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6.Do the taste and the color of herbs influence their function?

6. What is the relationship between the taste of herbs and the internal organs, and what is the relationship between their color and the internal organs? What are the clinical applications?

 According to the Five Elements theory, the colors and tastes of herbs particularly influence certain internal organs and meridians. This relationship suggests a method of selecting herbs to treat disorders of certain internal organs and meridians. In clinical practice, the therapeutic effects will be better if the combinations of the taste and the color as well as the function of herbs are considered. Furthermore, in this way, the formula is smaller and more efficient because each herb has multiple functions.

Herbs with a sour taste enter the Liver and Gall Bladder. Green in Chinese is called ‘Qing’ which also links with the Liver. For instance, Shan Zhu Yu (Corni fructus), Chi Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix rubra) and Bai Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix lactiflora) are sour and enter the Liver; Qing Pi (Citri reticulatae viride pericarpium), Qing Hao (Artemisiae annuae herba) and Qing Dai (Indigo naturalis) have a green color and they enter the Liver too.

Herbs with a bitter taste enter the Heart. Red in Chinese is called ‘Hong’, ‘Chi’, ‘Dan’ or ‘Zhu’ which link with the Heart. For instance, Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizoma) and Ku Zhu Ye (Bambusae amarae folium) are bitter in taste and enter the Heart; Dan Shen (Salviae miltiorrhizae radix), Chi Shao Yao (Paeoniae radix rubra) and Hong Hua (Carthami flos) are red in color and also enter the Heart and promote the Blood circulation.

Herbs with a sweet taste enter the Spleen. For instance, Gan Cao (Glycyrrhizae radix), Long Yan Rou (Longanae arillus) and Da Zao (Jujubae fructus) are sweet and enter the Spleen. Yellow in Chinese is called ‘Huang’ and it links with the Spleen. The color of many herbs can turn to yellow or brown when they are dry-fried or baked. They are easily digested and accepted by Stomach and Spleen. In this way, it is believed yellow enters the Spleen, such as Zhi Huang Qi (processed Astragali radix), Chao Bai Zhu (dry-fried Atractylodis macrocephalae rhizoma), Jiao Mai Ya (deep dry-fried Hordei fructus germinatus), Jiao Shen Qu (deep dry-fried Massa medicata fermentata) and Jiao Shan Zha (deep dryfried Crataegi fructus).

Herbs that have a pungent taste enter the Lung. White in Chinese is called ‘Bai’ and it links with the Lung too. For instance, Ma Huang (Ephedrae herba), Bo He (Menthae herba) and Sheng Jiang (Zingiberis rhizoma recens) are pungent and enter the Lung meridian; Shi Gao (Gypsum), Chuan Bei Mu (Fritillariae cirrhosae bulbus), Yu Zhu (Polygonati odorati rhizoma) and Yin Er (Tremellae) are white in color and also enter the Lung.

Herbs with a salty taste enter the Kidney. Black in Chinese is called ‘Hei’, ‘Xuan’ or ‘Wu’ which linkswith the Kidney too. For instance, Rou Cong Rong (Cistanchis herba) and Xuan Shen (Scrophulariae radix) are salty and enter the Kidney; Xuan Shen is also black in color, as is Hei Zhi Ma (Sesami semen nigricum) which enters the Kidney too.

It must be mentioned, however, that it is not always true that the five kinds of color of herbs must enter the correspondent organs. For instance, Huang Qin (Scutellariae radix) enters the Lung, Huang Lian (Coptidis rhizoma) enters the Heart, and Huang Bai (Phellodendri cortex) and Sheng Di Huang (Rehmanniae radix) enter the Kidney although they are all yellow in color.

This consideration of the characteristics of herbs is also applied to clinical practice in other ways. A small amount of herbs or food with a certain taste will benefit the corresponding organ while a large amount of a certain taste will damage the same organ. For instance, sweetness may strengthen the function of the Spleen, but an excess of sweet herbs or food may injure the transportation and transformation function of the Spleen; sourness can soften the Liver, but an excess of sour herbs or food may injure the Liver.

In order to enhance specific functions of herbs or let herbs enter specific meridians, herbs can be processed with vinegar, honey and salt. For instance, Chai Hu (Bupleuri radix) and Xiang Fu (Cyperi rhizoma) have a stronger effect in spreading the Liver-Qi after being processed by vinegar; Bai Zhu (Atractylodis macrocephalae rhizoma), Mai Ya (Hordei fructus germinatus), Shen Qu (Massa medicate fermentata) and Shan Zha (Crataegi fructus) are more effective in promoting digestion after they are dry-fried till they turn brown; Zhi Mu (Anemarrhenae rhizoma) and Huang Bai (Phellodendri cortex) are stronger in reducing Empty-Fire in the Kidney after they have been processed by salt.

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