determines the speed of growth, the size and the quality of the vegetables that I am so enjoying eating at moment.

My most recent observation is how dry the earth has been. At the time of writing, it is a week before the summer solstice and there has been no rain in six weeks.

In the southeast of England the cold north easterly wind has been strong and constant for many weeks, drying out the soil. In some cases leaves have dried and withered.

The combined climatic consistency of wind, heat and fluid deficiency in the earth has caused many of the vegetables to bolt into beautiful flowers.

All of my pak choi has bolted – a sign that it is under stress. Pak choi is watery by nature and perfect to eat during the summer to nourish yin and helpful for retaining any lost fluids. Pak choi grows best in a moist environment and is not suited to the dryness and heat. Even when watered daily it was clear the outcome was not going to change.

The stalk, leaves and base of the pak choi have grown tall, changing its usual shape. Essence of pak choi is still visible but now it flaunts yellow flowers – a sign it has reached its peak of yang qi, like a typical liver yang rising pathology caused by yin or blood deficiency. Something very common in our clinics. I will be expecting to see more patients with headaches, migraines, tinnitus or dizziness in the clinic through the next few weeks.

These signs of bolting also highlight the importance of holding on to some yin or fluids during the summer – not just through drinking but with our general diet. Courgettes, pak choi, beetroot or spinach are good examples of watery vegetables. Also consider porridge or summer soups, oily fish or even adding a little salt – all fantastic for nourishing yin.

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All artwork for this article was created by the author.