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The Earth Element, Late Summer, & Spleen; Nourishing Your Body & Mind in TCM

The Earth Element, Late Summer, & Spleen; Nourishing Your Body & Mind in TCM

The earth is an abundant planet bursting with incredible natural resources. Our earth, our home, nurtures us and provides, selflessly, all we need to survive and flourish. It is no wonder that people around the world refer to earth as “The Great Mother”, “Pachamama”, and “Mother Earth”. We are sheltered in her embrace and sustained by her bounty.

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the earth energy is considered a core element. It is centre to, and seen within all four other elements; water, fire, wood, and metal. We study that the elements relate to the four seasons, and that Earth is related to late summer, perhaps due to it being the mid-point of the year and when crops are bearing the most fruit, so the earth is at its most full, nourishing, and nurturing stage.

The earth element has to do with living in our bodies and feeling the pleasures of being human. It is concerned with feeding the mind and body so any problems of ingestion and digestion of food, information, or thoughts are considered an earth condition.

The earth element is most closely related to the spleen and stomach organs and organ systems. The actions of the spleen and stomach is to take in food to absorb its nutrients and transform them into Qi (energy) which is transported to all other organs and tissues in the body. The spleen assists in breaking down old red blood cells in a different kind of digestion which helps fight infection and plays a large role in the immune system. Further, the earth element is allied with the pancreas and the ability to regulate blood sugar levels as well as being affiliated with and contributing to the function of the abdomen, the large muscles of the body, the lymphatic system and the diaphragm.

Emotions are commonly related to elements, organs, and organ systems in TCM and the primary emotions of the earth-spleen-stomach system are worry, anxiety, and overthinking. Excessive worrying can lead to upset stomachs and weight gain or confusion and lack of clarity in thinking. Another major emotion of the earth is sympathy. Earthy people feel great concern for those they love. They usually have a wide circle of friends and family members with whom they are involved and they enjoy being caretakers. Earth people tend to be slower moving and value consistency and congruency. They like to touch and freely give and receive affection. Their skin tends to be soft and smooth with a rosy glow, especially to the cheeks and lips.

On the face, the earth element shows its strength in the plumpness of all of the features and in particular around the mouth. This area shows the most information about the health of the entire digestive tract, therefore, relates to spleen and stomach. The size of the mouth correlates to the amount that the person wants to ingest; not just food, but affection and information as well. Your mouth size also shows generosity and the willingness to give – larger, wider mouths can be seen on people who love to give gifts, even spontaneously to strangers. This means that people are often more generous when they are happy because when you are smiling, your mouth size increases!

The colour associated with the earth element is yellow and the taste of sweet naturally supports the function of the spleen and stomach. Foods that are most nourishing to the earth element are yellow or orange in colour and are harvested in the late summer, or root vegetables that grow directly in the ground. Warm and easy to digest foods are often prescribed to people with damaged spleen and stomach organ systems as a way to rebuild their vital Qi.


Earth Healthy – Spleen Qi Building Recipe – Congee is a staple food in most Asian cultures. It is traditionally made with rice but can be cooked with other grains including barley, millet, and coix. There are hundreds of varieties of congee from sweet to salty, watery to thick and hearty, and they can be served as a breakfast, snack, late dinner or side dish. Congee is well known for its easy to digest and highly nourishing qualities, making it the ideal food to strengthen and warm the spleen and stomach.

The following recipe calls for a Chinese yam (shan yao), which in TCM food therapy, is one of the premiere herbs. You may substitute Chinese yam for another variety of yam, but try to stick with yams and not sweet potatoes…although they would be quite tasty and healthful as well! You may want to experiment with different types of rice as well.


½ lb fresh Chinese Yam

½ cup uncooked short-grain white rice

4-5 cups water

Pinch of salt (optional)

Condiments for savoury congee: rice vinegar, soy sauce, salt, sesame oil

Condiments for sweet congee: honey, maple syrup, coconut milk, coconut



  1. Peel the Chinese Yam and cut lengthwise into halves or quarters and then into slices.
  2. Combine yam, rice, water and salt in a medium pot and bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered with lid slightly ajar for 45 – 60 min, stirring occasionally. Add extra water if congee is drying out or if it is too thick for your liking.
  3. Serve warm with the condiments of your choice.

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