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The Practical Herbalist

Herb Flavors, Salty

Traditional Herbal medicine as well as cooking traditions pay attention to the flavors of foods. It is the flavor that determines how a food or herb will affect how you feel. In Herbal medicine the tradition is to talk of the five flavors. These flavors; salty ,pungent, bitter, sweet, and sour each have an effect on the body. The understanding of how these flavors make us feel forms the basis of herbal medicine.

Salt is the seasoning of choice in a fast food world. Fried foods taste better with a lot of salt. In Traditional Chinese food therapy salty flavor is said to "break up" the clogging nature of heavy greases and oils. Historically salt is referred to as the "spice of life" and was associated with preserving life in the way of restoring balance in cases of dehydration and also as an ingredient in preserving food.

Ancient herbalists identified the salty flavor of seaweed as useful in breaking up nodules in the neck. Sea weeds were prescribed to people who had what we now call goiters. Through modern science we now know that iodine found in seaweed and sea salt is necessary to prevent an inflammation of the thyroid, which would form a nodule or goiter on the neck.

Salt is a necessary component of life. various chemical salts are important to the electrical and cardiac function of the body. From a diagnostic point of view, when a patient has long term cravings for salt, usually there are other signs that point to a disharmony in the jing energy of the body. The Jing is the spark of life energy that controls growth and development, aging and reproduction. It is closely tied to the bones, nerves and hearing and fear. Salt cravings can indicate a need for better control of those energies. Herbs and foods can be prescribed to help balance the energies of the body, and especially how the body utilizes water. This is because of the close connection between salts and the balance of fluids within the body.

Salt and salty foods are a necessary and wonderful thing. Moderation is also important. It is important to remember that there are no bad foods only foods used inappropriately. The modern diet often has far more salts than we need, and some people need to watch their salt intake for medical reasons, particularly high blood pressure. The ancient medical text the Nei jing su wen (chap.23) specifically cautions people who have blood conditions to avoid salty foods. Long before the concept of high blood pressure the herbalists of old understood just how salt can be the spice of life as well as detrimental to that life.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066