Traditional Chinese Medicine Recipes for Spring and Liver Health*

Spring is the season of growth and renewal for both plants and animals. Since antiquity, Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners have observed that keeping in harmony with the rhythms of nature is most beneficial to living a healthy and balanced life.


According to TCM theory, the spring season corresponds to the Wood element and the Liver and Gallbladder organs. Just as a tree grows upward and outward, the Liver qi also rises upward and spread throughout the body. When Liver qi flows freely, one has the will and initiative to take on something new. The muscles and tendons are also supple and allow for ease of physical movement. When the flow of Liver qi is inhibited, the detoxification and circulation functions of the body also become sluggish and lead to general feelings of malaise. This can impact the eyes, muscles and tendons. Emotionally, one can feel occasionally stressed, controlling, impatient, irritable or angry.

A key strength of TCM is the ability to prevent health issues by interrupting their progression long before the symptoms even appear. Eating in harmony with the seasons is one way this is accomplished.

How to Eat in Harmony with Spring, According to TCM

In the spring, consuming a diet rich in green leafy vegetables, sprouts, pungent herbs, sour fruits, pickled vegetables, lean meats and liver organ meat (if one dares) is most beneficial to the flow of Liver qi.

Avoid deep fried and fatty foods, alcohol, dairy products, wheat, barley, pork and red meat; they are difficult to digest and tax the detoxification functions of the Liver and Gallbladder.

To enhance the Wood energy, cooking style should also be kept light, such as quick-frying, sautéing, steaming or blanching.

TCM Exercise Tips for Spring

  • Because the nature of the Liver is movement, exercise is essential.
  • Yoga, tai chi and gentle exercises help maintain flexibility of the muscles and tendons.
  • For qi gong practitioners, the Frolic of Five Animals or Wood Element set can be added to your regular routine.
  • Walking in nature and hiking, or outdoor activities like bird-watching also aid in connecting with the Wood energy.
  • Competitive sports is discouraged because it can overestimate Liver qi and result in erratic movement and imbalance.

Health is everyone's most important asset. If you have been neglecting yours, it isn't too late to start now. Take advantage of the Wood energy to spring into the new you. Keep in mind that the spring energy is for starting anew, not for completion. Start by visiting your local farmers' market to see the abundance of fruits and vegetables that nature has provided, then make the delightful and simple recipes below. There is no wrong way to eat with the seasons.


Spring Greens and Dandelion Salad

Benefit: Promotes a healthy Gallbladder, Liver and bile.*

Serves 1

2 cups spring greens mix

1/4 cup dandelion greens, chopped

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil Salt and pepper

1/2 tablespoon pine nuts

1/2 tablespoon sunflower seeds

1 teaspoon seaweed flakes (optional)

  • Wash, dry and combine the greens.
  • Mix balsamic vinegar and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste
  • Toss the salad and dressing together, then sprinkle with pine nuts, sunflower seeds and seaweed flakes.


Sprouts Stir-Fry

Benefit: Soothes and regulates Liver qi.*

Serves 2

2 cups sprouts, such as pea sprouts (or pea vines), bean sprouts or sunflower sprouts

2 cloves garlic

1 green onion or scallion, trimmed

1 tablespoon avocado or sesame oil

1 teaspoon soy sauce

  • Gently rinse the sprouts in a colander and let drain.
  • Mince the garlic and coarsely chop the green onion or scallion.
  • Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a skillet, then add the garlic and cook until fragrant.
  • Add the sprouts to the skillet and cook until slightly wilted, then stir in the onions.
  • Season with soy sauce to taste and serve with rice or as a side dish.


Mung Bean (Lu Dou) and Chrysanthemum (Ju Hua) Soup

Benefit: Nourishes and cools the Liver, benefits the eyes.*

Serves 4-6

1/2 cup whole or split mung beans

4 cups water

1/4 cup chrysanthemum flowers

honey, maple syrup or any sweetener (avoid artificial sweetener)

  • Rinse and soak the mung beans.
  • In a medium-size saucepan or pot, bring the water to a boil.
  • Strain and add the mung beans, then cook until they split (if using whole beans) or break apart (if using split beans).
  • Add more water if needed to keep at least 1 inch of water above the level of mung beans.
  • Add the chrysanthemum flowers, let simmer for 3 minutes, then cover the pot and turn off the stove.
  • Serve while still warm and add your sweetener of choice.
  • Enjoy as a dessert or snack.


Chrysanthemum (Ju Hua) and Mint (Bo He) Tea

Benefit: Regulates Liver qi, clears heat from the Liver, clears the eyes.* Supportive for dry or tired eyes.*

Serves 1

5 chrysanthemum flowers

1 teaspoon dried mint or 4 fresh mint leaves

1 teaspoon goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)

  • Combine the ingredients and infuse in 12 ounces of hot water for 10 minutes.
  • If using fresh mint, crush the leaves lightly and add during the last 2 minutes of infusion.
  • Strain and drink while still warm. Alternatively, you can infuse the tea in a glass jar without straining, which adds a nice visual display as you drink.


Rose (Mei Gui Hua) Beauty Tea

Benefit: Regulates Liver qi, nourishes blood, benefits menstruation.* A great tea for women.*

Serves 1

1 tablespoon rose buds (Mei Gui Hua)

1 teaspoon goji berries (Gou Qi Zi)

4 pieces wolf berries (Shan Zha)

  • Combine the ingredients and infuse in 12 ounces of hot water for 10 minutes. As with the previous tea, you can also infuse and display in a glass jar.


Natha Surinsuk, born and raised in Thailand, received a B.S. in Psychobiology from the University of California, Los Angeles. Passionate about Eastern Medicine and helping others, Natha went on to complete her Masters of Science in Traditional Oriental Medicine at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (now Pacific College of Health and Science). She currently practices in the South Bay area of southern California.