Five Element Aromatherapy

Posted on September 13, 2011 0

Five Element Aromatherapy

By Shanti Dechen, CCAP, LMT

The human relationship to the cycles of the day, seasons and moon were of vital interest to traditional Chinese healers and, through this, the "five element theory" became a fundamental part of traditional healing and a way of life. These five elements were associated with the equinoxes and solstices to help farmers plan ahead and organize their agricultural cycles. The calendar was arranged by naming the elements: wood for the spring equinox, fire for the summer solstice, metal for the autumn equinox and water for the winter solstice. The fifth element, earth, was at the centre of the calendar to signify Indian Summer and the transition time between all the seasons.

Humans embody all of the elements, like a year has all seasons. Along with the yin/yang theory, the five element theory was the most important concept in early Chinese medicine.

We do not see nature with our eyes, but with our understandings and our hearts.

William Hazlitt "On Taste" (1859)

The principles and theory of the five elements have became widespread, and are now fundamental practices in acupuncture, feng shui, shiatsu, chi gong, astrology, healing with herbs, aromatherapy and nutrition.

The five element theory also explains why substances of the natural world are harmonious with the human body. We utilize trees (wood), herbs (earth), minerals (metal), fire and water because these substances are the same in composition and character to our own underlying make-up. It is when the energy of an element is imbalanced that we then observe symptoms or disease related to that element.

Each element is associated with a pair of internal organs and expresses different characteristics relating to its nature that become evident as balanced or imbalanced states. A disruption of our five element energies can increase disturbances; these eventually create a disturbed pattern of flow or chi in our life energy that can lead to a predisposition to certain mental/emotional or physical ailments.

Let us focus on the earth element as a clinical example. As our landscape starts to change from the long hot days of summer to the golden hue of Indian Summer, the Earth element emerges; the plants go to seed, the tree leaves start to dry and yellow, the days become shorter and the air cools.

Earth symbolizes balance. Earth represents mid-life, mature adulthood. It is center of the mandala or medicine wheel, the point where we stand looking out at the four cardinal directions. Earth phase corresponds to the point of balance between Yang and Yin, to late summertime or Fall Equinox, and late afternoon, the time of ripening of fruit and golden grain. Days and nights are nearly equal in length. The climate is perfect - neither too hot nor too cold, neither too wet nor too dry. Earth energy is stable, giving us a firm center and grounding. Like ripe grain before the harvest, its color is yellow or golden like amber.

If Earth element is weakened from a poor diet and over-worry, you will see that more nourishment is requested from the Fire element to nourish Earth. Additionally, if Earth is weakened, the Metal element may also be affected, as the Earth will be too depleted to provide nourishment to Metal, its child.

From a clinical perspective you may see development of digestive issues from irregular eating, excessive worry and overwork those will lead to a proliferation of dampness (excessive Earth element), which then affects the Metal element. Within this case, you may see a combination of bloating, gas, and fatigue, poor appetite along with the development of Metal (Lung) symptoms, such as nasal congestion or excess mucus in the lungs.

Foods that can enhance the earth element:

The sweet taste tonifies, balances, and moderates. It is used to tonify deficiency. Warming foods are suggested that are easy to digest.

  • Grains: Millet
  • Vegetables: Sweet corn, all squash: (acorn, butternut, Hokkaido, Hubbard, spaghetti, pumpkin) shiitake mushrooms, beets, onions, parsnips, rutabaga, collards, chard, artichoke, sweet peas, and string beans
  • Fruits: sweet apples, figs, cantaloupe, sweet orange, honeydew, tangelo, raisins, sweet grapes, papaya, dates, tangerine
  • Fish: salmon, tuna, swordfish, sturgeon
  • Nuts: Almonds, pecans, walnuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds
  • Sweeteners: agave, maple syrup, rice syrup, barley malt, molasses

There are also specific clinical physical and emotional characteristicsof each of the five elements that can be easily observed. One of the first clues a practitioner can start with is from a hand shake of your client. Does the skin on the hand feel dry (metal element), damp (earth element), hot (fire element), or cold (water element)? Other easy accessible clues for each element can include; body structure, face (shape, color and lines), and tongue.

Other earth element characteristics include:

  • Color: Yellow
  • Direction: Center
  • Season: Late Summer/ Indian Summer
  • Related organs: Spleen/Pancreas (yin)/Stomach (yang)
  • Body tissue: Muscles
  • Taste: Sweet
  • Body odor: Fragrant
  • Sense organ: Mouth
  • Sound: Singing
  • Climatic Qi: Damp
  • Emotions: Worry, sympathy and self doubt
  • Virtues: Balance, centeredness and equanimity medicine.

Essential Oil Example:

  • Coriander (Coriandrum sativum) - Joyful stability (warm and dry, strengthens digestive system and spleen and stomach chi)
  • Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) - Nurtured change(warming, increases immunity, spleen and stomach chi, clears phlegm, and calms nerves and mind)
  • Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) - Peaceful abiding (warming, increases immunity and spleen and stomach chi, and uplifts mind)
  • Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) - Embracing transformation (calms mind, increases immunity, and fortifies spleen and stomach)

"The first method of healing is to cure the spirit;
the second is to give knowledge of how to restore the body." Nei Ching

Shanti Dechen, director and owner of Aroma Apothecary Healing Arts Academy has been teaching the five element theory since 1984 and has found it invaluable in daily and clinical life. Along with its clinical aromatherapy program, Aroma Apothecary also offers a Five Element Healing Series that includes: Five Element Essential, Five Element Aromatherapy, Five Element Reflexes and Five Element Acupressure. Shanti blissfully resides in pristine Crestone, Colorado, where nature is more abundant than humans.

Copyright © Shanti Dechen 2011

To learn more about Shanti please visit her website:

To purchase a copy of NAHA Tele-Conference with Shanti Dechen: Five Element Aromatherapy please click here.

Would you like to contribute an article for a future NAHA E-Newsletter? Click here to download the Writers Guidelines.


Please Log In to post comments

Stay Informed

Not a member yet but would like to stay up to date with NAHA? Considering joining but would like to explore the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy more? Join our e-newsletter today and stay in touch.

Get in Touch

National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy

6000 S. 5th Ave
Pocatello, ID 83204



Search the Site

Let's Get Social

Copyright © 2019 National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy. All rights reserved.

The National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy is a 501(c)3 non-profit association.

All material provided on this website is provided for informational or educational purposes only, and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your healthcare professional or physician.