The Yellow Emperor’s Classic of Internal Medicine, written approximately 2,000 years ago, describes a series of systematic correspondences that group material phenomena according to five-phases. In this correspondence the metal phase has resonance with and is connected to the Lungs and Large Intestine, the season of fall, the color of white, the flavor of pungent (acrid), and a long list of others that I will describe in future posts.
The pungent flavor has the correspondence and directional action of dispersing. We refer to pungent, dispersing herbs in Chinese medicine as surface relievers, which resolve congestion (often at the surface of the body) through dispersing and sometimes promoting sweating. Through this action, foods and herbs that are pungent relieve Qi and Blood stagnation by promoting their movement.
As fall begins in early August according to Chinese cosmology, external pernicious factors can more readily enter the surface of the body as we adjust from the warmth and heat of summer to the cooler winds and dryness of fall. Regular and small consumption of pungent foods can help ease this transition and prevent illness.
According to Chinese medical dietary therapy, common pungent foods that help to prevent illness in fall include: radish, daikon radish, onion, scallion, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. These should cooked and eaten along with other foods, especially in soups or stews. Overconsumption of pungent foods can cause too much dispersion of qi and blood, and can cause damage.
In general, Chinese medicine recommends that one’s diet not be imbalanced with regard to any of the five flavors. Warm, cooked, seasonal, fresh, easy to digest and balanced in flavor is the basic formula for healthy eating in Chinese medicine.