The Pumpkin Spice Latte – Trick or Treat?
“Fall is the season of harvest, a time to pull inward and gather together on all levels, a time to store up fuel, food, and warm clothing, a time to study and plan for the approaching stillness of winter.” -the Inner Classic of the Yellow Emperor, ca. 200 BCE
The autumnal equinox is upon us and the hottest summer on record is finally drawing to a close. The sunset downtown is starting to line up neatly between the rows of skyscrapers; this year’s Chicagohenge will take place between September 22-25, according to the Adler Planetarium. The nights are cooling off and the cicadas are singing their final arias, but for many, the true herald of fall is the return of all things pumpkin spice.
Myself, I’m firmly in the PSL-hate-is-misogyny camp, although I’m much more inclined to make a less sugary version for myself at home than to order one from Starbucks or Dunkin’. As a practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), I’m a huge fan of the combo of pumpkin and warming spices for their therapeutic effect on the body and mind. TCM considers herbal medicine and dietary therapy to be on a continuum; foods and herbs are classified according to their temperature, flavor, and the bodily systems they affect.
Autumn is governed by the metal element, which corresponds to the lung- the respiratory and immune systems. The lungs are affected by sorrow and grief; for many of us, fall can be a struggle against a heavy feeling of nostalgia or regret over missed opportunities. Autumn is often a time in which we see a resurgence of allergies and upper respiratory tract infections. One of the ways we can protect the lung system is by eating pungent and spicy foods, which loosen mucus and open the airways, as well as foods that are rich in beta-carotene, which helps the body make white blood cells that fight disease. Let’s look at the therapeutic properties of pumpkin and pumpkin spices according to TCM:
- Pumpkin is slightly warming; its sweet and slightly bitter flavors affect the lungs and digestive organs. It strengthens the qi, regulates blood circulation, and dries up digestive accumulations and phlegm. Pumpkin and other orange hard squashes are rich in beta-carotene.
- Cinnamon is hot; its pungent, spicy, and sweet flavors affect the lung, heart, bladder, endocrine system, and digestive system. It strengthens the qi and the yang energy, circulates the qi and blood, disperses cold, and resolves accumulated fluids. It may also help regulate blood sugar, alleviate inflammation and body pain, and has anti-microbial properties.
- Nutmeg is warm; its pungent flavor affects the digestive organs. It warms the center, moves qi, and alleviates pain, so it’s used to treat diarrhea, poor appetite, and vomiting.
- Ginger is hot; its pungency profoundly impacts the heart, lungs, and digestive organs. It warms the center, expels cold from the body, and warms the lungs and transforms phlegm. It treats coughs and colds, nausea and vomiting, body pain, fatigue, digestive sluggishness, and has anti-microbial properties.
- Cloves are warm; their pungent flavor bolsters the endocrine (kidney) system as well as the digestion (spleen and stomach). Cloves warm the center and redirect rebellious qi downward to alleviate vomiting, hiccups, wheezing, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Who knew pumpkin and spices could be so therapeutic? If you want to enjoy all the nourishing benefits of a PSL without the caffeine, here’s a simple but cozy pumpkin soup recipe to warm your soul on chilly fall days.
Cozy Pumpkin Soup
- 1 medium red or yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2-3 big cloves of garlic, mashed with the tines of a fork
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 cups peeled fresh pumpkin or kabocha (Japanese pumpkin), cut into dice sized pieces, or use a 16 oz can of pumpkin puree
- 2 cups chicken or vegetable broth (or substitute coconut milk for half the broth for a richer flavor)
- 1 large bay leaf
- 2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated, or 2-3 tsp dried ginger powder*
- ½- 1 tsp ground turmeric*
- ½-1 ½ tsp garam masala* (add a pinch at a time)
- Chipotle chile powder or smoked paprika, to taste
- Dash of tamari or soy sauce
- Salt to taste
- *use less for a milder flavor and more for a spicier flavor
Heat the oil over a medium-low flame in a saucepan that holds at least 3 quarts. When the oil is shimmering, add the bay leaf and the onion and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions soften and become translucent and slightly golden- between 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or two until lightly golden. Add the pumpkin, ginger, broth, spices, tamari, and optional coconut milk. Bring to a slow boil, stir well, and cover. Let cook for 10-15 minutes until the pumpkin is soft enough to mash with a spoon. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup, or if you don’t have one, mash the pumpkin using a sturdy whisk or potato peeler. Taste and adjust the seasonings until you are happy with the taste.
Serve topped with a swirl of coconut milk, roasted pumpkin seeds, fresh cilantro, lime juice, croutons, Greek yogurt, etc.
Written by Mind Body Co-op Psychotherapist & Acupuncturist, Sue Cook, MS, MSW, L.Ac., LSW. Sue has a Master’s degree in Traditional East Asian Medicine from Pacific College of Health and Science and a Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University Chicago. They have been in practice as an acupuncturist for the last eight years and recently became a licensed social worker. Their approach as a therapist has been heavily influenced by their work in Traditional East Asian Medicine and they offer client-centered compassion-based therapy that incorporates methods such as CBT, Solution Focused Brief Therapy, and narrative therapy.
Mind Body Co-op is Chicago’s only space for individuals to discover, explore, and heal what is occurring internally at the cognitive, emotional, and physical levels. This unique, holistic approach to treatment and wellness is born out of the belief that examining the cognitive, emotional, and physical pieces and how they intersect helps lead to uncovering your full potential by providing thoughtful, collaborative, and complete integrative mental health care. We offer a variety of clinical services, including individual psychotherapy, group psychotherapy, psychological/neuropsychological assessments, medication management, CPT (comprehensive transitional program), somatic mindfulness, somatic groups, DBT, adventure therapy, therapeutic yoga, and more. We provide culturally competent services in English, Mandarin, Spanish, French, Russian & Arabic.