Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has a very different and holistic way of looking at the body and at health. This system uses five natural elements to metaphorically describe the relationship between nature and the body’s life force.
In this system, poor health is caused by imbalances in or negative influences on one or more of these Elements. Some of the things that can negatively affect the Elements include seasonal changes, weather conditions, certain foods, and stress.
Your sense of vitality and mood depend on these Elements. That’s why we’re going to give you some safe, effective, and gentle natural remedies to improve the Wood Element and the health of your liver.
The 5 Elements in TCM
The Five Elements are each associated with a season and work in tandem to support each other and to improve and maintain your health. These elements are known as:
The wood element is associated with spring and includes the liver and gallbladder. When it’s functioning correctly it impacts the muscles, tendons, joints and eyes, affecting movement and vision. The liver produces enzymes that increase blood and blood quality, helping to nourish every cell and prevent chronic pain, nerve damage, spasm and other discomforts. Muscle health impacts vision, neck and body stiffness, and digestive and chest discomfort.
The fire element is linked to summer and includes the heart, circulation, small intestine, and triple heater, a meridian which helps to control body temperature and blood pressure. Strong heart health also supports positive moods, mental clarity, memory, and emotional balance.
This is the stomach and spleen and helps to support digestion and the absorption of nutrients and it’s associated with late summer.
Fall is associated with the metal element. Encompassing the lungs, large intestine, and the skin, this element supports proper breathing, the absorption of minerals, and the elimination of wastes.
Winter is associated with the water element. This element is made up of the kidney and the urinary bladder, this element supports your body’s water balance, hormone balance, adrenal energy, immunity to illness, and chronic fatigue.
Photo by Joel & Jasmin Førestbird
The Importance of the Wood Element
Spring is the time of renewal and growth. It’s also associated with the wood element, which makes this time of year the best time to focus on the health of the liver and gallbladder.
The wood element includes your liver and gallbladder and the importance of these to your overall health can’t be downplayed. When the liver or gallbladder is sluggish or unhealthy, it can cause a whole range of problems.
For example, a stuck or sluggish liver can cause symptoms such as stiffness, pain, constipation, allergies, rash, or irritability. And bile that becomes stuck can result in problems like jaundice, fever, aches, allergies, headaches, hypertension, rashes, or other inflammatory problems.
Unfortunately, many people ignore liver health until something goes wrong. This is even more dangerous in the modern world. The need for liver and blood cleansing has increased recently because of pollution, medical drugs, radiation, pesticides, highly processed foods and daily stress.
If you want to be healthy, then you can’t ignore this vital Element.
Poor Health as an Evil Wind
Each element is impacted for better or worse by certain “injurious” climates and the wood element is particularly affected by wind. Ancient Chinese medical texts describe illnesses, among other things, as carried by “evil” or “perverse” winds. In this system, these winds may carry infectious diseases as well as occasional discomforts. The nature of wind is change, which refers to pains or spasms that come and go or travel throughout the body. This also refers to the way certain emotions flare and subside.
In TCM, these evil winds have to be grounded. People have been using spring herbal tonics to ground evil winds since the first time an ancient woke up in his cave with a stiff neck and ate some fresh grass or bitter, sour flowers. Spring tonics can also be used to cleanse the liver and gallbladder and improve the balance of the Wood Element.
How Certain Tastes Improve the Wood Element
In TCM, foods with certain tastes are said to positively impact the Wood Element. Here are the tastes that are most helpful for your liver and other parts of the Wood Element:
Foods that have a pungent taste can stimulate the liver and increase heat in the body. These foods will also increase digestive and enzymatic action, positively impacting the wood element. Some helpful foods with these actions include:
- Strong tea
- Certain warming spices such as clove and allspice, can stimulate the liver and increase heat
Bitter and Sour
Bitter and sour foods purge the liver, increase the flow of bile to help with cleansing and elimination, and increase urination. Some of the most helpful foods for this include:
- Green and matcha tea
- Bitter green vegetables
- Green gourds such as zucchini
- Sour fruits such as guava and pomegranate
- Green fruits that aid digestion such as green papaya (and its seeds) and green apple
- Herbs such as parsley, dill, mint, cumin, coriander, fennel, and black cardamom
You can use these foods separately, at different times, but the most effective way to cleanse your liver with food is with a two-punch approach. This will allow you to both stimulate and cleanse your liver and help to correct dietary, seasonal, or emotional upsets.
You can adopt this approach very simply by drinking green tea with ginger and lemon juice. However, if you need a stronger approach than there are herbs that will help.
Photo by Ripley
Strong Liver Cleansing Herbs for Spring
Traditional medicines have long urged people to use “spring tonics”. These taste strongly bitter and have powerful cleansing effects in the liver. These tonics often contain bitter tasting herbs, which have additional antibiotic uses.
Some of the best traditional spring cleansing tonics include:
Aloe is alkaline, very healing for burns and has laxative effects. The plant peel is extremely bitter and should be avoided in favor of the inner pulp. The inner pulp is sold in health food stores and can be taken internally to prevent:
- Digestive cramps
- PMS pain
- Bad breath
- Liver pain
- Allergic reactions to chemicals
This very bitter wild herb is also called “golden thread”. It’s used to prevent spring headaches and allergies as well as to reduce fever. According to studies, Coptis can help:
- Kill bacteria and viruses
- Regulate the immune system
- Relieve muscle spasms
- Alleviate certain heart related problems like high blood pressure, arterial plaque build-up, and irregular heart rate
- Stabilize blood sugar levels
- Prevent or improve gastric ulcers
- Alleviate diarrhea
- Reduce inflammation
- Prevent clots
It has also been used to help correct digestive issues, skin conditions like psoriasis, and to help fight parasite infections.
The neem leaf is very bitter, but the bark of the tree is less so and the bark powder is fairly tasty when it’s added to coffee like chicory.
Neem is an important herb in Ayurveda to help purge inflammation and toxins. It is antibiotic and can be used for:
- Intestinal worms
- Eye problems
- Stomach upset
- Poor appetite
- Skin ulcers
- Gum disease
- Liver problems
- Birth control
- Cardiovascular disease
Photo by Alexander Mils
A Simple, Pleasant Liver Flush
You can also help to improve your liver and gallbladder health with a liver flush. A liver flush brings blood impurities to the liver to be excreted, stimulates bile, and has laxative effects. There are many varieties of liver flushes, some of which include pungent cayenne or ginger. However, the safest, mildest three ingredients are olive oil, apple juice, and lemon.
Here’s how to make this gentle liver flush:
- Add up to one tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil to one glass of unfiltered (cloudy) apple juice
- Add a little lemon juice
- Drink once daily
Make sure that you keep your olive oil in a clouded bottle out of the sun to preserve its health benefits.
Blood Building Spring Tonics
Both men and women can benefit from blood building tonics. These tonics are full of essential vitamins and minerals and can help to build more red blood cells. Low levels of red blood cells can occur because of digestive weakness, illness, medicines, chronic anemia from an under-nourishing diet, injury, childbirth, or surgery.
Even if you don’t test as anemic, this tonic will help promote organ activity, vitality, and immunity. Some signs that you need a blood building tonic are:
- Skin pallor
- Troubled or non-existent menstruation in women.
- Low enthusiasm
- Weak muscles
- Nearsightedness or other vision problems
- Violent emotions
There are many traditional remedies that can help reverse or prevent these symptoms. The most effective is:
Liver A Formula
This is a famous liver-supporting herbal formula and contains three important tonic herbs. It can be slow cooked for at least 8 hours as a water extract or enjoyed as a tea decoction. It will help to protect heart health, and immunity, as well as complexion, vision, and memory. It may also help to improve chronic health problems associated with stress and aging.
The herbs that need to go in this tonic are:
A dried evergreen berry which supports the function of all Five Elements and has been used to treat coughs, liver conditions, stomach disorders, and excess sweating due to weakness. This berry is an adaptogen, which means that it helps to counter stress. It’s also used to improve vitality and sleep and to alleviate fatigue.
Energetically, schisandra moves qi circulation toward the surface of the skin and eyes, which is why it is recommended to reduce skin and eye inflammation and improve complexion and vision.
These are known as “immortality mushrooms” and are highly nutritious and anti-inflammatory. Reishi mushrooms can be used to:
- Reduce stress
- Correct high blood pressure
- Enhance the immune system
- Improve sleep
- Lower cholesterol levels
Salvia Miltiorrhiza Bunge
Salvia Milt, aka danshen, is used orally for:
- Circulation problems
- Ischemic stroke
- Angina pectoris
- Menstrual problems
- Chronic hepatitis
- Abdominal masses
- Insomnia due to palpitations and tight chest
- Skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema
Photo by Annie Spratt
TCM is a gentle and effective way to look at health and wellbeing. Using this system and an understanding of the 5 elements and the flow of nature will help you to holistically and naturally improve your health overall as well as alleviate specific complaints.
Roger Green’s “The Longevity Diet” is all about gentle, natural healing remedies like these. You’ll learn all about these safe remedies at Academy of Healing Nutrition, New York, London and Online. Contact us today for more information.