Skip links

Transitioning to Autumn: The Metal Element in Traditional Chinese Medicine

By Jennifer Keith R.Ac

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) it is the belief that good health results from the five elements (wood, fire, earth, metal, and water) being in harmony. By focusing on each element and it’s corresponding season as they arrive we can live in harmony, while preventing disease and disorder.

Autumn Associations

Seasonal Attunement

The ancient Chinese believed that seasons have a profound cyclical effect on human growth and well-being, and that we are influenced by climatic changes and should live in harmony with them. If we can learn to prepare for and live in harmony with the seasons instead of rebelling against them, they can be a time of beauty and comfort instead of something to dread. We can do this through the foods we eat, the way we dress, and how we deal with our emotions.

Autumn Foods

As the leaves change and the cool crisp air rolls in it signals that it is time to leave the cooling and raw foods of the summer behind. Instead let’s reach for warming foods and spices, use longer cook times, and heartier ingredients, as these will nourish and support the immune system through the colder months. The perfect way to do this is through soups and stews. And since dryness is associated with autumn we also need to nourish with moisturizing foods. You can look for foods that are white in colour, inside and out, think apples, pears, and cauliflower, as they regenerate body fluids, and lubricate your lungs. During autumn it is important to choose pungent foods, this includes acrid, spicy, hot and aromatic flavours because they cleanse and protect the lungs and large intestines, as well as disperse any stuck mucous. As mentioned before we want to avoid cold, raw foods because in excess they create dampness and phlegm which gets stored in the lungs. In this case, we want to turn to foods like seaweeds, flaxseed and fenugreek for mucous membrane renewal and removal of mucous. And lets not forget about our dark greens and golden-orange vegetables, which are plentiful this time of year. Our golden-orange veggies are beneficial due to the protective effect of the beta-carotene (converted to Vitamin A) which protects the surfaces and mucous membranes of the body. Our dark greens on the other hand are full of chlorophyll which inhibits viruses and helps the lungs discharge residues from chemical fumes and cigarette fumes, while also improving the digestion of proteins and fats.


The Lung is considered a tender organ, it is the uppermost and susceptible to wind and cold invasion, leaving you vulnerable to coughs, colds and sore throats. While the lungs are responsible for a defensive energy call Wei Qi, that protects us from getting sick, if our lungs are weak, we are left vulnerable to an attack. So this time of year it is important to make sure we dress appropriately for the weather, scarfs are a particularly good idea as the neck is vulnerable to wind invasion.


Grief and sadness are the emotions associated with the lungs. Grief and sadness that is expressed and resolved, strengthens the lungs while repressed emotions cause functional issues in the lungs. If your lungs are healthy, one holds on to their
principles, keeps their commitments and aren’t affected by loss and letting go. On the other hand, people with weak lungs, will have trouble letting go and attachment issues, usually related to possessions and relationships. And since the lungs are paired with the large intestines, which is responsible for releasing what is no longer needed, these people often suffer from chronic constipation. Try opening up and sharing feeling with others, and taking deep breaths in order to cleanse the lungs.

Physical Indication of Lung vitality

Lungs receive Vital Qi from the air we breath and mix it with Qi extracted from food
which is then distributed through the body to protect surfaces from viruses, bacteria and invading pathogens. The strength of the lungs depends on their Qi: people with strong Qi will be rewarded with a strong immune system, while weak Qi will be reflected as skin that is dry, dull and rough.

Autumn brings about more cold and damp weather and less sunlight. This can be a difficult transition for many but with a little extra awareness and some help from your local Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner or Register Acupuncturist they can give you the boost you need to transition smoothly into and get through the new season.

healingfoods spicess

Shepherd’s Barley Soup Recipe

From Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

1/4 Onion, chopped
4 Carrots, grated
2 Parsnips, diced
1 tbsp Oil
2 quarts Water
1 cup Barley
1/3 tsp Ginger, grated
1 tsp Sea Salt
1 tbsp Natto miso
Parsley, for garnish

1) Sauté onion, carrots, and parsnips in oil (optional).
2) Add water, barley, and ginger. Simmer 1 1/2 hours.
3) Add salt or miso and simmer for 15 minutes more.
4) Garnish with parsley.

Feel free to play around with the recipe, swap out for your favourite fall vegetables.

Learn more about TCM Acupuncture and how Jennifer Keith R.AC can help!