The 5 elements

The 5 elements
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In Chinese medicine, the five elements are considered to be an expression of the natural cycle of the seasons. Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water correspond to spring, summer, the period between seasons (Indian summer), autumn and winter. They come to represent and shape each season, with their own characteristics.

The cycle of the 5 elements is also found in our daily life as morning, noon, afternoon, evening and night. It is interesting to note that there are natural cycles at many different levels. This is how the notion of seasonality is also reflected in the pattern of our day.

On waking in the morning, we find within us the spirit of Wood in the rising, fresh energy of spring. At noon, Fire, we are at the summer of our day, and our energy is extrovert and joyful. Then, a milder afternoon settles, with the need to return to the center, our Mother Earth, and it is here that we find our time for rest between seasons. As the light falls, the gray of Metal descends, and the energy becomes denser and slows down. Finally, at night, the Winter of our day restores us, so we regain strength for the next day, as Water, the element of the depths, offers us precious time to rejuvenate.

This cycle also describes various psychological and physical states, which can also be influenced and balanced through simple methods such as yoga exercises, work on the meridians and, of course, diet.

There are two sequences, or cycles of interaction among the 5 elements: the first is called the Generating (Sheng) Cycle and the second is called the Control (Ke) Cycle. Understanding these natural interactions makes it possible to use one element to act on another, either during an excess or during a deficit.

Here is how we can understand these two cycles:


Wood feeds Fire, which nourishes the Earth with its ashes, which themselves ‘dissolve’ into the ground to give birth to Metal, whose mineral strength gives power to Water.


Wood knows how to maintain the Earth with its roots, Fire burns Wood, Earth contains Water, Metal cuts Wood as an axe, and finally Water extinguishes Fire.

What happens when we apply these two cycles to ourselves, by integrating the main characteristics of each element ? By using the balancing power of diet to regulate these internal flows, we are able to use the principles to help manage our emotions and our energy.

By listening to the dynamics of the 5 elements in our body, we allow ourselves to be in harmony with nature, so that we adapt to the natural cycles and become stronger in the face of our environment.



WOOD – Spring
Tast: acid
Meridians: liver, gallbladder
Cooking styles: quick and high heat, tempura
Food: sprouted grains, young leaves and shoots, seeds, acidic fruits

METAL– Autumn
Taste: sour, spicy
Meridians: lungs, large intestine
Cooking styles: pressure cook, bake
Food: root vegetables, grains

FIRE – Summer
Taste: bitter
Meridians : heart, master of the heart, small intestine and triple warmer
Cooking styles: sauté, short boil, dry grilling
Food: leafy green vegetables, aqueous summer vegetables, bitter fruits

WATER – Winter
Taste: salt
Meridians: kidneys, bladder
Cooking style: soups, long simmer
Food: salted condiments, sea vegetables, miso, legumes

EARTH – Late Summer
Taste: sweet
Meridians: spleen-pancreas, stomach
Cooking styles: slow and steamed, with a little water or oil
Food: round soft vegetables, squash, sugary fruits

The Recipes


A large bunch carrots, a rainbow of colors if possible!
5 dried apricots, diced
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup walnuts or other nuts, lightly toasted

Cut carrots lengthwise, a finger’s width. Place in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.
Place 1 cup of vegetable stock with the diced dried apricots, salt and vinegar and bring to a boil.
Pour mixture over carrots and place in the oven, preheated to 350° F, for 45 minutes.
After removing from oven, garnish with crushed nuts.


Mushroom oats
1 cup of whole oat groats, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 cinnamon stick
A stamp-sized piece of kombu seaweed
A sprig of thyme
A pinch of sea salt
1 cup crimini mushrooms
Olive oil
Salt (smoked if possible)

Cook the oats and other ingredients in water, covering them one finger length above the surface. Bring to the boil and lower heat, cover and cook for about 45 minutes. Let stand so the grains continue to cook slowly.
Cut the mushroom into thin strips and gently sauté, preferably in a cast iron pan, with a drizzle of olive oil. Salt at the end of cooking. Mix into cooked oats.

Forest sauce
2 shallots, finely chopped
Olive oil
1 cup of amber beer (the alcohol evaporates when cooked)
1 cup vegetable stock (or shitake dashi from shitake soaking water)
A sprig of thyme
3 ground juniper berries
1 cup table spoon mushroom powder
200 ml vegetable cream (coco/soja/rice based) to give creamy consistency
2 teaspoons blackcurrant jam (or other berry)
2 teaspoons brewers yeast
1 teaspoon vegetable salt
fresh ground pepper (be creative, e.g. wild Voatsiperifery pepper or Penja white peppercorn

Brown the shallots in olive oil. Pour in the amber beer and vegetable stock. Add thyme leaves, ground juniper berries and reduce the stock for 10 to 15 minutes. Strain (this mixture is excellent with other dishes!). Return the stock to the stove on a low flame and add the mushroom powder, vegetable cream or stock, cooked oats, preserve, brewers yeast, salt and pepper.

Serve the carrots atop the mushroom oats, covered in the forest sauce. Pair with a winter salad with chopped parsley and a well-seasoned mustard vinaigrette with a hint of honey and gingerbread spices to enhance the Scandinavian touch.

Article & recipe by FÉLICIE TOCZÉ


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