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HoloSapiens - the TCM "Food as Medicine" Project


Introduction to the disharmony


Major symptoms:

  • high fever
  • big thirst
  • irritability
  • delirium


“Fire” is an intense manifestation of heat. Commonly “internal fire” is associated with febrile diseases and exhibits with deeply “hot” symptoms, such as high fever, big thirst, irritability and delirium (restless “heated” mind). In this condition febrile disease has entered the energy (Qi) level, and the disharmony is now "internal" (vs. "external" when the pathogen is at the superficial (Wei) level of the body - the skin and muscle layer - causing common cold/flu-like symptoms). As the condition is internal the body organs are now affected, specifically the Liver, the Lung, and the Stomach.


The Heart and it's partner organ the Small Intestine also generate “heat” or “fire” but they manifest mostly as mental/emotional disharmonies (in to TCM the Heart "houses the mind" thus Heart disharmony will manifest in mental disbalance). Thus heat in the Heart will be discussed in the “Herbs that calm the Spirit” article in the Materia Medica chapter rather than here.


The herbs used to counteract “fire” are the coldest herbs known in Materia Medica. From a conventional medicine point of view these herbs have the function to reduce fever and inflammation, and are active against microbes. (1)


Major Chinese herbs


Minerals are non-living substances that do not possess energy therefore have very cold nature. Thus a famous mineral used to clear heat and drain fire is gypsum – Shi Gao (Calcium Sulfate). With its intensely cold nature it enters the Lung and relieves symptoms, such as cough and wheezing with fever and thick mucus. It also enters the Stomach and clears Stomach Fire manifesting in headache, toothache, swollen and painful gums (the Stomach governs the mouth and gums). It is also used topically for burns and ulcerated sores. (1)




An herb commonly used for Liver Fire is self-heal spike, or Xia Ku Cao (Prunella vulgaris). The literal translation of the name of the herb is “summer withered herb”, maybe because it is harvested in the summer when it is half withered (1). Another source translates Xia Ku Cao as “See-me-not-after-summer”. Apparently this translation derives from the fact that the herb grows only in the summer months and is not possible to find before or after that time. (3)  In both cases Xia Ku Cao enters the Liver and benefits the eyes (the eyes are governed by the Liver). Liver Fire manifests in red, painful and swollen eyes. Xia Ku Cao benefits these conditions and also benefits high blood pressure - another symptom of Liver Fire. (1)


A rather unusual substance that benefits “internal fire” is bat feces – Ye Ming Sha (Vespertilio murinus L.). It is translated as “night brightness sand” and improves poor night vision, night blindness, and cataracts; the beautiful red Gardenia – Zhi Zi (Gardenia jasminoides) eliminates irritability, cools the blood and stops bleeding; Anamarrhena rhizome – Zhi Mu (Anemarrhena asphodeloides) has the property to both clear heat and generate fluids; Lu Gen (Phragmites communis) is another moistening herb that enters the Stomach and the Lung, that also has antimicrobial effect against Steptococcus; Jue Ming Zi (Cassia Obtusifolia L.) translated as “seeds of realized brightness” enters the Liver and Large Intestine to both clear the eyes and unblock the bowels.


Healing Foods


The right foods for the conditions “internal heat"/ "internal fire” are foods and spices that have cold nature. 


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Food Therapy


Food therapy is the most economical and non-toxic biochemical approach to health and disease. Food is something we continuously use to sustain our lives. Learning what foods are healing (and what disruptive) for each condition has the potential to convert every meal into a form of therapy.   


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

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

(3) Lu, Henry (2005). Chinese Natural Cures. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.

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


Related Articles:

How the Climatic Factor Heat Affects Health

Heat in the Liver

Heat in the Heart

Heat in the Small Intestine

Heat and Fire in the Stomach

Heat and Dryness in the Large Intestine

Herbs That Clear Heat Toxin



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