An exploration into Chinese herb flavor combinations – the final chapter

We hope you have enjoyed Mitesh’s fine work about Chinese herb flavors and their combinations.  What I loved about this project was the willingness to examine cherished Chinese medicine concepts – testing them using the most sophisticated laboratory known on Earth – the human body.


If you missed any of the series, just read through the links below.

Part 1 (Beginning of the Pungent + Sweet = Yang Qi experiment)

Part 2 (Continuation of the Pungent + Sweet = Yang Qi experiment)

Part 3 (Conclusion of the Pungent + Sweet = Yang Qi experiment)

Part 4 (Beginning of the Sweet + Sour = Fluids experiment).  You’re on part 5, the conclusion of the Sweet + Sour = Fluids experiment, right now!

Flavors Experience

This section contains the experiences felt during the ingestion of each herb and pairings.

Calibration Herbs

The calibration process was to know the intimate experience of the herbs from a personal perspective and have a knowing that converged in a way that the authors of the Tang Ye Jing had.  Therefore, much of this is poetic serving a pivot role for the further experiences. This is a rehashing from the first experiement.

Dang Shen
The simple act of sipping this herb allowed for relaxation to pour through my entire body. Hints of warm milk were hidden in this and  spun me back to childhood.

All I wanted was to cuddle up and under a comforter, turn on a movie and rest.

Ancient tension fell away.
Worries melted into peace.
And a smile held me in her embrace.

My breath grew deeper and unhurried and my brow opened and tingled in delight.

(Sheng) Di Huang
Wafting past my nose
my heart flows with joy
Joy settles

Gently blowing on the hot medicine
This dark mistress grabs a hold on my mind
the initial joy of heart is hidden because
the over powering grounding of mind

The bottom of my tongue holds true
as if waiting for the fog on the horizon
to clear
I grip the ground and straight
my neck
peering into the depths



My sides now ground
and the imminence of what may be subsides
I am Here
But bound
My upper heart beats
in unison with the first

I feel a turtle shell hold me together above my head

Peacefully and powerfully she commands me not to drink anymore…
What do I do with the rest.
Offer it to a friend.

Xuanfu Hua
My eyes jump from my head!
Never let that touch your lips again!
Hold on… a phone call… let me answer that
I’m back.
Feeling cleaver.
Not so sure if that’s a good thing.
But reverent now.
This goes to my heart
Tears that otherwise fog my mind
Lift in wondrous praise like steam
Something shines through
Quasar like
Going to surrender as stairway to heaven plays
Drink her all. in deepened brightened ming-yi.
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misleading.
super cold

That one was particularly hard on my stomach and had to neutralize it with a little Sheng Di Huang and a little more of Dang Shen.

Wu Wei Zi
I’ve tasted you before… have I not?
What a joy to pucker my lips
But taxing this time.
My spine straightens into a J
Relax but strong
My sides again.
But especially my shoulders come to life
Thank you for being warmer than XuanFu
You shook me all night long!!!!!
Did you know that the electromagnetic field of the earth is one of several qualities that allows it to be habitable for life? We’d be with out a subtle protection and possibly a way of thinking without it.
You are beautiful!
When the levee breaks

Gui Zhi
Mud that has been hardened flaking off the back of my neck
Flavorful breathing
Gentle muscle relaxant
Effervescent smile
Does it even work?
I think  so.
A little fiery
I’m working hard to keep my spirit in my body


These combinations are explored in a more prose and scientific sense. It lacks the poetic nature of above because I’m looking for a convergence of experiences.

Sheng di Huang and Wu Wei Zi

Water and Metal

Salty and Sour

At first it settled my energy. But then it started to awaken my senses after about 10 minutes of sipping.As time comes on, its effects become more powerful. It seems to settle me and awaken me a little at a time. Eventually it started to kick out some stagnation in my body which was delightful. As a flavor combination, I found it rather consolidating and grounding.

Xuan Fu Hua and Sheng Di Huang

Fire and Water

Salty and Bitter

The first thing that jumps out at me is the intensity of smell and flavor of Xuan Fu. The powerful nature of the Xuanfu Hua forced me to consolidate myself into a meditative state. It drew me into my heart’s warmth and asked that I shut my senses. Once inside, the qi moved along the most primal pathways in my body with ease and authority. Its not they were excited to do so, rather that when all else was withdrawn, this was what held its ground out of necessity.This take lot of stomach energy to digest. And so proceeded cautiously waiting for my energy in my stomach to return. In fact I hesitate to take another sip at this time.

Gui Zhi and Sheng Di Huang

Wood and Water

Pungent and Bitter

The three fire centers in my body, ming men, heart and third eye warmed immediately.The expansive nature of pungency is contained by the sinking nature of water and water is then bought to its bounds through the pungency. I feel like this is living water.

Xuan Fu Hua and Gui Zhi

Fire and Wood

Salty and Pungent

This is great! Its the first time Xuan Fu Hua hasn’t just shut me down. That coldness is spread through the rest of the body and has a warming and protective effect. Its still meditative but gently so. There’s an internal external balance here.

Gui Zhi and Wu Wei Zi

Wood and Metal

Pungent and Sour

There’s is something unbelievably beautiful about this combination! I found an area or stagnation in my right side started to pulsate and move. This was rather impressive how it was able to awaken and  circulate energy around my body.

Wu Wei Zi and Xuanfu Hua

Metal and Fire

Sour and Salty

This basically wants to run through my body rather quickly. Its like a brick in my digestion. Which seems to lay on top of the lower half of my digestion. I was careful not to ingest too much of this as i
t seemed to most potent combination yet. This is the closest to what was said in the Suwen regarding Sour and Bitter “gush forth Yin.”


There is definitely need for further investigation. I still have quite a bit of confusion with the Fire Calibration Herb of Xuanfu Hua and the Water Calibration Herb of Sheng Di Huang. However, when paired together, the classical Fire and Water reference didn’t fail to impress.

I was also astonished with the effects of Wood and Metal working together. This was powerfully circulating on a more surface level compared to the primal circulation of Fire and Water.

I would like to continue working with the Bitter and Salty Herbs according to Tang Ye Jing assignments and -see if I truly understand what they were trying to say with these.


Appendix 1 – Further Combinations

Three Taste Combinations
Pungent + Sour + Sweet
Pungent + Sour + Bitter
Pungent + Sour + Salty
Sour + Sweet + Bitter
Sour + Sweet + Salty
Sweet + Bitter + Salty

Four Taste Combinations
Pungent + Sour + Sweet + Bitter
Pungent + Sour + Sweet + Salty
Sour + Sweet + Bitter + Salty

Five Taste Combinations
Pungent + Sour + Sweet + Bitter + Salty

Appendix 2 – Herbs Selected

Any notes on the selected herbs will be given here including Shen Nong Ben Cao entries and TCM assignments.  SNBCJ information is taken from the Blue Poppy Press translation of the text.

Ren Shen (Dang Shen) – Sweet Calibration Herb (Sweet of Sweet)

The Ren Shen mentioned in the Tang Ye Jing maybe, as Dr. Fruehauf suspects, actually Dang Shen. Here is his explanation as to why this may be true:

One of the two stellar constellations that are associated with the 4th month of the year is called “Shen”–the Three Stars (Orion), the original character for Renshen (Human Trinity: ginseng). In ancient China, every region of the sky was considered to be linked to a region of China, in this case the state of Wei. Wei includes the district of Shangdang, where China’s best Dangshen grows. Dangshen, therefore, represents the earthly Shen grown in Shangdang, the region on which the Heavenly Shen projects its qi. From a purely clinical perspective, any northern type of ginseng would have overpowered formulas such as Xiao Chaihu Tang or Banxia Xiexin Tang, where Chaihu/Banxia is supposed to be the lead herb.

For this reason, I selected Dang Shen to be the Sweet of Sweet Herb. Although this herb was not used this time, I wanted to share this information again.

There is no Shen Nong Ben Cao entry for Dang Shen however, the entry for Ren Shen, a Superior class Herb, is given below:

Ren Shen is sweet and a  little cold. It mainly supplements the five viscera. It quiets the essence spirit, settles the ethereal and corporeal souls, checks fright palpitations, eliminates evil qi brightens the eyes, opens the heart, and sharpens the wits. Protracted taking may make the bod light and prolong life. Its other name is Ren Xian (Human Incarnation). Yet another name is Gui Gai (Ghost Shield). It grows in mountains and valleys.

The TCM listing of Dang Shen is as follows:

  • Category: Herbs that Tonify Qi
  • Channels: LU, SP
  • Properties: Sweet, Neutral
  • Latin: Radix Codonopsitis Pilosulae
  • Chinese: 党参

Wu Wei Zi – Sour Calibration Herb (Sour of Sour)

According to the Shen Nong Ben Cao, Wu Wei Zi is a Middle Class Herb. It goes on to state:

Wu Wei is sour and warm. It mainly boosts the qi, treating cough and counterflow qi ascent, taxation damage, and languor and emaciation. It supplements insufficiency, fortifies yin and boosts male’s essence. It grows in mountains and valleys.

The TCM listing of Wu Wei Zi is as follows:

  • Category: Herbs that Astringe, Stabilize, Bind
  • Channels:HT, KI, LU
  • Properties: Sour, Warm
  • Latin: Fructus Schisandrae Chinensis
  • Chinese: 五味子

Gui Zhi – Pungent Calibration Herb (Pungent of Pungent)

According to the Shen Nong Ben Cao, Gui Zhi is a Superior Class Wood. It goes on to state:

Jun Gui is acrid and warm. It mainly treats hundreds of diseases, nurtures the essence spirit, and renders the facial complexion harmonious. It may serve as an usher or envoy for various medicinals Protracted taking may make the body light, prevent senility, and render the face bright and efflorescent, thus forever looking charming like a child’s face. It grows in the mountains and valleys of Jiao Zhi.

The TCM listing of Gui Zhi is as follows:

  • Warm, Spicy Herb that Releases the Exterior
  • Channels: HT, LU, BL
  • Properties: Spicy, Sweet, Warm
  • Latin: Ramulus Cinnamomi Cassiae
  • Chinese: 桂枝

Xuanfu Hua – Fire Calibration Herb (Salty of Salty)

According to the Shen Nong Ben Cao, Xuanfu Hua is a Middle class Herb. It goes on to state:

Xuan Fu Hua is salty and warm. It mainly treats bound qi, rib-side fullness, and fight palpitations, removes water, eliminates cold and heat in the five viscera, supplements the enter, and down bears the qi. Its other name is Jin Fei Cao (Boiling Gold Weed). Another name is Sheng Zhan (Profound Clearness). It grows in rivers and valleys.

The TCM listing of Xuanfu Hua is as follows:

  • Warm Herb that Transforms Phlegm-Cold
  • Channels: LIV, LU, ST, SP
  • Properties: Bitter, Spicy, Slightly Warm
  • Latin: Inulae Flos
  • Chinese: 旋覆花

(Sheng) Di Huang – Water Calibration Herb (Bitter of Bitter)

According to the Shen Nong Ben Cao, Di Huang is a Superior class Herb. It goes on to state:

Gan Di Huang is sweet and cold. It mainly treats broken [bones], severed sinews from falls, and damaged center. It expels blood impediment, replenishes the bone marrow, and promotes the growth of muscles and flesh. When used in decoctions, it eliminates cold and heat, accumulations and gatherings, and impediment. Using the uncooked is better. Protracted taking ma make the body light and prevent senility. Its other name is Di Sui (Earth Marrow). It grows in rivers and swamps.

The TCM listing of Sheng Di Huang is as follows:

  • Category: Herbs that Cool the Blood
  • Channels: HT, KI, LIV
  • Properties: Sweet, Bitter, Cold
  • Latin: Radix Rehmanniae Glutinosae
  • Chinese: 地黄

About Eric Grey

Hi - I'm the founder of this site and the primary master of all functions here. When I'm not writing, you can find me reaching out to the Chinese Medicine community across the web and in my own backyard. I currently teach Chinese herbs at my alma mater, the National College of Natural Medicine. Additionally, I'm the founder of Watershed Wellness, a thriving local clinic in Southeast Portland in Oregon. No matter where I'm working, you'll find my focus on the Classical approach to Chinese medicine laced throughout everything I do.

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