Photo by Alex Zamora and Isaac Miller.  



Photo by Alex Zamora and Isaac Miller.

Chinese medicine preaches it, and the Santa Cruz Farmers Market puts it on the table. 

Every Wednesday, booths line up downtown with the freshest locally-grown and organic produce of the season; strawberries, artichokes and lemons, just to name a few. And for those feeling the drain from sitting in class on sunny spring days, the farmers market also provides an array of Chinese herbs and medicinals meant to cure springtime sluggishness.

Chinese medicine revolves around “five-element theory,” in which five natural elements — wood, water, metal, earth and fire — are assigned to aspects of the human body and mind. 

According to Mariposa Bernstein — who holds a doctorate in acupuncture and oriental medicine and works at the local Five Branches Institute for acupuncture, energetics, dietetics, and Tuina massage — eating and buying both local and seasonal products, such as those at the farmers market, play a significant role in five-element theory.  

“With local foods come the local bacteria, both good and bad,” Bernstein said. “They do not cause a disruption because your body is used to the bacteria in the local environment versus food that comes from foreign places. It also supports the local economy, which helps build community.”

One of the best springtime Chinese remedies, according to Bernstein, is lemon balm, a leafy herb and combatant against sluggishness. In spring, Chinese medicine revolves specifically around the liver, associated with the wood element. A mild antidepressant, lemon balm can help detoxify the liver while rousing energy.

Jonathon Hoefs, a vendor for Green Planet Organics, an organic farm located in Soquel, can vouch for lemon balm’s positive effects. He reported a steady uplift in spirits from drinking tea made from lemon balm leaves, which he sells at the Green Planet Organics stand at the downtown farmers market each week. 

“I drank it for two weeks straight, and felt better,” he said.

Staying in tune with your emotions is crucial to well-being and a key part of traditional Chinese medicine as well, Bernstein explained. 

“If you’re not in alignment with your emotions, [which is] necessary for your liver to function properly, you can end up feeling tired and sluggish,” Bernstein said.

Kristal Zamora, a Crown third-year environmental  studies and legal studies double major, said that feelings of exhaustion or fatigue often make just getting to class feel like a chore, especially during spring quarter.

“It’s very difficult, actually,” she said. “But in some ways when there’s good weather, it’s motivation.”

The new season is a time to shrug off tired feelings. It is a season for staying active, whether it’s a walk on the beach or yoga at sunset to stay in tune with the motions of the blossoming Earth.

As Bernstein put it, “Spring is the vibrancy of taking action.”