Chinese Medicine and the Heart of Summer

June 21, 2015 Updated: June 24, 2015

Hot summer days are an appropriate time to think about the fire element and its corresponding organ, the heart. 

The longest, warmest, and brightest days of the year are related to the fire element. The warmth of fire is needed for all transformation, such as the process of maturing plants and the ripening of fruits and vegetables that sprouted in the spring.

The fire element also corresponds to the organ system of the heart. We’re all familiar with terms like having a broken heart, feeling something in your heart, having a lot of heart, or emotions that are heartfelt, implying that our feelings are somehow related to our heart. 

In Chinese medicine this is true, as the heart is home to your spirit, consciousness, feelings, thoughts, and memory. While the function of the heart in both Chinese and Western medicine is to move blood throughout your body, in the Chinese paradigm, the greater purpose of the heart is to govern the conscious, emotional, and spiritual self.

The general health of your heart is reflected in your face and eyes, which are considered a window to your soul. In ancient times, Chinese doctors would determine the prognosis of a patient based on the health of the spirit reflected in their eyes.

Red foods, like red peppers, apples, strawberries, and small amounts of red meat, are heart-nourishing. (Cheryl/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Symbolism involving the heart, such as valentines, the color red, and passion, is very much in keeping with the Chinese view of the heart organ. 

The color related to the heart is red, which is also associated with passion, and the specific emotion of the heart is joy. However, the heart can have a dark side, too, in which too much joyfulness can cross a line and become mania. Hysteria, mania, and mental illness generally relate to the heart in Chinese medicine. 

Milder disturbances involving the heart include palpitations (the sensation of skipped heartbeats), anxiety, insomnia, forgetfulness or fuzzy thinking, and restlessness.

Gentle movements like those of tai chi are good for the heart. (oneinchpunch/iStock)

Some things you can do to strengthen your heart include:

  • Gentle movements like those of tai chi, qigong, yoga, or stretching.
  • Meditation or visualization.
  • Food therapy: In general, dark-colored fruits and vegetables and red foods, like red peppers, apples, strawberries, and small amounts of red meat, are heart-nourishing.
  • Acupuncture or Chinese herbs that specifically nourish the heart.

So the next time your heart breaks, sings, or swells with a powerful emotion, remember that it is more than an intricate pump.

Lynn Jaffee is a licensed acupuncturist and the author of “Simple Steps: The Chinese Way to Better Health.” This article was originally published on