Nutrition Practice in Chinese Medicine 

chinese-herbal-medicineNutrition, nourishment, or aliment, is the supply of materials – food – required by organisms and cells to stay alive. Nutrition consultation in Chinese Medicine is to provide clients the dietary advice combining appropriate foods and food-like Chinese herbs.

According to Chinese medicine theory foods are classified in a way similar to Chinese herbal medicines. For example there are foods with cold,  cool, warm and hot properties. There are foods that nourish our bodies and foods that help eliminate or drain the pathogenic factors. When a clinical pattern is identified by the practitioner, certain foods are recommended to either tonify the body or eliminate the pathogenic factors in addition to the acupuncture treatments.  There are also Chinese herbs that are suitable to be consumed like foods. They are called food-like herbs. These herbs are usually mild, with little or no side effect even in long term use. There are about 60 herbs listed as food-like herbs according to the reference published by China State Administration of Drugs. In the practice of Chinese nutrition, these herbs may be recommended to the patients and become a part of patient’s daily diets.


 1. Regular foods that may be used as Chinese medicines 

Chinese medicine nutrition therapy (dietary therapy) includes the use of foods and use food-like herbs to promote health and treat illness.

In conventional nutrition, foods are evaluated for proteins, calories, carbohydrates, vitamins, and other nutritional contents. In the practice of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) nutrition and dietary therapy,, foods are just as herbs that are classified into cold, cool, warm and hot energy with five different flavors, and can be selected and prepared appropriately to Tonify the body, eliminator pathogenic factors, and regulate the yin and yang balance of the body.

Therapeutic Effect of Foods with Different Flavors and Thermal Properties (Cold, Cool, Neutral, Warm and Hot) 

The energies of foods refer to their capacity to generate sensations – either hot or cold – in the human body. The five kinds of energy are cold, hot, warm, cool and neutral, and this refers not to the physical state of the food but its effect on our bodies. Foods with cold or cold property are often recommended to clients with warm or heat constitution or patients classified as heat patterns. Foods with warm or hot property are often recommended to clients with a cold constitution or patients classified as cold patterns. Foods are also recommended based on their flavor and functions. Of course a balanced diet is the most import factor in nutrition.

Pungent foods will promote distributions and circulations, and stimulate appetite.

Examples are fresh ginger, onion, leeks, green onion, Sichuan peppercorn, garlic, celery, coriander, Chinese chives, fennel, spearmint, Chinese radish, radish leaf, chili pepper, sweet peppers, turnips, taro, leaf mustard, Shanghai cabbage, cinnamon, tangerine peel, kumquat, mustard seed and wine.

Sweet foods will slow down acute reactions and neutralize the toxic effects of other foods, and also lubricate and nourish the body. For example Honey, dates, shiitake mushroom, taro, sweet potato, potato, pumpkin, carrot, glutinous rice, peas, soybean, rice, wheat, corn, sugar cane, peanut, milk, apple, pears, cherry, chestnut, grapes, lotus seed, longan aril, carps and abalone.

Sour foods with their astringent character will help to arrest abnormal discharge of fluids and other substances from the body, such as diarrhea, emission and heavy sweating. For example: lemon, tomatoes, pineapple, apple, strawberry, papaya, pears, loquat fruit, oranges, tangerines, peaches, hawthorn fruit, olives, pomegranate, plums, pomelo, mango, grapes, vinegar and royal jelly.

 Bitter foods will clear heat, dry the dampness, stimulate appetite, and promote lowering effects like urination and bowel movements. For example, bitter gourd, Indian lettuce, wine, vinegar, lotus leaf, tea leaf, turnips, apricot seed, lily bulb, gingko, plum kernel, peach kernel, seaweed, pig’s liver, bergamot, arrowhead, asparagus, wild cucumber and coffee.

Salty foods will dissipate accumulations, soften hardness, nourish blood, and lubricate intestines to induce bowel movements. For example, amaranths, millet, barley, laver, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, sea clams, sea shrimps, oyster, crabs, sea cucumber, field snail, pork, pig’s bone marrow, pig’s blood, pig’s organs, razor clam, dried mussel, ham, pigeon’s egg, abalone, duck meat and cuttlefish.

Foods with cold property:

Bamboo shoot, chrysanthemum, bitter gourd, lotus root, water chestnut, root of kudzu vine, wild rice stem, angled luffa, sugar cane, tomato, watermelon, banana, pomelo, grapefruit, persimmon, mulberry, star fruit, preserved jellyfish, seaweed, kelp, cuttlefish, crabs, sea clams, snails, pig’s bone marrow, sprouts, water spinach, watercress, lettuces, arrowhead, salt and soya sauce.

 Foods with cool property:

Millet, barley, wheat, buckwheat, coix seed, eggplant, cucumber, wax gourd, loofah, Chinese radish, lettuce root, celery, peppermint, broccoli, cauliflower, leaf mustard, spinach, Peking cabbage, Chinese cabbage, amaranth, Indian lettuce, lily bulb, pea, mung bean, pears, muskmelon, apple, pineapple, coconut, strawberry, orange, tangerine, loquat fruit, mango, papaya, water caltrop, tea leaf, bean curb, mushrooms, lily flower, duck egg, egg white, pig skin, rabbit meat, conch, frogs, sesame oil, cream, yogurt and cheese.

 Foods with neutral property

Round-grained rice, corn, taro, sweet potato, potato, turnips, carrot, cabbage, radish leaf, beetroot, fuzzy melon, soybeans, adzuki beans, peanut, cashew nut, pistachio nut, lotus seed, black sesame, sunflower seed, plums, fig, grapes, lemon, olives, white fungus, black fungus, shiitake mushroom, sea shrimps, loach, pork, duck, goose, oyster, beef, quail, sea eels, egg yolk, quail egg, royal jelly honey, milk, soybean milk, rock sugar and sugar.

 Foods with warm property

Coriander, Chinese chives, onion, leeks, green onion, asparagus, sweet peppers, sword bean, spearmint, Garland chrysanthemum, pomegranate, apricot, peach, cherry, litchi, longan fruit, raspberry, chestnut, pumpkin, glutinous rice, dates, walnut, pine nut, mussels, fresh water eels, sea cucumber, carps, abalone, hairtail, lobster, fresh water shrimps, chicken, mutton, sparrow, venison, pig’s liver, ham, goat milk, goose egg, sparrow egg, maltose, brown sugar, cumin, clove, fennel, garlic, ginger (fresh), dill seed, nutmeg, rosemary, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, sweet basil, sword bean, tobacco, coffee, vinegar, wine, vegetable oil, rose bud, osmanthus flowers and jasmine.

Foods with hot property

Black pepper, cinnamon, ginger (dried), chili pepper, and mustard seed.

Some foods may possess two different flavors or a bland flavor. Foods with a bland flavor usually promote urination and may be used as diuretic, for example coix seed and wax gourd are used for this purpose.

In addition, foods with a strong scent are categorized as “aromatic”, such as basil, fennel, coriander, peppermint and citrus fruits. These foods can be eaten to activate the circulation the spleen (an organ in Chinese medicine responsible for digestion, not the biomedical concept of spleen), stimulate appetite, promote energy circulation, get ride of excessive dampness and turbidity, and detoxify.


 2. Chinese herbs that may be consumed as foods. 

According to the reference from China State Administration of Chinese Medicine the following herbs  may be consumed like foods and incorporated into daily diets in a longer term to promote health and prevent illness .

Chinese Name

Latin or Common English  Name

Bai Zhi

Angelica Root

Bai Bian Dou

White Hyacinth Bean

Bai Guo

Ginkgo Seed

Bai He

Bulbus Lilii

Bai Mao Gen

Wolly Grass Root

Ba Jiao Hui Xiang

star anise

Bo He


Chen Pi

Tangerine peel

Chi Xiao Dou

Red Bean

Dan Dou Chi

Fermented Soybean

Da Zao

Jujubae, Chinese date

Ding Xiang

Clove Flower Bud

Feng Mi


Fo Shou

Finger Citri fruit

Fu Ling


Gan Cao

Licorice Root

Gao Liang Jiang

Galangal Rhizome

Gou Qi Zi

Chinese Wolfberry

Guang Huo Xiang

Herba Pogostemonis

Hei Zhi Ma

Black Sesame

He Ye

Lotus leaf



Hua Jiao

Sichuan pepper

Hu Jiao

Black pepper

Ji Nei Jin

Endothelium Corneum

Jue Ming Zi

Cassia Seed

Ju Hong

Outer layer of tangerine peel

Ju Hua

FChrysanthemi flower

Lai Fu Zi

Radish Seed

Hai Zao


Lian Zi

Lotus Seed

Long Yan Rou

Arillus Longan


Reed root

Ma Chi Xian

Herba Portulacae

Mai Ya

Barley Sprout

Mu Gua

Fructus Chaenomelis

Mu Li

Oyster shell

Qian Shi

Gordon Euryale Seed

Rou Dou Kou


Rou Gui

Cinnamomi bark

Sang Shen


Sang Ye

Mulberry leaf

Sha Ji

Fructus Hippophae

Shan yao

Common Yam Rhizome

Shan zha

Hawthorn fruit

Sha Ren

Amomi seeds

Sheng Jiang


Suan Zao Ren

Sour jujuba

Tao Ren

Peach Seed

Wu Mei

Fructus Mume

Xiang Ru

Herba Moslae

Xiang yuan

Fructus Citri

Xiao Hui Xiang

Fructus Foeniculi

Xie Bai

Bulbus Allii Macrostemi

Xing Ren

Apricot Seed

Yi Yi Ren

Coix Seed

Yu Li Ren

Dwarf Cherry Seed

Zhi Zi

Fructus Gardeniae

Zi Su Ye

Folium Perillae