Learn the five elements from Chinese medicine and how these correspond to the five tastes.
Water – Salty
Wood – Sour
Fire – Bitter
Earth – Sweet
Metal – Pungent
The five elements and the five tastes. Welcome, I’m Logan Christopher from Super Man Herbs [Note that was our old name, now we are Lost Empire Herbs] and here I want to talk about one of the major models of Chinese medicine and how this corresponds to the different tastes that you may find not only in your food, but of course in your herbs as well. This is a very important model that kind of governs just about everything, and it’s really taken from observing nature. So, we have the five elements here. And this is a little different from what most people may be used to with the four elements. This is just what the Chinese use. You have water, wood, fire, earth and metal, a little bit different from water, fire, earth, and air, which is often seen. And of course, in the picture here, you can see that with each of these elements you see the major and minor, the Yin and Yang organs, or Meridians of the body as well.
Now this is different than the Ayuvedic model. They also correspond to the elements. They use, five elements. They use the different ones with those other four we talked about (water, fire, earth, and air) and the ether. And then correspond two tastes each of them, but that’s a topic for another time.
Here we’re talking about the Chinese model and how they use it. Now the five elements are often also called the five seasons or the five rhythms and go by other names. And the idea is really that with each one of these, you have a different corresponding aspect of nature. Here we’re talking about the taste so let’s dive into it.
Table of Contents
Water Element – Salt Taste
Starting with the water element. We have the salty taste. This is a pretty easy one to remember if you just think in terms of salt water and if you look a little bit deeper with the water element, you have the kidneys and bladder, right? This is kind of our filtration and excretion system of the water, of the body, which has a lot to do with the minerals, aka the salty tastes. The salt taste is not just salt itself, although that’s a piece of it, but also has to do largely with the mineral taste because basically that’s what salt happens to be.
Wood Element – Sour Taste
Let’s move on to the wood element here. We have this sour taste corresponding to the wood element with the liver and gallbladder. Now, with the sour taste, the most notable example of that would be citrus fruits, right? We have oranges, lemons, limes, that sort of thing. But many fruits are actually sour. Berries are sour, definitely have some sweetness to them, but it depends on how ripe they are. Pomegranates, many other fruits. Often with fruits, part of the sour taste is because of vitamin C. If you’ve ever tried just straight ascorbic acid, you know, it’s a pretty sour tasting substance. But along with vitamin C, you have bioflavonoids and other things that lend that sour taste.
Another aspect of the sour taste is various forms of acid. Citric acid, which is found in those citrus fruits, but also ascetic acid as is found in vinegar. And if we look at fermented foods, these all tend to be sour as well from the production of these acids. So you have a couple of different types of sour taste. All of them correspond to the wood element.
Fire Element – Bitter Taste
Next up, we have fire. Now when you think of fire initially you might think of pungency or the spicy taste, but that just doesn’t happen to be the case. A way to think about fire corresponding to the bitter taste is there kind of working a little bit in opposite, right? If you have a fire, you kind of have outward expression of a lot of energy going on and that often happens with the fire element that can get out of control, burn too bright, that sort of thing.
Well, the bitter taste has a cool in downward bearing action. If you’ve ever tasted something extremely bitter, you may notice that it can actually send shivers down your spine, right? So this bitter taste can help to dampen the fire when that may be needed. So the bitter taste, it’s trying to close down the fire. That’s one way you can think of the fire element corresponding to bitter.
Earth Element – Sweet Taste
With the earth element, we have the sweet taste. To me, this is a pretty easy one to understand. Easy correspondence with the earth element. We have the spleen as well as the stomach. Now the spleen in Chinese medicine is a really, really, really important meridian. It has to do with the metabolism of the body as well as having a huge function on the immune system.
In the West, we look at the spleen or the pancreas, right? It’s an organ that basically does just a single job, which is the regulation of insulin and blood sugar. So if we think about the sweet taste, right? Sugar for instance, it’s going to increase blood sugar. The spleen or the pancreas has to act on that and then get to work. So it’s a pretty easy thing to see right there.
Now with the sweet taste, it’s not just sugar, right? Although we have an overabundance of that in the West, too much sugar and everything. Sweet also has to do with more even just the presence of carbohydrates; a sweet potatoes, rice, those sorts of things are sweet, of course, it’s just a little bit more subtle.
Another way you can think about this, if you have an earth type of person, these people do tend toward obesity, do tend toward diabete,s because they often need too much sweet food and the spleen just can’t keep up with it.
Metal Element – Pungent Taste
Now we move onto the metal element. Everything to do with the lungs and the colon or the large intestine. Here the taste is pungent. Now this is very similar to spicy, although there can be some other sort of pungent action. It’s a really sort of a dispersive or energy that kind of moves outward in the mouth.
A one way you can think of this as if you have something really spicy, oftentimes start breathing pretty heavily, right? And that’s the lungs, the major organ of the metal element.
Why Taste is Important
So that is our five tastes, water salty, wood sour, fire is bitter, earth is sweet and metal is pungent. This is important to note because these tastes correspond to these elements which then correspond to the meridians as well as other things and thus when you are eating just normal foods, but also taking herbs, those tastes can include you into some of the action that is going to take place within the body.
This is one of the reasons that people were able to figure out what on earth does without having scientific instruments or double blind studies thousands of years ago, right? They observe nature. They noticed what was happening and they noticed that there was this clue that sour things tended to work on the liver and gallbladder, not just organs but the meridian systems and all the other things that work along with that as well.
So you do want to taste these things, and now in the West we tend to focus completely on sweet foods and salty foods of these five tastes. Some people like pungency, some people like sour, almost no one likes bitter, right?
But that means by not tasting the full sort of rainbow of taste, you aren’t going to get all the benefits. You’re not going to be balanced across these five elements. Now I’m not saying you need equal amounts of these, that’s not the case because different people have different proportions of these elements within themselves, but it’s important to note that you will want some of all of these tastes. It’s going to be really important. It’s not that one thing is better than another. Sweet is not better than bitter. Instead there are different flavors. Learn to enjoy them all for what they are and that’s going to help you to have even better health moving into the future.
Schisandra – The Five Flavor Fruit
One thing I have to talk about for talking about the five tastes is schisandra, which is also known as the five flavor fruit. This is one of the top herbs in Chinese medicine that does wide range of different things. Here’s the cool thing about it, it’s sort of claim to fame, one of them anyway, is that it has all five flavors within it.
Now, when you taste is schisandra, you’ll predominantly noticed the sour taste. Sometimes people also talk about astringent taste, which is sometimes called the six taste, but sometimes it’s all labeled like a mouth feel. You’ll notice that sour taste, but if you taste more subtly, if you kind of tune your sense as to what’s going on, you’ll notice there’s some pungency there, some bitterness, some saltiness, and some sweetness as well.
So, what that means is that schisandra is working on all five elements. It’s corresponding to all those different meridians and thus it is doing a lot within the human body. People sometimes ask me, what does schisandra do? I say a little bit of everything. It’s really amazing thing, so if you want to sort of understand the five flavors a little bit more, I do recommend you try some schisandra and tune your senses subtlely to those five flavors and you’ll get an experience kind of unlike anything else you’ll ever see because things tend to not have all five flavors within one substance.
There’s a lot more that can be said about the five elements and the five tastes, but I hope you enjoyed this video and got something out of it. Thanks for listening.