Staying Healthy in Summer According to Chinese Medicine

As Summer Solstice Approaches, Health Is Where the Heart Is

Welcome to Summer

Summer Tips from Traditional Chinese MedicineSummer solstice on June 21 marks the beginning of the season of abundance. Through the lens of Chinese Medicine, it is the most yang day of the year–the apex of summer. It’s time to enjoy crisp watermelon slices, barley tea, and other foods to soothe and aid in cooling the body. With the many hours of daylight, the energy and bounty of summer is the ideal time for socializing, nurturing creative projects, and making time for exercise outside.

Observing the cycles of nature can provide a dynamic reflection of our own health. Engaging with the environment’s seasonal transitions is an insightful way to get in tune with ourselves and the world. Chinese Medicine believes that when treating disharmonies in the body, there is greater benefit in a seasonal approach and treatments may vary based on time of year because the body is affected by, and a reflection of, the environment around us.

The Season of the Heart and the Fire Element

  • Organ: the organ associated with summer is the Heart. The Heart is the emperor of the human body, it governs blood and is responsible for the Shen (Mind)
  • Element: Fire
  • Emotion: Joy
  • Taste: Bitter
  • Opens to: Tongue
  • Color: Red

Holistic Treatments

Summer is a great time to continue or start Chinese medicine treatments that are uplifting or tonifying for yang, qi, and blood. It is also a time when heat and fire patterns can be suffered in a more pointed or aggressive presentation. When the Heart is in balance, it is a kind leader but out of balance, people may experience:

  • Insomnia
  • Palpitations
  • Red complexion
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irritability, anxiety, restlessness
  • Depression (too little joy) or mania (excess joy)
  • Speech problems: Excessive talking, inappropriate laughter, rapid speech, aphasia, stuttering

Summer Nutrition

As an age old health model, Chinese medicine is generally not supportive of fad diets and health trends. Luckily for the foodies, it’s a medicine (and culture) that loves food and regular eating habits.

According to Joerg Kastner in his book Chinese Nutrition Therapy, the heat of summer “feeds on body fluids and harms yin. It is recommended to take in predominantly cooling, yin foods to disperse heat and build up body fluids. The bitter flavor corresponds to the fire phase, and mostly bitter–cool as well as bitter–cold foods in moderation should be consumed during the hot season.” In general, choose lighter foods to avoid indigestion (per the Heart’s relationship to the Small Intestine). Diet suggestions for summer include:

  • Fruit:  Apple, lemon, kiwi, watermelon, orange, pear, pineapple, tangerine
  • Cooling foods: Cucumber, Belgian endive hearts, spinach, tomato, salads, yogurt, wheat, barley, fish, rabbit, mint, dill, cilantro
  • Drinks: Lots of water, watermelon juice, green tea (“it disperses summer heat and can expel toxins, cool the heart fire, calm the mind, remove heat from liver and gallbladder, and relieve stomach and lung.”)
  • Combos: Mint and Chrysanthemum both aid in cooling the body and skin and also mildly supports liver function. If you are feeling adventurous, you could combine these as a tea and add a pinch of honeysuckle to create a wonderful floral tea to keep you cool.
  • Avoid: Hot and dry foods such as coffee, excessively spicy foods, ice cold foods like ice cream since they cause the digestive system to slow down

As late summer and autumn approach, this would be an appropriate time to make fitting diet changes and support patients that choose to do cleanses.

Summer Self Care Practices

If you are in San Francisco we experience a later summer than most of North America, but the general cycles of nature still sustain. To optimize your health during the next three months, remember that this is a time for growth and expansion.

Allow yourself to stay out a little later, socialize with people who bring you joy, make time to play, experience life and go on an adventure or two but be sure to balance it with plenty of water, downtime, and relaxation.

  • Wake up earlier in the morning
  • Rest at midday
  • Go to bed later
  • Seek water to balance the Fire element: cool baths and showers, swimming
  • Seek activities that bring you joy and put you in a state of flow
  • Nourish creative projects
  • Find time to play like you did as a child


The American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) at CIIS offers nationally and regionally accredited master’s and doctoral degrees in acupuncture and Chinese medicine. ACTCM’s merger with CIIS expands our ability to re-envision integrative health through collaborations, multimodal approaches, and a broader community to take on today’s most pressing health issues.

Our ACTCM on-site clinic offers acupuncture, herbal medicine, and body work in Potrero Hill. Request an appointment here.

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About American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine
American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine (ACTCM) has provided affordable, quality health care to the public and trained professionals in acupuncture, massage and Chinese medicine since 1980. In addition to its graduate curriculum, ACTCM offers continuing education, public education, community outreach and clinical services in acupuncture and herbal medicine. ACTCM has been the recipient of many awards for its curriculum, faculty and clinic, and has been voted “Best of the Bay” by both the San Francisco Weekly and the San Francisco Bay Guardian. ACTCM is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and is a private, nonprofit, 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization