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Five Flavorful Medicines

“Dietary therapy should be the first step when one treats a disease. Only when this is unsuccessful should one try medicines.”  - Sun Si Miao of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618—907)

We all enjoy meals with flavors that warm our palate with an array of surprises, often one flavor enhancing what comes next. Food is one of the most delightful joys in living, and there is no question that we all love to have a good meal. But did you know that the food you eat can have energetic properties that act similar to medicine?

The five main pillars in Chinese medicine are Dietary Therapy, Acupuncture, Herbs, Feng Shui (the art of placement to appeal to the ancestors) and Meditation. Dietary therapy is a method of treating the body based on the relationship between our bodies and the outside world in what we eat. This makes balancing our foods to nourish all the elements of our body, spirit and emotions very crucial. There was a model developed to help us find balance in all we eat. The ancient sages categorized foods not by their mineral content, protein source or by any pyramidal guidelines, but rather by what they called the Five Flavors.

The Five Flavors represent the tastes of food but also its energetic properties and which organs they affect. The flavors are Sour, Bitter, Sweet, Spicy, and Salty. If balanced in each meal, these collective flavors ought to bring optimal nourishment to the body and keep it free of disease:


Sour is an astringent that caters to our wood influenced organs such as the Liver and Gall Bladder. Sour foods such as olives, tart apples, lemons and sauerkraut help our liver to detoxify and help the gall bladder get rid of excess bile to keep stones or accumulations from forming.


Bitter foods like raw cacao (chocolate), coffee, and dandelion root affect the heart and small intestines. These foods create an energetic downward movement to help with circulation and elimination.


Sweetness, a downfall for most of us, if consumed in moderation, has a very healthy attribute to the spleen and stomach. Sweet foods like syrup, yams, and sweet berries can cool the heat in the stomach and nourish digestion.


Spicy, a note found in ginger, green onions, garlic, chili and alcohol, is a charged flavor that creates an upward and warming motion. Ever notice that if you eat something really spicy it causes you to sweat and your nose to run? This upward movement of spicy affects the lungs and their ability to influence the immune system.


Lastly, there is the Salty flavor. This flavor, as found in natural salt additives, has a downward motion and affects the kidneys and bladder. This downward motion stimulates the kidneys to filter and move fluids out of the body.


It is only when we begin to have an excess of any one flavor that an overabundance can form in the body. In turn, this creates an imbalance where an excess of one flavor and deficiency of another accelerates a destructive cycle leading to disease. Knowledgeable balance of our food and the delicate pairing of our tastes allow us to live healthy and happy lives!

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