Thursday, January 31, 2008


I hadn’t expected my post titles to represent the Elements theme, however, it appears that just as life evolves, so do Blog titles. Therefore, in keeping with my newfound theme, I decided to focus today’s discussion on the Earth Element.

As a background, I’ve recently completed a nearly 4 year course on the study of Chinese herbal medicine, Western Herbal medicine, and Ayruvedic herbal medicine through the East West School of Herbal Medicine. Add this to 17 years of studying and teaching about western herbal medicine. To say the least, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is no easy subject for our Western minds to grasp.

Us Westerners are so accustomed to taking a pill for this symptom or that. Western herbal medicine has kept that basic Western premise of taking an herb for this or an herb for that. Whole sections of high-end, alternative, organic groceries have been created in keeping with that line of thinking—take Echincea for colds, take St. John's Wort for depression, take Chamomile to calm down, etc.

The Chinese theory is W-A-Y different. It is so different, in fact, that it is downright difficult to grasp. However, I’ve spent countless hours diligently studying these concepts and theories, and I’m finally feeling pretty solid in my understanding of TCM theory and diagnosis.

Since it was being pondered upon in the BTNO, I’ll admit that one motivation for beginning a blog was to use it as a way to expand my knowledge of herbal medicine simply by writing about it and sharing it with others. No better way to learn than to try to teach it to others! However, my interests are far too vast to stick strictly to one topic, so be prepared for my musings to venture far beyond the herbal realm.

Back to my Element theme, however…

The origin of TCM theory is lost in prehistory, before writing was invented. Written language started in China during the Shang Dynasty in 1766 BC. The writings on medicine at that time project back in history over two thousand years. Ancient works are alluded to in the prehistoric period, but are now lost as "legendary".

TCM theory discusses the Five Element Relationships. To be sure, this is one of the most confusing topics I encountered during my studies.

The five elements include: Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water.

Each element is associated with a specific bodily organ.

Wood is associated with the Liver.
Fire is associated with the Heart.
Earth is associated with the Spleen.
Metal is associated with the Lungs.
Water is associated with the Kidneys.

While I could go into great detail about the relationships between the elements, the organs, and how they all relate to physical health, I’ll save that for another day.

The Earth element is said to stabilize. The Yin organ associated with the Earth element is the Spleen and the Yang organ is the stomach. The Spleen in TCM is responsible for taking the energy of food and transforming it into physical energy or Qi. By eating foods that are neither too cooling (such as ice water, ice cream, too many raw veggies and fruits, and juices), nor too warming (such as alcohol, fried or greasy foods, or the excessive consumption of spicy food) we can help to maintain balance within the spleen and stomach, and thus, our Earth element.

Something to strive for, to be sure! In our modern, harried, and fast-paced world, it is nearly impossible to eat as our bodies were intended to be fed. And despite the fact that we will never be able to eat perfectly well all the time, we can surely try to do things right part of the time.

While many diets advocate a variety of dietary options: low carb/high protein, low fat/low calorie, low flavor/low excitement, etc., TCM advocates eating meals based on climate, bodily constitution, season, and stages of wellness or sickness. General recommendations include eating primarily whole grains and legumes, steamed or otherwise cooked greens and veggies, and moderate amounts of protein.

Enough TCM theory for my brain, this morning.

We’ll find another element to focus on later.

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