The Yin-Yang Taoist Concept of Food

One summer during my childhood, I had a very bad toothache that began around noontime. By 2:00 p.m., my toothache was so severe that I was begging for an acupuncture treatment. My mother told me that I had too much 'fire' and proceeded to go to our garden to get some herbs. I watched her wash and blend the herbs into a thick juice. The taste was miserably bitter. She proceeded to say that the bitter taste is good for quenching the fire and that I must drink the whole cup. Reluctantly, I drank the whole cup and managed to fall asleep right afterwards. When I woke up two hours later, not only was my toothache completely gone, I felt a sense of coolness and well-being throughout my whole body. I was able to resume my noisy and annoying teenage behavior immediately. Later, I found out the herb was Dandelion. It is a 'cooling' herb and frequently used for fire conditions such as toothache, headache and nose bleeds. There are many similar incidents like that throughout my childhood. As I began to learn Taoist and Chinese Classical Medicine, I realized my mother's cooking and food preparation has always been based on the Taoist principle of Yin and Yang. This principle is all about harmony and balance in food.This wisdom takes into consideration the energetic qualities and taste of food. All foods and herbs are classified as having Four Qualities and Five Tastes. The Four Qualities are hot, warm, cool and cold. The Five Taste are sweet, sour, pungent, bitter and salty. Hot foods invigorate and heat up the body. Warm foods gently warm up the body. Cool foods gently cool the body. Cold foods vigorously cleanse the body. When we are running a fever, we need cool foods to help reduce the fever such as drinking more water, ingesting watermelon and pears. When we are chilled in the winter, we need warm or hot foods to invigorate and get rid of the coldness. We would utilize foods such as ginger, cinnamon, hot soups, lamb and beef.

Foods and herbs have Five Tastes. The sweet taste is nourishing and calming. Just ask any woman who suffers from premenstrual moodiness which taste they crave most at that time.  Because sweet foods can calm and quiet down the nervous system, it is the flavor we crave the most when we are experiencing inner stress. Sour is astringent and consolidating.

“By observing these qualities of foods and combining them in a balanced and harmonious manner, the Chinese believe that we can achieve good health and a wonderful sense of well-being and balance.”

This means it is very good for 'holding up' our body especially after sweating, bleeding, diarrhea, excessive urination, excessive ejaculations and fatigue after excessive orgasms, organ prolapsed and skin drooping. Berries, oranges, vinegars are just some of the sour foods. Pungent is dispersing and moving. In the chill of winter, we tend to crave more spicy and pungent foods to warm up our body by moving our circulation. Bitter is purging and drying. Foods like coffee or tea can be very helpful to purge and move our digestion and improve our bowel movements. We also crave bitter foods when we need to have an energy or mood pickup. Salty is softening in nature. We use salts as meat tenderizers to 'soften' the meat. We crave salt when we need to relax our body.

By observing these food qualities and combining them in a balanced and harmonious manner, the Chinese believe that we can achieve good health and a wonderful sense of well-being and balance. If we overindulge in one particular taste, this can create illness to our body. If you are interested in learning more regarding the principles surrounding foods, please consult my brother Maoshing Ni's book, "The Tao of Nutrition" and my mother's book, "101 Vegetarian Delights" and "Chinese Vegetarian Delights". You will find that these seemingly mysterious principles are surprisingly simple to use and apply in our daily life.

Enjoy your food to good health!