The Five Flavours of Traditional Chinese Herbs

Traditional Chinese Herbs with different flavors demonstrate different actions in a herbal treatment.

The five flavors of Chinese medicinal herbs refer to the five different tastes, pungent, sweet, sour, bitter and salty, which can be tasted by your tongue. Some flavors are summarized according to their clinical actions:

Pungent:Pungent flavoured herbs have the action of dispersing and promoting circulation of qi and blood. Pungent medicinal herbs are generally indicated for exterior syndromes due to invasion of exogenous factors and syndromes of stagnation of qi and blood.

Sweet:Sweet flavoured herbs nourish, harmonise and provide moisten actions. Those sweet in flavor are generally indicated for deficiency syndromes, incoordination between the spleen and stomach, certain pain syndromes, constipation due to intestine-heat, cough due to lung-heat.

Sour:Sour flavor has absorbing, consolidating and astringent actions. Those sour in flavor are often used to treat incessant perspiration, chronic cough, chronic diarrhea, emission, spermatorrhea, enuresis, frequent micturition, prolonged metrorrhagia and metrostaxis, and prolonged leukorrhea, etc., caused by loss of essence due to asthenia of healthy qi.

Bitter:Bitter flavor has the actions of drying or resolving dampness, purging and lowering. Those bitter in flavor are used in wide range and often used for constipation due to fire-heat, dysphoria, cough due to adverse rising of lung-qi, damp-heat or cold-damp syndrome.

Salty: Salty flavor has the effects of softening hard nodes or masses and promoting defecation, etc., so salty medicinal herbs are often used for the syndromes such as scrofula, superficial nodule, abdominal mass and internal accumulation with dry stool.

In addition to the five flavors that are the basic tastes of Chinese medicinal herbs, there are also astringent and bland flavors. TCM holds that astringent flavor falls under the sour flavor category and bland flavor falls under the sweet, so they are still included in the five flavors. The actions of astringent flavor are very similar to those of sour flavor, which all have astringent action.

For example, Longgu (Os Draconis) and Mull (Concha Ostreae) can stop nocturnal emission, leucorrhea and profuse perspiration;  Chishizhi  (Halloysitum  Rubrum) and Yuyuliang (Limonitum) can arrest diarrhea.  Those bland in flavor such as Zhuling (Polyporus) and Fuling (Poria) possess the actions of removing dampness and promoting diuresis, and are often used for edema and dysuria.

The nature and flavor are two kinds of medicinal properties that every Chinese herb possesses, and each of Chinese medicinal herbs must have the both properties. The natures and flavors deal with the pharmacological properties separately in different aspects.

These and other Traditional Chinese practices all form part of TCM, each adding a little to the history and methodology of Acupuncture and Herbs.

Eca Brady is a fully licensed physician of Chinese Medicine BSc(Ac) MBAcC PGDip(CHM), practicing Acupuncture and Chinese Herbs from Harley Street, London. Make an appointment for an acupuncture or Herbs treatment and we can discuss how we can help you, to read more about Eca click here.

This article includes excerpts from TCM Windows.

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