The Five Flavours Of Herbs

The five flavours of herbs refer to pungent (or acrid), sweet, sour (or astringent), bitter and salty, which are distinguished from each other by the sense of taste.

The ancient Chinese distinguished various actions of herbs through a very long process of clinical experience and they came to the conclusion that:

  • the pungent herbs can disperse,
  • the sour herbs can constrict,
  • the sweet herbs can slow down,
  • the bitter herbs can harden and
  • salty herbs can soften up.

This was clearly recorded in The Yellow Emperor's Classics of Internal Medicine. Subsequently, Chinese physicians have further discovered that:

  • the pungent herbs can disperse and promote the flow of energy,
  • the sour herbs can constrict and obstruct,
  • the sweet herbs can tone up and harmonize,
  • the bitter herbs can dry up and cause diarrhea and
  • the salty herbs can soften up and promote downward movements.

In addition, there is another classification called tasteless flavour, which can help dampness seep and promote urination. But, as tasteless flavor is similar to sweet flavour, the two are generally classified under the same flavor, which is why a celebrated Chinese herbalist has said, "Tasteless flavour is associated with sweet flavour."


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