Updated: May 4
Some things are just meant to be, they are made for each other. Like the foods in this picture !! They all work so well together and yet are individually just simple and subtle ingredients. Food therapy is one of the 5 pillars of Chinese Medicine (acupuncture, herbal medicine, Chinese massage and qi gong (like tai chi)) and I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘food is medicine’. Chinese Medicine takes it an extra step and distinguishes food by their energetic functions, how this affects the body and breaks them down into ‘flavor categories’. Each flavor corresponds with a particular organ and it’s element so something simple like craving a certain flavor can actually be linked to an organ asking you for a little help.
The five elements and their assigned organs are:
- EARTH: spleen, stomach
- METAL: lung, large intestine
- WATER: kidneys, bladder
- WOOD: liver, gall bladder
- FIRE: heart, small intestine,
There are also two extra parts related to this element although they are not considered organs as such. The pericardium provides a casing around the heart to protect it and the San Jiao, translated as 3 sections provides communication between the whole torso as each organ is housed in one of these 3 areas dependant on its location in the torso - the top, middle or lower.
FLAVOURS + THEIR FUNCTIONS
BITTER FOR FIRE
Bitter flavour can clear heat from the body in particular the heart. Its energy moves downwards (think coffee and having a bowel movement !). By moving downwards bitter can move qi down and away from the head, drain heat and dry dampness (more on this soon).
Bitter helps clear heat from the heart, in particular if there are emotional imbalances or restlessness. It can also assist in encouraging a bowel movement. Foods that are bitter in nature are broccoli, cauliflower, lemons and limes, coffee, dandelion, chicory (these 2 are common coffee substitutes), oranges, grapefruit, parsley leaves, sesame seeds, raw cacao.
SWEET FOR EARTH
Sweet flavour moves upwards. It supports the spleen and stomach to extract, transform and transport nutrients. Its upward lift assists the spleen energy to hold the organs in place and prevent prolapse while it helps the stomach if diarrhoea occurs. It also affects the pancreas and these 3 organs help control our sugar absorption and distribution. The sweet flavour is nourishing, calming, grounding and relaxing, hence it is easy to see its importance for the earth element. The sweet referred to is from wholefoods and not refined sugars. Sweet foods which make up the largest percentage of our meals include anything orange like sweet potatoes and pumpkin, foods roasted - especially root vegetables, natural sweetners like honey, maple and dates, barley, rice, oats, potatoes, apples, leeks, corn. Others include wholegrains, rye, cabbages, carrots, onions and parsnips.
PUNGENT FOR METAL
Pungent has an upward and outward moving energy. This direction assists in the function of perspiration (sweating) and circulating life force (qi) and blood throughout the body and therefore strengthens the lungs and large intestines. The lungs rule perspiration, control the breath, extract energy from the air we inhale while assisting blood to circulate. Healthy breathing assists the large intestine to eliminate wastes from the body by helping with intestinal wall contractions. This flavour can also stimulate a good appetite. Pungent foods include fresh herbs, ginger, leeks, onion, shallots, garlic, coriander, celery, daikon raddish, turnips, cinnamon, mustard leaf and seed, wine, fennel, some citrus.
SALTY FOR WATER
Salty flavour has a certain strength to it. It assists the kidneys to extract and filter any wastes from the blood to create urine and then assists the bladder to hold this contents then release it from the body. The salty flavour is also vital for maintaining a healthy fluid balance within our body. As this flavour assists in the downward function to help the kidneys and bladder it is also beneficial for relieving vomitting, hiccups, panting and coughing. Salty foods are sea vegetables like seaweeds, miso, soy sauce, sea salt and foods in natural brine. Although they are not salty, walnuts, blackbeans and goji berries help this element of water.
SOUR FOR WOOD
Sour astringes. It has a constrictive nature and can quickly boost energy. It is cool and has an inwards movement which can relieve nausea and vomiting and help minimise bloating. It assists the liver to filter and nourish the blood, helps the gall bladder to store bile produced by the liver to process fats and oils and also ensures the livers energy is free flowing. Sour foods include sauerkraut, oranges, lemons and limes, sourdough bread, wheat, tomato, soy sauce, pickles, vinegar.
The 2 common flavor cravings are:
• sweet - the earth element
Mainly relates to the spleen, our main digestive organ in Chinese Medicine.
You can incorporate more orange foods like sweet potato, pumpkin, oats and roast veggies and reduce the intake of fruits if you are consuming more than 2 serves a day including juice and refined sugars.
• salty - water element
Mainly relates to the kidneys.
Add things like miso and seaweed, black beans, walnuts, minimise stress and avoid high laden salty processed foods.
I hope you have found this blog interesting and you have learnt a few things about how important incorporating all the flavours is and how they assist our body to function. There is lots more to cover about food therapy so stay tuned.