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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


Introduction to the disharmony


Major symptoms:

  • heart palpitations
  • mental restlessness
  • insomnia and dream-disturbed sleep


  • Heart heat/Fire symptoms - severe mental restlessness, agitation and impulsiveness, thirst for icy cold drinks, aversion to heat, redness, mouth and tongue ulcers
  • Heart Yin deficiency symptoms – anxiety, night sweats, hot palms and soles, dryness
  • Heart blood deficiency symptoms - nervousness, anxiety, poor memory, dizziness, paleness


The herbs that calm the spirit are divided in two parts – ones that pacify, soften, settle the Heart, and ones that nourish the Heart. The former group of herbs is beneficial mostly for excess heat in the Heart/Heart fire, while the latter is prescribed rather for Heart Yin and Heart blood deficiency (1)


How does heat in the Heart develop? Maybe the major cause for the accumulation of "heat in the Heart" is chronic worry and anxiety (the emotions that have a direct effect on the Heart). Long-term presence of these emotions could further give rise to what is called “Heart Fire" - severe heat in the Heart.


“Heart fire” may be also transmitted from “Liver Fire” .The Heart is Fire element and the Liver is Wood element putting both organs in a "generating" relationship. Just like wood makes/generates fire the Liver transfers/generates its condition to the Heart. A lot of the herbs that pacify and settle the Heart also enter the Liver.


To understand how Heart Yin deficiency develops we need to make a quick review of the concept of Yin and Yang in traditional Chinese medicine.


Since Yang in nature represents activity, light, warmth it logically represents energy/warming faculty in the human body. Since Yin in nature represents rest, quiet, slowness it translates into the material aspect of the human body. In other words Yin represents matter, blood, body fluids, while Yang is the force that makes them come to live.


There is good health when Yin and Yang are in balance. When Yang is deficient Yin instantly becomes excessive. Yang deficiency manifests in coldness, lethargy, overflow. When there is Yin deficiency the warming principle of the body (Yang) becomes excessive which in time will lead to accumulation of heat. Thus Yin deficiency leads to heat accumulation. Therefore Heart Yin deficiency manifests with heat signs.


The cause for Heart blood deficiency is general blood deficiency. This can be caused by a diet that lacks protein, a weak digestion or severe bleeding, as well as inherited blood deficiency conditions such as anemia. The second group of herbs tonify the Yin and/or the blood of the Heart.


Heart Houses The Mind


In traditional Chinese medicine the Heart "houses the mind". Heart imbalance is always spirit related so the above conditions manifest with mental restlessness, nervousness and anxiety. As the “house of the mind” is fragile the mind wonders homeless at night and there is insomnia and dream disturbed sleep. With heat/fire in the Heart there is aversion to heat, redness and mouth and tongue ulcers (the Heart opens into the tongue). With Heart Yin deficiency there still is heat but “deficient” type of heat manifesting in night sweats and hot palms and soles. With Heart blood deficiency there is paleness, poor memory and dizziness (no blood to nourish the brain).


The herbs that subdue, settle the Heart and are mostly for excess heat/fire in the Heart are all minerals and shells. Being dead substances thus having no energy minerals and shells are mostly with neutral, cool and cold nature making a great remedy for excess heat conditions.


The herbs that nourish the Heart and are mostly prescribed in instances of Heart Yin and/or blood deficiency are all plants.


Major Chinese herbs


A lot of herbs that calm the spirit enter the Heart but also the Liver as in Five Elements theory the Heart and the Liver are in a generating relationship thus the Liver transfers its pathology to the Heart. Such are the minerals Zi Shi Ying (Fluoritum) – fluorite, Hu Po (Succinum) – amber, and Dai Zhe Shi (Haematitum) – hematite, and pearls – Zhen Zhu (Margarita). They all sedate the Heart and clear the Liver benefiting a range of symptoms such as palpitations, anxiety, excessive dreams, disturbance of the spirit (Heart) and dizziness, vertigo, headache, visual obstructions (Liver). (3)




Oyster shell – Mu Li (Concha Ostreae) and magnetite – Ci Shi (Magnetitum) both enter the Liver and the Kidney and besides subduing the Heart and the Liver have nourishing Kidney function, benefiting Kidney Yin. Long Gu (Os Draconis) – dragon bone - strongly calms the spirit and benefits emotional distress, restlessness, even seizures and mania. Zhu Sha (Cinnabaris) – cinnabar - sedates the Heart and is used for disturbed spirit manifesting with the above symptoms, as well as convulsions. (3)


A major herb from the nourishing the Heart and Liver part of herbs is Suan Zao Ren (Ziziphus spinosa) – sour date seed. Nourishing Heart Yin and Liver blood it is gentle yet very powerful in treating irritability (Liver) and anxiety (Heart). Another seed – Bai Zi Ren (Biota orientalis) – nourishes the Heart through tonifying Heart blood and benefits symptoms such as palpitations with anxiety and forgetfulness. (3)


Suan Zao Ren


Yuan Zhi (Radix Polygalae Tenuifoliae) translates to “profound will” and is an herb that is specifically beneficial for suppressed/unexpressed emotions and preoccupation with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts. It also clears Heart Phlegm. He Huan Pi (Cortex Albizziae Julibrissin) translates to “conjoined happiness bark” and benefits poor memory due to chronically withheld and restricted emotions. Ye Jiao Teng (Caulis Polygoni Multiflori) translates to “crossing the night vine” and is especially beneficial for insomnia and dream - disturbed sleep. (3)


Healing foods


Foods that calm and focus the Heart are grains and silicon foods.


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(1) Maciocia, Giovanni (1989). The Foundations of Chinese Medicine. Nanjing: Harcourt Publishers Limited

(2) Pitchford, Paul (2002). Healing with Whole Foods. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books

(3) Benski, Dan & Gamble, Andrew (1993). Materia Medica, Revised Edition. Seatle: Eastland Press, Incorporated

(4) Holmes, Peter (1998). The Energetics of Western Herbs. Boulder: Snow Lotus Press, Inc.


Related Articles:

The Heart in Chinese medicine

Heat in the Heart

Deficiency of Heart Blood

Deficiency of Heart Qi

Phlegm in the Heart

Herbs That Tonify Yin

Herbs That Tonify Blood


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