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The Five Flavors

The flavors of our food have a significance in Chinese medicine. Every food or herb has properties and are classified into 5 flavors and organ channels. When we consume food or herbs, these substances enter our gastrointestinal system to be digested and the energetic properties enter its pertaining organ, nourishing our body and allows us to sustain and promote health.

Sour or astringent food or herbs are said to be absorbed by our Liver and Gallbladder. They are internally and externally paired organs. The latter examples will be the same. Western medicine has made close correlations between these internally and externally paired organs. Something Chinese medicine has known for thousands of years. Bitter food or herbs are said to be absorbed by our Heart and Small Intestine, the sweet flavor by our Spleen and Stomach, the pungent flavor by our Lung and Large Intestine, the salty flavor by our Kidney and Bladder.

Sour or astringent (LV/GB) food or herbs absorbs and consolidates. It stops leakage of abnormal discharge of bodily fluids or essence. Ex: excessive perspiration, diarrhea, seminal emissions etc.

Bitter (HT/SI) food or herbs dries dampness and disperses, often clearing heat. Bitter flavor benefits conditions such as dampness and edema.

Sweet (SP/ST) food or herbs tonifies, harmonizes, and relaxes. It has a reinforcing and strengthening action often used for fatigue and deficiency. Deficiencies occur in different aspects in the body. Such as Qi, Blood, Yin, or Yang. Often times when someone has low energy, they may be drawn to sweet foods. Sweet foods and herbs can harmonize the undesirable effects of other herbs. It is used in acute pain as it helps relax and ease pain. Please note that we’re referencing natural sweet foods found in nature. Not the processed sugars that are so prevalent in our marketplace.

Pungent (LU/LI) food or herbs can disperse and invigorate. The dispersing function opens up the pores so that pathogen can be eliminated from the exterior of the body by promoting perspiration. An example is when a person catches the common cold. In Chinese medicine, it is said that many diseases are caused by stagnation. The pungent flavor can invigorate qi, blood, and bodily fluids. Examples of stagnation are tumors, menstrual pain, localized pain, edema etc.

Salty (KD/UB) food or herbs can soften and dissolve hard masses. It can also function to moisten and lubricate the intestines. Symptoms such as enlarged lymph nodes, lumps, cysts, goiter, masses can be softened and dissolved by salty herbs.

Next time you chew your food, be mindful of all flavors and textures. Delight your palate with the natural flavors that nature has to offer. Our body functions in an intricate and wondrous way. Stay healthy and feed it healthy and nutritious foods. Harmony and balance are the principles behind Chinese medicine. Herbs can help the body achieve this by supplementing the body in ways that are natural and non-toxic. Cheers to happy and healthy eating!

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