Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nutrition and the Moon

How important is the cycle of the moon in farming and feeding? As it turns out, TCM principles can guide us in eating and drinking in alignment with the Earth for better health
30 Nov 2022
Words by: Janice Leung-Hayes

In many traditions, the moon has been a guide to growing and gathering food – ideal times of key activities such as planting, pruning, and harvesting are often marked by phases of the moon. The Chinese farmers’ almanac and the Maori Maramataka are classic examples of lunar-calendar manuals that are used till this day.

These ancient traditions are the foundations of more contemporary practices like in biodynamic farming, where, for instance, practitioners might sow seeds for fruits when the moon is waxing, and fertilise those plants when the moon is waning. It’s believed that like tides, all water – be it in the ground, or in the plants – is affected by a gravitational pull from the moon, so plants absorb more water during an ascending moon, and pull in more fertilisation during a descending moon. By following the moon phases, the thesis is that plants would grow more healthily and become more nutrient dense – good news for those of us who’ll eat them.

Tibetan woman standing on a grassy field with a cow grazing ahead of her, against a blue sky and moon
Photograph by Kin Coedel, for Atmos Earth “A Common Thread”
Tibetan woman standing on a grassy field with a cow grazing ahead of her, against a blue sky and moon
Photograph by Kin Coedel, for Atmos Earth “A Common Thread”

Farming with the Moon

While biodynamic farming remains niche in today’s agriculture, in the world of wine, these beliefs are almost mainstream, and have crossed over from the field to bottling, and even drinking. Georgine Leung, nutritionist and researcher in global health and food studies, says,

“The first time I came across any form of food and drink in relation to moon phases was biodynamic wine – a specific viticulture which considers astrology on how the grapes are grown and harvested. The extent as to how this is practised is wide-ranging […] Some might go as far as drinking according to the moon phase as they claim it affects how the wine tastes”.

When Wine Tastes Best is an annual calendar produced by Matthias Thun, son of the late German biodynamic authority, Maria Thun. The calendar is followed staunchly by wine- lovers around the world. Each day is classified as either a flower, fruit, leaf or root day according to the lunar and solar positions as well as the constellation on the day. Initially referring to the days these parts of the plant should be sowed (eg. tomatoes on a “fruit” day, carrots on a “root” day), these theories have been extrapolated into wine tasting. Some claim that wines opened on “fruit” and “flower” days can taste markedly better, whereas opening a wine on a “root” day is said to accentuate unpleasant tannins.

Drinking wine by the lunar calendar, based on biodynamic farming
Drinking wine by the lunar calendar, image from

The Lunar Cycle and Diet

When it comes to drinking, Eastern philosophies also look to lunar shifts. According to Zoey Gong, founder of Five Seasons TCM, a platform for traditional Chinese medicinal food therapy, “Aligning our eating with natural patterns can really bring surprising benefits and positive changes to our body. For example, when the moon is waxing, I would recommend consuming qi-replenishing foods such as astragalus and warming ingredients like ginger, bone broth, even a little wine.”

Huang Di Nei Jing, “the most important Traditional Chinese Medicine literature”, according to Gong, considers moon phases to have direct effects on our bodies:

“…when the moon is new, the blood and defense qi start to rise; when the moon is full, the qi and blood in our bloody flourish and our muscles are strong; when the moon is waxing, we tend to have deficient qi and blood in our meridians and our muscles become weak”.

She says, “When the moon is full, our qi and blood are full as well. For some, it might become excessively full and cause headaches, red eyes, hot flush, agitation, and so on. So I would recommend calming, neutral ingredients like cooked pear, longan fruit, reishi, and snow fungus. Limit strong tonifying herbs (red ginseng, for example) or very spicy foods, especially if you have cardio-vascular problems. When the moon is new, it is a great time to stay creative and motivated by eating foods packed with nutrients and kidney-tonifying foods, such as sprouts, dark leafy vegetables, goji berry, Chinese yam, and sesame.”

Seasonal eating calendar with watercolour illustrations of food items, placed next to a wooden spoon
Seasonal eating calendar by Five Seasons TCM, image courtesy of @fiveseasonstcm

More recently, there have been “moon eating” trends “linked to when and how plants are grown, and ties in with the idea of seasonality. Foods in season are considered better in taste and flavour. So ‘moon eating’ might be another way to think about seasonality, with an added focus in eating plant foods grown locally as much as possible,” says Leung. However, other similarly-named fads, such as the lunar, or werewolf, diet, which calls for fasting and highly restrictive eating according to moon phases with the goal of losing weight, may be less constructive. Leung warns that “This is a dietary fad which can be dangerous. ‘Detox’ diets can send the body into shock, and contribute to patterns of disordered eating.” Leung has come across many modes of lunar eating and drinking, and notes that the influence of the moon can be cultural, too.

“The lunar calendar […] is central to the traditional festivals across so many cultures – from Chinese New Year to the Mid-Autumn Festival, Rosh Hashana to Chanukah. Food is central to these celebrations, all tied with their own unique histories. The cultural and social value remains when it comes to festival eating”. She references Chinese Buddhist traditions, such as keeping a vegetarian diet on the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month (new moon and full moon days respectively). This is so pervasive in Chinese culture that one doesn’t necessarily need to be a Buddhist to follow the rule – refraining from meat on the first day of Lunar New Year is almost par for the course.

Dried Traditional Chinese Medicine ingredients, herbs and food items styled on beige backdrop
Image courtesy of @fiveseasonstcm
While science isn’t necessarily on the side of lunar-led diets, observing the moon’s phases does have the potential to help us be more aware of the natural world, as well as preserving cultural traditions. After all, eating seasonally and gathering regularly with friends and family sound like sensible rules for living regardless.
  • Learn more about Traditional Chinese Medicine with Five Seasons TCM here.

  • Learn more about biodynamic farming through Maria Thun and a selection of her books here.

  • Learn more and explore the biodynamic calendar here.