A Beginner’s Guide to Herbal Energetics

It would be lovely and convenient if a single herb could treat all conditions. However, this is not the case, so herbal remedies must be thoughtfully chosen according to the problem. The wrong herb can worsen a condition, but the right one can do wonders to balance the body and provide relief.

How do you know which herbs are best for certain conditions? 

It all comes down to the herbal energetics, body tissue states, and how they complement and balance one another.

What Are Herbal Energetics?

Herbal energetics can mean many things. When discussing plant energy, we can talk about vibrations or plant spirit. However, we want to focus on the temperament and tissues of various plants and how they interact with or impact certain conditions. 

This type of herbal energy helps us understand how different plants can help with specific diseases, symptoms, and conditions. Mastering plant energetics involves identifying patterns in the human body as well as patterns in plant species. 

These patterns are used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Unani Tibb, Kampo, Jamu, Celtic Herbal Medicine, ancient Greek and Roman medicine, and other traditional systems. These medicine systems use various concepts to describe the spectrums and tissue states, such as humors, doshas, elements, and temperaments. In some ways, you can look at the herbal energetics as the plant’s personality.

Consider this your handy guide to understanding and applying plant energetics to remedies. With this knowledge, you can better select remedies for specific conditions to achieve balance in the body. 

The Three Spectrums of Herbal Energetics

Before discussing tissue temperaments, let’s explain the spectrums on which they exist. 

We will focus on the three main spectrums — Thermal, Fluid, and Structural — associated with tissue temperaments, but we want to note that there is also a Vitality Spectrum and a Flow Spectrum. Once you understand the three main spectrums and six temperaments, you can hone in on those spectrums, which directly relate to the first three. For now, we’re going to stick with the basics of plant energetics.

Ideally, the human body should find a state in the center of all three spectrums, putting it in perfect balance and harmony. 

As mentioned, one can think about these herbal energetics as personalities. While we are, in fact, talking about physical energies and manifestations of temperaments, you should not take these too literally. 

We’ll explain further below, but think of it this way: “hot” can mean a high temperature, but it can also mean someone is angry or they’re on a roll, like a “hot streak.” When studying these spectrums of herbal energetics, consider all their physical interpretations. 

Thermal (Metabolism)

The first spectrum is thermal or metabolism. 

A common misconception is that this spectrum is about temperature, but it focuses more on the amount of energy. However, high energy can produce heat, and low energy is usually cold, so temperature can be an indication of a thermal state. 

One end of the thermal spectrum is overactivity, while the other is under or no activity, also called hyperfunction and hypofunction. 

Some people run hot, while others feel chilly all the time, so it’s natural for someone to lean to one side or the other. Knowing whether or not someone usually feels one way or the other is important for balancing their constitution. 

Fluid (Moisture)

The second spectrum is fluid or moisture. 

The two ends of this spectrum are dampness and dryness. An imbalance on this spectrum typically means the body is struggling to drain or hold fluids at the correct pace. Therefore, either an excess of moisture collects in the body, or it feels starved for fluids. 

This spectrum is one of the easiest to identify and understand because the presence or absence of fluid is typically obvious. The moisture imbalance can manifest in many areas of the body, including the gut, sinuses, lymph nodes, hair, nails, and skin. 

Structural (Tone)

Finally, structure or tone is the third spectrum for categorizing plants and conditions.

The two ends of this spectrum are tension and relaxation, or constriction and atony. One tissue state is stressed and tight, while the other is breezy and loose. 

While being completely on the relaxed side of the spectrum may sound enjoyable, this spectrum needs to be balanced, too. Leaning too far to this side of the spectrum can indicate a loss of control and stability. Of course, heavy tension is also unhealthy. The body should be tense in the sense that it’s alert and productive, but relaxed enough to be comfortable.

The Connection Between Spectrums

We break herbal energetics down into spectrums to make them easier to understand. However, the spectrums definitely do not exist independently of one another. Below is a brief overview of frequent spectrum and temperament connections. These connections are not guaranteed, but they are common.

  • Lax Structural & Damp Fluid
  • Hot Metabolism & Dry Fluid
  • Cold Metabolism & Tense Structure

If one spectrum is imbalanced, odds are the others are at least slightly unbalanced, too. Identifying which spectrum needs the most attention and balancing it can often lead to balance on the other spectrums.

The Six Tissue States

Now that we have a handle on the spectrums, let’s look at the far ends of each one. These six tissue states represent the extremes of each spectrum. These imbalances manifest differently; learn about each state’s various observational indications and potential remedies below.

Cold: Deficiency, Depression, Diminishment, Hypofunction

A cold or cool thermal temperament indicates underactivity and depression in the body. People with a cold temperament may struggle with slow digestion, fatigue, poor immunity, and nutrient deficiencies. It’s all about low energy; without sufficient energy, the body cannot adequately perform vital functions like digestion, nutrient absorption, immune responses, and more. While not directly related to body temperature, you can imagine a cold tissue state is like the tissues slowly freezing, although they are not actually freezing. But this imagery captures the glacial pace of functions.

Indications of a Cold Temperament

When assessing a person’s condition, the following symptoms may indicate a thermal imbalance leaning toward cold. Cold symptoms usually involve the body slowing down, so bodily functions may be halted or laggy. A cold temperament also manifests as a lack of focus and responsiveness, both mentally and physically.

  • Overall cold or cool feeling
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Slow movement
  • Paleness
  • Bluish hue
  • Achy, dull pains
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Brain fog
  • Slow pulse
  • Numbness 
  • Diminished sensations

Relevant Herb Remedies

Warm, spicy, or pungent herbs are usually useful options for a cold temperament. We recommend focusing on stimulating herbs, as these can boost activity and energy in the body. Below are some of the most common and effective herbs for a cold temperament.

Spicy Herbs:

Warming Herbs:

Pungent Herbs:

Hot: Excess, Agitation, Excitement, Hyperfunction

A hot temperament means the body has too much activity and energy. This excess energy and vibrations can cause irritation, inflammation, and general discomfort. While a cold temperament can cause a lack of sensation and reaction to a stimulus, heat has the opposite effect. The person may be extra sensitive to stimuli and even feel on edge. 

Indications of a Hot Temperament

As discussed, a hot temperament does not necessarily mean a hot temperature. But you’ll notice that some physical symptoms associated with heat involve temperature, such as a high fever. Many symptoms include expansion or sensitivity, so people in this state may feel weighted or overwhelmed.

  • Redness
  • Swelling 
  • General inflammation
  • Feeling of overheating
  • Oversensitivity to stimuli
  • Rapid pulse
  • Jittery or jumpy feeling
  • Pointed tongue
  • Mucus-like tongue coating
  • Lowered pain tolerance
  • Fever 

Relevant Herb Remedies

For heat, you should use cooling herbs and ingredients. 

The Rosaceae and Malvaceae families include some of the best plants for cooling a temperament. These types of herbs can reduce inflammation, swelling, and calm chaotic energy in the body. Cooling herbs are typically sour, demulcent (soothing or anti-inflammatory), and bitter.

Sour Herbs:

Demulcent Herbs:

Bitter Herbs:

Dry: Atrophy, Wind, Tension

Dryness is the state of lacking fluids and moisture in bodily tissues. It can be caused by a lack of water, oil, or both. A dry temperament could mean the body is not intaking or producing enough fluid or struggling to retain and absorb fluids. This lack of moisture can lead to atrophy and loss of function in the body. 

Indications of a Dry Temperament

A dry temperament can be one of the tougher states to identify, as the symptoms are more subtle. Dry or brittle skin, hair, and nails take time to manifest and are not always immediately obvious. Tongue swelling can be misconstrued as a heat state. Stiff joints could be misinterpreted as tension. Fatigue can also indicate coldness. The key is to assess all symptoms together and keep the spectrum connections in mind. 

  • Dry skin, hair, or nails
  • Constipation
  • Dry, hard stool
  • Swelling
  • Cracked, dry, or swollen tongue
  • Stiff joints
  • Lack of mucus
  • Tender or brittle feeling
  • Overall weakness

Relevant Herb Remedies

Cooling herb remedies typically have sweet, demulcent, or oily properties. Many plants have multiple of these traits, making them ideal for several dry conditions. These remedies aim to aid the body in absorbing, retaining, and using fluids. Be careful not to give herbs that aggressively promote secretion, as this can worsen the dry temperament. 

Sweet Herbs:

Demulcent Herbs:

  • Marshmallow root (Althaea)
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)
  • Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra)
  • Chickweed (Stellaria media)
  • Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum)
  • Plantains (Plantago)

Oily Herbs:

Damp: Moist, Stagnant, Lax, Boggy

Dryness is associated with wind, as in movement. On the other hand, we associate dampness with stagnation and stillness. One of the best ways to think about a damp temperament is the environment of a bog. Whether it’s hot or cold outside, bogs are muggy, humid, and heavy. The way bog water might slow you down, a damp temperament brings functions to a halt. A damp temperament is often caused by some sort of internal blockage, resulting in a buildup of fluids. 

Indications of a Damp Temperament

Aligning with our bog metaphor, physical manifestations of a damp temperament often involve bloating, heaviness, and moisture. However, we want to highlight the heavy feeling most people experience during this moisture imbalance. Someone with a dry condition may feel brittle and delicate, while someone with excess moisture feels weighted down and full.

  • Bloating and fullness
  • Swelling or plumpness
  • Dull skin appearance
  • Lack of facial expression
  • Excessive phlegm and mucus
  • Heavy feeling
  • Tongue coating or swelling
  • Poor immunity
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Relevant Herb Remedies

For dampness, the best herbal remedies are ones that can flush out the body and encourage healthy elimination. These herbs should encourage metabolic function, so they may also increase heat temperament, something to be aware of when selecting a remedy. These are usually very pungent and bitter herbs, often associated with cleansing blood. Salty herbs can also work to reduce fluids.

Digestive Herbs:

  • Gall weed (Gentiana)
  • Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
  • Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
  • Dandelions (Taraxacum)
  • Barberries (Berberis)
  • Curly dock (Rumex crispus)
  • Walnut tree (Juglans)

Salty Herbs:

Tense: Stimulating, Stressful, Constriction, Tightness

As mentioned, any feeling of tenseness may seem undesirable. But if you consider how string instruments work, a balanced tension can be beneficial and ideal. The correct amount of tension can keep you focused, alert, and appropriately responsive to stimuli. Too much tension can erode the tissues, upset emotions, and cause pain or discomfort. We associate this state with the restricted circulation of blood, fluids, and vital force. 

Indications of a Tense Temperament

Some think a tense tone is easy to identify, but the individual’s usual constitution must be considered. If someone is naturally anxious and tense, the root imbalance may not be in the tone. Luckily, herbal remedies can be a wonderful treatment for emotional stress. Tension often manifests in both physical and emotional symptoms. The manifestations can also be cyclical, making them tricky to identify.

  • Emotional irritability
  • Emotional tension and stress
  • Muscle spasms
  • Nervous state
  • Fatigue
  • Random pain
  • Cyclical symptoms
    • Alternating chill and fever
    • Alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Hiccoughing
  • Vomiting
  • Shaky hands or tongue
  • Vascular constriction
  • Irregular circulation

Relevant Herb Remedies

Most acrid herbs are suitable for treating tension. All of the herb remedies mentioned below are acrid to some degree. Some are more acrid (the first category) than others, and the rest are acrid with another notable property. Note that very acrid herbs can cause a new kind of discomfort, but this is expected and should pass quickly, like eating a spicy pepper.

Acrid Herbs:

Sweet Herbs:

  • Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
  • Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)

Aromatic Herbs:


Lax: Relaxed, Tired, Atony, Slow

Finally, we arrive at the sixth tissue state: lax. As tempting as it may be to embrace total tension release, we need moderate tension for proper function. A lax tissue state means functions are not being managed or executed properly as if the organs and tissues are being lazy. This results in an inefficient, imbalanced internal environment. When the body’s bacterial ecology is disrupted like this, it weakens the vital force. 

Indications of Lax Temperament

Similar to a cold temperament, a lax temperament primarily slows things down. So, bodily functions will seem lethargic and incomplete in someone experiencing a lax state. This inactivity slowly reduces life force, making people seem exhausted, disinterested, or weak. People with a lax state are also more vulnerable to diseases, fungal infections, and other illnesses. 

  • Dull or expressionless skin
  • Organ prolapse
  • Poor immunity
  • Frequent infections
  • Excessive urination
  • Excessive sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Loose stool
  • Vomiting
  • Thin blood
  • Weak tongue
  • Fatigue and low energy

Relevant Herb Remedies

The best herb remedies for a lax state have tightening properties, making astringents the clear choice. Astringents cause tissue to contract, reducing permeability, which is the goal here. These herbs typically taste bitter or sour. They can be used internally and externally, depending on the specific lax condition. For chronic lax problems, we recommend steady doses of gentle astringents. For more severe and acute lax states, intense astringents can be useful. 

Astringent Herbs:

Identifying Spectrums and Tissues

There is no exact formula for assessing your symptoms and determining your energetic imbalance. These lists of associated symptoms are not concrete, as overlapping states and other circumstances can alter how an imbalance manifests. 

Consider how a tissue state might impact various parts of the body, including the digestive system, cardiovascular system, nervous system, skin, emotional state, and brain activity. When identifying the tissue states of a condition, it’s crucial to look at the whole picture rather than focus too closely on one manifestation. 

Applying Herbal Energetics

When assessing a person and deciding on a suitable remedy, there are three important questions to ask:

  1. What is this person’s usual energetic balance?
  2. What are the energetics of the condition or problem?
  3. What herbal energetics will rebalance their energetics?

In most cases, there are overlapping imbalances. So, identifying your imbalance as merely “dry” or “lax” is an incomplete assessment.

When assessing oneself, try to determine where your current state falls on all three spectrums rather than honing in on one. Once you have an idea of all the tissue states, you can find the best herbal remedy.

For example, if your condition is dry, hot, and tense, you need an herb or herb combination that caters to all three imbalances. Using an herb that cools but also tightens may balance the thermal tissue state but worsen the structural state.

Not every cooling herb is suitable for every hot condition, and the same goes for every herb and tissue state. Think about how the herb in question affects all three spectrums and choose the ones that will sway the tissue states in the proper direction. Sometimes, combining herbs can achieve the balance you’re looking for. For example, if nettles are a great fit in almost every way but you have a dry constitution, and nettles tend to be a bit drying, you can add another moistening herb like violet to balance the effect.

The Importance of Balancing Energetics

These herbal energetics aim to rebalance a person’s spectrums. It’s important not to reverse a tissue state so drastically that the body swings all the way to the other side of the spectrum. The goal should always be to keep the tissues centered, not dramatically eliminate all moisture or heat or other energy.

Balancing energetics within the body relieves the many unpleasant symptoms discussed here and also helps the body function more efficiently, age gracefully, and feel healthy. Moderation and balance should be your primary focus with every herb and remedy you choose.

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