One of the reigning themes of Chinese medicine is that every item that you take into your body has properties. These are based on temperature, directional movement, organ and channel tropism, and taste. There are five temperature tones: hot, cold, warm, cool, and bland. There are five tastes: sweet, sour, acrid, bitter, and salty. The directional movement is somewhat governed by the combination of temperature and taste. Hence, hot + acid = up and out, cold + salty = in and down. The rate of salty’s downward thrust is less than bitter’s.
Within all of this, there is remarkably little emphasis on water in Chinese medicine. Saliva, urine, tears, yes, even qualities of thirst, but never is the prescription to drink more water. Within the calculus of Chinese herbal medicine water appears to be an empty set, at least nutritionally.
Water also occupies a critical role within the Chinese Five Element system and often is a metaphor for kidney and bladder function. Bringing the body’s water into sharper focus, we see that it is comprised of a delicate balance of “substances,” all of different thickness and function. The water of the eyes is different from the water of the blood or of the lymph. Pathological water comes in the form of phlegm and edema.
Regulating the body’s fluids or even regulating kidney function never calls for drinking water! Fevers in which thirst is a hallmark symptom calls for clearing heat and replenishing fluids, but the fluids are derived from soups and herbs, not water. Water is not substantial enough to replace that which has been lost from sweat or infection fighting.
Let’s use an analogy to illustrate this common sense observation. In summer months your car is apt to run hot. If you anticipate much driving on clogged metro highways you could risk using water in your radiator at the expense to systems that require being cool. If you live in arctic climes like Chicago, you could risk using freezing the water in your radiator.
Similarly, the season, personal constitution, and geographic region all contribute to the the quality of one’s fluids and the necessity for proper replenishment. Summer replenishment of fluids can be simple: eating fresh fruit especially watermelon is simple and refreshing during the summer and very good for the heart and kidney. Light teas like white tea or flower blends are fabulous for the summer, especially with a touch of mint. Caribbean folk seem to excel at refreshing summer brews. Hibiscus is a great diuretic for those who feel a bit bloated in the summer stickiness. Green coconut water is excellent at replenishing fluids. Superstar among them is chrysanthemum: slightly sweet, bitter, and slightly cool, it’s a price performer and you can drink lots of it knowing your balancing the liver and lung.