Food as Herbal Medicine (Part 2)

Beachside Acupuncture blog: Tastes in TCM

After reading our last blog post "Food as Herbal Medicine (Part 1)" you know that Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a very different way of looking at diet, and you now understand how the intrinsic temperature of a food can be used to bring balance to the body. Let's dive even deeper in diet therapy to see how the tastes of food can do the same.


In TCM, the five main yin organs are the Lungs, Heart, Liver, Kidney, and Spleen, and they each have correlating attributes (such as emotions). Each organ system has a corresponding taste - pungent, bitter, sour, salty, and sweet respectively - and the tastes also have actions independent of this relationship. Does that sound confusing? Breaking it down might help:


Pungent (acrid)

  • Includes food with a strong and possibly spicy taste, like onion, garlic, and cinnamon
  • Influences the Lung system
  • Moves qi and can therefore help with stress
  • Induces sweating and can therefore help kick out a common cold


  • Influences the Heart system
  • Clears heat
  • Drains downward and can therefore help coughing, vomiting, or any other condition of something going up that shouldn't be and can promote bowel movements
  • Dries dampness, which is involved with conditions like discharge and phlegm

Sour (astringent)

  • Influences the Liver system
  • Stops leaking and can therefore help with excess sweating or other issues


  • Influences the Kidney system
  • Softens hardness and resolves masses, i.e. lumps in the body
  • Drains downward and can help with certain types of constipation


  • Influences the Spleen system
  • Moistens the body and can therefore help with cramping
  • Aids digestion
  • Tonifies and harmonizes the body

The only taste category not assigned to a specific organ system is "bland". Bland foods promote urination and drain downward, which can make them helpful diuretics for people with urinary issues, swelling conditions, etc. Keep in mind that balance is key, and there is such thing as too much of a good thing, i.e. too much sweet can be cloying - picture a goopy mess trying to move through your body - and too much pungent can be drying. Aim to get a bit of each flavor in your diet regularly, and add more of the ones that you think you might need, remembering to always choose whole, natural foods as your sources for each taste.

Kathleen Ellerie is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the owner of Beachside Community Acupuncture. She loves providing affordable acupuncture to the residents of Addison, Dallas, and Farmers Branch, Texas, and educating the general public on how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can treat everything from pain to infertility to stress and beyond. Click "Book Now" at the top of this page to book an appointment or feel free to contact her at (214) 417-2260.