The Five Elements

And What They Say About You

Photo of the five elements

The Five Element system was created by the ancient Chinese as a way to understand our health and the world around us.  The model was founded through careful observation of the natural world.  When the Five Elements of Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water are in balance, we enjoy good health and are better able to ward off disease.  Each Element corresponds with a flavor: sour, bitter, sweet, pungent, and salty.   The Chinese stressed the importance of eating a variety of flavors with meals, as well as being careful to avoid eating any one flavor to excess.   Often, we crave the flavor of the Element that is most deficient in our bodies.   Which element do you identify with?

The Wood Element

The flavor of the Wood Element is sour.  It pertains to the Liver, and the season of spring.   Those with liver imbalances may have high blood pressure, tend toward anger (or repressing anger), eye problems, headaches or migraines, IBS, and PMS.  Wood type people are also often prone to overeating of rich foods and these types of foods are especially difficult for the Wood type to process.  Sour foods are good for Wood types because they help to break down rich, greasy foods.  Sour foods include lemons, limes, and vinegar, pickles, sauerkraut, sour apples.  A glass of warm water with lemon in it every morning is a great start to anyone’s day, especially the Wood type.

The Fire Element

The flavor of the Fire Element is bitter.  It pertains to the Heart and the season of summer.  Because the Heart system in Chinese medicine houses the spirit, emotional disturbances are common to the Fire type.   The Fire type is often very charismatic and loves socializing, but can be prone to heart problems as well as insomnia, anxiety, and is often easily startled.   Bitter foods are cooling in nature and can cool an overheated Heart (spirit), as well as clear infections.  Calming bitter herbs such as chamomile and valerian can be helpful.  Other bitter foods include romaine lettuce, rye, celery, asparagus, quinoa, and alfalfa, and small amounts of dark chocolate.  Coffee is bitter, but often can be too stimulating for those with a Fire imbalance.

The Earth Element

The flavor of the Earth Element is sweet.  It is associated with the digestive system in Chinese Medicine, and the season of summer.  The Earth type is the care giver who gets a stomachache with stress.  When in balance, an Earth type is strong and hard-working, taking care of themselves and others.  An out of balance Earth type has difficulty with their digestion and can be either too heavy or too thin even when they are eating correctly, and they tend to worry too much and feel lethargic.  Warm, cooked foods are good for the Earth type due to their weak digestion.  These types should eat less raw food (as it is hard to digest), less processed sweets and avoid too much dairy.   People with an earth imbalance often crave sweets, which can be damaging to the digestive system when eaten in excess.   Carrots, yams, squash, coconut, almonds, potatoes, honey and beets are good foods for the earth types, but not candy, cookies, etc.  Fruits have the sweet flavor, but can be too sweet for many earth types and should be eaten in moderation.

The Metal Element

The flavor of the Metal Element is pungent.  It pertains to the Lungs and immune system, the autumn season, and the emotion of grief.  Metal types like organization, structure and are self-disciplined and conscientious.  Metal types can have chronic phlegm in the respiratory system, or have seasonal allergies, frequent cold and flus, eczema, or issues with the large intestine.  Pungent foods are helpful clearing phlegm and helping the immune system ward off bacteria and viruses.  These include spicy foods (like chilies), members of the onion family, garlic, ginger, cabbage and radish.  Seaweeds are also good for the Lungs because they support the mucus membranes as do dark greens and orange vegetables (due to their high beta-carotene content).

The Water Element

The flavor of the Water Element is salty.  It pertains to the Kidneys, bones, reproductive system, and adrenal glands, the winter season, and the emotion of fear.   When out of balance, the Kidneys (our “essence”) are always deficient and can never be excess.  I tell my patients that, in Chinese medicine, their Kidneys are their energy bank account, and it is really hard to have too much in your bank account!  Too much work, stress, coffee, and alcohol, with too little time for rest and relaxation can deplete your Kidney energy, making you feel worn out or “wired and tired”.   The Kidneys benefit from salty foods such as fish, seaweed, barley, and millet.   Wild rice, oysters, string beans, yams, and raspberries are also helpful.  Another powerful way to replenish your energy storehouses with food is eating bone marrow.  You can make a broth out of organic bones, strain and freeze in ice cube trays.  Then you can heat up a little every day (1/2 cup or so) and drink it.  The western lifestyle being constantly on the go is a big drain on our Kidney storehouse, so anything we can do to replenish will help!

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