Earth Element or Earth Phase

brown wooden house near green trees under white sky during daytime

The Earth element represents symbolically where we live – our bodies – and the planet which we inhabit.

We want our bodies to be dependable!

When our Earth element functions properly we feel grounded, that our bodies are stable and we are balanced.

If not, we easily become scattered and unstable.

Think of people who work with the earth: farmers, builders, gardeners. Usually we see a sturdy physique and grounded opinions. These are responsible and dependable characters who are practical and straightforward. They get things done.

Excesses and Imbalances in Earth element

If the Earth element is too heavy, we get unimaginative thinking, too much placidity!

If it’s too ‘light’, we may get impracticality, unreliability, and too much licence in behaviour.

Nourishment and the Earth Element

The tube from mouth to anus moves food – earth – through us. From it we gain nourishment, and thereby we retain groundedness.

Assuming, of course, the food supplies good nutrition!

That food goes on to create Blood, from which we build and repair our bodies.

The process of digesting food and transporting it round the body as Blood describes the function of the Earth element.

The two zang-fu comprising the Earth element are


Your Stomach function brings consideration to the whole matter of nourishment and brings food to the door, as it were.

Your Spleen-pancreas function transforms what you eat into Qi and Blood, and moves it to where it is needed.

Earth Element Character

gardening, an Earth element process
Photo by CDC

Think about the relationship between parent and child. Ideally it is gentle, tender, soft, patient, caring, always there – an eternal quality. It can bestow the means for a stable personality, a blessing for life.

But if we are pressured, it may become careless, slovenly, unkempt or alternatively, hard, tough, bullying.

We all need a base, often our home, where we can rest, draw nourishment and recover our strength.

The opposite? Homelessness, anxiety, rootlessness: nowhere to go: an unstable spirit.

Someone blessed with strong roots manifests strength, calmness, a sense of peace and is able to support others. They have the resources to offer care and sympathy: understanding. Usually good listeners, they make us feel comfortable and safe with them.

Strongly Earth people tend to be practical and helpful. They like showing you what to do and fortunately, they are patient.

The Cycle of Phases or Elements

Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

Notice that Earth follows Fire in the Five Phase diagram shown. Each element is the child of the one before and the mother of the one after.

In life, when we have achieved success, most of us want comparative quietness, to enjoy living, and perhaps to bring up a family. The success and ‘showiness’ of Fire gives way to the stability and homeliness of Earth.

Later Summer brings ripe fruit and harvest of vegetables. The summer heat yields the foods we need for the next phase.

If our work and cycle of life through Wood and Fire has failed, then there is barrenness, emptiness, despair, self-doubt and a lack of belief in self-worth. The future is bleak. 

However, if our efforts have achieved a secure home and base, somewhere to live out our lives, we are likely to have resources that we can give back to society or hand on to our children.

Our Earth phase moves into the Metal phase, one of passing on the essence of our lives, whether it be wisdom and experience, or other forms of wealth.

Earth element voice

A singing quality: rather like the comforting noises mothers make with their babies. It has a lilting quality, somewhat like that of the Welsh language.

Earth element colour

Yellow: seen of course in jaundice but a much less extreme shade occurs when patients have an Earth imbalance.

Earth element odour

This is described as ‘fragrant’, rather like a very strong rose – not a pleasant smell. Some people describe it as cloying, cheesy, yeasty: something gone too far.

Earth element taste

wicker basket on rice grains: Rice and the Earth Element complement one another.
Rice for Health – Photo by Shalitha Dissanayaka

Taste in Chinese medicine is an important, and big subject, like Nutrition.

Sweet: almost everyone likes the sweet taste. Mother’s milk is often a vanilla-sweet taste to which their babies get attuned.

It is comforting and a necessary part of our diet, but not in the form of sweeteners and sugars, too much of which imbalance Earth. They usually make us fat, too!

But when chewing food releases its sweet taste, we can be more sure that it will benefit us. Try chewing a grain of wheat, without swallowing, for several minutes. Eventually the enzymes in your saliva release the natural sweet taste of the grain.

Click to read more about the Sweet Taste.

Earth element season

Late summer is the season of Earth, the period before aautumn or fall. The harvest arrives and we store it for the winter.

Earth element emotion

There are several manifestations of excess Earth emotion:

  • Caring and sympathy. Too much worry about other’s well-being and health. The mother who inists on caring for her children all on her own, and so exhausts herself to the point where she can no longer care for them.
  • Thinking too much! Yes, worrying and anxiety cause big problems for our Earth element organs, Spleen and Stomach. Who over-thinks? Plenty of us, stuck at desks all day, whether in offices or as students, spend too much time thinking. Ultimately it depletes our Spleen and Stomach energies, weakening our digestions, making us crave more sweet foods and weakening our musculature.


Earth element and the Chinese medicine body clock

brown wooden round wall clock at 10 00

  • Stomach: 0700 – 0900
  • Spleen: 0900 – 1100


For more, click on Chinese medicine clock.

Earth element problems

Earth should be our strong centre, but stress and anxiety weaken it.

Stress ‘tightens’ our Wood energies, making them ‘invade’ our Earth, causing tensions and cramps, usually abdominal or digestive. This can appear as Irritable Bowel syndrome, or constipation, or diarrhoea or appetite loss or weight problems, including emaciation.

Instability makes us worry too much. We fret over trivia. Then we compensate by over-caring for someone, sometimes sacrificing our own needs.

Often Earth imbalance people sleep poorly because they take their cares to bed. (Solution? Learn to meditate and/or make a list of outstanding worries to deal with tomorrow, put the list in a drawer, then read something light and go to sleep.)

If you cannot sleep well but don’t need to rise early, try to sleep in a bit. Often sleep during the hours after 0700 can recoup some of that lost at night.

Ideally get some acupuncture so you sleep better at night!

Routines and the Earth phase

Routines in life are comforting. Earth element habits and routines should improve our mood and restore our sense of physical well-being. 

Earth element routines: woman in white tank top and gray leggings doing push up on black exercise ball on near near near near
Seven days without exercise makes one weak. English Proverb

Worrying and anxiety deprive our Earth element of its ability to keep us well. Obsessional behaviour is often based in Earth phase problems and shows up in changes in our physique: too much or too little.

What kinds of habits?

  • ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’
  • ‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves’
  • ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’
  • ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’
  • ‘Prevention is better than cure’
  • ‘Eat to live, not live to eat’
  • ‘You are what you eat’
  • ‘A stitch in time saves nine’
  • ‘Feed a cold and starve a fever’: actually Chinese medicine has rather more to say about this! See Cope with fever.
  • ‘The beginning of health is sleep’ 
  • ‘Hygiene is two-thirds of health’
  • ‘Diet cures more than lancet’
  • ‘Eat well, be active, feel good about yourself’


Example of an Earth patient

This is not a typical Earth patient, but she is an example of one.

She’s in her 60s and definitely overweight. Near retirement, she has a sedentary job that requires a great deal of attention to detail and her decisions affect many people deeply and for long periods.

Because of that, she takes a long time thinking and worrying about the decisions she must make. To compensate she eats lots of mainly carbohydrate-type foods including sweets and sweet food. She knows this increases her weight.

She never takes any exercise and she walks slowly and sits heavily.

Her skin quality is poor and I see a yellow hue on the sides of her face.

She tends to be constipated. I detect a skin odour that is ‘fragrant’.

She looks at me (I’m certainly not overweight!) and asks if I have under-weight problems. I say I’ve never been able to increase my weight except by building muscle mass via weight-training. She suddenly becomes very sympathetic and concerned for me, despite that she’s here for her problems.

She wants to lose weight.

shallow focus photo of black SLR camera on white wooden shelf

Why is she Earth element type?

Long before I take her pulses or do anything else, I know she’s an Earth type.

  • The job makes her worry and worry and worry: over-thinking disrupts Earth
  • Overconcern and sympathy – slightly out of place, though I appreciate it!
  • Preference for sweet food
  • Heavy build, typical of many Earth types
  • Yellow hue
  • Fragrant odour


How does treatment go? Her pulses improve, and slowly her eating habits improve and there is even some weight loss, but she slips back between treatments.

Ths goes on until she retires. She stops having to worry about the consequences of decisions she takes. She’s free!

There’s an improvement but then she decides she wants to lose weight faster than she is managing with acupuncture. She opts for an operation to remove part of her stomach and put a band round the rest of it.

This turns out not to work. She becomes very weak, eats very little and responds poorly to acupuncture.

For me, this is not a great success and I wish she had given acupuncture longer to work.

Unfortunately her metabolic rate is low so improvement would in any case have been slow, but at least there had been improvement.

Not every case leads to immediate gains, though many do. Sadly,  this was not one of them.

The Other Elements


Other Useful pages after reading this Earth element page

Jonathan Brand colours

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