Qi Stagnation Foods – and Herbs – to Help or Avoid

fries and ketchup - junk foods that supply HEAT
Junk food is mostly HEATING. Photo by Pixzolo Photography

Which Qi Stagnation foods are good and which are not? 

In other words, if you have Qi Stagnation, how should you change your diet and what should  you avoid? And why?

First problem – Qi Stagnation and Our individual makeup!

Each of us develops not just some of the main symptoms of Qi stagnation, but our own particular variety of them.

For example, if you’re a woman, perhaps you notice the symptoms particularly badly just before your menses, when stagnant qi causes more swelling and sensations of distension, but in addition, it exacerbates your back pain. Around 4pm you also feel very tired. For you, the qi stagnation is putting an extra strain on your Kidney qi which is why you get the back pain and 4pm droop.

For me? Well, first I’m male, so no menses. But along with some bowel pattern changes I get a slightly itchy skin on the sides of my chest and keep needing to yawn. In my case, qi stagnation is picking up on my history of chest and respiratory complaints – weak Lung qi.

Someone else with Stomach Qi deficiency might lose their appetite or even feel nauseous.

Everyone has a weak area, something that lets them down under stress. You might not know what it is but sooner or later, it will keep repeating – probably more often as you grow older.

The more carefully you behave, the less of a problem it will be. But still, potentially it’s always in the background. Unless of course, you’ve taken action to minimise it, such as with appropriate treatment.

Second Problem and your idiosyncratic reaction to Qi stagnation foods

You might not like some of the Qi stagnation foods listed, or your reaction might be unusual! You might be the one in 10 million people who, after eating a given food, goes green, sprouts leaves and ends up looking like a tree.

bonzai plant: home grown plants often make great qi stagnation foods
There’s always one! Photo by Alex Holyoake

Statistically speaking, they tell me there’s always one. (!)

 

It’s an individual matter!

So  … the point is, the foods listed below may or may not suit you. If some don’t, try others!

Before choosing your foods for Qi stagnation, think for a moment!

Qi is a manifestation of Yang energy. If you know anything about balancing yin and yang, you’ll realise that yang typically takes form as movement and heat: together these form pressure. They overcome yin forms, such as coolness, resilience and resources – and Blood

So if you think about what happens to you as Qi stagnates, you get one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Because movement is frustrated, Heat and Excess yang build up (just like in a traffic jam, cars overheat and their owners get hot-under-the-collar with impatience)
  • Blood’s influence or energy is reduced, tending towards various forms of Blood deficiency, such as that of Liver Blood
  • Via the Five Element theory, Wood tends to invade, so weakens Earth (Stomach and Spleen) ie your digestion – and
  • Wood tends to weaken or stultify the action of Metal (Lung and Large intestine) – your respiration and calmness on the one hand, and your bowel movements on the other! (IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome – often comes with Qi Stagnation.)
Five Elements or Phases
Five Phase Diagram – Copyright Acupuncture Points

So – because we’re all different – you need to choose from the foods that

  • Reduce Heat
  • Dissipate Excess yang
  • Support and invigorate Blood
  • Steady Stomach and Spleen
  • Energise Lungs and Large intestine

 

There are also some foods that seem to benefit the Liver and Gallbladder directly, easing their excesses and regulating how they work.

And some foods that almost certainly make Qi stagnation worse. I list them below the main table.

In the table below listing foods for Qi stagnation, bear in mind that

  1. Some foods do more than one thing, and their actions in Chinese medicine depend on how they are cooked and eaten. For more on this read our page on Nutrition. In some cases, very little of the food is needed to fulfil its function – for example: wine! To ease Qi stagnation, probably no more than half a glass of it, at most! The rest of the glass you drink for other reasons and may worsen Qi stagnation.
  2. In other cases, too much of the food will bring other actions. For example, chicken: chicken soup for convalescents is well-known, but too much chicken is heating so would worsen you if your main symptoms from Qi stagnation included Heat.
  3. As mentioned above (under 1.) some foods are in more than one column, and almost all listed could be in more than one column. The trouble is, if I do that, it gets to be very confusing for people new to all this.
  4. Also, please assume I’ve made at least one mistake in the table, so don’t go overboard on this. If you think you have Qi stagnation, try a bit of the food that seems right for you and take note of how it makes you feel. It’s your individual reaction that matters, not what I tell you  should happen!
  5. Oh! And please read my disclaimer.
Analysing qi stagnation foods
A lattice of interconnecting energetics! Eat beneficial foods as a habit, then the odd bit of junk doesn’t matter!
Fungi are sometimes good qi stagnation foods.
Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

Stress Relief – Some of the best Stress relieving foods – Foods for Qi Stagnation symptoms

FoodReduces Heat

Dissipates

Excess Yang

Steadies Earth & Supports BloodEnergises MetalHarmonise Liver
      
  Asparagus   
Barley  Barley  
Basil   Basil 
Basil  Basil  
Bayleaf   Bayleaf 
Bean curd  Bean curd  
Beef  Beef  
Beets  Beets  
Bitter gourd  Bitter gourd  
Black Pepper   Black pepper
Black sesame seed   Black sesame seed
Broccoli  Broccoli  
Brussels sprouts  Brussels sprouts 
Cabbage  Cabbage  
Caraway seed  Caraway seed  
Cardamom   Cardamom
Cauliflower  Cauliflower  
CeleryCelery    
Celery  Celery  
Chamomile flowerChamomile flower  
Cherries  Cherries  
Chestnut  Chestnut  
Chicken  Chicken  
Chicory    Chicory
Chinese dates  Chinese dates  
Chives    Chives
Cider vinegar Cider vinegar  Cider vinegar
Cinnamon bark  Cinnamon bark  
Clove  Clove  
Corn silk    Corn silk
CucumberCucumber   
Cucumber  Cucumber  
Cumin   Cumin 
Dandelion root Dandelion root   
Dill   Dill 
Eggplant  Eggplant  
Fennel   Fennel 
Fennel  Fennel  
Fig  Fig  
Ginger  Ginger  
Ginseng (American) Ginseng (American) 
Grapefruit Grapefruit   
Hawthorn fruit    Hawthorn fruit
Honey  Honey  
Job’s tears  Job’s tears  
Kelp  Kelp  
Kohlrabi  Kohlrabi  
Leek    Leek
Lemon Balm   Lemonn Balm
Lemon Balm Lemon Balm   
Lettuce  Lettuce  
Lime Lime   
Longan  Longan  
Loquat    Loquat
Lychee    Lychee
Malt  Malt  
Maltose  Maltose  
Marjoram   Marjoram
Milk (cow)  Milk (cow)  
Milk thistle seeds Milk thistle seeds   
MilletMillet    
Mint   Mint 
Mung BeansMung Beans   
Mung Beans  Mung Beans  
MushroomsMushrooms   
Muskmelon  Muskmelon  
Mustard Greens   Mustard GreensCelery
Olive  Olive  
Onion   Onion 
Peach  Peach  
Peanuts  Peanuts  
Pear  Pear  
Peppermint    Peppermint
Pinenuts  Pinenuts  
Pork  Pork  
Quinoa Quinoa   
RadishRadish    
Radish leaves Radish leaves   
Rhubarb rootRhubarb root   
Romaine lettuce Romaine lettuce   
Rosemary   Rosemary
Rye Rye   
SeaweedSeaweed    
Shiitake mushroom Shiitake mushroom 
Sour plum    Sour plum
Squash  Squash  
Star anise  Star anise  
Strawberry  Strawberry  
String beans  String beans  
Sweet rice  Sweet rice  
Tangerine  Tangerine  
Taro root  Taro root  
TofuTofu    
Turmeric   Turmeric 
Turnips  Turnips  
Water chestnut  Water chestnut  
Watercress   WatercressWatercress
Watermelon  Watermelon  
Wine    Wine

 

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Foods that worsen Qi Stagnation!

Just to recap! As mentioned above, ideally the foods you want to eat will:

  • Reduce Heat
  • Dissipate Excess yang
  • Support and invigorate Blood
  • Steady Stomach and Spleen
  • Energise Lungs and Large intestine

 

So the foods that do the opposite will tend to worsen Qi stagnation:

  • Increase Heat
  • increase Yang
  • Weaken Blood
  • Undermine digestion
  • Weaken Lung qi

 

Nobody will agree with all my following suggestions, of course, but to worsen your Qi stagnation, here’s a list.

If you have Qi stagnation DO NOT EAT :

1/ Foods that increase Heat and Yang

Increase Heat and Yang with strong spices, chilli, pepper, horseradish etc. Initially these stimulate Lung qi, being pungent, but later they produce Heat, usually exacerbating Qi stagnation symptoms.

2/  Foods that increase Heat and yang (continued) …

… with strong alcohol, spirits, schnapps, brandy, whisky etc or lots of red wine, sherry, port etc. In small quantities, alcohol eases qi stagnation, but in larger or stronger quantities, it causes work for your Liver, leading to Heat, worsening Qi stagnation.

3/ Fat, grease, oil.

We need the right oils in the right quantities. Too much of even the right oils and certainly too much of the wrong oils cause heating. We should avoid oils that are hydrogenated which are poisonous; those that are rancid or smell fishy; many man-made oils like margarine; those used in large quantities in baking, or which have been used many times; also too many nuts, especially fatty nuts like macadamia, good those these are in small quantities. There’s a wonderful book on fats, explaining lots you never knew (well, speaking for myself!): Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill by Udo Erasmus.

4/ Medications

Many prescribed medications upset our Liver. So also do many self-prescribed medications, like paracetamol. I would say that many medications used to suppress symptoms often have the opposite effect. Read two pages on this: the first is our page on Suppression. The second is Primary and Secondary actions of foods, herbs and drugs

5/ Social drugs, illegal drugs?

Think what they do! If they make you fidgety, hyper, ‘wired’, they increase Yang.

Social drugs with even good qi stagnation foods? Not a healthy mixture!
Social drugs don’t mix well with healthy qi stagnation foods.

Not good for Qi stagnation, at least not the next day!

If social drugs make you feel all powerful, flowing, magnificent, they are temporarily sweeping aside the resistance your body’s qi stagnation has created – their primary effect (you DID read that link above didn’t you?!). When the secondary effect kicks in, you’ll be dying for more of the drug! And most likely, not feeling at all well: the secondary effect!

6/ Pharmaceuticals and Chemicals

Our life has been enormously enhanced by modern science. That means chemicals of all sorts, from plastic bags to air fresheners, hair lotions to preservatives. Yes, it’s great: life is easier with them. BUT … They all have to be metabolised by something, and it’s called your liver. Your liver works hard at this, and in doing so creates HEAT. That comes out in you as rashes, irritability, headaches, eye irritations, upset digestions and so on. Just for starters, look at the list produced by the Huff post.

7/ Poor food choices

Weaken your digestion, and get lots of phlegm, by eating SWEET, SUGARY food, and lots of DAIRY foods, like cream, cheese, yogurt, milk, and ice-cream. These foods, along with many of the products mentioned in this DO NOT EAT list, will tend to produce Stomach Qi stagnation as well. That’s something else you could do without!

 

A Simple DIY solution to Qi Stagnation

What simple action can most people take to ease their qi stagnation? If you’ve read this far (well done!), you should already be taking more exercise.

 

Cider vinegar - one of the great Qi stagnation foods!
Photo by acupuncture-points.org

Next, buy some organic apple cider vinegar. Every morning, immediately after rising, even before going to the loo, put a tablespoonful into a mug of warm water and sip it. Yes, it’s sour. (You could add a little organic honey, if you insist.) But after a few days you’ll look forward to it.

What does Chinese medicine offer Qi stagnation?

In developing over around 3000 years, Chinese medicine has had time to reflect on qi stagnation foods. It has a range of possible therapies, including some great herbal prescriptions, but these need to be tailored to you, the individual.

And then there’s Acupuncture for Qi stagnation.

While there is a basic formula for qi stagnation, there are lots of other, better, points and combinations of points, but how you use these depends on the particular patient and his or her idiosyncratic reactions to life.

Four Gates

Here’s the basic formula called the ‘four gates’. Why these points work is explained further down.

  • Large Intestine 4 – Hegu
Hegu point location
Hegu point location: Large Intestine 4
  • Liver 3 – Taichong
Liver 3 - Taichong
Liver 3 – Taichong

 

Finding better points or combinations of points depends on understanding how Qi stagnation is affecting the patient.

Qi stagnation –

  • Overall, qi stagnation increases yang at the expense of yin so …
  • It increases Heat and Wind and decreases Blood, Nutrition, relaxation
  • Heat and Wind create Pressure
  • That pressure compresses, constricts and tightens other areas and functions of the body, often creating Heat!
  • Heat rises, leading to problems in the shoulders, upper back and head, and mental dis-equilibrium: that rising action creates a draft – Wind!
  • Wind creates movement, restlessness, twitchiness, physically and verbally

 

Over some thousands of years acupuncturists have learned what acupuncture points do, and what can be done with them. Many books have been written on this.

When you read an acupuncture textbook you’ll find points have many properties. Among these are the abilities to

  • Move qi
  • Release qi
  • Descend qi
  • Tonify Blood
  • Move Blood
  • Dissipate Heat
  • Affect metabolic processes

 

Of course they also affect the area near the point and the acupuncture channel on which they lie. Some acupuncture points lie on, or affect, several channels at the same time.

By combining points you may be able to do more than either could on its own.

By diagnosing the patient’s condition you can decide what action to take to help. If there is Heat, you would use a point to clear Heat. Better still, if you recognise on which acupuncture channel(s) the Heat is being generated, you’d choose points on that channel to clear Heat.

Another approach …

But you could do something else: instead of, or as well as, using points to clear the Heat you could use  yin-cooling or Blood-strengthening points. If the patient was typically yin or blood deficient, or lived so as to weaken these sides of his health, it might be more important to boost these yin energies to stabilise them than to dissipate Heat. In other words, you would strengthen yin to ‘control’ or ‘anchor’ yang.

Think of it like a hot bath, its water too hot to enter.

woman in white long sleeve shirt and black panty
Waiting for a hot bath to cool.

What to do? You could wait for it to cool down, and hasten this process by opening the window and letting it evaporate faster. Or you could pour in more cold water. Adding more cold water is the yin-strengthening approach, whereas opening the window and letting cool air in to remove the heat is the yang dissipating approach. Read our page on balancing yin and yang for more on this.

Just doing that might be all that was needed. They’d feel steadier and calmer and more able to cope with the stress.

5 Elements theory

If the stress causing qi stagnation came from pressure to perform up to imposed targets, then, from a knowledge of 5 Element theory, one would nearly always treat Wood.

If the underlying cause came from a question of control, self-control, hysteria, or getting ‘high’, probably you’d treat Fire.

But if it came from ongoing worries, or caring for others, or dietary problems or poor choices, then you’d treat Earth.

If it arose from inability to relate to position in the world, to let go of what’s gone, to stand back, but also to stand up for principles and standards: Metal.

If the underlying problem was to do with inherent genetic makeup, or the ability to relax, to allow time for the resting phase in life: Water.

So if someone gets qi stagnation from a broken relationship, one might consider Fire and Metal. Fire, because the personal integrity has been breached, Metal because of the changed relationship.

Red flowers supporting Earth in a graveyard

On the other hand, if someone cared for had died, perhaps the more pressing need would be to support Earth as well as Metal.

Qi Stagnation, when developed, comes with other problems

These range from insomnia to headaches to tension to bowel disorders to pain to breathing problems and circulatory disturbances – and so on!

The patient doesn’t realise the cause is Qi stagnation. Their problem is the insomnia or at least, that’s what they want to be fixed! They’re not interested in something you call ‘Qi stagnation’.

But to ‘fix’ the insomnia, you need to deal with the Qi Stagnation. That means – depending on the personality and receptiveness of the patient – some advice, counselling or ‘re-education’.

Another frequent problem that accompanies Qi Stagnation is deficiency of Stomach and Spleen. In fact, I think this deficiency makes qi stagnation – particularly Liver qi stagnation – more likely.

As already explained on this page of Qi Stagnation, the acupuncturist has various ways of doing this.

 

Every one of these is a big subject.

Four Gate alternatives

If an acupuncture treatment is used too often on a given patient, it may become less effective.

dwarf statue in garden
Deep thought

In any case, if the patient always wants more of the same, probably the acupuncturist should look deeper and explore a more diverse strategy.

That will certainly make him work harder, but he’ll enjoy his work more. Otherwise it becomes repetitive and the practitioner gets bored and resentful.

Taking the Four Gates, let’s examine the points used and see what other points might work, either instead or better, depending on the diagnosis.

The more you know about the points the more creative you can be.

Liver 3

Liver 3 strengthens Blood and Yin, so calms and steadies Heat and tension. Other points that do this include – each in a slightly different way or with a different emphasis:

  • Stomach 36
  • Spleen 6
  • Pericardium 6
  • Bladder 14, 16, 17, 17, 20
  • Gallbladder 41, 42
  • Liver, 4, 5, 6, 8, 13, 14

 

Large Intestine 4

Large Intestine 4 disperses Wind and Heat, helps to balance fluids and restore balance between inside and outside (which is why it is used for attack by external pathogenic factors, like a cold) and sends energy downwards.

Here are other points that do something similar, although each with a different emphasis.

  • Large intestine 2, 3, 5, 8, 10, 11
  • Stomach 30, 41, 42, 44
  • Small intestine 3, 7, 8
  • Bladder 11, 12, 41, 43, 58, 60, 62, 63, 64, 65
  • Three Heater 2, 3, 5, 6

 

person paragliding under blue sky
Using weight pressing down to control the kite-like yang energy pushing up and away.

In addition, there are many points on the scalp that affect the Mind and send energy downwards and a few on the feet that ground it or pull it down.

Then there are the names of the points. For Liver 3 (Taichong) one might choose points with the word ‘chong’ (passageway) in their name to strengthen the Blood.

For Large intestine 4, if the main aim was to clear Wind, then points with ‘feng’ (Wind) in their name might be chosen.

Using one of the Command points

Some points affect particular parts of the body. If you know where a problem lies, adding the appropriate point may increase the effect of our treatment.

  • Lung 7 affects the head
  • Large intestine 4 affects the face
  • Stomach 36 affects the abdomen
  • Bladder 40 affects the back
  • Pericardium 6 affects the chest

 

These Command points come down to us from antiquity. They do work, but sometimes by palpating the area, say the abdomen, I have searched for and found an even more effective point, which often lies along the same channel as the Command point for that area, but not where expected. In other words, the point I’ve used is perhaps on the thigh or more distal on the leg distal to Stomach 36.

Ear and other points

Similarly, there are groups of points in the ears with similar qualities, also on the forehead and hands.

As you see, there are many ways of treating qi stagnation with acupuncture.

How I do it

Pulse Taking on Left Wrist
Pulse Taking on Left Wrist

When I’m doing the acupuncture treatment, I take the patient’s pulse carefully before and usually during treatment, and keep an eye on their colour, demeanour and breathing, adjusting what I do as I go.

I also palpate the abdomen before and during treatment as this is also gives me great feedback.

This means it becomes an active participation between us, making me react as the treatment progresses. When I’m sure there has been as much change as I can expect, I leave the patient to rest and even doze if possible.

My preference, if I’ve made a good diagnosis, is to utilise 5 Element practice as much as possible. It’s economical and elegant and gives good results. However, it does require accurate diagnosis.

But – back to qi stagnation foods! – unless the patient makes an attempt to improve his or her diet, improvement, even from good acupuncture treatment, may be slow.

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