The Five Elements of Food

August 6, 2019

In Qigong and Universal Tao, we work with the Five Elements: As they manifest in the organs of our Physical Body, in the feelings of our Mental-Emotional Body and in the energies of our Qi Body.  After a bit of time learning about the Five Elements, it really becomes second nature and a powerful way to navigate life.

We can expand this even further with Five Element Foods.  Although there are some subtleties, you can start today by just noting the colors of your food:

Red Foods : Fire Element : Summertime
White Foods : Metal Element : Autumn
Black and Blue Foods : Water Element : Winter
Green Foods : Wood Element : Spring
Yellow and Ocher Foods : Earth Element : Seasonal Transitions

You can take it a little further when you pair color with taste:

Sweet : stomach and digestive system : Earth
Bitter : heart and cardiovascular system : Fire
Sour : liver and nervous system : Wood
Salty : kidney and endocrine : Water
Pungent : lungs, lymph and immune system : Metal

In traditional Chinese medicine, it’s thought that if you are ill in certain parts of your body or organs, or if you are weak in certain of the Elements, you should consume certain colors/elements of food to heal and vitalize; i.e., if you have kidney issues, you should eat black/water color food, such as seaweed, and black sesame.

Here are some random collections of Element-Foods:

Red/Fire/Heart Food
Good for your heart, small intestine, and brain: Ccarrots, tomato, sweet potato, strawberry, chili, red beans, red pepper, jujube, goji berry, dragon fruit, apple, brown sugar, and anything else that is a shade of red.

Green/Wood/Liver Food
Good for your liver, gallbladder, eyes, muscle, and joints: SO MANY green foods, but here are a few: mung bean, Chinese leeks, wasabi, and all the green vegetables and fruits.

Yellow/Earth/Spleen Food
Good for your digestive system and spleen: Yellow is also a common color in food. A partial list:  sweet or baby corn, yellow sweet potato, taro, oats, pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow pepper, soybeans, egg yolk, bean curd, ginger, orange, star fruit, lemon, pineapple, papaya, peanut, walnut, honey, and more.

White/Metal/Lung Food
Good your lungs, large intestine, nose and respiratory system, and skin: Rice and noodles, lotus seed, daikon, onion, garlic, bitter melon, winter melon, broccoli, bamboo shoots, white wood ear, milk, tofu, soy milk, Asian pear, banana, almond, white sesame, rock sugar, and more

Black & Indigo/Water/Kidney Food
Good for your kidneys, bones, ears, and reproductive organs: Wood ear, seaweed, shiitake mushrooms, eggplant, black beans, raisins, blueberry, black grapes, black sesame, black vinegar, tea, sweet bean sauce, and more.

But this little list is just a new lens through which to see your food.  It is not a rigid prescription!  The best approach to Five Element Eating is the same as any healthful diet:  Eat local, fresh and colorfully.


南方朱雀 – Vermilion Bird of the South

July 15, 2019

Illustration by Brady Gurley  ig: @gurley_b

The Wu Zhang, four celestial creatures, each have their direction and season.  Summer is overseen by the Vermilion Bird of the South… and as we move through July into August she is here, wings outstretched, in her full glory.

The Vermilion Bird is one of the Four Symbols of the Chinese constellations. According to Wu Xing, the Taoist five-element system, it represents theFire element, the direction south, and the season summer. So it is sometimes called the Vermilion bird of the South (南方朱雀, Nán Fāng Zhū Què). It is known as Zhū Què in Chinese, Suzaku in Japanese, Jujak in Korean and Chu Tước in Vietnamese.

The constellation of the South represents summer, the element fire and vigor –  it embodies a strong yang energy.

According to the legend, the vermilion bird was born in a vermilion cave at the South pole, before he was worshiped as a constellation and as the king of the feathered.

The vermilion bird of the South is often compared with the phoenix (fènghuáng) or even equated – however their relation is more  vicariously. As one of the five celestial animals the vermilion bird stands for the cosmic principle, the phoenix represents rather an earthly variant of this idea. Their symbolic meaning is nevertheless (or just therefore) very similar. Like the phoenix, the vermilion bird is full of elegance and beauty and represents the five human qualities: virtue, duty, ritually correct behavior, humanity and reliability. It is regarded as a guarantee for favorable opportunities and financial success.

Simultaneously it stands for energy, fire, zest for action and public reputation. The bird evokes the feelings of joy and confidence. Like any winged creature it embodies freedom, overview, self-confidence, ease and spontaneity.