Foods with Yin Properties

January 7, 2013 Trisha Han Self-Help TopicsWellness & Prevention

This article is better to be read after our separate article “Most of Your Problems will be Gone after Balancing Your Yin and Yang”. That article tells us the importance of balancing our Yin and Yang. Today let me introduce some food with Yin properties. So, if you have too much Yang in your body, you need to eat the following foods.


Bittermelon is known for its cleansing, cooling properties. This type of squash is a cool-natured food, but what most people don’t know is that bittermelon, like most types of foods, only dispels internal heat in certain organs.  There are many types of internal heat within the body–in the heart, the liver, the lungs, the stomach, the large and small intestines, and so on.  Just eating any specific cool-natured food will not dispel internal heat from all of the organs–instead, you must know which food targets which organs, and eat the right foods accordingly.

So, what type of internal heat does bittermelon dispel? Wang Mong-Ying, a famous Chinese Medicine doctor of the Qing dynasty, wrote that bittermelon “clears the eyes and cleanses the heart”.  For our purposes, that means that bittermelon dispels internal heat in the liver and heart.  Whenever we have excess internal heat in the liver or heart, eating bittermelon will help dissolve that heat with its cooling properties.

Many people will ask, how do I know if I have excess heat in my heart and liver? Actually, the symptoms are very easy to spot.  If the left side of your face grows acne or red spots, or you have a toothache on the left side of your face, it would be good to eat some bittermelon. This is because the liver meridian originates and flows in the left side of the body, while the lung meridian runs on the right side of the body; if there are signs of inflammation or irritation on the left side of the body, it means that there is excess heat in the liver.

Bittermelon is typically true to its name–with a very bitter, pungent taste that most people don’t find palatable.  However, it is extremely effective in cleansing heat; in terms of effectiveness, the bitterer it is, the better it is for you. So don’t be afraid to try it.


Recall that there are four varying properties of food as they relate to Yin and Yang: hot, warm, cool, and cold.  Spinach is a cold-natured vegetable, meaning its Yin properties are especially strong.  Spinach pertains to the liver, the stomach, the large and small intestine meridians.  It can dispel heat, dissolve inflammation and mobilize the intestinal walls; spinach especially treats dizziness and lightheadedness due to heat intolerability, as well as chronic constipation. It can also treat heat stroke and alleviate symptoms of intoxication and drunkenness. Spinach can also aid digestion and excretion, which cleanses the gastrointestinal tract of excess heat and toxins.

In general, if you experience symptoms of excess heat, such as a fever, or if you have digestive immobility/inflammation like constipation, you can eat spinach as a natural, tasty remedy.  Spinach, however, should not be eaten by people who are prone to diarrhea or loose stool.

There are many great recipes for spinach: [insert recipes here]

Lotus Seeds

Actually, what I’m referring to is not the lotus seed itself, but the small green shoot that grows inside the seed.  It is a tiny sprout, but its medicinal properties are huge–it clears internal heat in the heart and regulates liver heat.  In fact, you can think of it as a mean, green little fire extinguisher!  Lotus seed sprouts are as well known for being bitter as they are for being tiny–the bitterness, however, is just the property that gives the sprout its heat-dispelling capability.  Lotus seed sprouts affect the heart, lung and kidney meridians.  They dispel internal heat from the heart into the kidneys, and transports dampness from the kidneys into the heart.

Lotus seed sprouts not only dispel internal heat, but also can soothe the spirits; anxiety-based chronic insomnia is very effectively treated by the sprout.  It also has almost miraculous effects on people who are groggy and disoriented due to high fever. The sprout is also known for lowering blood pressure and soothing anxiety.  I find that, in today’s fast-paced work environment, many people have a lot of pressure and stress, which builds up internally as heat in the liver and heart. But since people can’t change their high-pressure work environment, the best remedy is to steep lotus seed sprouts in hot water, making an herbal tea that will help combat stress and anxiety.  It has a bitter flavor, but the level of bitterness is no different than that of coffee, so adding a bit of sugar should help.

Lotus seed sprouts can be found in local Chinese Medicine herb stores–it is best to get sprouts that are young and tender, instead of old sprouts, which tend to be bitterer.


Cucumber is cool-natured and has a mild, sweet flavor.  It affects the lung, stomach and large intestine meridians, and treats conditions such as dehydration and thirst, infrequent urination, water retention, and external burns when applied topically. It is very suitable for those who are prone to inflammation and irritation, both internally and externally.

In Chinese Medicine, we often look at people’s tongues to discern their general state of health.  If you tongue is very red, or has a thick coat of yellow, eating cucumber is a good idea.  If you have a fever and feel dry-mouthed or dehydrated, eating cucumber, pear and watermelon can help replenish Yin and promote fluid flow.  It is best to make a juice blend of all three fruits/vegetables.

Cucumber’s function in the liver meridian was actually not known by ancient Chinese Medicine doctors, but actually a more modern discovery.  Cucumbers are rich in vitamin C, and strengthen the immune system against pathogens and diseases, as well as help the body combat malignant tumors, particularly cancer of the liver. Because cucumber affects the liver meridian, it also has the ability to treat alcohol poisoning in the liver due to drinking excessively.  In Chinese Medicine, alcohol is considered to be warm natured, and particularly affects the liver in its function of filtering out the body’s toxins.  Eating cucumber, which is cool-natured, can dispel the liver heat that is a result of alcohol poisoning, thereby protecting the liver from damage and inflammation.

Furthermore, cucumbers are a rich source of Vitamin E, and can combat various signs of aging; applying cucumber juice on the skin can also hydrate and replenish the skin, eliminate imperfections and smooth wrinkles.  However, cucumbers should not be eaten frequently by those who have a weak stomach or digestive system; if you are sensitive to eating cold foods–for example, getting loose stool when you eat ice cream–then cucumber is not the vegetable for you.  In general, if you easily get cough or diarrhea, you should refrain from eating cucumber, or eat less of it.


Just by looking at celery at the grocery store, one would not think that it is one of the most valuable foods for replenishing Yin.  In fact, celery affects the widest range of organs in the body with its cooling, heat dispelling properties. Celery, as a cool-natured food with mild, sweet flavor, affects the lung, stomach and liver meridians, and can dispel heat, regulate liver heat, calm the stomach, cool the blood and stop bleeding. Whether you have constipation or high blood pressure, celery is a suitable vegetable for you. However, the most important function of celery is its function within the liver meridian.

When the liver meridian is unstable or weak, common symptoms appearing would include dizziness and pressing headaches, a red complexion and red eyes, and a rise in blood pressure.  At this time, if a person eats celery, they will find that celery has the ability to stabilize the liver and lower blood pressure. One thing to note, however, is that celery will lose its pressure-reducing properties if it is heated for too long.  So, it is best to put celery in boiling water for only a minute, then quickly take it out of the water and lightly season it.  Celery can also be eaten raw, which optimally preserves its nutrients.

The other way that celery functions in the liver meridian is through regulating the menstrual cycle.  For women, the liver meridian and its related functions are extremely important, because a woman’s reproductive capabilities, including pregnancy, labor, and menstruation, are all closely tied to the liver meridian. If the liver contains excess heat, then menstruation will prolong excessively.  Many times spotting will occur long after menstruation ends–this is also a sign of excess heat in the liver meridian.  Because celery has the ability to stop bleeding, it has been eaten to regulate menstruation, even in Ancient China.

Another important thing to know about celery is that it is the digestive system’s transporter. In an age of processed foods and refined sugars, our health is extremely fragile because of the food that we eat, especially for people who eat meat.  This is true because often, processed foods lack fiber, which is essential to the digestion and absorption process.  A lack of dietary fiber causes food to stay stagnant in the body, which releases toxins into the gastrointestinal tract and leads to a higher risk of stomach cancer or colon cancer. Celery, which is rich in dietary fiber, helps mobilize the gastrointestinal tract and rid the body of any toxins that remain after metabolism has occurred.

Regardless of what perspective you take–whether it’s from a Chinese Medicine point of view or a modern medical perspective–all of these vegetables contain indispensable nutrients that aid us in pursuing a healthy and active lifestyle.  I hope everyone, after reading this, will have a deeper understanding of the nutrients and properties of these vegetables, and that this understanding can help us live a healthier, longer life.


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